Church Functions ~ 20140112 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
01/12/14 Church Functions; what the church does Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140112_church-functions.mp3
Last time we looked at what it means to be a church member. We defined church as an assembly of Jesus-followers; the church is the blood-bought people of God who gather together. When we talk about church membership, we are not talking about membership in a society or club where there are member benefits, perks and privileges. Being a member of the church is language taken from the body metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians. As members of the body of Christ, we are to be connected, functional parts of the whole, each uniquely equipped to fulfill the role God has assigned to us.
Today I would like to explore some of the functions the church is meant to carry out. If we are to be functional parts of the whole, it is essential that we all have a clear vision of the goal. What is the purpose of the church? If each part has a clear understanding of the mission, we can move in unity toward the common goal, valuing the contribution of each member.
Last time we said that the clear objective of the church in encapsulated in the great commandment and the great commission. The purpose of the church and of every member is to glorify God by loving God, loving people, and making disciples who glorify God by loving God, loving people and making disciples.
Evangelism and Baptism
Let's see how this played out in the formation of the new covenant church in Acts 2. Jesus had presented himself alive to his disciples, and commissioned them as eye-witnesses to testify to his death and resurrection. He charged them with the task of making disciples of all nations, and then he told them to wait. Wait until you are clothed with power from on high. Wait for the promise of the Father, the promised Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit filled them and they began to proclaim the mighty works of God to the crowds in Jerusalem. They were supernaturally enabled to communicate with the crowd in all the languages that were represented. All were amazed, but some mocked. Peter explained what was happening by referring to the prophesy in Joel:
Peter connects this proclamation of the mighty works of God by the apostles to the promised outpouring of God's Holy Spirit. He concludes his quotation with these words from the prophet Joel:
Everyone. Everyone who calls on the name of YHWH will be saved.
We get a taste of the content of this gospel proclamation of the mighty works of God in the following verses.
Then he gives some Old Testament evidence to prove his point.
Everyone who calls on the name of YHWH will be saved. This Jesus, the one who did mighty works, this Jesus whom you crucified, this Jesus, whom God raised from the dead, this Jesus is YHWH, Lord and Christ, Messiah. Call on this Jesus as Lord and Christ, Jesus who died for you and was raised and you will be saved.
Notice carefully the response of his hearers:
They were cut to the heart. They were convicted of their sin. They were responsible for the crucifixion of God's Messiah. They felt the weight of their guilt. They had crucified the Lord of glory! “Brothers, what shall we do?” This was broken-hearted recognition of their offense before God. We too are responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus; it was our sin that made it necessary for him to suffer and die, it was my sin that he came to pay for.
Repent simply means to have a change of heart and mind. Turn from your hostility toward God, turn from your rebellion, turn from your sin which nailed Christ to the cross. Turn away from whatever false religious hopes you were holding on to, and turn to Jesus. Demonstrate this turning by baptism, the outward sign of the inward truth, confessing Christ Jesus as Lord, declaring publicly that your heart and mind have been transformed, that you have become a follower of Jesus. There is hope for you who by your rebellion have crucified the Lord of glory. There is forgiveness for your sins. You can never do anything to earn it. You must receive it as a gift. Turn to Jesus and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is God's promise for you, no matter how far you have strayed. God is calling you to himself.
Peter proclaimed the good news that Jesus is God, that he is the promised Messiah, that the Father authenticated his identity with supernatural signs, that Jesus was crucified, and that he rose from the dead. They were cut to the heart, convicted of their sinfulness, and asked what they should do. Peter told them to repent, to change their minds, to turn to Jesus, and they would be forgiven and given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those who received his word, those who believed, who turned to Jesus, were baptized, publicly demonstrating their faith. 3,000 were added that day to the church through belief and baptism. The church grew from 120 to over 3,000. Let's look at what the early church did.
Acts 2:42 is very instructive. It tells us what the early church emphasized, what they were devoted to, what they were diligent in and earnest about. Four definite things the early church was committed to. Apostles' teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers. Two things we have already seen in this passage that the early church did and we see them doing throughout the book of Acts: evangelism and baptism. They were proclaiming the good news about Jesus, making disciples, and baptizing into the church those who were believing.
The Apostles' Teaching
Those who became followers of Jesus were devoted to the apostle's teaching. Jesus commissioned his 12 disciples to be his eye-witnesses in a unique and unrepeatable way. He spent 40 days with them after his resurrection. He promised them the Holy Spirit who would continue to teach and guide them.
The apostle's teaching formed the foundation of the church, centered around Jesus Christ.
God gave the apostles to the church to equip them for ministry and to give them a stable foundation of doctrine so they would not be led astray. The apostle's teaching was a big deal. The early church was warned against any deviation or distortion of the apostle's teaching.
The apostle Paul warned young pastor Timothy:
Do not depart from the faith. You have been trained in the words of the faith, in the good doctrine that you have followed, so devote yourself to the teaching.
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul exhorted him to:
Titus was left in Crete to appoint elders in every town. One of the necessary characteristics of a church leader was:
The apostle John wrote:
We must abide in the teaching of Christ. The apostle Peter, aware that he would soon die, wrote a letter. He said:
Because of the diligence of the Lord's apostles, we have their teaching today in written form. We as the church must be devoted to the apostle's teaching.
The second thing that the early church was devoted to is the fellowship. Fellowship is a broad word that can mean partnership, sharing, participation, communion. It comes from a root word that means common. In some contexts it means sharing financially (Rom.15:26; 2Cor.8:4, 9:13; Phil.1:5; Heb.13:16; root word in Acts 2:44, 4:32); it can mean oneness of spirit with God or with people (1 Cor.1:9; 2Cor.6:14, 13:14; Gal.2:9; Phil.2:1; 1Jn.1:3,6,7); or it can mean participation or sharing in something (suffering: Phil.3:10; blood and body of Christ in communion 1Cor.10:16; faith Philemon 6; root word: faith Tit.1:4; salvation Jude3).
The fellowship of believers took sin seriously. They confronted each other, exhorted, admonished and encouraged one another, confessed to one another, and were quick to forgive one another. The early church was devoted to fellowship, partnership, relationship, unity of spirit with God and one another. They shared life together. They sang together. They ate together. They enjoyed a common relationship with God and with one another. They fought sin together. They shared financially with one another as people had needs. They partnered in gospel missions with their money and their prayers. There was a true sense of community spiritually, socially, and financially. They cared for one another in practical ways. The early church was committed to the fellowship.
The Breaking of Bread
The third thing the early church was devoted to was the breaking of bread. To break bread together simply mean to have a meal together. When Jesus fed the multitudes with a few loaves, he gave thanks to his Father and broke the bread so that it could be distributed it to each person (Mt.14:19; 15:36). This common form of eating together took on special significance at his final passover meal with his disciples before the crucifixion.
After his resurrection, Jesus joined some of the disciples who were on the road to Emmaus.
We find in 1 Corinthians that breaking bread was something the church did when they met together. Paul writes to correct the abuses of this meal that was intended to remind them of Jesus. They called it the Lord's supper.
The early church was diligent to remember Jesus through the breaking of bread.
The fourth thing that this passage tells us the early church devoted themselves to were the prayers. Prayer is communication with God. Jesus, by his example taught us the importance of intimacy with God. He taught his followers to pray for God's name to be worshiped, God's rule to be realized, for God's purposes to be accomplished. He taught us to ask in dependence for our basic physical and spiritual needs, and for rescue from temptation (Mt.6:9-13). Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies (Mt.5:44).
The church in Acts gathered together to pray for their leaders.
In fact, I counted at least 10 places in the New Testament where the author either referred to or specifically asked for the people to pray for him. Prayer for rescue, for freedom, prayer for effective ministry, prayer for gospel opportunities and clarity in declaring the gospel, prayer for boldness. That's about the same frequency of the author saying that he was praying for the people he was writing to.
Jesus prayed when he selected his 12 apostles (Lk.6:12). The early church prayed when they appointed leaders in the churches.
We are instructed to pray for gospel opportunities and salvation for all people:
We are to pray for the needs of one another:
The early church was active in proclaiming the good news about Jesus. They were active in making disciples. They were serious about preserving, proclaiming, and living out the truth once for all delivered to the saints. They were connected in community with one another. They were committed to keeping Jesus central to everything, remembering and reminding one another what Jesus did for them. They were characterized by their relationship with God, constantly communicating with him and depending on him in everything. The early church brought much glory to God by loving him, loving one another, and making disciples. This is how the church functioned. We would do well to follow their example.