Over the next several weeks, I'm going to be studying through the books of Acts, I Corinthians, and Ephesians. The purpose of this is to look at what the biblical writers have to say about the church. In doing this, I'm going to attempt (as much as is possible) to set aside my own presuppositions, traditions, assumptions, etc., and really read what the text says.
I'm beginning in Acts 1-4. It would be an understatement to say that these chapters say much about the church. In fact, these chapters are foundational for our understanding of what God wants His church to look like. The reason for this is that these chapters show us the beginning of the church, the apostles' presence in the church, and the church in action. There may be more information about the church in these chapters than in any other 4-chapter segment of the scriptures.
As I've looked at these chapters, 8 characteristics of the Biblical church stand out. You may see more or less, but these are what jump off the pages at me. These act as a challenge for us today.
8 characteristics of the church in Acts 1-4:
1. Christ-centered - The church is clearly built on the person of Jesus Christ. He is the head and He is the focus. Assumed is the confession of Jesus as Lord. Peter's sermon in Acts 2 focuses on the work of Christ.
2. Holy Spirit-led - The church, after the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2, depends on the leadership of the Holy Spirit in all it does. Interestingly, although Peter speaks quite a bit, the church does not look primarily to him for direction.
3. United/Together - This passage repeatedly shows the early church as a united community of believers that enjoyed being together. Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37 make this abundantly clear. They were often together in presence and in attitude.
4. Prayer-focused - The church looked to God for direction. Acts 1:14 describes them as praying together after the ascension of Christ but before the coming of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 4:29-31, the church prays specifically for boldness. They looked to God for direction and provision.
5. Gospel-proclaiming - The church took Christ's commission seriously. They not only prayed for boldness, but also lived this out. We see in detail Peter's proclamation of the gospel in Acts 2:14-41.
6. Scripture-tied - We learn in Acts 2:42 that the church devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching. This teaching showed how Christ fulfilled the promises of the O.T. They were Hebrews waiting for a Messiah; the apostles demonstrated that Jesus is the promised-one.
7. Generous/Giving - It is clear from both Acts 2:45 and 4:32-35 that the early church gave freely of their possessions and made certain that no one in the group had need.
8. Simple - Acts 2:42, a foundational verse for understanding the early church, describes a group of believers who lived together in a simple way. As they gathered, they discussed the scriptures, prayed, fellowshipped, and celebrated the Lord's Supper. They are not described as doing many, many different things. It is simple as opposed to complex.
This description of the early church from Acts 1-4 challenges us today. Do we as local churches look like this? Since the apostles were a part of the early church, we can rightfully assume that they gave approval to how the church functioned.
What must we do today for our churches to look like this? Will we dare change to be like the early church? Do we have the courage to do so?