What is a church? Part 11
This week I read Acts 16. We start with Paul and Silas coming to Derbe and Lystra. They pick up Timothy there and take him with them (v1-5). They try and preach in many areas but are restricted by the Holy Spirit and Jesus. But are then called to Macedonia via a vision of a man calling (v6-10). They travel to Philippi, Macedonia. After a few days the meet Lydia, who worships God. She gets baptised (v11-15). As the go to pray they come across a girl with a spirit of divination. The spirit is driven out, and they are accused of advancing customs that are not lawful for Romans to accept or practice (ESV). They are arrested, beaten, and put in prison (v16-24). In prison Paul and Silas pray and sing. An earthquake opens the prisons, but no one leaves. The jailer is ready to take his life, but after talking to Paul and Silas he is saved (v25-34). The next day they are released, Paul does make a point of it being a public release, and makes it known that he is a Roman citizen. They are asked to leave the city (v35-40).
Let us look at some interesting points in this Chapter.
- Timothy is circumcised. He has a Jewish mother. At the same time Paul and Silas teach the Gentiles to observe the decision made in Acts 15. While the Gentiles live in the new covenant thanks to Jesus, Jews are required to live in both the old and the new. Paul explains these things in the letters, but for now all we can go on is this what we see now.
- Important doctrine, the Trinity. We see that first the Holy Spirit stops the group from preaching in Phrygia and Galatia. Then Jesus (the Spirit of Jesus) stops them from going to Bithynia. This clearly shows that while the Holy Spirit and Jesus are both God, they are still separate persons. The trinity is One Being, Three Persons.
- I also find it interesting that the group try a few places, only for doors to be shut, before they find God’s will for their journey. Sometimes we should try and do what we can and wait to see what God does. But when God shows us His will, we need to respond immediately.
- We see in Lydia another example of someone who gets baptised immediately after having her heart opened.
- Again, we see believers meet to pray.
- We also see Paul driving out demons. We have command over demons, as Jesus did. It is important to note that this is done in the name (authority) of Jesus.
- The girl was speaking the truth. We see that Paul and Silas do not join with her, because of her spirit. We as Christians do not have to work with everyone who claims to be of God. If we sense, through the Holy Spirit, or whatever means we deduce, that someone is not of God, we can reject them. This in the context of them staying with Lydia, who worshipped God.
- The customs being advanced are interesting. Some commentaries say the people were lying to get Paul and Silas arrested after driving out the demon. Others say there was truth in the accusation. I looked at this because I was curious as to the nature of the ‘customs’. My guess is, considering that Rome was polytheistic, and they only tolerated Judaism’s monotheism to stop the Jews revolting, that when the Christians started preaching the message of Jesus to Gentiles, this was outside the bounds of the Judaism exception. This is why Rome persecuted the early church, they would bow to no other God.
- We see a truly clear statement about salvation. When the jailer asks what he needs to do to be saved, all he needs is to “Believe in the Lord Jesus”. Baptism follows immediately, but belief is what saves.
- An interesting thing is Paul starts using his Roman citizenship to make a point. As Christians we can do the same. An American Christian has a lot of favour because of his nationality. He should use it. It is a God given gift. Same for Europeans who have favour because of their heritage.
- Another interesting note on Paul’s release, he makes sure it was done publicly. I would give 3 reasons for this. (1) He wants everyone to know that they were wrongly accused. This has to do with having a good name in the community. It also forces those who had done wrong to come and apologize. (2) It becomes a testimony. It shows God’s control and miraculous working, even using the authorities. (3) It shows we as Christians can be bold. While we should turn the other cheek, we do not have to be doormats. We can make a stand on issues we find important.
What is a church? Answer:
The church: Believers in Jesus, who are dedicated (aligned) to Jesus. To be a believer you must be saved by the name of Jesus. This is done by belief in Jesus as the Saviour, that Jesus is the Son of God, that Jesus is God, and that Jesus died for our sins, and that Jesus was raised from the dead. This is essential for the Christian faith. Circumcision and the Law of Moses are not required for Salvation.
A church (Ecclesia): A group of said believers in a set location, e.g. Church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:21, 15:4), Church in Antioch (Acts 11:26, 15:3) and the churches in Asia Minor (Acts 14:21-23). We a hierarchy in churches and between churches. This hierarchy can be compared to the hierarchy of a teacher and a disciple. One has grown further than the other and can teach the other.
This is not to be confused with a building where said believers may gather, also called a church.
What do believers do?
- Get baptised, as soon as possible. This is done in obedience to God. It is an outward sign of a believer’s dedication to Jesus. It does not save the believer.
- Be filled with Holy Spirit. The order of these 2 events is not important, they can be swapped. Both are required is would seem though.
- Pray. They prayed together as a habit (Acts 1:14, 12:12, 16:16), but also in times of adversity. They also pray individually (Acts 10:9)
- Fast (Acts 13)
- Praise and worship God. While worship is a lifestyle, it is also an act, like prayer and fasting.
- Study the scriptures.
- They gather together for prayer, and teaching. This is done in the temple in Jerusalem. This is no longer possible for us since (1) the temple is destroyed and (2) not all believers are Jews. However, meeting as a group is a part of the believers’ life. This can be in a large setting as in Solomon’s Porch, or a smaller setting at individual houses. Also, men and women met together. There was no separation as in Judaism, or other religions. At the meetings there is teaching and miracles. We see them meeting together to listen to Barnabas and Saul in Antioch and Asia Minor (Acts 11 and 14).
- As a believer grows, he gets discipled. He may start preaching and doing miracles as the Apostles did (e.g. Stephen, Ananias). Success in healing is not guaranteed (Dorcus was not healed until Peter came). Disciples can also baptise others and fill them with the Holy Spirit (Ananias).
- keep away from (1) things sacrificed to idols (I would say also keep away from idols and false religion), (2) sexual immorality, (3) what has been strangled and (4) blood.
They also had fellowship which entails the following:
- They eat together, as a community but also in separate homes.
- All things are shared in common, with those having, selling their goods to provide for those without. This is voluntary, and believers can do with their possessions as they see fit. Historical context here is that a lot of the early converts were far from home and had nothing. Also, these funds were not shared with non-believers. There is also a providing between churches.
- This does not mean we have fellowship with anyone, as in Peter with Simon the Sorcerer, and Paul with de girl with the spirit of divination. Be critical of whether someone truly is a believer.
- Those in need are taken care of. Examples are the Seven who serve the tables, Dorcus who made the widows clothes, the believers in Antioch sending relief for the famine in Jerusalem.
Positions in the church:
- Apostles: a special position with the criteria that they were with Jesus from His baptism till His resurrection. Based on historical context, this position is no longer applicable for today, as no one alive can meet this criterion. They taught the new believers, did miracles, and testified of Jesus’ resurrection. They pass on the Holy Spirit by laying on of hands. They also handle disputes at the top level, such as Greek speaking widows not receiving enough, and Peter visiting Gentiles.
- Evangelist apostles. They travel around, preaching, doing miracles, and baptising new believers. E.g. Philip, Barnabas, and Paul.
- Disciples: Believers learning to do all that the apostles did. Can be male or female. There is no difference in Christianity, unlike other religions.
- Ministers, that is, servers. These are men assigned to look after the widows and their provisions. The criteria for this position are: (1) men of good repute, (2) men full of the Spirit and (3) men of wisdom.
- Elders. Not sure what the criteria is. They are appointed by the evangelist who has worked with the disciples in the set location. They are appointed to look after the church. They are plural, and therefore more than one person. Antioch names their elders, which is a total of 5. The elders also make decisions for the church when conflict arises (Acts 15)
- Teachers: As disciples grow, they become teachers. These are those who explain the faith and the scriptures.
- Prophets. These give divine words.
What is the church not supposed to be doing?
- Healing crusades. Healing is done under 2 circumstances. The first is in private. Jesus and Peter have been seen sending people away to heal in private. The second is as an act of compassion. We see public healings being done, but not with the purpose of healing. They are done because Jesus and others are moved with compassion. Signs and wonders follow the preaching to confirm them. They are not a tool for advertising.
- In and out evangelism. Discipleship is a part the great commission and takes time. If you are going to make disciples, take time to teach them properly. Arriving in a city, giving a few messages, and leaving new believers to fend for themselves is not going to keep them in the kingdom. Also, when trying to teach older believers, the in and out approach again will leave them to fend for themselves. This is not an effective way of teaching. We see Barnabas and Paul remain in the cities of Asia Minor till persecution breaks out, then only do they have to leave. They do however return later to make sure the disciples are living to the faith and appoint elders to guard over them.
- Single person going out. Philip is the only evangelist we see traveling alone. Jesus always sent the disciples out in twos. And we see time and again that when someone goes to a new region, they are accompanied by other. Peter went to Cornelius with “some of the brothers of Joppa”. When Barnabas went to Antioch, before he started meeting with the church, he went and fetched Saul. Barnabas and Paul travel through Asia Minor together (Acts 13,14)
- Gentile believers are not required to live by the Law. Acts 15 and 16. It would appear that Jewish believers are.