What is a church? Part 13

This week I read Acts 20, 21, 22, and 23. Chapter 19 ends with the riot in Ephesus. We start by reading Paul departing and traveling to Greece and then Macedonia and ending in Troas (20:1-6). While there Paul preaches all night, and Eutycus falls asleep at the window falls out, 3 stories, and dies. Paul brings him to life (20:7-12). We then get a lot of travel plans (20:13-16). In Miletus Paul calls for and addresses the Ephesian elders and then prays with them before leaving (20:17-38). Then the journey continues. They stop in several places, including the house of Philip the evangelist. There Agabus arrives, and prophecies Pauls capture in Jerusalem. Everyone tries to dissuade Paul from going, but he goes anyway (Acts 21:1-16). Paul visits James and the elders, and plans are made to try and keep him safe and he goes to the temple (Acts 21:17-26). At the temple, Jews from Asia start causing a scene, accusing Paul of teaching against the law, and bringing Greeks into the temple. The city is riled up and take him out the temple to try and kill him. The tribune hears of this, and goes to see, with guards. They get no clear answer from the crowd as to what is going on, so they take Paul to the barracks. Just short of arriving Paul requests to speak to the people (Acts 21:27-40). Paul addresses the people, telling his testimony (22:1-21). The people are angry, and to protect Paul he is brought into the barracks. However, the tribune wants Paul flogged. Paul then brings up his Roman citizenship and may therefore not be flogged (22:22-29) The tribune summons the chief priests and Jewish council to hear what this is all about (22:30). Paul has a confrontation with High Priest, and then addresses the council, getting the Pharisees and Sadducees to argue amongst themselves. This causes the tribune to take Paul away from the conflict (23:1-10). The Lord tells Paul he must go to Rome (23:11). Forty Jews make a vow to kill Paul and device a plan to do so. But Paul’s nephew warns him and the tribune (23:12-22). The tribune then sends Paul to the governor in Caesarea, named Felix (23:23-35).

Let us look at some interesting points in this Chapter.

  • Paul goes to Greece with the intent to stay. He leaves when a plot is made against him. More confirmation of remaining somewhere, no in and out action.
  • We see the evangelists celebrating the feast of Unleavened Bread and trying to make it to Jerusalem for Pentecost. Most of the group are Jewish and celebrate the Jewish feasts. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as it is not imposed on Gentiles as stipulated in Acts 15 and 16.
  • Paul apparently rases Eutycus from the dead. Although it is possible that he just checked and realised the boy was still alive. Although the fall should have at the very least injured Eutycus, so there is at least a healing.
  • In Paul’s speech to the elders in Ephesus we get some important information on what the purpose of elders are. They are to care for the flock. And to guard them from false teachers, even those who may arise from in their own ranks. Paul also points out that he admonished, taught, advised the elders how to function. He points out that he never wanted gold, silver or other items. He worked for his possessions. And that working hard is the way to help the weak. In other words, he expected the elders to work for their own necessities. We saw that Paul had done the same thing in Corinth. And my wife and I recently read in 2nd Thessalonians that Paul tells them to do the same. Elders should not live off the church, but they provide for themselves.
  • In v35 Paul quotes Jesus as saying: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’. Nowhere in the gospels will we find this. But we must remember that the gospels are a summary of what Jesus did, not a transcript of every single thing Jesus ever said.
  • Historical context, James is considered the leader in Jerusalem, but this is not stated in the text. It is possible that he is the leader, but this would be in as much as Peter was the leader of the disciples, a spokesperson. This does not condone 1 man running the church on his own.
  • In Jerusalem plans are made to keep Paul safe. What is interesting is that they are concerned that Paul has told Jews to forsake the law of Moses. He is advised purify himself with others who are performing a vow. Paul had done a similar vow earlier. He joins the men and purifies himself (probably via Mosaic law) and goes to the temple. From Paul’s compliance to the advice, his circumcision of Timothy, and his own performing of a vow, we can conclude that Paul lived by the law. From the discourse we again see that Gentiles do not need to live by the law.
  • We see Paul is a very intelligent man. He speaks Greek to the tribune, and Aramaic to the crowds. When he is to be flogged, he uses his Roman citizenship to stop the centurion. When he is on trial, he sees Pharisees and Sadducees, and by referencing the resurrection, he diverts the discussion away from whether he has broken the law or not to a political discussion about doctrine. Again, using the resources God had given him.

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), church in Caesarea (Acts 18:22) 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 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, who are teachers and prophets. The elders also make decisions for the church when conflict arises (Acts 15). They are there to guard the church from false teachers (Acts 20). Elders are to work to provide for themselves, not live off the church (Acts 20).
  • 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. We see them spend 18 months is Thessalonica, and 2 years in Ephesus.
  • 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. Jewish believers are. We see the Jewish believers adhering to the Jewish feasts. We also see this confirmed in Acts 21:17-26.

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