What is a church? – Part 14

This week I read Acts 24. Ananias, the High Priest, with some elders and a spokesman go to see Felix about getting Paul into their custody. They accused him of starting riots. Paul provides a defence against their accusations (24:1-21). Paul is kept in custody for 2 years, often conversing with Felix (24:22-27). A new governor, Festus, arrives. The Jewish leaders again try to get Paul in their custody. Festus askes Paul is he will go with them, but Paul appeals to Caesar, and wishes to be tried in Rome (25:1-12). King Agrippa visits Festus, who explains the situation to him, and Agrippa wants to meet Paul (25:13-22). Festus brings Paul out, and explains the situation again (25:23-27). Agrippa gives Paul room to speak, and he tells his testimony. Festus considers him mad, and Agrippa questions whether Paul is trying to convert him. Which Paul admits to. Festus and Agrippa both agree that Paul would be free, were it not that he appealed to Caesar (26:1-32). Paul is then sent by ship to Rome. At one of the lay over stops, due to weather, Paul warns the centurion in charge not to go further, but no one listens. A storm picks up. Cargo is jettisoned to try and gain control of the ship. The sailors are worried about not surviving, but Paul encourages everyone because an angel has told him he will be in Rome. As they near land some sailors want to abandon ship. Paul warns the centurion of this, who them stops them from fleeing. Paul then encourages everyone to eat. During the next day they see the land. The soldiers want to kill the prisoners, but the centurion stops them and orders everyone to go to the land (27:1-44). It turns out they are on the island of Malta. The locals welcome them. Paul is bitten by a snake, and while the locals expect him to die, he lives (28:1-6). Paul then heals many on the island, including the chief’s father (28:7-10). The journey to Rome continues (28:11-16). In Rome, Paul calls for the Jewish leaders to explain what has happened. They assure him that they have not heard from Jerusalem, and they wish to hear more about the sect (The Way) (28:17-22). He explains the gospel, and some are saved (28:23-28). Paul stays in Rome 2 years (28:30-31).

Let us look at some interesting points in this Chapter.

  • The term ‘The Way’ is a term used by the early Christians. The Jews considered them a sent within Judaism, until they started accepting Gentiles.
  • Even in custody, Paul preaches with the intent of spreading the gospel.
  • In Rome, we again see Paul providing for himself.

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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