The writing named Acts in the New Testament makes it obvious that the church was people. The whole church could fear (Acts 5:11). The church in Jerusalem could be persecuted (Acts 8:1) and could be ravaged (Acts 8:3) by entering houses and dragging men and women to prison. The church (multiple places) enjoyed [literally, was having] peace and could be built up (9:31). News reached [literally, was heard in] the ears of the Jerusalem church (11:22). Barnabas and Saul could meet with [or were gathered together with] the church for the purpose of teaching large numbers (11:26). Herod mistreated some of those who belonged to the church (12:1), and the church prayed for Peter (12:5). The Antioch church included prophets and teachers (13:1). Barnabas and Paul (Saul) appointed elders in the churches they established, prayed and fasted with them, and commended them to the Lord (14:23). Barnabas and Paul reported to the church after they gathered them (14:27). The church at Antioch sent Barnabas and Paul on their way (15:3), and these men were received by the church in Jerusalem (15:4). The whole church agreed with the apostles and elders decision (15:22). The church could be greeted (18:22) and shepherded (20:28). Acts defines church with the acts of people. Those people who followed Jesus Christ were the church whether they were gathered or not. They were a community of people who belonged to Jesus Christ and who looked to Jesus Christ for guidance and direction.
For decadesmaybe longerthere has existed the tendency for Christians to see themselves as one spiritual reality, and the church as another. Christians see themselves as a part of the church when they agree or are pleased with the church, but as not a part of the church when they disagree with the church or are not pleased with the church. There is a Christian we and an institution called the church. Some even hold the concept there are Christians, and there is the churchas though the two are not the same thing. In this view, Christians are individuals and the church is an institution.
This concern is better understood through illustrations than through statements. For an example, consider the statement, I am going to church, or, My family goes to church. (This is not about approved words and statements. It is about concepts. Words and statements can be changed, and concepts can remain even with those changes.) Any statement that uses some form of the expression of going to church runs a significant risk of either giving or endorsing the impression that church and being a Christian are two separate things. Church does not necessarily have anything to do with what one is. One can be a Christian and have no association with the church. Or, perhaps the concept that church is a place, an address, or a building. It is something outside of or aside from the Christian.
Consider another illustration. Consider the we and they or the I and them language often used by Christians in a congregation. If Christians are displeased, they decided to do that. If Christians are pleased, we did that (though the person or persons speaking may have had no actual involvement). After years of preaching, I still cannot determine who this mysterious floating they are.
In the last few decades, many Christians have lost a sense of community. Consider the first congregation, the church in Jerusalem, in Acts 6. Evidently, the apostles had been in charge of seeing that the needy were fed (6:2). The responsibility became so large, the apostles had insufficient time to teach (remember, there were no printed New Testaments). The apostles recommended 7 men be selected to oversee the task. This involved a huge transition in the way the congregation did things! Something 12 apostles directed was to be overseen by 7 men.
Note several things. (a) Though the church was large3000 in Acts 2:41, plus daily additions in 2:47, plus multitudes of men and women in 5:14, and plus continual teaching in 5:42the church maintained a strong sense of community (consider 4:32-37). (b) It was their devotion to each other that produced the first problem. (c) The men selected were to be spiritual persons. They were selected by the congregation. Their names suggest the 7 selected came from those who were unhappy. (d) It was appropriate for the apostles to be free to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of word.
Those first Christians had much to learn! So do we! In an increasingly secular society that is increasingly failing in forming and sustaining relationships, Christians/the church need to be a people who are the example of forming and sustaining relationship. We in truth need to be a community bound together by devotion to Jesus Christ.
It seems that Christians spend more time in disagreeing and finding fault with each other than they spend in seeking tolerance and understanding. In the first century, the gap between Jewish Christians and gentile Christians often was enormous. The gap between disagreeing Christians often is still enormous. The bridge across the gap of differences is constructed of the materials of (a) eyes that are focused on Jesus Christ and (b) a respect for those Christians with whom we disagree. It is out of those materials that we build a bridge that restores a sense of community. Only by restoring community do we become Gods vision of the church.
For Thought and Discussion
1. Acts makes it obvious the church was what?
2. For decades, maybe longer, Christians have tended to do what?
3. When do some Christians see themselves as part of the church? When do they not?
4. Cite illustration #1given. Cite illustration #2 given.
5. One can be what and have no association with what.
6. Some see the church as what?
7. In the last few decades, many Christians have lost what?
8. Discuss the transition in Acts 6.
9. Give the four things you were asked to note about Acts 6.
10. In an increasingly secular society, what do Christians/the church need to be?
11. It seems Christians spend more time in what than what?
12. What are the materials that can build a bridge across the gap of Christian disagreements?
13. What will be restored by this bridge?
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 4
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