Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Is the Church Dead?
Is the church a thing of the past? So much has been written lately about the demise of the church. Our post modern age seems finished with something so antiquated and old fashioned as the church. In fact, Robert H. Schuller, successor to the Crystal Cathedral said? I think we are entering an era in the church. And that era is ?denominationaless.? I think the Church is actually going to reflect what Jesus Christ has envisioned the church being since day one. I think it?s going to be a body of believers, not necessarily congregated in a specific location.??
Today we are going to go back to ?day one? and see just what the church was like. But I think Reverend Schuller might be surprised with what we find. There is no doubt that the idea of the church in today?s society has changed, but I would submit to you that it is what we have added to the church that is the problem, not the concept of the church as it was created. To find that model we have to back 2,000 years to the church in its infancy. We find that in Acts 2.?
If you could sum up the definition of the church in one word, it would be this: connection?connection to our Lord and connection to each other. Apart from all the books and seminars and modern re-defining of the church, we can come back to this very simple yet profound concept and know that it is at the heart of what naturally took place a the birth of the church on Pentecost.?
We have added a lot to the definition of the church over the centuries and certainly in the 20th and 21st century America. The church has become a place to be seen, a place to feel cool, a place of entertainment, a place to meet a spouse, a place to have fun, a place to be wowed by the spectacle, a place to hide out or to hide who you really are. Rather than making connections, the church in the mass media age has become a place for collective aloneness.?
It doesn?t have to be that way. The early apprentices of Jesus Christ sensed innately the need for connection and the Spirit fostered it in a model that we can still use today. Here at Calvary Chapel Newberg we based our fellowship on the principals found in these verses. Let?s take a look and see what the church can and should be like.?
This one verse contains what are known as the four pillars of the church: teaching, communion, fellowship, and prayer. It says here that the 120 + 3,000 were ?devoted? to these things. The word there means to ?be strong towards? something, to ?be constantly diligent?, ?to adhere closely to.? The character of how they felt about and acted on this new thing, the church, was not light or casual.?
How ?strong? towards the church are you? We don?t worship the church but we worship the Lord of the church collectively. I?ve said this many times, a Lone Ranger Christian is easily picked off by the enemy.?
Hebrews 10:23-25 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. ESV?
To be the strongest Christian you need the encouragement that only comes by devoting yourself to connecting together.?
Let?s look at the four pillars individually:?1.????? The Apostle?s teaching?
In those days, of course, the church didn?t have the New Testament. What they did have were the 12 Apostles, who spoke for God as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. They, or their agents, wrote gospels, histories (like Acts), letters, and prophecies (like Revelation) to be shared. They spoke and wrote ex-cathedra, which means, with the authority of God.?
What the Apostles said was the Word of God. Peter talked about it later in one of his letters:?
2 Peter 1:16-21 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, \"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,\" 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And? we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention? as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until? the day? dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone\'s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. ESV?
Peter himself called the writings of the Apostle Paul part of the ?Scriptures.? (2 Peter 3:16)?
What Peter is saying is that men and women were given words to speak and write, all of which speak authoritatively about Jesus Christ. These writings come to us as the Old and New Testaments. As the early disciples were strong and devoted to the Apostle?s teachings, we too should be devoted to the study of the Word of God. The Lord ratified their authority by the ?many wonders and signs? they did (verse 43)?
Why? To understand the nature of God and His plan for humanity, to have a knowledge of what is good doctrine and what is bad, to know good from evil, to prepare yourself to be used by God, to have the Word inspect you and challenge you to be more like the Lord, and to avail yourself of all the precious promises that the Lord offers to those who belong to Him.?
Studying the Word of God connects us to the Lord?we get to know Him better.?
This is the familiar word koinonia. It means ?partnership.? The root word also gives us the phrase koine Greek, the Greek of the common people. It means to share among all. Vincent defines it this way:?
Fellowship: relation between individuals which involves a common interest and a mutual, active participation in that interest and in each other.?
It is this idea that Paul talks about in Galatians 3:28 ?we are one in Christ.? That?s the mutual thing that ties us together. We ?actively participate? in that interest with each other. In 1 Corinthians 12:27 Paul refers to us as the ?body of Christ and individually members of it.? We are distinct but part of a whole. Earlier in that chapter, he talks about how the connectedness of all our individual parts is what makes up this body. Each one of us is a vital part and without each of us, the body will not function as well.?
This is what makes me sad, when I see Christians who are either burned out, hurt, in sin, prideful, or stubborn and feel that they can separate themselves from fellowship with other believers.?
What does fellowship mean? We see it lived out in the next couple of verses:?
44 ? 45 the Jews who had come for Passover and stayed for Pentecost needed help and so the Christians sold what they had to provide for these. This practice is not repeated after the Ananias and Sapphira incident in chapter 5 and doesn?t tell us that all Christians should sell all their possessions and live in communes.?
It does teach us a spiritual lesson of caring for one another.?
A second way fellowship was lived out is in verse 46 where they went to Temple ?together? and me at each other?s homes, sharing meals and lives.?
Fellowship connects us to one another.?
3. Breaking of Bread?
A lot of commentators feel this represents communion, gathering around the Lord?s Table as he commanded us. It could also represent a type of Jewish fellowship meal, or an agape feast that ?emphasized the joy of communion with the risen Lord and of fellowship with one another.? (Ken Barker). Whatever the meaning, the idea is connecting us to our Risen Lord and each other by breaking bread together.?
The early church would have ?love feasts? where they would gather for a meal and communion. Paul chides the Corinthians for their misuse of the practice (1 Corinthians 11 ? class stratification, drunkenness).?
4. The Prayers?
Notice in the ESV that it is ?the? prayers. The definite article is there in the Greek, but taken out in NKJV, NIV, and NASB. It exists in the Textus Receptus, which was used to translate the King James, but often left out because it suggests Roman Catholic Liturgical prayers. In fact, it is quite possible that the early Christians used both Christian and Jewish written prayers.?
But these were not recited by rote with meaningless repetition. Far from it ? the prayers took on an incredible new meaning.?
Regardless, I love the word used for ?prayers.? It is proseuche which comes from a root meaning to worship. I connect prayer and worship. That?s why we call our worship ?musical prayers to God.? We sing words right to the Lord, extolling his wonder, making our requests known to him, throwing ourselves at his feet.
And this isn?t alone prayer or worship either, but corporate. Prayer and worship connects us together in focusing our allegiance (to God), and our position (prostrate).
46 ? 47?
Verses 46 and 47 picture a really idyllic early church?they learned together, prayed together, ate together, shared together freely, and worshipped together as they went to church. It was a time of great peace and fruitfulness. The last part about having favor with all the people wouldn?t last long but even today, when you bring the love to God into an area where the people?s minds have not been poisoned by the enemy, there is a great receptiveness to the gospel. We saw that first hand in Kenya in 2007.?
So what do we learn from these few verses? As we realize just what has been done for us, we too react with awe (phobos, also ?fear?). This great salvation leads us to collectively cry out to God and reach out to one another. God has created a new thing called the body of Christ. When you come to Jesus, you become a part of this body and are vital to its proper function. We are never weaker when we try to go it alone, but never stronger when we serve and love together.?
Let us use these verses to renew our ?devotion? to learning from the Apostles? writings through diligent study of the Word of God. Let us renew our devotion to prayer and worship, letting praise and prayer leap from our mouths as we lift ourselves up to God, and let us devote ourselves once again to connecting together, tying our lives one to another?sharing, encouraging, praying, supporting, laughing, singing, crying?loving.