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A Normal Church

(Sermon preached on Sunday 3 June 2012 by Pastor Rudi Schwartz)

Scripture Readings:

  • John 14:15-27
  • Acts 2:42-47

Hymns/Songs:

  • Behold the Lamb of God
  • How deep the fathers love for us
  • Revive us
  • See Him Coming

Introduction
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

If ever I could visit the Holy Land, I would have love to also turn back the clock. I don’t know that I would enjoy seeing all the modern buildings, people dressed in modern clothes, or even the buildings now erected over places of historical importance. I can’t see the point to visit a cathedral built on the site people think Jesus was born, or the place where they think He ascended into heaven.

What I really would like is for the clock to be turned back so I can be a member of that first congregation of the world-wide Church of Christ in Jerusalem. Can you imagine what it would be like to hear the apostles teach and preach; to see people really care for one another, to see a congregation in constant prayer and witness to the world around them? Can you just imagine church growth complete far beyond what we ever have experienced? This is a congregation that any right-minded Christian would dream to be part of: seemingly no gossip, no class distinction, if people were rich and others were poor they shared what they had with one another without fear that their brothers and sisters in the Lord would look at them as underprivileged or, on the other hand, powerful and unduly demanding.

And yet, the picture of the church in Acts 2 is not abnormal. This actually is what a congregation should look like. In other words, we need not go back to Jerusalem in some sort of time machine to understand what a church should look like. We just need to practice what we believe – or should believe.

There is an insightful story told of Heinrich Heine, the German poet, who was standing with a friend before the cathedral of Amiens in France. “Tell me, Heinrich,” said his friend, “why can’t people build piles like this anymore?
My dear friend,” replied Heine, “in those days people had convictions. We moderns have opinions. And it takes more than an opinion to build a Gothic cathedral.

In the days of the first Christian church in Jerusalem, the day following the event of Pentecost people were driven by convictions, not opinions. May the Lord today convict us of what His plan for his church is, and may we start restoring our congregation according to that plan.

Let’s look at a few principles that reflect God’s plan for his church.

They were saved

I think, as I understand the Scriptures, we must define ourselves this way:

Wee Waa Presbyterian Church is a community of Christians who worship and serve Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Redeemer. We believe that this church is the result of God’s work of redemption in Jesus Christ through his Holy Spirit: we exist because God called us to exist. We are therefore not a club or an organisation.

All are welcome to hear the Gospel of grace in Jesus Christ: the gospel call is intended to draw people to Christ as they hear about the free gift of salvation. But not all may be members of the church: only those who live in a living, obedient relationship with Christ as the Head of his church (1Corinthians 12:27) are received into the communicant membership of the church (2Corinthians 6:14-16). Only they may receive the signs of the Covenant of grace: baptism (Acts 2:38) and communion (1Corinthians 15:28-29).

One of the most destructive notions for any church is to throw open its membership and as a result allow about anyone with his or her ideas to infiltrate the membership. This idea would welcome in the enemy of the church; the whole notion is contrary to the Word of God.
Our Lord visited the church in Thyatira and told them this:

“I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.” (Revelation 2:20, NIV)
He then rebuked them to get rid of this ungodly thing in their midst, and added, “I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am He who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” (Revelation 2:23, NIV)

Paul writes to the Corinthian church and says this to their shame, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14–15, NIV)
It is clear to us that the church in Jerusalem consisted of those whom “the Lord added to their number daily, those who were being saved.” It was only after they had heard the Gospel as proclaimed by Peter that they then asked, “What shall we do?” Peter’s response was, “Repent and be baptised. Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted this message were baptised and added to the number.

We need to follow this rule too. My dear friend, the elders cannot look into your heart to know if you are a Christian. We have to go by what you say; but the Lord knows – and you know if you have settled accounts with Jesus. You know if you might harbour in your heart unconfessed sins, or even a heart hard as stone. In all love, but as Peter pleaded and warned the people then, I must warn today too: an unrepentant heart is a dangerous heart; its deceiving, and it will only wait for the right moment to pounce and wreak havoc in the church of Christ. Will you not heed the Word of God today, and come to ask Him to make you new, to give you that heart of flesh where the Spirit of God will find it a pleasure to live and the Son of God will reign supremely?

They loved the Scriptures

Before Jesus ascended into heaven he commanded the disciples to, “ … go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mat 28:19–20, NIV)
Now, after God called the first converts into his Church, this was exactly what they did. They devoted themselves to the teaching of every Jesus had commanded them. We looked into this some sundays ago when we heard the Word of God from Luke 24, how Jesus taught his disciples beginning from Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms about how all pointed to the Messiah who had to suffer, die and be raised again. This then what Jesus commanded them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46–47, NIV)
What they taught then was doctrine. Biblical doctrine is the tables of the mathematician, or the scales of the musician: without it you cannot master your subject. Listen to what the Bible says about doctrine:

  • “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching,” (1 Timothy 6:3, NIV)
  • “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.” (Romans 16:17, NIV)
  • “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching (doctrine) of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 9, NIV)
  • “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching (doctrine), do not take them into your house or welcome them.” (2 John 10, NIV)
  • He (an elder) must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:9)
  • “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3, NIV)

Doctrine is the standard against which we measure truth. Without the truth, the lie enters, when the lie enters, destruction enters. Silly and useless arguments then become the main thing. We start arguing about the colour of the roof, or where tables should stand, or what type of music we should sing, of how big the envelopes of the offering should be – and these things can tear a congregation apart. All of this while we sometimes don’t know what unsound doctrine is. Tradition can become the main player, while pure doctrine is looked upon as unnecessary and unwanted.

The first church is to us an example of an eagerness to understand what a healthy church is: they laid the foundations right – it was about what God’s Word said, and they studied it. It was decisively important, because it was the content of the message they to carry to the ends of the world.

They were knitted together

The word used in Acts 2:42 for fellowship, is “koinonia” which means togetherness, and describes an association involving close mutual relations and involvement. These people, now saved by grace were included into the family of God. They were brothers and sisters in the same household. They were not the sum of a group of individuals, they were members who understood that they are not complete unless all of them are there and all are cared for.
It showed in this way:

They took Communion seriously

Together with the doctrine of the Apostles they devoted themselves to this important meal. Why? In Communion we identify with the cross of Christ; we identify with his resurrection: this means that we meet at the Table of the Lord as people who are saved and understand what it means that Christ shed his blood for us. It also is a proclamation that Christ is coming again. It is further a proclamation that as Christ is the Head, so they were the members. Like in the Old Testament the Passover was celebrated as Covenant renewal, at the table we once again sit at the feet of Christ: here we confess our sins, here we dedicate ourselves again, here we take the hands of our fellow-believers and confess to one another our sins, we share our joys and we renew of bond in Christ. So the first congregation did.

They took prayer seriously

Together they praised God for his greatness and mercy to include them in his family; they prayed for one another as they told one another of their needs, fairs and joys. They prayed for the work of the congregation: it was necessary – for thousands to be added every now and then, would be a nightmare of organisation.

Most of all, the apostles taught them about the promise of Christ when He was still with them. He said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:16–17, NIV)

They had to know what Jesus promised when He taught them about prayer, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:7–8, NIV)

Now they were at the coalface, they had challenges in front of them: there were widows to care for; they needed food, shelter, keeping contact with every newcomer, there were financial needs, there needs for more leaders to be equipped; they needed people to be trained to go out in the field with a view on the ends of the world; and then, they faced opposition. This is why they devoted themselves to prayer; it was their only hope. They had nothing, they were not rich, and the means to be successful they did not have. So they were on their knees before God who rejoiced in his church asking them what they needed; and He gave it to them. When was the last we did that? When was the last that we really stood together, shoulder-to-shoulder, praying and expecting great things of God – even the impossible!

They understood what it meant to share

They understood that what they had individually was from God and that they were just stewards of God had given them. As such, they understood that that could not hold back what they had if it would harm to common good of the membership. If the need called for it, they would then gladly dispose of some things they had to help others who were in need.

They had common meals where they strengthened the bond they already had in Christ. In other words, they showed interest in one another, they were there for one another, they understood the pressures of their fellow believer. You can just imagine that for many of them to witness of Christ was not something that came naturally. They could lean on one another for help. When they were insulted for being a follower of Christ, others would be there to support them. When the Jewish leaders and others who hated Christ showed hatred towards them, they could home to some others who would encourage them.

They witnessed together

One commentator says in their homes they strengthened one another in their faith, and they then witnessed in the temple to those who still did not believe in Christ, and Christ used their witness to add to his church those who were saved.

They rejoiced together

They were glad in their hearts and the praised God together. It reminds one of the words of Paul in Phil 4:4-7, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4–7, NIV)

The effect

This congregation grew in number, they grew in their understanding of the Word of God, they grew in their understanding of what it means to be a member of a body of believers. But there was something more: they became an awesome church. Listen, “Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles .. praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:43, 47, NIV). This is exactly what Jesus told them in the Sermon on the Mount, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, NIV)

Conclusion

What do you say of that? This is what the Bible calls a normal church. Anything else is abnormal. I pray for such a church. I expect God to do great things in our midst. We need, however, to repent of our sins, our worldliness, our unholiness, our selfishness and all things ungodly; and we need to do as the Lord requires of us. AMEN.

Listen to the sermon at http://sermon.net/wwpc

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