In recent decades, a school of study has emerged called “church growth” — an effort to identify ways to help Churches grow in size and maturity. In the early chapters of Acts, we have the original curriculum for Church growth: God’s Word, fellowship, sharing, communion, and worship. Let us look particularly at Acts 2:40-47 to see what God’s Word has to say about Church growth.
1. The Establishment of the Church
a) The Preaching of the Gospel –
Peter’s preaching [Acts 2:14-36] was summarized by Luke this way: “Be saved from this corrupt generation” [v. 40]. The Gospel focuses on Jesus, His death, and resurrection and that they could be forgiven by God through trusting in Christ.
b) The Profession of Faith through Baptism –
Conversion followed by baptism was the practice of the early Church [Acts 10:47-48; 8:36-38]. Baptism is done in obedience to Christ’s command [Mt. 28:18-20], has a symbolic meaning [Rom. 6:1-4] and is a public profession of faith by the new Christian. Perhaps the 120 Christians who were in the Upper Room divided the 3000 new Christians into smaller groups and baptized them using the many pools in and around Jerusalem. One study shows that the new converts could have been baptized in 5 hours.
c) The Practice of Regenerate Membership –
Only those who “accepted Peter’s message [the Gospel]” [v. 41] were baptized and added to the Church membership. One reason why some Churches are weak is because they have unconverted people as members of the Church.
2. The Edification of the Church
Luke records for us the very first [priority] activity of the early Church: “They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching” [v.42]. The Apostle’s teaching was everything they had learned from Jesus the words and works of Jesus which Jesus commanded them to teach other Christians [Matthew 28:20]. To be edified [built up], the Church must be a Bible-teaching Church. Only in the Bible do we have a record of the teachings and life of Jesus.
The apostle Paul taught Timothy and Titus the importance of passing on sound doctrine based on God’s Word [1 Tim. 4:6; 2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 1:9]. It is reassuring to know that when we study and teach the Bible we are studying the same Scriptures which the Apostles taught 2000 years ago.
Open hearts, hands, and homes is a good way to define fellowship in the early Church as well as today.
3. The Experience of the Church
The intimacy and sharing that characterized the Jerusalem Church reflects a set of values through which true spiritual life and growth are transmitted. The first Church “continued steadfastly in fellowship” [v. 42]. The Greek word “koinonia” is translated as “fellowship” and it means “to hold things in common.” The Christians experienced fellowship in several ways:
a) Open Hearts [v. 42] – To open your heart to others means to share your life with them. The Christian life cannot be lived in isolation any more than a foot or arm can function without the rest of the body [1 Cor. 12]. The word “saint” is found 66 times in the plural from Acts to Revelation and only once in the singular [Phil. 4:21]. To have fellowship with Christ means to have fellowship with fellow Christians [1 John 1:3]. God tells us in Hebrews 10:24-25 that fellowship produces love and good works among Christians.
b) Open Hands [v. 44-45] – The Christians also shared their material goods with one another. This is not “socialism” where all property is held in common, because early Christians like Barnabas owned personal property [Acts 4:36-37]. Not is this “communism” where sharing is compulsory and the commune replaces the family as the main social unit. The Christians had personal possessions but shared it voluntarily to meet the needs of others. The Bible does not say that everyone sold everything they had and put it in a common fund. Rather, they sold things as the need arose and shared with those who had the need.
c) Open Homes [v. 46] – The early Christians did not all sell their homes because Luke tells us they met “from house to house” to share meals together. These meals were most likely similar to what we call potluck suppers today — people bringing dishes and sharing them together. Many of the new Christians were visiting Jerusalem for Pentecost and needed places to stay and food to eat.
Open hearts, hands, and homes is a good way to define fellowship in the early Church as well as today. Most Churches today have some form of small group ministry where Christians meet for teaching, sharing life and meals. House-sized groups is a biblical model for sustaining fellowship among members.
4. The Expression of the Church
The early Church expressed its love for Christ through worship in a number of ways:
a) The Lord’s Table [v. 42] – “Breaking bread” is a New Testament phrase for the Holy Communion – sharing the Lord’s Table. Communion is an opportunity to look back at what Christ has done, forward to His Return, and inward to the spiritual condition of our own lives [1 Cor. 11:23-29]. All Christians should take part in the Holy Communion whenever it is held at Church.
b) Prayer [v. 42] – the early Christians “continued steadfastly in … prayers.” The plural use of the word probably refers to prayers of various kinds, both formal prayers from Jewish liturgy as well as informal prayers. Prayers of praise, thanksgiving, confession, petition all are valid and varied forms of worshipping God.
c) Corporate Worship [v. 46] – the Church met “daily together in the Temple.” Most likely they met in the Gentile court of the Temple where people who were not Jews could gather. It was one of the few places in Jerusalem large enough to hold more than 3000 people at one time. Nearly all the first Christians were Jews and probably functioned like Messianic Jewish Christians of today.
d) Celebration of Faith [v. 43, 46, 47] – Both the teaching and ministry of Jesus and the Apostles’ was validated by the “wonders and signs [v. 43] which God performed through them. Today, we do not often witness “signs and wonders” because we have the completed Word of God [the Bible] by which to authenticate our Christians experience and message. We need to be like the Bereans who study the Scriptures to see if things are true or not [Acts 17:11]. The Jerusalem Church worshiped with “gladness and simplicity of heart.” Their worship was not affected by self-centeredness nor howmanship.
They simply offered up to God what was in their hearts through their music, singing of psalms, and prayers.
5. The Expansion of the Church
As a result of these edifying activities, Luke tells us “the Lord added to the Church daily those who were being saved” [v. 47]. Soon persecution would break out against the early Church, but for a time the Church enjoyed great favor in Jerusalem. Perhaps in fulfillment of Jesus’ words in John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have a love for one another,” many responded to God’s love shared within and without the Jerusalem Church.
The early Church turned their world upside down for Christ [Acts 17:6], because they focused on Christ. They taught the doctrine of Christ, fellowshipped around Christ, remembered Christ in communion, communicated with Christ in prayer, and exalted Christ in worship. As the NLBC family, let us continue to increasingly focus on Christ in all that we do just as the early Church did, and may God also continue to “add to the Church those who are being saved.”