“Church in Action” (John MacDiarmid)

Notes on talk given by John MacDiarmid for Poole Christian Fellowship at Poole High School on 14 January 2018.

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Next week we will start a new series looking at the book of Ezra, and other books around it. The story about how God miraculously saved His people from exile and gave them a job to do – building his temple. We will be thinking about how God has saved us, and given us a job to do – working with Him to build His church. To help us prepare for that, last week, the first Sunday of 2018, we looked at our Vision and Mission as a church. Today we will consider from the book of Acts what a church looks like when it’s in action.

So, let’s look together at the first church, in the immediate aftermath of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem in those extraordinary days of Pentecost and afterwards.

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

What does a church in action look like? We do not want to be a people of the first century – wearing first century clothes, speaking Aramaic and singing first century songs. We want to be a people of the 21st century working out the values of God’s word in our own context. So what principles can we glean from the only inspired record of church history that we have?

I want to suggest today that there are four ways in which the early church can inspire us:

1. Discipleship: the first church had a clear basis on which people belonged to the church:

a. Repentance: They were all called on to repent. There is no entrance into God’s kingdom other than by a conscious deliberate giving of your life to God. We welcome everyone who is on a journey to that place, but being a part of God’s community means that we have chosen to give our lives to Jesus
b. Baptism: in Acts, whenever someone turned to Jesus they were baptised, showing visibly that they were participators in the death and resurrection of Jesus
c. Receiving the Spirit: everyone joining the church received the Holy Spirit – the life of God entering into them.
There is no other entrance into the Kingdom of God or into the church. We all need to ask ourselves whether that is our experience. If not – there are steps to be taken. And as a church we need to be committed to this.

2. Devotion: the early church was characterised by devotion. That means things that were visibly and demonstrably commitments in the life of the church. So what were these first believers devoted to?
a. The Apostles teaching: what the apostles taught, through the ministry of God’s word, was central to the life of the church. And today, God’s word has to be central to what we do. We are called to be not only Spirit-led, but also Bible shaped. The apostles appointed deacons in order to give themselves to the ministry of the word. Paul urged Timothy to devote himself to the public reading scripture, to preaching and teaching. The day a church abandons that, it has signed its own death warrant.
b. Fellowship: a difficult word to get our heads around. But fellowship has to do with community, with friendship, with mutual encouragement and support. Fellowship is us. They were devoted to it. Are we?
c. Breaking Bread: there is plenty of teaching in Luke’s gospel and 1 Corinthians about the Lord’s supper. But that is not what Luke is telling us here. Breaking bread refers to “eating together”. It was the normal custom of the early church to eat together. And I recommend it to you as well. All through the autumn we met for pudding together on Thursday evenings. On 11th February we will be sharing a meal together and in June we share a whole weekend of meals together at our church weekend away. What part does sharing food together have in our church life?

They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts

d. Prayer.: any church that does not have prayer at the forefront is doomed to die. The most important people we have in the church are the prayers. If you were to ask me who are more important – the do-ers or the pray-ers. I would say the pray-ers every time. But my favouriteis both. The real pray-ers are often the real do-ers too

Are not all the above best carried out in small groups?

3. Distribution:

What are we make of the comment that
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
Is this some first century version of extreme communism?
And in Acts 4 we read:

“No one claimed that any of their possessions were there ow, but they shared everything they had.. there were no needy persons amongst them…”

I think we can take this as meaning that everything we have belongs to God – not to us. It is given to us to look after and to share with others. That applies to my time, my money my home my car. Is that our attitude? And that means that there is no one who lacks. As we consider our responsibility to care for the poor, in this setting the testimony of the early church was that AMONGST them there were no poor. Poverty was rife in society, but no in the church. What a testimony of the generosity of our God. No poor in the church. Is that true amongst us?

4. Daily
The discipleship, the devotion and the distribution was a daily lifestyle. As Christians in Poole in the 21st Century we believe that the life we have in Jesus is to be lived out daily. When it is what happens?
Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles…. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Oh, to be a part of that!

What steps can we taker to work this out? Surely, the best setting for this sort of discipleship, for this sort of devotion, for this sort of distribution and for this sort of daily living is in small groups, small groups made up of apprentices of Jesus who want to live out his life in community with others. We need a system, a structure of church life that enables us to live this out in community.
Let’s do it!

John MacDiarmid
January 2018