(Preached at First Baptist, Pauls Valley, OK 2-01-15 a.m.)
The pastor at our home church, Trinity Baptist in Norman, Bro. Ronnie Rogers, has just published a new book; one which I would highly recommend to anyone who is interested in the church. It is entitled The Equipping Church. The basic thesis of the book is that there is a tension in many churches and across American Christianity today, between those who are seeking to be “contemporary” and those who are seeking to be “traditional” in their approaches to church ministry. Pastor Rogers writes, and I think pretty fairly, about some of the strengths and weaknesses of each approach. But his main conclusion is that BOTH of these approaches have really missed the point. The goal of the church should not be to be either “contemporary”, or “traditional”, but BIBLICAL! We are to be like the church that God commands us to be in His word. But what kind of church is that, and how can we become like that church? We find the answers to those questions in the first chapters of the Book of Acts.
Our message today is very simple; it comprises only two points: 1) the kind of church we want to be, and 2) the most important key to becoming that kind of church.
The Kind of Church We Want To Be
When you envision the ideal church, what do you picture? I think that is a very important question to ask. “What kind of church do you want to be?” Different ones of us here might answer that question in different ways.
— Some might say: “I want to be the kind of church that Rick Warren has in California; with a laid-back attitude, contemporary music, doing all kinds of new and creative things; and the pastor wearing Hawaiian shirts!”
— Others might say: “Oh, I want us to have the kind of church I remember growing up: we had 3 hymns, and a sermon, and WMU and Brotherhood and Training Union …”.
But isn’t pastor Rogers right? Shouldn’t the church we want to be, be neither “contemporary” nor “traditional”, but BIBLICAL?! Where do we find a model of this kind of church? Perhaps the best example of the early church in action is found in Acts 2:41-47 …
I think most Christians would point to Acts 2:41-47 and say that is the kind of model we’d like to follow; that is the kind of church we’d like to become. Let’s look at some of the elements of that church:
— :42 says “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and prayer.”
So first of all, there is this strong word about how they were “devoted” to some things.
This is the Greek New Testament word “proskarterountes”. The Jewish historian Josephus uses this same word when he describes the siege of an ancient city, and he says they “persisted” in the siege — in other words, they gave constant attention to it, and did not let up.
So Acts 2 tells us that the early church was “devoted” to some things. In other words, they persisted in them; they were committed to them. What were these things?
A. The Word of God
They were committed to the “apostles’ teaching.” In other words, they were committed to the teaching of the word of God.
This is significant, because it does NOT say that they were committed to holding to their traditions. It doesn’t say they were committed to keeping things the same: to keeping the old sacrifices, and priesthood, and Jewish traditions. In fact, there was going to be a lot that changed. This was a “new covenant” they had; “a better covenant with better promises”. They weren’t committed to tradition, but to “the teaching of the Apostles” — in other words, to the word of God.
It is also important to see that they were not committed to being “creative” or “relevant” in their society either. There is no mention of this anywhere. They weren’t committed to be “contemporary” and keep up with all the latest fads of the Greeks and the Romans! What they were committed to was the word of God, wherever that led them.
This should cause each of us to question ourselves: what am I committed to, in our church? What am I known for? Am I committed to being “contemporary”? Am I committed to being “traditional”? Or am I like the early church: committed, persistent, devoted — to the teaching of the word of God?! The early church was marked by this commitment, not to be “contemporary” or “traditional”, but to be BIBLICAL. That is one of the most vital signs of a strong New Testament church; the kind of church we should desire to be.
:43 goes on to say that they were also devoted “to fellowship, to the breaking of bread …”
“Fellowship” is the Greek Bible word “koinonia”, which means to share something in common. When we think of “fellowship” as Baptists, we often think of what we have in the “fellowship hall”, which is food! And that can be a part of Biblical fellowship. In fact, eating together was a part of the fellowship we see here in Acts 2. That second phrase says they had “breaking of bread” together. Verse 46 goes on to say “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.” So as much as we might like to make fun of our Baptist “fellowship” as “eating together”, we see here in Acts that eating together actually WAS a big part of their “fellowship”!
Let’s not denigrate the role of eating together as a vital element of Christian fellowship. In fact, the next verses indicate that the early church ate together even more than we Baptists usually do. Verse 46 says “Day by day … they were taking their meals together”! We don’t need less eating together; I think there is scriptural evidence that we should do it more!
So eating together for fellowship is important. But that word for fellowship, “koinonia”, means more than merely sharing meals. The word actually just means to share something together in common. Food is one way you can share something in common, and they did that. But it was just ONE sign of their fellowship, because :44 goes on to say, “And all those had believed were together, and had ALL THINGS in common.” The early church didn’t just have “something” in common; it says they had ALL things in common! They shared everything, as we see in the next verses:
— Verse 45 says “and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” They shared their POSSESSIONS together.
— Verse 46 indicates they shared their TIME together (day by day); their WORSHIP together (“in the temple”) their HOMES together (“and from house to house”), they ATE together and they REJOICED together (“gladness and sincerity of heart.”)
There was an integral knitting of their lives together in this “fellowship.” Their fellowship was more than spending one meal a month together; they shared their whole LIVES together!
When I was sick with dysautonomia, I was unable to spend much time reading, either books or on the computer, because I would get dizzy and nauseated after a few seconds of reading. So, as you can imagine, I didn’t get much reading done. But I did manage to read one little book during the worst part of my illness, and that was a little book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the church. It taught about how we should pray together, and learn to live with each other despite all of our shortcomings (In fact he said the sooner we get over the idea that life with other Christians is heaven on earth, the better off we are. He said the only way we can live together is by grace; both receiving grace and showing grace towards each other’s quirks and shortcomings, as those and to those who don’t deserve it!). I think it is significant that the title he gave to this book was Life Together. Because that’s what being a part of a church body is to be: it is sharing LIFE TOGETHER. Christianity is not just about “coming to church” for an hour or two a week with some people, and never seeing them again until the next week. That is not at all what you see here in Acts 2. What is described here is people who were really doing “life together”, who shared everything in common. It is one of the signal qualities of the church God wants us to be.
(:42 says they were also devoted to “prayer.” We are going to come back to that one, but let’s just note that for now as one of the most important marks of the church we want to be.)
:47 gives us some more marks of the model church:
— it says they were “praising God”, so worship was a mark of that church.
— and it says “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” People being saved is definitely a mark of the church we want to be.
If the Lord wills, we may look at some of these marks in some more depth in coming weeks; but for now let’s suffice to say that any church would do well to pattern themselves after the church in Acts 2. Surely people with either “contemporary” or “traditional” leanings would agree that the church in Acts 2 would be a good church for us to model ourselves after today.
II. The Kind of Prayer That Empowers A Church
Acts 2:41-47 certainly describes the kind of church we would aspire to be. But here’s the thing: we cannot just look at these qualities and say: “Ok, let’s do these things. Let’s identify these — worship, evangelism, teaching, fellowship, caring, etc., however many qualities we determine them to be — and start doing them.” That is not what happened in Acts 2! They didn’t just up and decide to start being this way. It happened as the result of something very important: the power of the Holy Spirit which was poured out when they dedicated themselves to prayer!
You can’t take these verses in isolation, because they didn’t happen in a vacuum, they came in context. You can’t really understand what happened at the end of Acts 2, unless you see what happened at the beginning of Acts 2 — and even Acts 1.
They didn’t “just start doing this.” In fact, they didn’t even plan it. It is just what happened as a result when the Holy Spirit came upon them at the beginning of the chapter. Acts 2 opens, “When the Day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place …” and it begins to describe what happened when the Holy Spirit first came upon the church. Verse 4 says they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues, then :14 says that Peter stood and preached, and when he had finished, the people listening were “pierced to the heart” (:37) and :41 says that 3000 people were saved that day! And THEN all the things that we read about in :41-47 took place. So all those things didn’t just “happen”; they came about when the Holy Spirit came upon them in a special way.
But you really have to go back even further than that. What led up to this outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Acts 1:14 says they were devoted to prayer. After Jesus had ascended to heaven, :12 says they all went back to Jerusalem, and :14 says: “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer …”. This is the key. This is what led to their being filled with the Spirit, and all of the marks that we would like to see in our church today.
NOTICE some things this verse teaches us about their prayers:
A. FIRST it teaches about UNIFIED prayer:
“These all with one mind” — “all”, with “one mind.” They were all together in this, and there were no divisions or quarrels among the. This is important. Paul wrote in I Timothy 2: “pray … lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.” We must be unified when we pray. We must have no one whom we have not forgiven, like we talked about a couple of weeks ago in Ephesians 4:32 and Matthew 18. We must be committed to unity in church to have power in prayer.
Haven’t you watched a football or basketball game, where one team made some mistakes, or began to experience some adversity, and the players on the sidelines begin to yell at each other and fight among themselves? Don’t you say to yourself: “That team is in trouble! There is no way they can be effective if they are divided like that.”
This is why Satan’s strategy is to do whatever he can to cause divisions in the church. He knows it absolutely cripples our effectiveness. I Peter 5 says he prowls about like a roaring lion, and one of the destructive things he does is try to turn Christians in churches against each other. He will do his best to use something that somebody says or does to “stir something up” and cause trouble in the church, because he knows if that happens, our prayers will not be effective.
Listen: the next time you are about to get mad about something or someone in the church, or say something about someone or something in the church, would you stop first and realize what is happening: Satan is trying to use that thing, whatever it is, to drive a wedge between you and others in the church, to hinder all of our power in prayer. Would you determine: “I am not going to let that happen! I am not going to let him use ME like that.” I am going to put my “bucket of water” on that fire! I am going to stay as one with my brothers and sisters, so that we can have the power God wants us to have in prayer! Unified prayer was a key for the early church.
B. SECOND it teaches CONTINUAL prayer:
“… continually devoting themselves” to prayer
Here is the same word “proskarterountes” again: giving constant attention to, persevering in, persisting in.
It is instructive that this word is used 4 times in the New Testament regarding prayer:
— here (Acts 1:14)
— Acts 6:4, where it says the Apostles were devoted to prayer and to the word
— Romans 12:12, Paul is listing a lot of things Christians are do, including: “devoted to prayer”
— Colossians 4:2 Where Paul commands: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it …”
It should be instructive to us that the most frequent use of this word in the New Testament is regarding prayer. Of all the things we could be devoted to, we are commanded to be devoted to prayer. And it is prescribed in the letters of Paul to the churches, so it was not only the church in Acts, but ALL churches — including ours — which are to be devoted to prayer.
The question is: are we?
Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the Temple and said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” We may not have the same moneychanging going on the Lord’s house of worship today, but we have similarly been distracted from what it should be, as a “house of prayer.”
We should ask ourselves: how much prayer really goes on in our church?
Many of us appreciated how Kevin Wilkins shared from his heart last Sunday night in business meeting, as he read from Thom Rainer’s book, “Autopsy of a Dead Church”, 11 signs that a church is dying. If you were there, you remember that one of those signs of impending death is prayerlessness. Dying churches just do not pray. I think I shared with you all before about how someone did a survey, timing how much the average church prayed during their services, and the average was about 2 minutes total! That is not what the Bible means when it says we are to be “devoted to prayer”!
We need to recapture a zeal for prayer, and restore a commitment to prayer in our church, like they had in the Book of Acts, if we want to be anything like that church. A few months ago I quoted the old expression: “The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win.” The way the church prepares to “win” is in prayer: as individuals, and together in groups and as a church. How do we do that?
— It must begin with us as individuals. How is your commitment to pray personally? Are you beginning your day with prayer, and praying throughout the day, like we talked about in the “Disciplines of Disciples”?
Mike & Austin & I are reading “10 Questions For Leaders”, a very convicting article by Chuck Lawless. One of the questions is: “Would someone want to pray the way I’ve prayed this week?” Would you ask yourself that question? What if everyone in our church prayed the way that YOU pray — would this be a praying church? Would we become the church we want to be if everyone prayed like you? Some of us need to commit or re-commit ourselves to the priority of our morning prayer times with the Lord.
— But we also need to pray together, like the disciples did. I heard that one of our Sunday School classes had a day of fasting and prayer for the church not long ago, fasting “an evening and a morning”. I commend you all for that; this is exactly the kind of thing that needs to be done. We need to pray together that God’s power would be poured out on His church.
— And we need to pray together during our services. There are a number of ways to do that.
Join in during prayer times in the services. Don’t just be a “spectator” and listen to the prayers, YOU pray too. Pray during everything that we are doing: make your songs prayers of worship to God; pray during the sermon that God’s Spirit would touch hearts; come forward during the invitation and pray for what God has spoken to you about.
We must be “devoted to prayer” like they were in Acts, if we want to be like that church. And it wasn’t just in Acts 1 & 2 either. They were continually devoted to prayer. Acts 4:24 says that after Peter and John were arrested, the church gathered again to pray, and it says: “They lifted their voices to God with one accord” (there it is again; praying unified!) and :31 says “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness.”
It wasn’t the greatness of their human leadership that made them a great church. (Do not put that burden on the pastor God brings to this church! He will not bring revival in his briefcase!)
It wasn’t denominational planning that made them so effective.
It wasn’t an evangelism program that led to thousands being saved.
It was their unified prayer, that filled them with the Holy Spirit, that made them a church we would want to imitate. And if we want to be like them, we must first of all be “devoted to prayer” just like they were.
Let’s bow our heads, and commit ourselves to pray, right now ….