by Steven Chan
21 June 2009
The church as described in Acts 2 was one that grew on a daily basis as the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. The church today is not growing at that same pace. One wonders why? As always, we should look to the Bible for the answer.
The first converts in Jerusalem numbering abut 3,000, witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and heard them proclaim praises to God in languages that they had not learned before: “we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.” (Acts 2:11). These were not “unknown tongues” in the sense that no one on earth spoke those tongues or languages or angelic tongues. They were merely tongues or languages that the apostles had not learned before but the Spirit empowered them to speak in those languages (Acts 2:4) as evidence of God working with them (Mark 16:20; Heb 2:3-4 – ‘to confirm or authenticate their words’). That was a tremendous event. They were pricked in their hearts (Acts 2:37) when they realized that they had crucified Jesus whom God had raised from the dead, thereby proving that Jesus was indeed “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Because their hearts had been pricked by the words proclaimed by Peter, they asked: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Upon the urging of the apostle Peter who told them to “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38) – in accordance with the terms for salvation given by Jesus in Mark 16:15,16 – 3,000 were baptized into Christ on that very day! (Acts 2:41)
They were not told to say the ‘sinner’s prayer’ and ‘ask Jesus to come into their hearts’ nor did they wait for a more convenient time to be baptized. An example of a typical “Sinner’s Prayer” is as follows: “Heavenly Father: I come to you in prayer asking for the forgiveness of my Sins. I confess with my mouth and believe with my heart that Jesus is your Son, and that he died on the Cross at Calvary that I might be forgiven and have Eternal Life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Father, I believe that Jesus rose from the dead and I ask you right now to come into my life and be my personal Lord and Savior. I repent of my Sins and will Worship you all the days of my Life!. Because your word is truth, I confess with my mouth that I am Born Again and Cleansed by the Blood of Jesus! In Jesus Name, Amen.”
The neighbourhood preacher from a denominational church would have told these people in Acts 2 who had asked “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” that: “If you read the Sinner’s Prayer and truly believe the words you read, then Praise the Lord as you have been saved and your name will appear in the “Lamb’s Book of Life!””
BUT the apostle Peter did not tell them to say the Sinner’s Prayer and that if they truly believe the words of the Sinner’s Prayer, then they are already saved and their names are in the book of life!! Can we not see the vast difference between the terms of salvation as proclaimed by Jesus in Mark 16:16 and followed by the apostle Peter in Acts 2:38, with those being taught by our modern day preacher from the denominations? Friends, do not be deceived. Those who were deceived by salespeople to invest in “Lehman’s mini bonds” suffered horrendous financial losses during the recent financial crisis but people who are misled by those who claim to speak on behalf of God, will suffer far greater and graver loss as it has eternal consequences. In Matt. 15:14, Jesus said: “And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” The Bible warns us in 1 John 4:1, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” The Sinner’s prayer is not the way of the cross unto salvation as it falls far short of what Jesus requires of those who desire to be saved. The 3,000 people who heeded Peter’s words in Acts 2:38, were baptized on that very day (Acts 2:41). Who would you rather follow on the path to salvation? If one has not done exactly what the 3,000 did as required and stated in Acts 2:38, then upon what or on whose assurance can one claim to have obeyed the terms of salvation of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Who would you trust? Your modern day neighbourhood preacher from the denominations, or the apostle Peter and Jesus Christ? The apostle Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ – meaning that baptism for the forgiveness of sins is by His authority! By whose authority does your neighborhood preacher from the denominational church act when he asked one to say the Sinner’s prayer and then declare that it is sufficient for one’s sins to be forgiven separate and apart from having been baptized? The two paths are not the same as one certainly falls far short of the terms stated by Jesus in Mark 16:16.
It is also important to note that the sermon preached by Peter was one that was replete with or filled with quotations from the Old Testament scriptures such as Joel 2:28-32 (“this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” – Acts 2:16), Psa 16:8-11; Psa 110:1 (“For David speaketh concerning him”- Acts 2:25). Contrast that with the so-called preaching of the modern day preachers from the denominations which are typically filled with human testimonies and a scarcity of reference to the Scriptures.
The fact of the matter is that God’s Word is the Sword of the Spirit for the conversion of man (Eph 6:17). In Rom 1:16, Paul wrote: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” In Luke 8:11, in explaining the parable of the sower, Jesus said: “Now the parable is this: ‘The seed is the word of God’.” We ought to be sowing the seed which is the Word of God – not the tares (Matt. 13:24-30) which are NOT the word of God; rather they are the “words, testimonies, philosophies and speculations of men and women”!
In 2 Tim 4:1-4, the apostle Paul wrote in very strong terms to the young preacher Timothy: “I charge thee in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables.”
When the seed from God which is the pure and unadulterated Word of God is sown in the hearts of men, it will produce after its kind, and “Christians” only will spring forth – not some followers of denominations bearing names that are not of Christ – such as Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptists, etc – even though the apostle Paul had already condemned such practices as stated in I Cor 1:10-13: “Now I beseech you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been signified unto me concerning you, my brethren, by them that are of the household of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I mean, that each one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos: and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized into the name of Paul?”
God’s Word which is the Truth (John 17:17) that will set man free from sin (John 8:32,34-36) was given to Jesus Christ who had in turn given it to His apostles (John 17:8) and the Holy Spirit was sent to ensure that the apostles would guide them into all truth (John 16:13) as well as teach them all things and to bring to their remembrance all that was taught to them by Jesus Christ when He was with them (John 14:26). So, when the apostles taught, they were speaking as the oracles of God (I Pet. 4:11) and their words were received as the Word of God and not the words of men (1 Thess. 2:13: “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers”). When the apostle Paul wrote his epistles, they were not his opinions or his own ideas of how to have a good relationship with God: “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.”(1 Cor 14:37). He declared that they are the “commandments of the Lord”.
Many today are no longer preaching the Word (i.e. the Bible). They have denied the verbal inspiration of the Bible “that holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:21). They have been taught that the Bible is merely suggestive of the Word of God and not the very word of God and that one ought not to view or approach the Bible as if they were laws and commandments. One should not be have a legalistic approach to the Bible. In other words, the “Ten Commandments” should more properly be viewed as the “Ten Suggestions for godly living”. Many of these ideas have been promulgated by professors of Bible. Of these so-called Bible professors, Rom 1:22 says “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools”.
We must get back to sowing the seed, which is the Word of God, that is able to set men free from sin and to “be born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (I Pet 1:23). We must restore the preaching of the Word of God such that hearts may once again be pricked by it and people will want to know and ask what they must do to be saved.
Thereafter we must follow the commitment and activities of the early church: “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul:… And all that believed were together, and had all things common; … And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:42-47).
They adhered to the worship pattern characterized by the apostolic teachings/doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread and in prayers accompanied by praise to God, and they continued a life of togetherness manifested by coming together often and eating meals together with gladness and singleness of heart. Their unity and togetherness because of their evident love for one another enabled them to enjoy the favour of all the people (John 13:34,35). Although they met often, it was not always for the purpose of partaking the Lord’s Supper (i.e. the breaking of bread). The record in Acts 20:7 tells us clearly that the early Christians came together on the first day of the week to partake of the Lord’s Supper : “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul preached unto them” 1 Cor. 16:2 also tells us that free-will contributions were made on the first day of every week: “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come” (ESV). In Heb 10:25 Christians were exhorted thus: “not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh.”
No wonder the church in the first century was a growing church – because it was a God-glorifying church. If we wish to grow, we must seek to glorify God in all that we do. 1 Cor 10:31: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
We need to look forward towards meeting together often (to encourage one another from the Word of God and to seek God’s Grace through prayers) and to exhibit love and unity among brethren (in fellowship and sharing) and thereby enjoy the favor of the people. But most importantly, the Word of God must to be taught at all times. It is that which convicts the hearts of men. It is that which will build us up (Matt. 4:4; Acts 20:32). May we all seek to glorify God in all that we do and thereby become a growing church.