As we have done with other topics in this series, let us take a quick look at some of the things we can learn from the Book of Acts about the church of the living God. Any person who desires to have a scriptural concept of the church of the Lord needs to give careful consideration to such vital matters.
- Not a Physical Structure – One of the most common modern-day concepts of the church is that it is a physical building. Yet, we never see the church portrayed as such in the Bible. When we read in the Book of Acts about the church in action and things that happened to it, such information makes it plain that the “church” has reference to the followers of Jesus and not to some physical facility in which those disciples might assemble. The church feared (Acts 5:11), it was persecuted (8:1), it had peace and was edified (9:31), it prayed (12:5), and it needs to be shepherded (20:28).
- Its Beginning – About one year prior to His death, Jesus promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18). After Acts 2, we read about His church already being in existence on earth (Acts 5:11; 8:1), so Jesus’ promise was fulfilled. The church started in Jerusalem, where Jews were gathered for the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-5) – the first Pentecost after our Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection. The historical date was approximately 30 A.D.
- Its Importance – The relevance of God’s church is seen from the truth that it was the subject of Old Testament prophecy. On the day of the church’s inception, the apostle Peter explained that what transpired that day (the Holy Spirit’s coming on and empowering the apostles) actually was a fulfillment of what the prophet Joel foretold. In Peter’s words, “But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days . . .’” (Acts 2:16,17).
Second, the purchase price of the church shows its importance. The fact that the Lord bought the church “with His own blood” (Acts 20:28) shows how much He personally values it. Furthermore, there is the reality that the Lord adds saved people to the church (Acts 2:47). With Jesus as the Savior of the body (Ephesians 5:23), surely none of us would want to try and minimize the significant place of the church in God’s eternal scheme.
- Its Organization – In its earliest days, the church had apostles serving as its leaders (Acts 4:33-35; 5:41,42; 6:2-6). As time progressed, elders were appointed in local churches. The first New Testament reference to church elders is Acts 11:30. On one of their preaching trips, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders “in every church” (Acts 14:23).
Known also as “overseers,” elders are responsible for shepherding the flock of God among which they live and labor (Acts 20:17,28). Conspicuously absent in the biblical record (Acts and elsewhere) is any mention of the Lord’s church having an organizational structure which includes any type of earthly ruling center or headquarters.
- Its Unity – Through the gospel, the door of God’s Kingdom was opened to all people of all nations. On Pentecost, devout Jewish people from every nation under heaven were present to hear the Lord’s message of salvation (Acts 2:5,36-41). The apostle Peter later declared to the Gentile Cornelius, “. . . God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34,35). In the Christ, Jew and Gentile come together as one (Galatians 3:26-29).
But what about unity in practice? Would it be possible to get people of different backgrounds to work together – not simply coexist, but actually labor as one? In Jerusalem, an appealing situation existed in the early days of the church when “the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32). Surely such a mindset is achievable in our generation, too!
Yes, the unity of the church was challenged. Internal strive (neglected widows, Acts 6), false teaching (concerning circumcision and keeping the old law, Acts 15), and strongly stated words of disagreement (the split between Barnabas and Paul, Acts 15) were real issues that had to be overcome. Yet, the first-century church did not wilt or fall apart when it had to face such matters.
- Its Growth/Spread – We thrill to read of the church being established in Jerusalem, then as Jesus pointed out, it went into all Judea, Samaria, and the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). In modern terminology, in the Book of Acts we read of people from Asia, Africa, and Europe learning and obeying the gospel. How exciting! The church grew in number (Acts 4:4), grew in spiritual strength (Acts 15:41), and grew in geographic disbursement as new congregations were planted (Acts 14:21-23; 16:5). Any serious, “big picture” study of the church’s growth has to consider all three of those aspects: numerical, spiritual/internal, and geographic.
For diligent students of the Scriptures, there is a lifetime of learning in the Book of Acts alone. Study it, love it, live it, and teach it. That sounds like a plan!
— Roger D. Campbell