Series: Fundamental Lessons on the Church. Lesson Four Part One,



Part One of Two


By Bob W. Lovelace



The Church at Jerusalem in the beginning,



            Considering once again the beginning of the church we find its establishment in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts chapter two. Upon hearing the word preached by the apostles about three thousand souls believed and obeyed in baptism for the remission of their sins. These were added with the apostles and constituted the church of Christ. Here is Luke's description of the first days of the church: Acts 2:40-47,

    "And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!" [41] So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls. [42] And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

    [43] And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. [44] And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; [45] and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. [46] And 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, [47] praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved."


            Those who made up the church constituted a body of believers in a particular locale, i.e. Jerusalem. At the very first there was only the church at Jerusalem. The churches in Judea, Samaria and elsewhere that would spring up as a result of the work of evangelists spreading the word were yet in the future. The first statement about their being together shows that they had a common belief or faith, i.e. the Gospel (the New Testament). Those who had possessions were willing to sell their property and possessions and distribute to those who were in need. Each day they engaged in collective worship in the temple. They ate their common meals from house to house thus sharing in that way as well. Things were not being done in a haphazard or loose way without oversight or direction. Moreover, God did not leave them in limbo with regard to the work of the church that was to be done. We are shown that the Apostles had the oversight of the affairs. And with regard to their activities under that oversight Luke says, "And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42). Thus, they received instruction daily in the word spoken by the apostles (the apostles' teaching), they shared through giving, they partook of the Lord's Supper which is denoted by the phrase "breaking of bread" (Compare I Cor. 10:16, 11:24), and they devoted themselves to prayer.  The place where they met for worship was Solomon's porch in the Temple (Acts 3:11, 5:12). This space was freely provided at the beginning as a place for public discourse. The standard of morality as set forth for righteous conduct for Christians in the Gospel was their standard for daily living.


Liberality among members,


            The number that made up the church multiplied quickly day by day (Acts 2:47). Before long just the number of the men alone came to be about five thousand (Acts 4:4). Luke tells us that "believers were increasingly added to the Lord" through baptism (Acts 2:41, 5:14). Moreover, their generosity is seen in their selling some of their property and giving so that those among them in need might be cared for. The money given was brought and "laid at the apostles' feet," thus pointing to the apostles' oversight at the very beginning. Luke's description as a result of this growth was, "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. [33] And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. [34] Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, [35] And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. [36] And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, [37] Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet" (Acts 4:32-37).


The simple pattern for the church receiving funds to do its work is established at the very beginning of the church. The members "themselves" gave into a common treasury so that the Jerusalem church could do its work. Notice that they did not go out and ask or expect the community to "donate" to their church. They did not take the money and put it to the money-changers to gain interest thus increasing their holdings, although we know that such was possible even then (Matt. 25:27). Nor did they bank or invest money, or put it into businesses owned and ran by the church to bring in gain. Though the Apostles performed great miracles God did not enable them to miraculously just make money! Why? Because God wants His people to give as He commands them in His word.


An example of "bad" conduct among members being dealt with,


            Part of the church's work from the very beginning was the disciplining of unruly members. A "bad" example of conduct among members follows the "good" example of Barnabas' liberality in giving. The "bad" conduct had to do with two members, husband and wife, who dared to lie to God (Acts 5). This too is an important event of the very beginning of the church. Here it is: Acts 5:1-11,

"But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, [2] And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. [3] But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? [4] Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. [5] And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. [6] And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. [7] And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. [8] And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. [9] Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. [10] Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. [11] And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things."


            We notice that his wife, Saphira, had full knowledge (5:2) of the presumptuous plan. The money would not have belonged to the church, Peter explains, until it was given (5:4). Even after their property was sold Peter tells them it was still theirs to do with as they pleased (5:4). Dear reader, what you are reading here about the first church belonging to Christ is not communalism! This is obvious from Peter's statements just commented on. The money would have been theirs to do with as they pleased had they not chosen to lie about it and what they gave. Above all, their sin was that they lied to the Holy Spirit who is God (5:3-4). They tested God not thinking He would know. How foolish! And the price paid for their sin was physical death (5:5, 10). The result of this discipline is that it produced fear. By God's discipline here people truly knew how God cared about the church He'd established, and desired proper conduct among its members. Those who were not yet Christians who heard about this incident learned that God is God and He is real! Moreover, all Christians learned that they could not help their mates by agreeing or going along with them in that which is sinful.


The strength (example) of the apostles is instructive,


            The examples set forth in the lives of the Apostles are instructive in and of themselves. Through these beginning days the enemies of the church are the Jewish religious authorities. As the Apostles performed miracles and with great power, Luke says, gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders set out to stop them. But they couldn't! When Peter and John healed a man who had been lame from birth (Acts 3) they arrested them. Luke tells us,

    "And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes, [6] And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. [7] And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this? [8] Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, [9] If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; [10] Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. [11] This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. [12] Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."

    [13] Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. [14] And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. [15] But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, [16] Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. [17] But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name" (Acts 4:5-17). 


            Dear reader their enemies would not even deny that the very miracle had taken place. It was too obvious to all who knew the man. So what did they do? They decided to threaten them and let them go. Here's the rest of the account, 

    "And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. [19] But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. [20] For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. [21] So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done" (Acts 4:18-21).


            Whenever their Jewish enemies were filled with indignation, even to the point of plotting to kill them, the substance of their actions is seen in this statement, "Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. [30] The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. [31] Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. [32] And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him" (Acts 5:29-32).

Luke says, "And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ" (Acts 5:42).  


A problem is apparent in spite of miraculous power, Acts 6



            Though the Apostles were inspired and had the ability to perform great miracles there were still problems that arose.  Luke records this problem in the Jerusalem church in Acts 6: 1-8,

    "And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. [2] Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. [3] Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. [4] But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

    [5] And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: [6] Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. [7] And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith. [8] And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people."


            The particular problem was identified, addressed and dealt with without producing a division among them. The Apostles were members themselves and leading the church. They explain that their work of preaching the word should not be replaced by serving tables, i.e. providing food for the needy.  Their solution is accepted and the congregation chooses seven men to take care of the neglected Grecian widows. The work of caring for needy "members" is identified as the "business" of the church (6:3). This was a specific "work" of the Jerusalem church. No funds came from those who were not Christians. And the church did not fund a human organization that was built by Christians who said let "us" do the work. The church funded no human organization that assumed this responsibility God gave the church. Above all, the church (collective body) did not ask or expect the community to do it for them, and take care of its needs. The church did its own work and its funds came from "members" themselves. That is the basic pattern in the New Testament for the church receiving its funds.


Further persecution and dispersing throughout Judea and Samaria, Acts 7-8



            Acts chapter 7 records Stephen being put to death. Stephen's sermon was a lesson designed for his own people, the Jews. Just as in the days of old they resisted God message given by Stephen. Luke says, 

    "When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. [55] But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, [56] And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. [57] Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, [58] And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. [59] And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. [60] And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep" (Acts 7:54-60).


            Dear reader Stephen was not the one who sinned here. He was not wrong in stating an unpopular truth about his own people. He said that they were known for resisting God's word and they were. Stephen was walking in the light in preaching the truth, and when one abides in the light there is no occasion of stumbling in them (I John 2:10). It is simply not wrong to preach the Gospel even when it upsets someone! Moreover, when people are offended they can't hide how they feel about you. These were "cut to the heart, and gnashed on him with their teeth." Not wanting to hear what he actually said they made a lot of noise and stopped their ears. Thus, resisting the truth, they took him and cast him out of the city, and stoned him.


The obligation to join oneself to a local church as seen in Paul,


            At the same time that Saul (Paul) was consenting to the death of Stephen a great persecution arose against the church  at Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). Luke tells us that they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles who stayed in Jerusalem. Those scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Philip an evangelist went to the city of Samaria in Samaria and preached Christ to them (Acts 8:5). Later he baptized the Ethiopian eunuch who was returning home having come to Jerusalem (Acts 8:26-40). As the gospel spread forth from Jerusalem churches of Christ were established by the preaching of the word. Acts 9 records the conversion of Saul by Ananias in the city of Damascus. We are told that Paul (Saul) immediately preached Christ in the synagogues (Acts 9:10). Then, after escaping from the Jews in Damascus, he came to Jerusalem desiring to join himself with the disciples. It is understandable, considering Saul's reputation in persecuting the church, that they were afraid of him and did not believe him to be a disciple. The important events recorded by Luke show the obligation of both the local church and the individual who desires membership with them. Here is the account,


    "And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him: [24] But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. [25] Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket. [26] And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. [27] But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. [28] And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem" (Acts 9:23-28).


            Concerning "obligations," we first see the church's obligation in using caution as to who will be accepted as a member. This is exemplified in verses 26 through 27. Barnabas confirms to the church that Paul is indeed a faithful Christian. Upon being accepted Paul "was with them coming in and going out" (Compare 11:26). Paul's own will (desire) to join with the disciples completes the lesson. Dear reader, Paul wasn't turned off by their desire to know of his faithfulness to the Lord. When Christians come to a new location and desire membership in a church they should expect the same.

As Christians we have collective responsibilities that must be fulfilled by working and worshipping with other Christians (Acts 11:26; Heb. 10:23-25). Some people do not want to accept the "collective" responsibility Paul was eager to fulfill with his brethren. Thus people have to be taught that works of an "individual" nature are not all there is to fulfilling our obligations to God. I was blessed once in being instrumental in converting the dear brother in the flesh of a sister in the church where I preached. Both she and her brother were older and well along in life. The sister had stedfastly set the proper example with the hopes of bringing her brother to the Lord (Matt. 5:12; Acts 2:42; 2 Cor. 3:2). Finally, with careful instruction through planned lessons he saw that he was not "truly" a Christian. He was baptized into Christ for the remission of his sins (Acts 2:38; Gal. 3:26-27). Upon his baptism he rejoiced in the joy of salvation just as the eunuch did in Acts 8:35-39. He attended worship the very next Lord's Day, and we all rejoiced over having a new brother in Christ. His sister was especially joyful having waited for so many years to see this day. But the next Sunday he didn't come to worship. Upon inquiring I was told that he had stayed home. When we sat down together to discuss his attendance he stated that he did not think it was necessary to attend worship services. He was an old cowboy and just sort'a figured that appreciating the simple things of life was enough now. He was glad that he was a Christian. But he had decided for selfish reasons that he didn't need to fulfill his collective responsibilities. As we talked he came to a fuller realization as to why God ordained the local church. He became ashamed of his selfish attitude and actions. He made the correction in both thinking and conduct remaining faithful in his duty to assemble with the church. By doing such he was edifying others and receiving edification himself (Heb. 10:23-25; Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:18-20). 

Dear reader each Christian individually has the daily duty of living a righteous life. This acceptable lifestyle consists of the righteous requirements enjoined upon Christians in the New Testament (Rom. 6:17-18). The life a christian is required to live is not hard or difficult to know about and understand. It is easily discerned even by new converts in the various lists of proper and improper conduct in the New Testament. These lists instruct us as to what sinful actions to "put off" as well as the righteous actions we are to "put on" so as to please Christ (read Eph. 5:1-17; Col. 3:1-11; Gal. 5:19-24; I Cor. 6:9-11). There is no excuse for a new Christian not knowing how to live so as to please the Lord. Also, individually, we have a duty to fulfill our obligation to our mates (Ephesians 5:22-33; I Cor. 7:3-5). There are reciprocal "family" duties for Christians (Ephesians 6:1-4; Col. 3:21). Christians as individuals offer worship in prayer and singing (James 5:13-14; Acts 16:25). They study the Bible (2 Tim. 2:15). They help those who are in need, both Christians and non-Christians regardless of their religious beliefs (Gal. 6:10). The obligation to obey civil government is set forth in Romans 13: 1-7.  All of those things are "individual" responsibilities.

But one cannot get by with just doing those things required of the individual. Acts 2:42 said, "And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." Christians have the "collective" duty to assemble on the first day of the week to partake of the Lord's Supper (Acts 20:7; I Cor. 11:17-34). They were commanded, "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: [25] Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching" (Hebrews 10:24-25). We need "others" in Christ for collective worship and work whereby we both give and receive strength in order to live faithfully when performing daily tasks in the world. Those who do not put a proper emphasis on collective duties do not last; being weak they give in to the world's temptations and fall away (Luke 8:13-14; Heb. 10:24-31). One cannot be right with the Lord and choose to just ignore collective duties! (Heb. 10:24-27.) Christians in the first century assembled with the local church for the purpose of edification through instruction, singing and prayer (I Cor. 14:3-5, 14-15, 19, 26; Eph. 5:18-21, Col. 3:16; Heb. 13:15-16). As they did such they offered up their worship "to God" and "to the Lord" (Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16). Their reverence for God enabled them to submit to one another, thus being led by the men in the church in an orderly decent manner during worship (Eph. 5:21; I Cor. 14:33,40; I Tim. 2:11-12). Moreover, in so doing they drew near to God during that time of worship (Heb. 10:22). God accepted their worship because it was in spirit and in truth (Heb. 13:15-16; John 4:24). Why are we required to worship God collectively? He commands such and it glorifies, honors and pleases Him! He is Worthy! (Rev. 4:11; 5:9). Additionally, we have already studied their liberality in giving into the treasury so that the work God gave the church might be accomplished (Acts 4:32-37; also I Cor. 16:1-2). We hope you learn more at Lesson Four, Part Two.






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