Series: Fundamental Lessons on the Church. Lesson Four Part One,
GOD'S DIVINE ORGANIZATION ~ THE
Part One of Two
By Bob W. Lovelace
The Church at
once again the beginning of the church we find its establishment in
"And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!"  So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.  And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
 And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.  And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common;  and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.  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,  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."
made up the church constituted a body of believers in a particular locale, i.e.
Liberality among members,
that made up the church multiplied quickly day by day (Acts ). 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
, ). 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.  And with great
power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and
great grace was upon them all.  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,  And laid them down at the
apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had
need.  And Joses, who by the apostles was
surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a
Levite, and of the country of
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
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,  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.  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?  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.  And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.  And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.  And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.  And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.  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.  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.  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,  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
 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.  And beholding the man which was
healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.  But when
they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among
themselves,  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
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.  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.  For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.  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 -21).
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.  The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom
ye slew and hanged on a tree.  Him hath God exalted with his right hand to
be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to
Luke says, "And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ" (Acts ).
A problem is apparent in spite of miraculous power, Acts 6
Apostles were inspired and had the ability to perform great miracles there were
still problems that arose. Luke records
this problem in the
"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.  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.  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.  But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
 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:  Whom they
set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on
them.  And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples
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"
persecution and dispersing throughout
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.  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,  And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.  Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,  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.  And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.  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 -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 ). 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
that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him:  But
their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night
to kill him.  Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the
wall in a basket.  And when Saul was come to
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 ). 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. ; Acts ; 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. -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. -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 -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. ). They help those who are in need, both Christians and non-Christians regardless of their religious beliefs (Gal. ). 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 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. -34). They were commanded, "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:  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 -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. -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. ; 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. ). 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.