“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46And 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, 47Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:41-47).
“Glorious” is probably the last adjective many people would use to describe the Christian church at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The latest revelations of pedophiles associated with those who are supposed to be Christian spiritual leaders, the cover up of the same, and the hush money, totaling over a billion dollars, is grievous to behold.
To this sex scandal the Church wrestles with other issues, such as the ordination of women, and the acceptance of homosexuals as congregational leaders.
Then there is the problem of doctrinal error. Multitudes of ministers in leading denominations no longer believe in the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection, salvation by grace through faith alone, or the Second Advent. The justice of eternal punishment is questioned, while the love of God is proclaimed at the expense of His holiness and righteousness. To think of the “Church” as being a glorious institution, would be to make a mockery of the word in the minds of many.
Nevertheless, despite its glaring faults, and failures, the Church is precious in the sight of God. In order to understand how this is possible it is important to realize that the Church is glorious because Jesus Christ loves it. The love of Christ for the Church is expressed in such passages as John 10:11.“I am the Good Shepherd: the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the Sheep.”
Ephesians 5 teaches that “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).
In speaking of the Church, a distinction must be made between the Church local and the Church universal. The Church local, and visible, is that outward expression best recognized by denominational doctrinal distinctives, by form and ceremony, by structures and specific services, with programs and pageantry.
The Church universal, and invisible, refers to that mystical but real assembly of called out believers that transcends all outward forms to find ultimate expression in the hearts of men and women and young people. God does have a special people that He calls His own making all due allowance for denominational distinctives, doctrinal orientation, functional diversity, and natural temperament.
One day there will be no emotional, cultural, or doctrinal barriers. In heaven, as the universal Church is gathered the saints shall sing a new song to the Lamb of God. The Church shall sing the same song in perfect harmony. But until that perfect day arrives professing Christians must strive to maintain the essential glory that has been invested in the Church through the love of Christ. In Acts 2 there are nine characteristics that, when displayed, can make the Church visible the most glorious institution on earth. When initially displayed by the early Christians they turned the world upside down.
Consider first that the early Church was a learning Church. The learning was not haphazard, but was confined to the teachings of the apostles. The great temptation that arises in every generation is to set aside the teachings of the apostles in favor of a new point of view.
In examining many current discussions on religious themes it becomes apparent that much new thinking does not derive from particular passages of Scripture, but from a pre-suppositional thought, or a personal experience. The clarion call for the Church is to be a people of one Book. Every opportunity needs to be taken to be a student of the Word, while staying close to the apostle’s doctrine. It is said that the early Christians continued stedfastly in the apostle’s doctrine, which suggests three great principles.
The early disciples were confirmed in their faith. They believed the apostles had the truth, and so the Church did not turn back to Judaism, or to the pagan religions of Rome.
The early disciples recognized an authority other than themselves. There is a subtle form of pride at work in Christendom today, and it begins with a series of questions of doubt. “Which minister is right?” “Which Church is teaching the truth?” “How can anyone know what is truth?”
The pride that is subtlety present is this. The unspoken assumption is that no one is right, and that truth cannot be known. As a result, the local Church is not held in esteem and the soul becomes an authority until itself. Whatever this may be, and however it may be justified, it is not biblical. The early disciples recognized an authority other than themselves
The early disciples understood that persecution was certain, but Jesus Christ was worth being identified with.
Besides being a learning Church, there was a sweet time of fellowship. There was the quality of togetherness that was cultivated. The attempts to cultivate togetherness should be participated in. The special dinners and programs are not meant to be for “others”. They are for all of us. A Church gathered ought to be the one place where people feel the most comfortable, and the most secure. Lord Nelson, the British Admiral, explained one of his victories by saying, “I had the happiness to command a band of brothers.” The Church is a real Church only when it is a band of brothers and sisters (William Barclay). As important as doctrine is, equally important is Christian fellowship characterized by a heartfelt gentleness, kindness, and benevolence towards others.
Third, it can be said that the early Church was a praying Church. “And they continued steadfastly in …prayers” (Acts 2:42). There is a popular phrase which says, “The family that prays together stays together.” Certainly that would be true of the Church family. A strong supported prayer meeting is indicative of a strong and vital fellowship.
The time of prayer was not forced upon the Church. The believers were not pressured into prayer. Rather, it was the natural impulse of hearts eager to receive instruction from the apostles. The saints were in love with one another, and so were eager to ask great things of God so they could do great things for Him.
There is a fourth observation. The early Church was a reverent Church. The Bible says that “fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43). There was awe towards God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, for the reality of the resurrection was crystallized in their hearts. Glory was given that God was made man. As man, Christ died for sinners. He was buried, and on the third day a Dead Man lived again.
Because Christ was alive, wonderful and marvelous events could happen, and the early Christians believed that thoroughly, for there were signs and wonders. Acts 2:43 “And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.”
There are those who argue that the days of miracles are over. Part of the rationale for this theological position is rooted in a negative reaction to the false claims of healings that are all too familiar, and yet, there is a sense in which many signs and wonders could still be witnessed today if we only believed.
The sixth characteristic recorded is that the early Church was a sharing church. “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” (Acts 2:44-45). No one in the fellowship had to go without food, shelter, or clothing. There was a fundamental commitment to one another. The saints realized a spiritual truth: “Freely they had received, freely they would give.” It is more blessed to give than to receive.
The next characteristic of the early Church is that it was a worshipping Church. Acts 2:46 “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple.” The early Christians went to the place of worship. They did not forget to visit God’s house. Christianity knows nothing of solitary religion.
Because of the doctrinal teaching, the sweet fellowship, the prayers of the people, the reverence of the righteous, the selflessness of the saints, the worship of the Lord, there was a tremendous measure of joy (Acts 2:46). There was gladness. Personal joy is rooted in righteousness. Joy is directly linked with the learning of Bible doctrine, the seeking of Christian fellowship, the engagement of prayer, the sharing of one’s resources, and the wonder of worship.
When a local Church is marked by these characteristics the world cannot but help to notice (Acts 2:47). There is a winsome attractiveness. Real Christianity is a lovely thing, and the true Church is a glorious Church.
Tragically, in recent years, the essential glory of the Church has been given away theologically to a nation on earth that rejects Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Because of the impact of Dispensational theology, many Christians have been led to believe that national Israel holds the central part of God’s plan of the ages. It is true that national Israel has played an important part in the plan of God, but the Church is central. Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her, not for an apostate group of people that despite and hate Him.
Dispensational theology maintains that the Church is a Great Parenthesis in the Divine economy, but it is national Israel holds that position, not the Church. Christian, reconsider the essential Glory of the Church, and the parenthetical place of Israel in the plan of God. The church existed prior to the days of Abraham from Adam to the patriarchs. The church existed during the Old Testament era, from the patriarchs to Christ. The church continued to exist from Christ to the present hour. We believe the Church, and the church alone, is the most glorious institution on earth. It alone has the brightest future, and the best hope for humanity. .