“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” ~Acts 2:41-42
In church history there are important dates to remember. One such date is October 31, 1517. The date is significant because a rather well known and brilliant young 34-year-old monk nailed a thesis to the door of the Church at Wittenberg located in Saxony, Germany. Martin Luther wanted to debate the power of the pope to forgive sins. He wanted to discuss the place called purgatory.
But most of all, Luther wanted to denounce the selling of indulgences which were giving his church members a license to sin. As Luther stood that day with a simple piece of paper in one hand, and a small hammer in the other, he did not realize that the sound he would make would reverberate down through the centuries, and literally change the course of human history. And yet, that is exactly what has happened. Within two weeks, the thesis of Luther became known throughout Germany. Four weeks after publications his assaults against the pope were read all over Western Europe. The protest of certain Catholic practices would be heard.
A tremendous reformation would take place. Luther had hoped the Reformation would take place within the Roman Catholic Church. But soon that became impossible, because the corruption was too pervasive, and the differences of doctrine too distinct.
Today, you and I are the heirs of the Reformation. And I trust we share the fundamental elements of the leaders of the movement, for in so doing, we shall find ourselves in the apostle’s doctrine and tradition. The Reformation leaders simply went back to the Apostolic Church, as described in the New Testament, to find there the spirit and practice of the Church as they believed it should operate.
What they found was a simple way of life and a simple gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone. Over the years the Church had begun to substitute forms, customs, and traditions for personal faith in the living Lord.
The doctrine of justification by faith alone challenged the very essence of the Roman Church. Not only money and pride were at stake, but power. There was political power for the priests, bishops, cardinals, and pope who held the rulers of states under their authority. There was spiritual power as well to forgive sins or not to forgive sins and to excommunicate thereby shutting off forever all hopes of heaven.
Setting aside all other concerns, the apostolic doctrine is that man is saved by means of grace through faith. Such grace is needed for man has no innate ability to save himself. His heart is plagued with sin. His will has been chained to various lust patterns, so that, to will to do good he cannot. The law of sin is too compelling. The great gospel cry of free grace is still: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the Earth; for I am God, and there is none else” (Isaiah 45: 22).
Besides a doctrine of salvation apart from the merits of man, the apostolic doctrine taught the priesthood of all believers. “But ye are a chosen generation; a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). The most important aspect of this truth is that individuals have access directly to God through the Lord Jesus Christ. “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus? (1 Tim. 2:5).
Another major apostolic doctrine, is the community of believers. The concept of the church should be that of an organism, a living body, of which each believer is a vital member. My heart grieves when I hear, as I do so often, how the Church is like a business, and must function as a business. Such a concept is absolutely foreign to the New Testament scriptures. Christ loved the Church and gave His life for the Church as a lover will lay down his life for his bride. The Church exists as an expression of love to do good to others. This Puritan, and Apostolic concept, is found in the term commonwealth.
Knowledge of the Word of God was also a major tenant of apostolic doctrine. In order for there to be knowledge, the Bible has to be accessible. History records that many of the pre and post Reformation leaders literally gave their lives in order to get the Bible into the hands of the common people. For example, William Tyndale was burned at the stake for daring to translate the Word of God.
In light of the rich heritage the Church has, what should be done?
To begin, every Christian should study. 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.” We must cultivate a love for the Word of God. We must make it a consuming passion to learn all about this Holy Book.
Once a Biblical doctrine is understood, God’s people should desire to obey the will of the Lord. Acts 2:41 says that those who gladly received the Word were baptized. Christian baptism becomes the litmus test of future obedience. There is no record of an un-baptized convert to Christ with the exception of the thief on the cross. There should be no hesitancy but all haste in this matter. Many people have paid a high price to be publicly baptized. Jesus knew that He was doing a hard thing, but mark it down, His commandment was still given. “Go into all the world. Make disciples and baptize them.” Those who make up a local Christian Church community should continue in the apostle’s doctrine. To know the truth, to obey the truth, and to continue in the truth is the objective.
Many is the life marked by inconsistency. First, the Church fellowship is enjoyed. Then something happens. Zeal and enthusiasm wanes. The religious life becomes an emotional and spiritual roller coaster. There is much to be said for being steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Word.
The Bible says where there is no vision, the people perish. The vision of the church should be to want to see the Lord bring together, as the body of Christ, people who will gladly receive the truth, be baptized, and will continue steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine.
The church has a faith tested by time, confirmed over the centuries, purified by persecution, and bought by the blood of the Lamb. We have a faith to believe. Come, and join us, as we live out the Christian faith, until Christ Jesus comes.