An Apostolic Understanding – Part Forty-One

The goal of the fivefold ministry is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). In other words, to enable and empower the Church, the regular, every-day believers, to rise up in New Testament power.

Our clearest picture of what fivefold ministry produces is found in the book of Acts. Acts 2:41-43 describes the birth of the Church this way,

“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.”

Now we move forward in the life of the Church in Jerusalem to Acts, Chapter eight.

“And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles … Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.”

As we take a closer look at what was happening in these passages we see that Peter gave one message and 3,000 people were born again. The Church went from 120 to 3,120 in a day! This was rapid growth, even for the early church. Luke describes the life of the early church this way, “Those who had been added to the Church were continually devoting themselves to the apostles teaching…”

As 21st Century Christians, we usually filter this account through our own church experience. We see this passage through our traditional and religious glasses. We tend to picture it this way: The 3,000 baby Christians are the congregation. The apostles are the pastors. The apostles taught and ministered while the 3,000 came and listened. This is a picture that we can relate to.

If this is how the early church really operated, we can imagine what might have taken place next. The apostles would have taught the people to tithe, and start a building fund. They would have instructed their flock to attend church regularly, live good lives, and have happy marriages. The apostles would have continued to preach and teach, to minister and heal.

The 3,000 would have become good church members. They would have invited their friends to church so the apostles could minister to them also. From time to time they would send out a missionary. They would have constructed a building to hold 3,000+ people, and as the church grew, they would have gone to two services. We would say, “This is a very healthy church.” The apostles were good ministers and had a large congregation.

This is why we are surprised when we come to our second passage – Acts, Chapter eight. It says, “on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.” The rapid growth of the Jerusalem Church had aroused persecution from the local religious leaders, and the Christians fled the city.

It is important to note two things in this verse … First, Who was scattered? Everyone was scattered! All the Church members! This is the original 3,000, plus all those who had been saved since the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). The members of the ‘congregation’ fled Jerusalem and relocated to towns and villages throughout the territory.

Now notice … Who stayed in Jerusalem? The apostles stayed in Jerusalem. The spiritual leaders!

We could read this and think that the church is in trouble. The members of the church have run for their lives, and the apostles didn’t go with them. All these poor sheep are out there without a shepherd. They have no one to minister to them and care for them.

Can you imagine this happening in a typical church today? We assume that without a ‘pastor’ to care for them, those poor sheep will be lost. They will drift away from the Lord. If the Early Church operated like the church of today, this would have been a major disaster.

But something happened in Acts 8 that we would not anticipate. Notice what happened to these poor scattered sheep … “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). Those “poor sheep” went out and preached.

The passage goes on, “With shrieks evil spirits came out of many and many paralytics and cripples were healed” (Acts 8:7) Those “poor, scattered sheep” performed miracles!

In Acts 9 it says, “The Church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened and grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord” (Acts 9:31). Those “poor scattered sheep” went out and started strong, healthy churches whoever they went!

Can you imagine this happening in the church today? The ‘scattered sheep,’ cut off from the care of their spiritual leaders, went out and preached the Gospel, performed signs, wonders, and miracles, and planted strong, healthy churches all over the land. The “sheep” went out and ministered while the shepherds stayed home.

In a situation that would have destroyed any church today, the early church thrived. How did they do it?

We will look at that next time…