THE APOSTOLIC CENTERS

 

God’s plan for the Church that Jesus is building is that there would be a fivefold ministry team involved in the life of each local church

*Ephesians 4:11-12 “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the                      shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the                     body of Christ.”

The purpose of the fivefold ministry is to equip / teach / train the saints – God’s people – how to minister to non-believers so that the Church can grow and multiply and thus witness for Jesus in every nation, region, community, neighbourhood, and house

Our problem is that most churches, whether small house church, medium size congregations, or even larger churches don’t have all five of these ministers within the local church

The solution:

Look at the early Church

 

The book of Acts – the history of the first few years of the Church

 

The letters (epistles) to the early local churches such as Ephesians

 

These historical records indicate that every local church was relationally linked to an                    apostolic center

 

In the New Testament, churches could operate in fivefold ministry because they                          were linked to an apostolic center

 

The two key ones being Jerusalem and Antioch

 

So, although the local church did not have resident apostles, prophets, evangelists,                   shepherds, and teachers …

 

The fivefold ministry was available to them regardless of their size or location

 

TIME TRAVEL:

 

So, let’s travel back in time to approximately AD 60 to 62 when Luke, a medical doctor, wrote the book of Acts under the direction and inspiration of God’s Spirit

 

Remember now that the first church in Jerusalem – and other churches planted from this apostolic center – consisted of people who held to the Jewish faith and saw Jesus as the promised Messiah that they had been waiting for for thousands of years

 

Few if any of the first believers – first called Christians many years later – were pagans /              gentiles … almost all were converts from the Jewish faith

 

So, to understand how the early church functioned we need to go back and see how the first century Jews worshipped

 

And, as we do, we can gain some really valuable insights into why the New Testament                church functioned as it did

 

FOR THE JEWS, THE BASIC UNIT OF ‘RELIGIOUS LIFE’ WAS THE HOME

 

Throughout most of the Bible, the Jews had no ‘church’ to attend because there was no central gathering place for weekly corporate worship as the pattern today seems to be

 

The tabernacle and the temple were not places for weekly worship services

 

Until the Babylonian captivity (Daniel’s day) the synagogue did not exist

 

For over 1000 years, the Jewish faith functioned as a home-based religion

 

And, in the Hebrew mindset, the home is still the primary place of worship

 

The home was a ‘little sanctuary’ (a miqdash meyat) set aside for the worship of                          God, the study of His Word, and as a place of hospitality

 

And, long after the official service / celebration ended conversation was enjoyed                                     long into the night

 

There was a time to share, to listen, to plan, and to laugh

 

The Jewish Sabbath celebration provided a pattern for the development of early Christian house churches

 

All churches met in homes in the early stages of the Christian Movement

 

On the Friday they would meet as a family to eat and celebrate God’s creation                             and welcome His provision of rest (Sabbath)

 

On Saturday evening the spiritual family (the house church) gathered in a home                           (as many as 50 to 60 people) for a meal to celebrate God’s redemption through                                    Jesus Christ and the Cross of Calvary

 

And to welcome the Holy Spirit and release Him to minister through His                                         nine supernatural gifts

 

So, each family was a part of a larger unit that met weekly to eat, worship, learn,              and share time together (fellowship) … the spiritual family

 

Still in homes as the Church did not get into the business of owning and                                       meeting in buildings until the mid-300’s

 

THE HUB – JERUSALEM

 

THE TEMPLE:

 

For the Jews the household worship celebrations were vitally important

 

But it was also crucial that the individual families were not isolated and alone

 

The family units worshipping in their homes were all linked together by their connection to a central hub, the Temple in Jerusalem

 

Jerusalem was where the presence of God was hosted

Jerusalem was also a place of teaching and training

Jerusalem was a place of gathering for special occasions / feast days

Three times a year Jewish males were required to come to Jerusalem

They would go home knowing they were not alone – part of something greater

 

THE SYNAGOGUE

 

During the Babylonian captivity (Daniel, the prophet) when the temple was no longer in existence

 

A new element was added to Jewish religious life – the synagogue

 

The word synagogue means: Assembly or gathering place

 

When the Babylonians destroyed the city of Jerusalem along with the temple, synagogues were established to take over some of the functions that the temple had provided

 

The synagogue gave the home-based worshippers a local training and resource center

 

Ministry took place and needs were met

 

Although most Jews were literate, very few owned copies of their holy writings (our Old Testament) and so they came together each week at the synagogue and listened to God’s Word being read and discussed

 

When the Babylonian captivity ended and the Jerusalem temple was rebuilt, the synagogue continued to fulfill a vital function

 

By this time the Jewish faith had spread throughout the known world

 

For many of them the Temple was too distant to effectively serve as a resource center

 

So, the synagogues acted as a “regional temple” providing ministry and                                                 teaching for the Jews in the local communities

 

This was the pattern of Jewish religious life we find at the start of the New Testament

 

This was the religious structure Jesus and the apostles had all experienced growing up

 

The home as the primary place of worship, teaching, sharing, and fellowship

 

Supporting these home-based groups, the local synagogue was a center for                              training and teaching

 

Jerusalem and the Temple acted as a central hub used for special occasions

 

The early Church – comprised of mostly Jewish converts to the Christian faith kept the same structure

 

For the first three centuries, Christianity was a home-based religion

 

Churches were house churches with the weekly worship gatherings loosely based on                the pattern of the Jewish Sabbath celebration

 

*The family being the first place of spiritual life

The spiritual family – the house church – being a weekly gathering to hear what                          God was saying

The regional church being a resource center for all the local house churches

 

Jewish                                                             Christian

House was key / family                                  House / family

House Church / combining homes                House churches / traditional churches

Synagogue / the new “temple”                    Regional Apostolic Centres

 

This is one of the secrets of the early church’s rapid spread

 

New house churches were easy to start

 

Jews who received Jesus already knew how to hold a “church service” in their homes

 

They had been having worship gatherings in their homes all their lives

 

So, when the persecution broke out in Jerusalem – Acts, Chapter 8 – those that were scattered could flee the city and start new churches wherever they went

 

Household churches were in the DNA!

 

This is why Paul could go to a city like Thessalonica, ministering in the                                           synagogue, lead a few people to Jesus, start a church, then leave – – – all in                            about three weeks!

 

But these new Christians meeting in house churches did not have the fivefold ministry

 

Ephesians 4:11-12 “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the                        shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the                     body of Christ.”

 

So, they needed a place where they could go to for teaching, training, and equipping … a place different than the local church

 

The “synagogue transformed into a regional Church

 

In Jerusalem – they taught in the Temple court

 

In Ephesus – Paul taught in a rented facility

 

In some locations the believers actually established local regional Christian                                   “synagogues”

 

James 2:2 CJB “Suppose a man comes into your synagogue…”

 

These became regional centers where local house churches could access the fivefold ministry

 

They needed a place where they could regularly access the important ministry of                        apostles and prophets – evangelists, shepherds, and teachers

 

The first key one was found in the central hub of Jerusalem – an apostolic center

 

 

For the Jewish people – and for the early Church – Jerusalem was a hub

 

All the local house churches in the area – Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria – looked to                          Jerusalem for leadership

 

It was crucial in the early Church – as it is today – that churches not be isolated and                     alone

 

So, we see house churches linking to the first central hub – Jerusalem – where the                       apostles and prophets were located and people were being trained and equipped

 

Acts 2:42 “…the apostles doctrines”

 

This was based on the Jewish pattern

 

Jerusalem – the hub for temple worship on specific occasions and for teaching became              a regional Church (Apostolic Centre) for occasional gatherings to train and equip                  leaders

 

 

THE APOSTOLIC CENTER – Jerusalem being the first

 

It was a place where the fivefold ministry could be contacted for teaching and training

 

The fivefold ministry is seldom contained within a local church no mater how big it may                be

 

The fivefold ministry is most often located as a team in a regional apostolic center and                 moves out from there to help local churches of all sizes

 

They come to the local area to train and equip those who are members and thus              ministers within the local assembly

 

*Ephesians 4:11-12 “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the                                                             evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work                                  of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

 

So, it is a place of sending

 

Believers going out from Jerusalem, evangelized all Judea, Samaria, and Galilee

 

From Jerusalem the apostles came to Samaria where Philip was witnessing a                              major move of the Holy Spirit bringing the message of the Baptism in                                        the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17)

 

From Jerusalem, Barnabas was sent to the city of Antioch to help establish the                            Church there (Acts 11:22)

 

 

And, it is a place of gathering

 

In Bible times, Christians continued the Jewish practice of returning to                                          Jerusalem

 

But not for the religious festivals – but for special times of training and                                           equipping for the work of the ministry – coming to where the fivefold                                              ministry was established and travelled out from

 

And, for major councils of the whole Church to discuss major changes                                          and issues in the Church and in the way things functioned – the way                                      the Church operated (Acts 15)

 

Jerusalem, as an apostolic center for the early Church, was seen as a resource center where

Leaders could come to learn and grow

Leaders could find “times of refreshing” in the presence of the Lord (acts 3:20)

Leaders could spend time and be healed and renewed

 

Jerusalem was also a place where the apostles lived and worked as they did not scatter in the persecution

 

And, from there, they protected the faith guarding and teaching the doctrines                              (teachings) of the Church (Jude 3b)

 

So, Jerusalem became the Church’s first apostolic center

 

*It raised up a company of Christians who did the works of Jesus in the earth and the                 result was a major, powerful, abundant harvest of new souls for the Kingdom

 

Three centuries of sustained multi-generational growth and expansion

 

            And, they set the pattern for the expansion of the Church world-wide

 

As a result house churches could thrive throughout Judea, Samaria, and Galilee and                the Kingdom was constantly expanding

 

And, as God established Apostolic Centers today – we too will see the Kingdom expand             and spread throughout the whole earth

 

Next – The Second New Testament Apostolic Center