The Pattern – Part Five

The Book of Acts contains more than the birth and the history of the early Church. It is the second half of a two-volume Gospel, Luke, a medical doctor, wrote the books to reinforce his reader’s faith in the living Jesus Christ. As he narrates history he also teaches theology. He explains the dynamics of the first New Testament Church and illustrates the principles by which it should be build and the way it must function. 

His first volume, the Gospel of Luke, covers Jesus’ life and teachings. Acts follows what the Holy Spirit continued to do and teach in Jesus’ Name through the Church. Opening statements in both volumes reveal Luke’s purpose:

Luke 1:1-4 “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

Acts 1:1-3 “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”

Luke’s readers needed to know with certainty that what they were believing and doing had been started by Jesus and continued by the Holy Spirit. Their faith in Jesus and their experience of the Body of Jesus, the Church, needed to be founded on an authoritative, orderly witness. Luke provided it for them — and for believers in every nation today.

The Jerusalem church is the first fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in Matthew 16:18 that “He would build His Church.” For several years, the church faithfully followed the pattern, although it had an advantage over many churches today. All the converts had the same ethnic heritage. As Jews, they shared a background in Old Testament Scripture. It enabled them to correctly apply the teachings of Christ and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Modern day believers often have difficulty correctly applying the teachings of Jesus without a good, proper understanding of Old Testament Scriptures.

The distinctive of the early church are seen in:

Acts 2:38-47 “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 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. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Acts 4:31-35 “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

Acts 5:12-16 “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.”

The same distinctive should be explored and implemented in local churches today. These distinctive show…

        • The New Testament Church had a clear doctrinal and experiential foundation. It began with repentance, demonstrated by an initial experience of believer baptism by immersion in water. It was then energized and controlled by the Holy Spirit who empowered and enabled the Church to fulfill it’s mandate and purpose (Acts 1:5, 8)
        • Converts immediately identified with the community of believers. They did not become spiritual “Lone Rangers.” Those who responded to the preached Word recognized a covenant relationship with one another as a logical part of their personal covenant with the Lord.
        • A leadership structure of trans-local apostles and prophets as well as local elders governed the community of faith. The twelve apostles appointed by the Lord composed the original leadership team. With the leading of the Holy Spirit, they did not hesitate to exercise the authority the Lord delegated to them (Matthew 28:18-20).
        • Believers entered into a new lifestyle almost immediately — a pattern of receiving and living according to the instruction of the apostles (Acts 2:42). As a result, they lived together in a vibrant and dynamic fellowship.
        • Given to prayer and praise, the New Testament Church was a worshipping community in love with the Lord. Christians visibly celebrated His Lordship.
        • The presence and power of Christ was evident. The Lord confirmed the preached Word with miraculous signs and wonders (see: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Mark 16:20). The supernatural events brought the fear of the Lord upon believers as well as upon their neighbours and onlookers.
        • Members took fellowship seriously and expressed it practically. They lived a lifestyle of selfless service, living out the dynamic of the cross putting others first before their own comfort, safety, and security.
        • Believers maintained unity (Ephesians 4:3, 13; 1 Peter 3:8). They  assembled together at various places and times for worship, instruction, and for simply sharing their lives together.
        • Neighbours and people in surrounding areas were impresses by the markedly different life in the Christian community. Many chose to believe the Gospel of the Kingdom and became a part of the remarkable community.

The pattern demonstrated in the book of Acts is still the pattern for the Church today. The Lord is restoring and building His Church according to the same principles and dynamics. They hold true today and will continue in every generation. The closer we come to the return of the Lord, the more we will experience, in our own lives and churches, the living reality of the dynamics of the New Testament Church.

Begin now to study the pattern. Believe it, contend for it, and to believe God for the wisdom to implement it.