[social_share / sc_id=”sc1″] As Grace Community Church has been re-thinking the way we do things, I decided to begin my own personal study in the Book of Acts to see for myself how the first-century church did their business of preaching the Gospel and making disciples. To guide my study, I used James Montgomery Boice’s Expositional Commentary on Acts.
In this post, I’ll hit three key characteristics of the first-century church which stood out in my readings.
The First Characteristic Complete Christ-Centeredness
The early church was totally sold out to Jesus. Despite the fact that the early church lived under a government hostile to Christianity, they grew at record speed, in strength, and conviction. From the get-go, Acts 2:41 tells us that Peter’s sermon at Pentecost sees the conversion of about three thousand people. Today we might wonder: What social network did Peter set-up to draw this kind of crowd? What marketing promotions? Peter must have been a trendy dude who wore Chuck Taylors to turn those numbers, right? Wrong.
Amazingly, but fittingly, the bulk of Peter’s sermon is quoted Scripture. Peter simply yet profoundly preaches a Jesus-focused Gospel, producing a massive church that is also totally focused on Jesus. Every sermon from a pastor’s pulpit, and indeed every day of our lives, should preach Christ come as a man, crucified as our atoning sacrifice, and resurrected as our glorious conqueror.
The early church of Acts was marked by 100% Christ-centeredness (not Christ + something else waywardness), and so becomes the model for all churches. Boice cites several characteristics of the Body of Christ in Chapter 6 of his commentary. They were a
- learning church
- a studying church
- a fellowshipping church
- a worshipping church
- a witnessing church
- and an evangelizing church
Even 2,000 years removed from the Church’s epicenter, congregations today should follow the example; it’s not only a good idea, it’s biblical.
The Second Characteristic A Mission Mindset
Acts is full of missionaries. A well-known instance of mission-mindedness in Acts would be the account of Philip and the Ethiopian in Acts 8:26-40. Philip is going along his merry way when he comes across a man from Ethiopia, reading a passage in Isaiah. Here, Philip does something very interesting. Philip asks the man if he understands what he is reading (8:30). Why? Philip responded to the Holy Spirit’s prompting (8:29).
I’m sure that people back then were just as interested in minding their own business as today. If you were making a beeline to the Starbucks counter, and saw another caffeine-addict reading their Bible, would you hold off on the triple skinny vanilla latte to strike up a conversation? I imagine that the Holy Spirit telling Philip to begin a dialogue with this stranger was a similar kind of interruption.
Because Philip was receptive and faithful to the Holy Spirit, he was able to be used by the Father and saw a soul saved. The Ethiopian even got baptized right then and there (8:36)! What’s the point? If church members have a mission-mindset they become pliable to the will of God, help Christ to grow his church, and witness lives forever changed.
The most prominent missionary is, of course, Paul (formerly Saul). A good hunk of the New Testament, as you probably know, is comprised of Paul’s letters to various churches and people in Europe and Asia Minor. My favorite mission-story is housed in Acts 17, as Paul is ministering in Athens. Moving across the Grecian Peninsula, Paul comes to the capital city where he makes a famous address at the Areopagus. This may be a personal favorite, not because of its notoriety, but because I’ve had the privilege to actually see where Paul made this speech. Notice that Paul is able to recognize the spiritual needs of the Athenians, “I found also an altar with this inscription: To the unknown god, ” and brings them straight to the Gospel, “I proclaim to you, the God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man (17:23-24). ” The take-away here is that to be effective missionary-church-members, we would do well to understand the spiritual needs of those around us, and point others to the Gospel to see their needs met.
Boice sums up this “missionary mandate” with a word, “The church that is not witnessing is not obeying its Lord. ”
The Third Characteristic – Sanctified Through Suffering
The final major theme I saw throughout Acts was suffering. I know that doesn’t sound very pleasant, but let me explain. From Stephen’s stoning – the first recorded martyrdom – relatively early in Chapter 7 to the eventual trial of Paul before a Roman court, Acts is full of suffering.
Stephen certainly suffered the anger and resentment of his murderers, but interestingly the saint’s final word under the weight of rocks was, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (7:60). See? In Stephen’s suffering he was sanctified but, ultimately, God was glorified.
Boice points out that there are several types of suffering (common, corrective, constructive, Christ-glorifying, and cosmic), but no matter the brand of pain Christians should have the same response. Look at Paul’s faithful response to a ferocious storm which ultimately brought about his shipwreck on the island of Malta “So take heart, men, for I have faith in God” (27:25-26).
I want to focus on the Christ-glorifying suffering that J. M. Boice outlines in his commentary. In Chapter 49 he writes, “Some suffering is simply that the glory of God might be displayed in Christians. ” He says that in most situations suffering is for other reasons, such as the common suffering due to a fallen world or corrective suffering meant to bring wandering hearts home. I want to submit that in all suffering, Christians should be focused on glorifying their Lord and Savior.
Read Acts for yourself, countless times Christians are mocked, tried, beaten, stoned, and murdered. And still, the church grows wildly! The suffering-side of Christianity isn’t a very popular one, to be sure. Paul writes to the Philippians, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. ” (Phil. 1:29).
Modern churches should take note from their forerunners. Christians in Acts suffered, but they were assuredly sanctified – made more Christ-like – through hardships. I’ll close with another verse Paul wrote to his friends in Rome, “And if [we are] children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. ” (Romans 8:17) Thanks for letting me share what God has been teaching me about the characteristics of his church through Acts. I would encourage you to take up your own concentrated study on a book in the Bible. Reading through a commentary by a trusted thinker was also really helpful; you may want to use several. Until next time, focus on Jesus![/sws_author_bio_ui]