Fellowship and the Church

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The author Stephen King once said rather typically, “I'm not a vampire type when somebody shows me the cross but organized religion gives me the creeps.” Some people tell me, “I’m a Christian but I don’t go to church.” Their faith is something very individualistic. "It’s between me and God," they say. But that bears no relationship to New Testament Christianity at all. To be a New Testament Christian meant having fellowship with God through faith in Jesus Christ and being in the Church and belonging to an actual Christian fellowship. V42:

“They [the 3120 believers in Jerusalem] devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

Yes we do become Christians individually even when we do so as part of a large crowd who respond to the gospel. Look at v37-38. After hearing Peter’s sermon about Jesus Christ – the people:

“were cut to the heart [were convicted of their sin] and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied “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.”

So turning to Jesus as Lord and trusting him as Saviour is an individual matter. But what then? Well have a look at v41&42:

“Those who accepted his message [individually] were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They [corporately] devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

After individually accepting Peter’s gospel message and then being baptized, notice that from then on (v42-47) Luke writes ‘They, they, they.’ The church grew rapidly and “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…All the believers were together…they gave to anyone as he had need…every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together…and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” We turn to Jesus individually to live for Jesus corporately - together, as God’s family. Being a Christian is not just about ‘my personal relationship with Jesus’.
The Bible says there’s no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t belong to a church. As 1 Corinthians 12:27 puts it for all believers here tonight:

“You are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it”.

And let’s not forget that God planned the church. Christ gave himself for the church (Eph 5:25). The Holy Spirit is building us together in the church (1 Cor 12:13). We are to be ready to give our lives for the building of God’s church, whether here or across the world. Jesus said,

“I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Mt 16:18)

He is building his church. And we are to play our part, equipped with at least one gift given by the Holy Spirit for the building up of the body (1 Cor 12:7). You see what is the aim of all missionary work and indeed all Christian work? It’s not merely to harvest the un-harvested field, but also to build the uncompleted building. So to have nothing to do with the Lord’s church is to reject God’s plan, mission and building project.

And as we glimpse here in Acts the church is not a third class waiting room where we twiddle our thumbs while we wait for first class accommodation in heaven. It’s meant to be a dynamic new community, winsome and attractive, and with an eternal significance in the purpose of God. It is the body of Christ and the bride of Christ. We are not to take it lightly. And part of its dynamism is that it grows in numbers and in maturity. The first church here in Acts 2 was a megachurch. It was over 3000 in size and growing daily. A Spirit filled church is alive. And what are the marks of the Spirit's presence in the church and our fellowship? Well according to Acts 2 they are: biblical teaching, loving fellowship, sacrificial giving, living worship and an ongoing and outgoing evangelism. So what does God’s new society look like in action? Well…

First, THE CHURCH IS FOR TEACHING THE BIBLE and you need that teaching.V42:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching.”

You see a Spirit-filled church, is where you can devote yourself to, and receive, the apostles' teaching. The first thing they did was to devote themselves to the apostle's teaching. Devote is a strong word. It meant they spent time doing it. They were eager to learn and discover God's truth. They wanted to learn from the apostles. That is a mark of being Spirit-filled. But some of you might be saying why be devoted to the apostles' teaching in 2008? Well, one reason is given here, in verse 43:

“many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.”

God confirmed the teaching of the apostles by miracles. The apostles
raised the dead and were involved in remarkable instantaneous healings.
Paul in 2 Cor 12:12 speaks of

“... the things that mark an apostle – signs, wonders and miracles.”

If they were ‘marks’ of an apostle, they set the apostles apart. What they did was not what other Christians did. And that was a way God authenticated their teaching. Also, of course, the apostles were commissioned by Jesus himself and had met him, risen from the dead. Today their teaching, in its authentic form, is in the New Testament. And the New Testament endorses the Old Testament. So you get the apostles' teaching today in the Bible, in the Old and New Testaments. And so a Spirit-filled church is a biblical church – it’s where the Bible is taught. That’s why you need to belong to a church that teaches the Bible.

Secondly, THE CHURCH IS FOR FELLOWSHIP and you need Christian fellowship. V42, 44&45:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”

They also devoted themselves to the fellowship. What does that mean? It means to be committed to each other as we are to Jesus Christ. How did they show that according to these verses? Well the church is where practical needs are met. In the early days of the church, meeting members’ financial needs was high on the agenda. But this is not primitive communism. V44 literally says that "they were selling, they were giving." What happened was that as needs became known someone who had an asset and wanted to help others financially, sold it and used the proceeds to meet the need. Later on in Acts you hear how someone sold a field. It was private stewardship but with a recognition that material goods should be for the common good of the church. That still should be the case. And this generosity of the early church was (and still is) a mark of the Spirit filled church. As a result what did the outsiders say of the early believers? They said: "see how these Christians love one another." Tradition has it that when the Apostle John was very old and so weak that he could no longer preach, he used to be carried into the church at Ephesus and give a brief exhortation of just 3 words: “Love one another.” And when his hearers grew tired of his message and asked him why he repeated it so often he would reply: “Because it is the Lord’s command.” And that practical self sacrificial love is so vital to our life and witness as a church. Perhaps even more so at this time of economic turmoil and uncertainty.

However there are other needs too. There is the need for mutual care and support. I once saw this sign on a church notice board: WE CARE ABOUT YOU - Sundays 10am only! But a true church should care for one another even when it’s inconvenient. Genuine Christian fellowship can supply those needs of mutual care and support. Today there are many people who are lonely, who are in need of what genuine Christian fellowship can offer. There is a human as well as a spiritual value in the small groups and activities of the church. Scientific studies in the US show that church services are actually good for the health. One rather wry survey on how to stay safe in the world said this: 1. Avoid riding in cars because they are responsible for 20% of all fatal accidents. 2. Do not stay at home because 17% of all accidents occur in the home. 3. Avoid walking because 14% of all accidents occur to pedestrians. 4. Avoid going by air, rail, or water because 16% of all accidents occur there. 5. Of the remaining 33%, 32% of all deaths occur in hospitals. Above all else, avoid hospitals. You’ll be pleased to learn that only .001% of all deaths occur in church services, and these are usually related to previous physical problems. Therefore the safest place for you to be at any given point in time is at church! The % of deaths during Bible study is even less. For safety sake, attend church and read your Bible…it could save your life.
But fellowship is not just about how you yourself can benefit. If you’re going to be faithful to the apostles' teaching, you need to serve as well as be served. You need an environment where you can exercise gifts of service. That is what the church provides. Paul says in Galatians 5:13:

“serve one another in love.”

Often that will be humbly and behind the scenes, such as serving in the uniformed groups, toddler groups, crèches and on the sidesmen’s, student supper and Audio Visual teams. But all those are so vital. Take the PA and AV team for example. Now I have to be careful what I say. They literally have the power to switch me off! But without them many of us wouldn’t be able to hear or see.

Are you devoted to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship here on a Sunday and in your small groups? If we’re to be devoted are we here twice on a Sunday? Even if you’re a student you could make it for 11.15! Perhaps serving in some particular way at one service and coming to another. If you have to miss occasionally then catch up through www.clayton.tv or download the mp3. Do we make our small group a priority come what may? Some of us can perhaps too easily think: “They won’t miss me if I don’t go.” But how can we put Acts 2 into practice if we don’t go? How can we obey the 50 ‘one anothers’ in the New Testament – love one another, encourage one another, care for one another - if we don’t go? Church is not an optional extra. And as Ephesians 4:16 makes clear this church “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
But as we work we must also be devoted to prayer. So

Thirdly, THE CHURCH IS FOR CORPORATE WORSHIP AND PRAYER and you need to praise God together with others and to pray together with others.
They also devoted themselves (v42)

"to the breaking of bread and to prayer."

It seems this is a reference to the Lord's Supper (or Holy Communion) and prayer services or meetings - not just private prayer. And it appears they had both more formal and less formal times for meeting. V46:

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God.”

They met both in the ‘temple courts’ and ‘in their homes.’ They had large gatherings in the temple courts. But they also met informally in their homes. ‘They broke bread in their homes and ate together’ - you can't do that on your own. And they were ‘praising God.’ And they prayed together. Are you devoted to prayer - not just private prayer but corporate prayer with others? If you’re a true Christian you will be praying with others, such as at the central prayer meeting every other Wednesday. We are very weak at this. Yonggi Cho, the leader of the largest local church in the world with 850,000 members, said: “I’ve not followed a secret formula in the church growth we are experiencing. There’s no question in my mind that what has been done in Korea can also be duplicated in every part of the world. The key is prayer!”

Fourthly and finally THE CHURCH IS FOR EVANGELISM and you
need to be involved in evangelism.

It’s been said that the church is the most extraordinary society in the world. The entrance fee is nothing, the annual subscription is everything, and the society has been formed for the benefit of non members! Yes it’s very important to have koinonia (fellowship) but it’s unhealthy to have koinonitis. Reaching those outside the church is a priority. V47:

“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Jesus commands his disciples to evangelise. But, according to this verse, the Church is necessary for that evangelism. You see, evangelism is not just about people making decisions, it’s about making disciples – as Jesus commanded in Matthew 28. So when people profess faith they need to be nurtured in the church. They need to be added to the church. So a healthy church is also a growing church, because it’s an evangelising church. How did evangelism work in the early church? Well the witness of the church’s life together was powerful (v47) but essentially the believers preached the gospel as Peter had done in v22-41. And that is still the great way the Holy Spirit brings people to faith in Christ. So what did Peter preach? Look back at v22-41. He preached about Jesus, his death, resurrection and ascension. Regarding the resurrection Peter said (v32):
“…we are all witnesses to this fact.”
Some of you may have questions about this. But for Peter, an eye witness, the resurrection of Jesus and therefore his death on the cross were absolute certainties. Recently some of us were in Rome and saw where Peter was martyred for his faith in Christ. Why would he be prepared to die if he knew that Jesus’ resurrection was a lie? He’d also witnessed Jesus’ ascension and now the crowd had also seen and heard the effect of Jesus pouring out the Holy Spirit. V33:

“Exalted to the right hand of God, Jesus has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear… "

Therefore [v36] let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
All this wasn’t just out of the blue. It had been foretold by the Prophets (v16f&25f). It was all part of God's plan for the world. V23:

“This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and fore knowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”

This preaching of the gospel demanded a response. People knew it then. And people know it today when they hear Gospel preaching. V37&38:

“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "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."

Who tonight is cut to the heart and asking what do I need to do? Well inwardly you need to repent - that is, you need to turn from going your own way and ignoring God, ie from your sin. And you need to turn to Christ who died for you, in your place, bearing your sin. You do that inwardly by faith. But then you need an outward step - you need the outward profession of baptism (or if you've already been baptised you need to publicly renew your baptismal vows). The next opportunity for baptism or renewal of vows is November 9. And the promise here in v38 is that if you repent and trust Christ as Saviour and Lord, if you call on his name (v21), you’ll be forgiven and receive the Holy Spirit who gives you new life. Why not turn to Christ tonight?

So we’re to play our part as a church by preaching the gospel. And by getting the gospel message out in new ways, such as through
www.clayton.tv which has the potential to reach and encourage many millions. But it was ‘the Lord’ (v47), who ‘added to their number daily those who were being saved.’ That’s why they needed to pray and why we need to pray today. And these early Christians knew that when the Holy Spirit worked in someone's life he brought them to ‘belong’ to the church. They were ‘added to their number.’ And notice this happened ‘daily’. Do we see evangelism as a daily activity? Are we taking daily opportunities to witness to Christ in the power of the Spirit? Who are we inviting to the invitation service next Sunday evening and to Christianity Explored? A survey was undertaken to ascertain the number of un-churched people who are receptive to attending church if invited and taken by a friend. What do you think the result was? 82%!

“Open your eyes”, says Jesus, “and look at the fields. They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:35)

We are sent out from this Communion service into the world as Christ's ambassadors. Michael Green once wrote:

“The Lord's Supper is battle rations for Christian warriors, not cream cake for Christian layabouts.”

Just imagine the potential of this church, under Christ our head, to build up, reach out and help to change this nation as we all devote ourselves to what the church is for.

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