What is a church? Part 5

This week I read through Acts 8. We start with Saul approving of Stephen’s death and the news that the church is scattered because of persecution. The Apostles remain in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-3). Philip, one of the seven, goes to Samaria. There he preaches and does miracles. Many believe and are baptized. Simon the Magician is amongst them (Acts 8:4-13). News of this reaches Jerusalem, and Peter and John are sent to see. They baptize the new believers with the Holy Spirit. Simon tries to buy this power and is rebuked (Acts 8: 14-25). Philip is then instructed by an angel to go South of Jerusalem. There he encounters the Ethiopian Eunuch. He explains Jesus using the Isaiah scripture being read by the Eunuch. The Eunuch believes and is baptised. Philip is taken by the Holy Spirit to Azotus (Ashdod) (Acts 8: 26-40)

The interesting points to note in this chapter are:

  • Because of persecution, the church is scattered. A lot of the new believers were in Jerusalem for Pentecost, and remained to learn from the Apostles. I assume these believers went back to their homes because of the persecution. I am wondering if the sharing all things in common is going to end or not, as the reason for this is no longer applicable. For now, I will leave it in the summary. Remember, these are people who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost and then got saved. They have been taught by the Apostles and can now spread what they have learnt in their home cities. The Apostles stay in Jerusalem.
  • Philip, like Stephen, starts preaching and doing miracles. This is discipleship in practice. It is important to consider if all Christians should end up doing this. The reason I ask is we see that while Philip teaches and heals, he does not impart the Holy Spirit. This is done by the Apostles. They even send Peter and John for that very reason to Samaria. It would seem that there are certain tasks kept for certain positions. I hope to see more on this as we read on.
  • Peter and John travel together. In the gospels we see that Jesus always sent the disciples out in twos. This is a common practise for the Apostles as well. Philip went alone, I think this is a result of the persecution, and is an exception. I will keep track of this to see if the traveling in twos theory for the gospel holds up. The reason it makes sence to travel in twos is (1) if one of the Apostles makes a mistake, the other can correct him. This protects against false teaching. (2) Jesus says were 2 or more are gathered, He is there. For the preaching it is helpful to have God with us, and therefore making sure we are 2 or more is advisable. (3) Two can get more done than one.
  • Giving (baptism) of the Holy Spirit is done by laying on of hands. This is because the baptism gives a person the authority of God to do God’s will. I do not think that literal laying on of hands is necessary, this is purely an outward showing of the passing of authority. But the baptism of the Holy Spirit is necessary to preach and do miracles. Until now only the Apostles have done this. It will be interesting to see if other start baptizing in the Holy Spirit, because if you need an Apostle for this, we might have a problem because of the criteria of Apostleship.
  • It is important to note that when new converts believe, they are baptized immediately (or as soon as possible). But it would appear that belief alone does not save one. Simon is said to believe and is baptized. He then tries to buy the gift of giving the Holy Spirit. Peter rebukes him harshly: “Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” These words give the idea that Simon was not saved. You can believe in Jesus and still be lost. To be saved you have to be dedicated to Jesus. Belief alone is insufficient.
  • The Ethiopian Eunuch is baptised immediately after confessing his belief in Jesus as the Son of God. To be baptised belief in Jesus as the Son of God seems to be a requirement. Baptism does not save us. It is an act of obedience because we are saved. But can be done without being saved as with Simon the Magician. It is important to see that the Eunuch understood who Jesus was, and that is what qualified him to be baptised.
  • There is some discussion about v 37, some earlier manuscripts do not have it. It is suggested that this verse, though genuine, was omitted by many scribes, who were trying to encourage immediate baptism, as it became common to wait for baptism by the 3rd century. As far as I can deduce, it was present pre 3rd century, as it is cited by Irenaeus and Cyprian, removed later, and added back before the 6th century. Whether or not this is genuine or not, even without v37, it is very clear that the Eunuch was baptised in response to his belief in Jesus.
  • There is a point I am trying to understand. When is a person saved (born-again)? Generally, churches like to use the sinner’s prayer as an indicator. The idea is in the prayer you state your belief in Jesus and ask for forgiveness of sins. However, we never see this happening in Acts. People who hear the message either believe, or do not. If they do, they are baptised as a sign of this. At this point I would say that a believer is saved, because they live in obedience to Jesus. The decision to align yourself to Christ is done in your heart. So, only you can know if you are a believer, and if you are with Jesus. We see Simon believed and was baptised, but was not saved, and Peter called him out on this. The Eunuch also believed and was baptised, but out the context we see he is saved. I do believe his profession of Jesus as the Son of God (part of the trinity) as an important part of his salvation.

What is a church? Answer:

Believers in Jesus, who are dedicated (aligned) to Jesus. To be a believer you must be saved by the name of Jesus. This is done by belief in Jesus as the Saviour, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that Jesus is God. This is essential for the Christian faith. The trinity is therefore a core doctrine. This includes the Holy Spirit as God.

What do believers do?

  • Get baptised, as soon as possible. This is done in obedience to God. It is an outward sign of a believer’s dedication to Jesus. It does not save the believer.
  • Pray. They prayed together as a habit, but also in times of adversity
  • Praise God.
  • Study the scriptures.
  • They also went to the temple together, daily, for pray. This is no longer possible for us since (1) the temple is destroyed and (2) not all believers are Jews. However, meeting as a group is a part of the believers’ life. This can be in a large setting as in Solomon’s Porch, or a smaller setting at individual houses. Also, men and women met together. There was no separation as in Judaism. At the meetings there is teaching and miracles.
  • As a believer grows, he may start preaching and doing miracles as the Apostles did (e.g. Stephen).

They also had fellowship which entails the following:

  • They eat together, as a community but also in separate homes.
  • All things are shared in common, with those having, selling their goods to provide for those without. This is voluntary, and believers can do with their possessions as they see fit. Historical context here is that a lot of the early converts were far from home and had nothing. Also, these funds were not shared with non-believers.

Positions in the church:

  • Unofficial leader: Peter. It appears Peter has naturally taken a leadership role. This is not an elected position, or one that was chosen with prayer or the leading od the Holy Spirit (at least the scriptures do not imply it). He did not make decisions for the group but pled in preaching or debating the Jewish leaders.
  • Apostles: a special position with the criteria that they were with Jesus from His baptism till His resurrection. Based on historical context, this position is no longer applicable for today, as no one alive can meet this criterion. They taught the new believers, did miracles, and testified of Jesus’ resurrection. They pass on the Holy Spirit by laying on of hands. They also handle disputes at the top level. They travel in pairs (e.g. Peter and John).
  • Ministers, that is, servers. These are men assigned to look after the widows and their provisions. The criteria for this position are: (1) men of good repute, (2) men full of the Spirit and (3) men of wisdom.
  • Evangelists. They preach, do miracles, and baptise new believers. (e.g. Philip)

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