What is a church? Part 7

This week I read Acts 10-12. Before we look at the text in detail, I will summarize what happens. We start with Cornelius being a God-fearing man. He is instructed to send men to fetch Peter. (Acts 10:1-8). Peter is praying on the roof of a house he is staying at in Joppa. He gets a vision where a voice instructs him to eat of all the animals. Peter says he has never eaten anything unclean. The voice instructs him not to call anything unclean that God has called clean (Acts 10:9-16). Cornelius’ men arrive, and Peter is told by the Spirit that they are there, and he should go with them (Acts 10:17-23a). They go Caesarea, and Peter meets Cornelius. (Acts 10:23b-29). Cornelius explain why he sent for Peter (Acts 10:30-33). Peter starts preaching the gospel (Acts 10:34-43). At this point the Holy Spirit falls on the Gentiles. And they then baptize the new believers (Acts 10:44-48). Peter returns to Jerusalem and reports on his vision and the new Gentile believers (Acts 11:1-18). We then read about the Gentiles being saved in Antioch. Barnabas is sent to see. He then fetches Saul, and together they meet with the church (Acts 11:19-26). Agabus, a prophet come to Antioch, and prophecies on a famine coming, so the church in Antioch send relief to Jerusalem via Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:27-30). Herod starts persecuting the church and kills James, the son of Zebedee and arrests Peter (Acts 12:1-5). Peter escapes prison thanks to a miracle (Acts 12:6-11). He goes to the house of Mary, the mother of John, called Mark, who is the author of the Gospel according to Mark (Acts 12:12-17). Herod executes the guards (Acts 12:18-19). Herod is killed because of his pride (Acts 12:20-23). Barnabas and Saul return from Jerusalem (Acts 12:24-25).

Now let us look at the important points with regards to the church, some interesting historical context, and a point on textual criticism.

  • Cornelius is an example of a Gentile who believed in Judaism. This happened more often. However, these Gentiles were not allowed to worship with the Jews. However, when Cornelius sends for Peter and he is saved, the Gentiles are added to the believers. As believers we do not discriminate based on ethnicity. As Peter says in Acts 10:34: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality”. As men and women worship together in Christ, so do Jew and Gentile.
  • Peter goes to Caesarea, with a group.
  • Gentiles are filled with the Holy Spirit. This again happens before baptism. It is a sign of being saved, and therefore baptism is not required for salvation, but follows as we see here.
  • We see Peter going to Jerusalem to defend the preaching and saving of Gentiles. It would appear that there is some sort of accountability to a leadership here. Later there is also a reference to the elders in Jerusalem (Acts 11:30).
  • Antioch starts seeing Gentiles believing. Barnabas is sent to see. When he sees what is happening, he fetches Saul, and together they start meeting with the church there.
  • We see a reference to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:21) and the church in the context of the believers in Antioch (Acts 11:26). It would seem to be appropriate to refer to a group of believers as a church, in the same way as we refer to all the believers as the church. The church will be all believers. A church is a smaller group of believers.
  • We see Agabus, a prophet, who prophecies a famine. This leads the church on Antioch to put a relief together for the believers in Jerusalem. This is delivered to the elders in Jerusalem via Barnabas and Saul.
  • While we are led by the Spirit, we see a reference to elders in Jerusalem. Are the leaders in Jerusalem, and if so, is this only Jerusalem, or the whole church? And who are they, and what are the criteria for this position? We do not know. I hope we get more information as we read further.
  • We see Peter praying on his own in Acts 11, and we see many gathered together praying in Acts 12. Both are acceptable practices.
  • Textual criticism is a study of ancient texts to see find the different versions thereof. These can be used to determine what the text originally says. In Acts 12:25, we read that Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem. There are old manuscripts that read they returned to Jerusalem. Which is it? There are 2 things to consider. First, context. We read in Acts 11 that Barnabas and Saul went to Jerusalem. In Acts 13 we will find them in Antioch. Also, in Acts 12 we see that John Mark is in Jerusalem, he joins Barnabas and Saul in their returning. Form this we can deduce that they returned from Jerusalem to Antioch. Second, when we look at the manuscripts, there are only 2 that say returned 2. Taking this into account, we probably have 2 manuscripts with copying errors. This in no way proves the Bible wrong. The fact that we can reason and see thousands of manuscripts in agreement shows who dependable the Bible is.

What is a church? Answer:

The church: 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, that Jesus is God, and that Jesus died for our sins, and that Jesus was raised from the dead. This is essential for the Christian faith.

A church: A group of said believers in a set location, e.g. Church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:21), Church in Antioch (Acts 11:26).

This is not to be confused with a building where said believers may gather, also called a church.

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.
  • Be filled with Holy Spirit. The order of these 2 events is not important, they can be swapped. Both are required is would seem though.
  • Pray. They prayed together as a habit (Acts 1:14, 12:12), but also in times of adversity. They also pray individually (Acts 10:9)
  • 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, or other religions. At the meetings there is teaching and miracles. We see them meeting together to listen to Barnabas and Saul in Antioch (Acts 11).
  • As a believer grows, he gets discipled. He may start preaching and doing miracles as the Apostles did (e.g. Stephen, Ananias). Success in healing is not guaranteed (Dorcus was not healed until Peter came). Disciples can also baptise others and fill them with the Holy Spirit (Ananias).

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. There is also a providing between churches.
  • Those in need are taken care of. Examples are the Seven who serve the tables, Dorcus who made the widows clothes, the believers in Antioch sending relief for the famine in Jerusalem.

Positions in the church:

  • 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, such as Greek speaking widows not receiving enough, and Peter visiting Gentiles.
  • 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.
  • Disciples: Believers learning to do all that the apostles did. Can be male or female. There is no difference in Christianity, unlike other religions.
  • Evangelists. They travel around, preaching, doing miracles, and baptising new believers. E.g. Philip, Barnabas, and Saul.
  • Elders. Not sure who they are yet, or what the criteria is. The do receive the relief from Antioch.
  • Unofficial leader/spokesperson: Peter. I will remove this a position, because Peter is now functioning as an evangelist.

What is the church not supposed to be doing?

  • Healing crusades. Healing is done under 2 circumstances. The first is in private. Jesus and Peter have been seen sending people away to heal in private. The second is as an act of compassion. We see public healings being done, but not with the purpose of healing. They are done because Jesus and others are moved with compassion. Signs and wonders follow the preaching to confirm them. They are not a tool for advertising.
  • In and out evangelism. Discipleship is a part the great commission and takes time. If you are going to make disciples, take time to teach them properly. Arriving in a city, giving a few messages, and leaving new believers to fend for themselves is not going to keep them in the kingdom. Also, when trying to teach older believers, the in and out approach again will leave them to fend for themselves. This is not an effective way of teaching.
  • Single person going out. Philip is the only Evangelist we see traveling alone. Jesus always sent the disciples out in twos. And we see time and again that when someone goes to a new region, they are accompanied by other. Peter went to Cornelius with “some of the brothers of Joppa”. When Barnabas went to Antioch, before he started meeting with the church, he went and fetched Saul.

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