What is a church? Part 12

This week I read Acts 17, 18 and 19. We start with Paul and Silas coming to Thessalonica. There they preach and some are saved. Some Jews cause an uproar is and start accusing a man named Jason who had helped them (17:1-9). Paul and Silas are sent to Berea, where they again preach, and many are saved. Jews from Thessalonica come and cause more problems. Paul again flees and goes to Athens. Silas and Timothy stay in Berea and join him later (17:10-15). While in Athens alone, Paul again starts debating the synagogue. He catches the attention of the philosophers in Athens and is brought to explain what he is talking about (17:16-21). Paul uses an inscription to an ‘unknown god’ to present Yahweh, the Most High God and Creator. Some mock, some are interested, and some become followers. (17:22-34). Paul goes to Corinth and meets Aquila and Priscilla (18:1-4). Silas and Timothy join up with Paul, and after the Jews again are resistant, Paul decides to only go to the Gentiles. Yet Crispus, the leader of synagogue, is saved and baptised (18:5-11). A new proconsul takes over the region and the Jews try to bring Paul in front of the tribunal, but the proconsul sends them away. They therefore seize Sosthenes and beat him (18:12-17). Paul then travels through a few places, including Caesarea and Antioch, encouraging the disciples along the way (18:18-22). We also see Apollos who preached Jesus but was not fully versed in all things. The text says he only knew the baptism of John. Priscilla and Aquila teach him all he needs to know. Apollos then goes to Achaia to preach further (18:24-28). Paul then returns to Ephesus. He meets a group of disciples who had not been baptised with the Holy Spirit. After hearing the message, they are baptised in the name of Jesus (saved) and filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul stays there for 2 years (19:1-10). Miracles start to happen, even inspiring non-Christian Jews to try exorcisms. Many being saved who practised magic came and burnt the occultic books (19:11-20). Demetrius and other craftsman start a riot because they are losing business, as the new believers no longer desire their products dedicated to idols. During the riots there is great confusion. A town clerk gets everyone to quiet down He points out that they have courts and assemblies to handle all protests, these should be followed. The people assembled are then dismissed (19:21-41)

Let us look at some interesting points in this Chapter.

  • Last week I mentioned the customs that are not lawful for Romans to accept or practice. Now we see a clearer explanation of these customs when the accusation is made that “they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus”. 
  • Church strategy from Paul: Go to those who already believe in Yahweh and bring them the gospel. First the synagogues.
  • Paul take 3 Sabbaths to explain that the Messiah had to suffer, die, and then rise from the dead. He does this because the Jews already are expecting a Messiah. By showing them what the Messiah had to do, he could then show them that Jesus was the person who fulfilled those expectations. He then ends up talking to Greeks in Athens and starts reasoning with them based on an inscription to an unknown god. He uses this as a steppingstone to introduce Yahweh, the Creator of everything. Two different methods, each for the occasion, and not a one size fits all model I often try to find out where someone is in the journey of life, and then I will try and help them closer to Jesus. This is better than having one tactic that you use to all people.
  • When the evangelists leave an area, it is always because of the danger to the lives. It seems as if the plan is to stay a while, but this is not possible in many cases. We see this in Corinth as they stay there for 18 months, and Ephesus for 2 years.
  • Crispus is named as the ruler of the synagogue in v8, and Sosthenes in v17. This is not a contradiction. Crispus joined Paul, who spent 18 months in Corinth. Its most likely the Crispus would have been replaced, with Sosthenes. We know from the text that the proconsul was changed in this period.
  • We see Paul cuts his hair because of a vow. Some suggest it was a Nazirite vow (like Samson), but I personally do not know.
  • When Priscilla and Aquilla teach Apollos, we see an example of those further in the faith helping others to grow further. Apollos seems to be traveling alone, and not staying in the same area along time. His is contrary to how I think we should function. I put this down to a lack of knowledge since he arrives in Ephesus with such a lack.
  • Apollos only knew about John’s baptism and taught this to the Ephesians. Therefore, Paul needs to help them.
  • Paul spends 2 years in Ephesus, reasoning in the hall of Tyrannus. This is possible an evangelistic action but can also be the teaching of the disciples there. It does not specifically say. But it was customary for the believers to gather where they could. We saw this in Solomon’s porch in the temple at Jerusalem.
  • We see people healed by handkerchief. This is a unique experience, not meant to be applied as a doctrine or method, as in the charismatic, hyper-healing, word of faith movement.
  • The report of the sons of the High Priest Sceva shows the importance of our relationship with Jesus if we want to perform exorcisms. The sons were Jewish, not Christian, and when the try to invoke Jesus’s name like a mantra of magic spell, it does not work.

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. Circumcision and the Law of Moses are not required for Salvation.

A church (Ecclesia): A group of said believers in a set location, e.g. Church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:21, 15:4), Church in Antioch (Acts 11:26, 15:3), church in Caesarea (Acts 18:22) and the churches in Asia Minor (Acts 14:21-23). We a hierarchy in churches and between churches. This hierarchy can be compared to the hierarchy of a teacher and a disciple. One has grown further than the other and can teach the other.

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, 16:16), but also in times of adversity. They also pray individually (Acts 10:9)
  • Fast (Acts 13)
  • Praise and worship God. While worship is a lifestyle, it is also an act, like prayer and fasting.
  • Study the scriptures.
  • They gather for prayer, and teaching. This is done in the temple in Jerusalem. 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 and Asia Minor (Acts 11 and 14).
  • 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).
  • keep away from (1) things sacrificed to idols (I would say also keep away from idols and false religion), (2) sexual immorality, (3) what has been strangled and (4) blood.

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.
  • This does not mean we have fellowship with anyone, as in Peter with Simon the Sorcerer, and Paul with de girl with the spirit of divination. Be critical of whether someone truly is a believer.
  • 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.
  • Evangelist apostles. They travel around, preaching, doing miracles, and baptising new believers. E.g. Philip, Barnabas, and Paul.
  • Disciples: Believers learning to do all that the apostles did. Can be male or female. There is no difference in Christianity, unlike other religions.
  • 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.
  • Elders. Not sure what the criteria is. They are appointed by the evangelist who has worked with the disciples in the set location. They are appointed to look after the church. They are plural, and therefore more than one person. Antioch names their elders, which is a total of 5. The elders also make decisions for the church when conflict arises (Acts 15)
  • Teachers: As disciples grow, they become teachers. These are those who explain the faith and the scriptures.
  • Prophets. These give divine words.

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. We see Barnabas and Paul remain in the cities of Asia Minor till persecution breaks out, then only do they have to leave. They do however return later to make sure the disciples are living to the faith and appoint elders to guard over them.
  • 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. Barnabas and Paul travel through Asia Minor together (Acts 13,14)
  • Gentile believers are not required to live by the Law. Acts 15 and 16. Jewish believers are.

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