Mike Gerhardt, 11-18-18, Beginning Well, Community, Acts 2:42-47. The Early Church was like a commune. It truly was a holy huddle of redeemed sinners with a new purpose. Though it may have turned into a fortress mentality, to protect the Jewish culture, to the point of thinking it is about us inside against those outside; at first many were being added to their number daily. Anne Ortlund in Up with Worship wrote: we used to play church, put chairs in rows, fight over being preacher and who leads the singing. Some kids wanted to be up front directing. The quiet ones were content to be entertained by the up-fronters. Occasionally we'd get mesmerized by a true crowd-pleaser like the girl who said: Boo! I'm the Holy Ghost! In general, IF the up-fronters were good, they could hold their audience for a while. But IF they weren't good, the kids would drift off to play jump rope or jacks. We've grown up, but most haven't changed. On Sunday some still play church. They line up in rows for entertainment. If it's pretty good, the church may grow. If not, eventually they'll drift off to play something else: like yachting or wife swapping.
What does it mean the church may grow? Numbers? Concerning church mathematics, I’m told adding and multiplying are best; subtraction and division are the worst. Makes sense. Luke in writing the Book of Acts paid special attention to addition & numerical growth of the early church: Acts 1:15 a group numbering 120 in the upper room; 2:41 about 3000 were added; 2:47 the Lord added to their number daily; 4:4 the number of men grew to 5000; 5:14 more and more believed and were added to their number; 6:1 the number of disciples was increasing; 6:7 the number of disciples increases and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith; 11:21 a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord; 11:24 a great number were brought to the lord; 14:1 a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed; 14:21, 17:4; 17:12, 17:34; 19:19.
Some may discount numerical growth by saying numbers don't matter. They may not realize that each number represents a person with whom God is concerned and wants to reach. What is the Church, anyway? Two metaphors are used in scripture. The whole invisible worldwide Bride of Christ describes all believers versus the partitive visible local Body of Christ which describes some believers in a particular location. We will all be at the marriage feast of the Lamb in heaven as the Bride of Christ. Yet while we are earthbound, we form ourselves into the Body of Christ here at Parkside. The destructive radical individualism of personal religion and personal peace has hurt the church. The idea of joining in membership with an organization is outdated. Many are unwilling to join anything. The New Testament writers couldn't conceive of a believer living in isolation from the redeemed community. I believe becoming part of the community of believers is critical to becoming fully transformed in Jesus.
St. Augustine suggested: if you do not have the Church as your mother, you cannot claim that God is your Father. Our union with Christ is unavoidably linked to our union with His body the Church. We are saved out of the world and into the Body of Christ. We are not to do life alone.
What does the Church do? The Christian community advances the kingdom of God on earth by pursuing the lost, sharing resources, caring for the needy and by making disciples who make disciples. It brings people together to connect in worship, grow in groups, serve in ministry, and reach out to others. Elements that complete our transformation like community, water baptism, and formal membership do not in and of themselves constitute conversion. Rather in coming to Jesus as Savior and Lord, we become participants in the community of faith. It is a community where we worship and learn together, exchange grace and forgiveness, receive and give encouragement, be held accountable, serve and be served, love and be loved. When you trust Jesus, you are saved out of hell and into heaven and also into the Body. We must always remember that God's redemptive purposes are accomplished through His Church alone.
Once a Chinese prince was given a glimpse of heaven and hell. In hell, he saw tables laden with food, but the starving people were frustrated and quarreling with each other. They could pick up the food only with ten-foot-long chopsticks. They couldn't feed themselves and were miserable. The prince entered heaven, he saw a banquet table laden with food, and people with ten-foot-long chopsticks. But the people were well fed, happy and thankful for they sat opposite each other feeding the person across from them.
The Church isn't a golf club, it isn’t a business association or a fitness membership. It isn't about my selfish needs. It is about my desire to be a blessing to Jesus who saved me to do God's work here on earth through His Body the church. What about Community? Who is a participant? If belief is the intellectual part of conversion, repentance the penitential, assurance and joy the emotive part, commitment the volitional, baptism the visual, Holy Spirit's filling the internal, then community is the collective part. Romans 12:5 So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others; 1 Corinthians 12:24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it; Ephesians 2:19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household; Ephesians 3:6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus; Ephesians 4:25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body; Ephesians 5:30 for we are members of his body; Colossians 3:15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Join in. Membership in the Body means this is where I belong. It’s the act of becoming part of the family. As adoptive sons and daughters, we can either get into the thick of the family or stay away from the family. If we align with this Body of Christ, we put ourselves into a community to grow, mature, be accountable and serve. This doesn't usually happen on Sunday mornings, but in small groups, connection classes and Life Groups. Many churches have people are busy, doing lots of stuff but are they interacting with each other on a personal level? Do you feel like you belong? I want you to belong. Jesus wants you to know you already belong. You may need to extend yourself to others. You may need to go out of your way to participate. You may want people to know you are moving in to stay. God has saved you to be here.
Many in our world today are seeking asylum from the harsh and difficult realities of the nations who persecute them. Many around us are facing similar realities, the seek asylum and come visiting into this community. Let us make sure to welcome them in the grace and mercy of the Lord, and pray that they become part of the family