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The Way in Which the Church of Jerusalem Grew (Part 1)
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The Way in Which the Church of Jerusalem Grew (Part 1)

Holy Spirit Monthly – Issue 286

After Jesus’ resurrection, He repeatedly appeared to the disciples for forty days. He showed Himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive. He also spoke about the kingdom of God to re-establish the weakened faith of the disciples.

Before Jesus’ ascension, He especially instructed the disciples to stay in Jerusalem to wait for the promised Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit would empower them to be witnesses for the Lord in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the world.

So according to Jesus’ words the disciples gathered together in constant prayer. As Jesus had spoken, the Holy Spirit came down on the day of Pentecost and deeply moved the hearts of the disciples, and many Jews from abroad also witnessed this unforgettable event. There were about one hundred and twenty believers when the first church was established in Jerusalem.

Immediately following the downpour of the Holy Spirit, Peter stood up and delivered a magnificent speech. He used the Old Testament Scriptures and the miraculous signs of Jesus to explain how God established Jesus as the Lord and Christ.

The Spirit deeply pierced the hearts of many as they came to realize the way to salvation. And on that day, three thousand were baptized and added to the fold.

One would foresee the onset of many problems in managing the believers, such as the lack of space for worship, and conflicts among people and such—especially with the exponential increase that they experienced.

But instead, the expansion of the church created a special style of spiritual living that brought harmony among the believers, who came from places all over Europe, Asia, and Africa (Acts 2:9-11). They became the seeds of the gospel and were significant to the birth of the gentile church later on.

Looking at our present-day church, we can identify many difficulties related to church growth, and if a church does grow there are other challenges in pastoring the members and administering the work of the church. Therefore, we need to observe and learn from the spiritual characteristics of the early Jerusalem church in order to benefit and edify the faith of the believers today.

The goal of our church should focus on how to revive the same spiritual qualities and lifestyle that once existed in the early church in Jerusalem. The remainder of this article will analyze these characteristics and how they are crucial to the development of the church.

Be Diligent in Learning the Word—They Devoted Themselves to the Apostles’ Teachings

After the Pentecost, faced with such a large number of new believers, the apostles actively pushed forward the work of teaching the members to break through their old beliefs and to truly understand the salvation of Christ.

Together, all the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and submitted to their authority—which laid a beautiful and solid foundation for the way of the truth (Acts 2:42).

A solid education in God’s word, and especially at the beginning phase of one’s faith, is a crucial factor for the development of the church as a whole, and it becomes a good motivation for the growth of all believers.

Build Up the Faith of New Believers

For a new Christian, especially one who has been converted from another religion, he or she often continues under the influence of old beliefs, which can mire the growth of his or her faith. One such example in the Bible is the reaction of the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai, where they took things into their own hands because of their impatience and reverted back to their worship of a golden calf (Ex 32:1-6).

Therefore, to ensure that every believer’s faith starts off on firm ground, the church should emphasize the teachings of biblical truths, because the Bible testifies about the Lord Jesus and possesses eternal life. Therefore, one should come before Christ to diligently study the Scriptures (Jn 5:39-40).

Studying the truth should begin at the early stages of seeking the truth. The church needs to encourage seekers to learn from the example of the Bereans, who received the gospel with great eagerness and daily examined the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). This way, all who come to seek the Lord will recognize the need to rid themselves of all their immoral ways and humbly accept God’s words.

Over time, they will shed the newness of their faith and become strong and mature Christians—ones who can live out the truth and receive the blessings of the Lord (Jas 1:20-25).

Submit to Authority

The unity of the church leaders is also a key factor in the effectiveness of the work of teaching and spreading the gospel (Acts 2:1,14). Also, the believers should respectfully acknowledge those who lead them as men who must give an account to God (Heb 13:7).

Even though some leaders within the church may not be better than the believers in terms of their social status, education, or abilities, the message that they deliver is of the Bible and according to the truth, and it should be accepted not as words of men but God’s word, which is working in those who believe (1 Thess 2:13).

Among our predecessors, there have been many church leaders who have received spiritual authority from God. They might have been uneducated, ordinary men like Peter and John, but they displayed astonishing courage and were recognized as men who had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

God also used miracles and wonders to confirm the words they preached and to mark them as apostles (Acts 2:43; Mk 16:20; 2 Cor 12:12). How shall we escape if we ignore these testimonies because of our own personal prejudices (Heb 2:3-4)?

In comparison to these predecessors, the church leaders today in fact have more advantages. Therefore, they should put more effort into spiritual cultivation, prayer, and training to serve, in order to receive the same authority as the apostles and be worthy of the respect of believers.

Emphasize Holy Spirit and Truth

Every person who has received the Holy Spirit and tasted the goodness of Him is able to regard the priceless treasure that is this gift from God, and to feel the joy and wonderment of this guarantee of heaven.

Imagine the spiritual excitement of the Jerusalem church when they first experienced the Holy Spirit. Everyone must have rejoiced in praying in tongues and being immersed in the joy of the Spirit.  It is just like what many of us have experienced before—in dance, in laughter and weeping, and in miracles.

The Holy Spirit is also the Spirit of truth, and He comes to guide us into all truth and to reveal to us the things that are to come (Jn 16:13), for the Spirit searches all things—even the deep things of God (1 Cor 2:10).

However, if spiritual experiences are not based on the truth, then it often leaves room for Satan to work. It causes people to become proud, allows the evil spirit to infect prayers, and even corrupts the mind from the simplicity that is in Christ to change the gospel (2 Cor 11:3-4). There are numerous examples of such incidents throughout church history, and they should serve as warnings to us.

Be Filled with Love—They Devoted Themselves to Fellowship

            Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. (Acts 2:44-45)

Here we can see how the early church displayed such a beautiful image of unity and harmony among the believers. They had fellowship with each other and lived according to the order of love. Not only did they comfort and help one another, but they also had all things in common.

This was not an institution of communism; rather, everyone voluntarily shared with one another what they had, based on their love for each other. They understood that their possessions were only entrusted to them by God and did not belong to them. So they were willing to offer according to the needs of each one.

Such fellowship of love tightly knit the hearts of the believers and resulted in the formation of a special spiritual bond. And great grace was upon them all—none amongst their midst was found lacking (Acts 4:32-35).

In modern society, many churches have become like the Ephesian church of the early days and have forsaken their first love (Rev 2:4)—becoming estranged from the church. They no longer feel they are a part of the spiritual family and naturally lose their connection with others. This is why the church needs to actively promote the establishment of a life of fellowship and encourage believers to show love and support for one another.

A Life of Fellowship

Philippians 2:1-2 provides us with a great setting of this kind of fellowship lifestyle. Fellowship allows us to receive consolation in Christ and to be comforted by His love. When everyone fellowships within the Holy Spirit, there exists an affection and mercy among the believers—everyone is able to be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, and of one love. Apart from material things that we can share in fellowship, we ought to share the perfect life that we possess and eventually become one with God (Jn 17:21).

Today, our church life is a life of a larger fellowship. It is something that every believer should devote himself or herself to in participation. No one can alienate themselves from this fellowship unless they do not belong to Christ and are not part of Christ’s body.

Within this larger fellowship, smaller fellowships can be formed based on specific needs such as age, racial background, common interests, etc. These fellowships are established to address believers’ varying needs.

However, they are all for the sole purpose of helping us learn how to live a life of community and to help us experience the spirit of love within the church. As members of one body, we can have communion with one another, learn to give, learn to receive, and learn to share in joy and suffering. Not only is each individual edified in love; ultimately, the body of Christ will be built up (1 Cor 12:25-27; Eph 4:16).

Have All Things in Common

Many believers have seen the needs of the church and made offerings of land, possessions, and great sums of money. They do this because they themselves have experienced God’s grace. Some offer to help with the building of a new church structure, while others offer themselves to do specific work within the church. But all offer willingly and sincerely out of their love and gratitude towards God.

Apart from such love and generosity, every household’s regular tithe offering, as well as the same type of offering as the widow’s two small coins, are all great contributions that further holy work in church. After receiving these offerings, the church then effectively and efficiently utilizes them so that every member can share in them, which is the true spirit of “having all things in common” within the church.

What is the Bible referring to when it describes how the believers “gave to anyone as he had need”? Some suspect that the church was so eager for the second coming of the Lord at the time, that they no longer emphasized worldly pursuits. So they met together every day and stopped working, and everyone was living off of the offerings that were made to the church through the selling of their possessions.

The Bible does not detail exactly what happened, but even if that were the case, it must have been to fulfill God’s wonderful will so that the workers of God at the time could preach the gospel without worrying about their families.

When applying this description to the church today, it contains a special meaning. How can the church, based on various church plans and budgets, use the money that it receives from members’ offerings to fulfill the needs of different groups, fellowships, and the growth of each member within the church?

The church has the responsibility to utilize the resources it receives from members, to properly manage its finances, and to ensure that yearly work plans are implemented, so that the church is not advancing without a clear or constructive direction. Ultimately, everyone can enjoy the goodness of being in God’s household and be spiritually fed.

We are also reminded to “give to anyone as he has need,” for Christian fellowship is also about Christian caring, and Christian caring is about Christian sharing. It is the responsibility of a spiritual group as a whole to take care of the members’ needs so that no one lives in poverty.

Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth, because only the kind of love that is accomplished by actions has true value (Jas 2:15; 1 Jn 3:18).

The Breaking of Bread and Prayer

The pursuit of the truth focuses on personal establishment of a genuine faith, and a life of fellowship of love emphasizes giving and receiving between individuals. But the most basic and precious thing about faith is how one establishes a close relationship with God.

To have a close relationship with God depends on how we fear Him and interact with Him through daily activities. These activities include singing hymns, praying with thanksgiving, worshipping at church, having meals with other believers, partaking of the Holy Communion, building good relationships with others, etc.

We can see how the members in the Jerusalem church devoted themselves to worship and lived a life of faith. 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 and enjoying the favor of all the people (Acts 2:46-47). A great spiritual power tied everyone closely together and helped the church operate smoothly and grow rapidly without losing harmony or direction.

Similarly, today’s church should also stress more than sermon preaching and teaching of the truth; she should emphasize helping the believers’ growth in body, heart and spirit, so they might know how to worship God in their lives and in every corner of society.

The church should emphasize the following:

1.       A balanced and diverse style of worship

As we consider the way the members of the early church worshipped, we see that there were some who taught, some who gave testimonies, and some who sang hymns as they broke bread and prayed together. They also had long sessions of service, and their service activities included many different styles. There were prayers and evangelism in the temple as well as fellowships in their homes.

In the same way, the church today should avoid inflexible styles of worship, especially when faced with diverse congregations in which people have different needs yet desire to have more interactions with each other. If church service only consists of unidirectional sermon listening, it is insufficient to satisfy people’s empty spirit.

Therefore, the church should make use of the regular scheduled service time and other annual events such as spiritual convocations and special services to plan different types of services that target different groups of people, and encourage every member to participate in the preparation of these events.

However, no matter what kind of service it is, preachers along with other ministers should lead the whole congregation in worship to create an atmosphere that is both reverent and joyful. Consequently, everyone who comes to church can naturally experience the true joy and love that “the Lord’s tabernacle is among the people.”

But there are also erroneous concepts that we need to correct. For example, some people consider eating and chatting in church unspiritual, so they always rush in and out of services and refuse to have meals and converse with other brothers and sisters.

Interactions between church members is part of our life of worship. As long as we are not gossiping, speaking things that are not beneficial to others, and we are not like the Corinthian church in creating divisions, arguments and mixing Holy Communion with regular meals (1 Cor 11:17-31), then God is among us in everything we do.

God is willing to share His blessings with those who belong to Him and love Him. In Old Testament times, people were able to eat and enjoy their offerings after they gave sacrifices to the Lord (Deut 12:6-7). Some suggest that in such a corrupted social culture, where recreational activities are polluted with immorality, the church can provide a healthy recreational environment for the believers, where they could enjoy activities without having to find them elsewhere.

Therefore, apart from planning and pursuing a higher quality of worship, church leaders should not neglect to create a healthy and pleasant church environment so that believers can have more opportunities to mingle with others and unite in God’s love.

2.       The importance of both church and family service

After many Jews were converted to believe in the Lord, they no longer participated in the rituals of sacrifice in the temple, but continued to join in the regular temple prayers and preached the gospel. At the same time, they also held less formal, freewill services in their homes to substitute for the rituals in the temple.

Even though we also focus very much on chapel worship today, and we have many regular services scheduled, we should also not neglect the importance and value of having family services.

Family services provide a more informal and friendly atmosphere, and allow believers an opportunity to be more relaxed and open about their feelings and thoughts. This format is especially suitable for fellowship sharing and getting to know visitors and those who seek the truth.  Also, family services provide a conducive learning environment for all.

During family services, we can focus on becoming good mediators between the church and our unbelieving family, friends, and relatives. At the same time, we can make use of this opportunity to train more pastoral workers by giving them a place to practice the things they learn. Furthermore, it is an excellent way to allow the believers to know and understand more about each other, and help them learn how to live a life of love.

Each local church can divide the members into small groups according to their geological locations, and arrange to have family services in each area. If there are families with special needs, then the church can arrange to have special family services to address their needs.

In addition, having family services in each other’s homes is a good way to establish family altars. It gives the children an opportunity to learn about the words of God from a young age, so that their faith can grow steadfastly. It also helps to nourish good family relationships.

A healthy and complete life of faith must be a balance of a more formal and reverent worship at church, as well as a more informal and dynamic worship at home. Neither should be neglected.

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Publisher: True Jesus Church