When the Lord Jesus was on earth, He personally chose twelve disciples, eleven of whom later became the key players in the earliest stage of the history of the church. The church in the first century, during the times of the apostles, is, without dispute, the model church. They preached the set of doctrines that were imparted to them personally by the Lord, complete and perfect. Their daily living attested to the zeal and purity of their faith.
Soon after the apostles passed on, heresies crept into the church, and the church degenerated. What became of the original church of Jesus Christ is to be found in the fulfillment of the prophecies in the Old Testamentâ€”that in the last days, God would raise up His church again. "On that day, I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old" (Amos 9:11). This latter church is to be greater than the early church, for "the glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former" (Hag 2:9).
The True Jesus Church is the revival of the apostolic church. The church preaches the complete gospel of salvation (Gal 1:11-12; 2 Jn 9), miracles and signs testify to the truth that we preach (Heb 2:4; Mk 16:17), and the Holy Spirit of God abides in the church (1 Jn 3:24). These facts, however, should not be cause for complacency, but a motivation for us to zealously carry out God's commission.
The acts of the early church were recorded during the times of the apostles, giving rise to the book of Acts. This book sets the standard by which we measure our own acts today, both as individual believers and collectively as a church. If our acts were to be recorded today as a sequel to Acts, what kind of a record would it be? Since we are the revived apostolic church, our acts ought to follow in the pattern left behind by the early Christians. Hence, it is necessary that we take a look at Acts again and use it as a guide and gauge for what we are doing and where we are headed.
THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES AND OUR ACTIVITIES TODAY
Right before the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven, He commissioned His disciples to go forth and "make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all the things" that He commanded (Mt 28:19-20). The disciples were to be "witnesses for [the Lord] in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). We know that the earliest disciples did not for a moment forget this great commission. The entire plot progression in Acts pivots on this one commission. Whether it was a record of a miracle performed or of a sermon spoken, or of how the early believers were strengthened in fellowship, the theme and focus of the early church never strayed from the work of saving souls.
Today, are all our church activities truly rooted and motivated by the same commission of the Lord? We sometimes hear workers say that doing work for God is not the same as before. Times have changed. The world has moved on, and so church work must keep up with the times. One example that comes to mind is the method of large-scale evangelism. Holding evangelical services today just isn't the way it was when Peter stood up, spoke, and converted about three thousand souls. Without doubt, our societies today are far removed from those during the times of Peter and Paul. We no longer get a crowd gathering around us to observe us praying in tongues, and hence we have no chance to be like Peter, to stand up and speak a sermon that converts thousands of listeners. Even in other aspects of church work, there seem to be so many things that are necessary today that the apostles did not have to do during their time.
This brings us then to one very important question. It is a question that every worker of God, especially those in the position of planning and organizing, ought to consider. Are the activities we engage in today in the name of divine work really necessary in the sight of God? Or are we merely involved in some "much ado about nothing"? We have heard much exhortation to work while it is day, for when night comes we cannot work (Jn 9:4). That is true. But a potential danger is that we stretch and overgeneralize this teaching, resulting in the misconception that any work done in the name of church work is acceptable in God's eyes. What follows then is that time, money, and energy are channeled into the wrong places without our realization.
Going back to our earlier example of evangelical work, it has become a trend in many church locales to have choir presentations. If a church at a particular locale does not normally have a choir, chances are we will see them forming an impromptu choir, sincerely thinking that this is the way things should be. And because it is an ad-hoc choir, the enthusiastic choir members find themselves spending a large part of their effort and time struggling to learn some new songs. For all their good intentions, these members fail to realize that their time could have been better spent witnessing to their friends and relatives and inviting them to hear the evangelical sermon.
In other areas of church work, such as the work of religious education, teachers are often worried that they do not provide enough novelty to the lessons and activities and that, as a result, the students may not be drawn to God. The focus on novelty surpasses the concern for spiritual input.
Some members become stressed out by the work involved in spiritual convocations. As a consequence of the kind gesture of providing good meals for the attendees, they find themselves more concerned about physical food than about spiritual food. Is it any wonder, then, to hear people comment that working for God is not easy?
On one occasion, when the Lord Jesus was preaching at Bethany, two sisters' actions set up a contrast by which the Lord illustrated a very important teaching. While Jesus was preaching, Martha, the older sister, was busy playing the good hostess. Instead of helping Martha, the younger sister, Mary, sat down at the feet of Jesus to listen to His word. When Martha complained that Mary did not bother to help her out, Jesus told her that Mary had chosen the good part, the part that is needful (Lk 10:38-43). Jesus does not say that the work of serving food is not important. But he does identify and distinguish between two categories: what is needful and what is not.
It is not the purpose here to generate a list of the activities that are needful and those that are not. Situational and locality variations will inevitably call for different sets of needful activities at different times. However, as people who have received the blessed calling from God to work for Him, we must always make sure that we are using God's resources wisely. Life, time, money, and abilities are but God's resources distributed to different individuals, so that each may have a part in His holy work. These gifts must not be mishandled through our ignorance and misconceptions.
If God was able to save thousands in one day during Peter's time, then surely He is able do the same today. The apostolic church was a "no-frills" church. Yet they accomplished the Lord's commandment and successfully preached the gospel to all Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (which at that time was the furthest ends of civilization known to them).
When we find that we put in a lot of effort but harvest no true spiritual growth, we should not be quick to jump to the conclusion that the devil is foiling our work or that it is but the natural course of things. The first question to ask, more appropriately, is whether we have done things the way God really wanted us to. Are we adding all the frills that God never intended, at the expense of the things that God means for us to do?
CHURCH AND CHURCH BUILDINGS
The early apostolic church may seem "primitive" to some of us. Even the places of worship did not seem an issue that warranted the kind of concern that we have today. In contrast, our chapels today are getting more and more opulent. Endeavors to find a new chapel sometimes take years to see fruition because some of us set out to find or build a physical building that exudes enough grandeur so that it can bring glory to God's name.
Or, in other cases, we pride ourselves on being able to dedicate a chapel that is almost a landmark on the street where it stands, again hoping that God's name is thus glorified. Some chapels and church offices have the most modern and impressive interior decor and furniture. Thousands of dollars are spent on newfangled lighting systems, expensive flooring, and even designer furniture.
Such well-meaning efforts in the work of chapel building are certainly admirable. But, alas, God's name is never glorified as a result of any physical building. The archetype of modern-day chapels, Solomon's Temple, far surpassed any of our chapels in the excesses of grandeur. Our most magnificent buildings today all pale in comparison to the temple furnishings laden with pure gold.
Yet even the temple built by Solomon was not enough as a source of glory. Solomon himself acknowledged this: "Will God indeed dwell with men on earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!" (2 Chron 6:14). The beauty and glory of God's creation abound on earth and up in the heavens. God does not need His children to construct any building to add to His glory.
Chapel building, or which location to use as a place of worship, was never an issue with the believers in the apostolic times. The book of Acts records instead how the believers lived in fellowship with one another, and how their numbers grew.
As the apostle Paul explains, the church is the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27; Eph 1:23). Individual believers are each the temple of the Holy Spirit of God, and we should glorify God in our bodies and in our spirit (1 Cor 6:19-20). It is the quantity and quality of believers that can bring glory to God, not the chapels that we buy or build.
We must be wary of the folly of measuring God's delight in us and our spiritual advancement in the terms of success defined by the world. Just as we should try to keep to the essentials in our activities for the service of God, we should practice parsimony and not waste resources on material things, such as facilities that far exceed the basic purposes of utility and necessity.
THE PLACE OF GOD'S POWER TODAY
Up to this point, some of the things discussed seem completely counterintuitive to the modern believer. Living in societies that prize novel plans and advocate being forward-looking, we find it inconceivable that God actually does not require us to do many of the things that we are already doing. This feeling is exactly a reflection of the phenomenon that may have stealthily crept into our consciousness and infiltrated into the way things are being done in church: we do things in church the way we do things out in the world.
In the choice of workers for church work, some of us may unconsciously look up to people who are capable and successful in the world. Of course, being a worker approved by God and being someone successful in the world are definitely not mutually exclusive conditions. What is to be noted is a risk that exists today.
In some church locales, the membership is large and it becomes difficult for members to know one another on deeper levels than being mere acquaintances. When it comes to having to choose workers for certain areas of work, we may lack knowledge about the personal lives and spiritual qualities of fellow church brethren, and so we tend to believe that someone who is successful in the world will also be a good worker of God.
A second risk then follows. If a person is successful in the world but is far away from God as a Christian, that person will bring into the church the ways he or she handles affairs and situations in the world outside (albeit unintentionally). Before long, the language and the organizational strategies of the corporate world may become something everyone thinks is the way to go.
However, that really is not God's way. Search the whole Bible through and through. God never relied on worldly methods or worldly advantages to execute His will. In fact, the way of God often runs contrary to conventional wisdom and logic. True, there are great men of God who had been great men in their careers. Joseph, Daniel, and Paul are some names to note. But as far as bringing about God's purposes, their worldly abilities were absolutely useless.
Daniel was not delivered from the lions' mouths because he was learned and was the premier in his country of exile. Paul explicitly says that "Christ did not send [him]... with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect" (1 Cor 1:17). In fact, if Paul had not put off all the trappings of being a learned Pharisee, God's power would not have been so mighty upon him.
The Acts can be summarized as a record of how the earliest believers relied on God to accomplish what He commissioned. The majority of the key players were uneducated fishermen (Acts 4:13). The educated ones, if God worked with them, never once relied on their worldly education and abilities. The work of these believers gave rise to a golden period in the history of the church, a period in which the Holy Spirit worked mightily. They effected the words of God: "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit" (Zech 4:6).
Can we say the same for ourselves today? Are we cluttering the church with principles and ideas of the world? Are we adding frills and extras, making the cross of Christ and God's power of no effect? These are the very things that will take away God's glory. It is not too late to do a thorough introspection of the revived apostolic church now. If need be, we must have the courage to change and make way for God's power. God's church can never be God's church if there is too much human noise and human ways.
May the revived true church of God exhibit even greater glory than the first true church did during the apostolic timesâ€”the glory of God.