- ABOUT US
- NEWS & EVENTS
- READING PLAN
- VIDEO TESTIMONIES
Great Themes of the Bible
When Stephen addressed the Sanhedrin to give his testimony, he gave rise to what God called the church to be.
“Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen.” (Acts 7:44 NKJV)
This concept of God setting a pattern got me thinking about the church. Did God set a pattern for what the church was to look like; what the church was suppose to be?
As a youngster I remember watching my Grandmother sitting in her favorite chair with a basket full of yarn by her side knitting one of her great and colorful blankets. As I watched her knitting I wondered how she got it to look so good when it just looked like a bunch of colors haphazardly thrown together.
What I didn’t know is that she used a book of patterns along with the instructions that she kept in the basket. So without the book of patterns all those quilts and blankets would have never come out so beautiful.
I also remember how my mother and sister would make their own dresses. They’d go to the fabric store and come back with all these different materials along with what I called “pattern in a bag.” They would lay out the paper pattern and cut the fabric to meet its specs. As I watched them I couldn’t see how it was going to look like that picture on the bag. But that’s how it came out.
Like my grandmother, my mom and sister had success because they followed the pattern. They didn’t just knit, pearl, cut, and sew what they wanted, or what felt good or looked right. Instead they followed the pattern and thus had success.
God has a pattern for life, marriage, parenting, work, and for each area of our lives, including His church. It’s found in the ultimate pattern book, the Bible. In the Bible God sets forth His pattern, His blueprint for success.
It was such a design, such a pattern that God created the universe. And if one particle is out of place, then this universe would end in a big fiery ball. In Genesis it says “God said,” and it was created according to His design, His set pattern, as life was created and then procreated each after their own kind, that is, according to the pattern that God set forth within them.
When you look into the night sky you see God’s divine order, His set pattern. Astronomers will tell you they know exactly where each star, planet, and galaxy is because they move precisely and predictable. Everything in the universe follows God’s pattern.
Further, the Bible says that God is not the author of confusion or disorder, but rather that of peace and wholeness, and the same order is for the church.
“For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” (1 Corinthians 14:33 NKJV)
And Paul goes on to talk about how the church is to function in the gifting’s saying, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:40 NKJV)
Order and harmony are therefore in God’s very nature, and anything that truly is of God reflects that order.
God put forth in His divine pattern how His people were to approach Him. We see this as Moses was commanded to build the tabernacle according to the pattern shown to Him while on Mount Sinai.
“And see to it that you make them according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.” (Exodus 25:40 NKJV)
Notice God didn’t allow the Israelites to stray off course on some weird tangent they may have witnessed in Egypt, or according to their own likes and dislikes. Instead God said, “Make it this way, not your own way, and don’t take any shortcuts in the process.”
In other words they had to be faithful to the pattern because this was to be the place God would dwell in their midst, where He would meet and speak to them, (Exodus 29:42-46).
It’s with this same understanding and importance we should build God’s church. Jesus said,
“On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18 NKJV)
The Apostle Paul said,
“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 219-22 NKJV)
Jesus had a pattern, one that was well known, and one that was faithfully followed and revealed in the book of Acts. The book of Acts preserves for us Jesus’ divine pattern before humanity got a hold of it and messed it up.
J.B. Phillips said, “(Acts) is seeing Christianity, the real thing; in action for the first time in human history … the Church as it was meant to be.”
When they built according to God’s pattern, His powerful dynamics created explosive growth that resulted in the Gospel message being proclaimed throughout the world in just one generation.
Now this doesn’t mean there weren’t problems. In fact we see quite a few, from dissention to division, even racism. But it was the principles set forth by Jesus and built upon by the apostles that greatly influenced that generation. It’s the principles, not the programs that the church is to be built upon. Methods and programs change given the culture and the times, but the principles work in every generation and in every culture.
Therefore, following the pattern is important, and that’s because of our sin nature, wanting to do what we want the way we want it, the way we think it should be done. Those generations that refused to follow God’s pattern in the Old Testament ended up dead, destroyed, or exiled. They wandered in the wilderness, but God was always with them.
Unfortunately it isn’t much different today as the church wanders in the wilderness of conflicting opinions, traditions, habits, and it’s own man-made patterns, all in the effort of seeking after God, even though He’s not far from us.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. The pattern is set and the instructions are clear. The Apostle Paul knew it and built accordingly.
“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:9-11 NKJV)
The church isn’t a physical building of brick and mortar, but it’s each one of us built together in Jesus’s name, because where two or three are gathered in His name, He’s there, Matthew 18:20.
“You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5 NKJV)
Our time together as living stones offering up our spiritual sacrifices is God’s pattern for the church.
The book of Acts reveals God’s pattern, but unfortunately sinful man has gotten a hold of it and distorted it. No one has the right or freedom to build the church the way they want. Moses had no choice in how he was to build the tabernacle, and neither do we in how we build Jesus’ church.
But God wants to restore the church to the same life and power that first enabled it to reach such glorious heights. We need to therefore build according to the pattern, and in Acts we see these clear distinctives and principles.
Read Acts 2:41-47
Before we look at these principles, first look again at what it says in verse 42. It says, “And they continued steadfastly.”
To continue in something doesn’t mean we know about it, rather that we’re living it out. And to continue steadfastly doesn’t mean once in a while or when we feel like it, but it should be a way of life lived out on a daily basis.
What principles did they continue steadfastly in?
1. Apostle’s Doctrine
The first thing they desired was the teaching of God’s Word. Christianity isn’t all about experiences. Far too many move from one experience to another and never become grounded in the faith. They’re a mile wide but only an inch deep.
Unfortunately many within the church don’t want doctrine, or solid teaching from God’s word. They don’t want theology, in fact in many churches in America this has become out of vogue. All they want is some philosophy that will help them get through the day.
But the only thing that helps us get through the day comes out of God’s word, not out of some philosophy.
Fellowship today little resembles what it was in the first church. Some believe that fellowship is just meeting up with other Christians, or coming to church on Sunday morning, shaking a couple of hands, before, during, or after the service, and then going home to watch some TV.
But in the first church fellowship was intimate unity. They had close associations with each other. It wasn’t something superficial, but something deep and abiding where they became one in this new community, and into this new family known as the church.
“So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.” (Acts 2:46 NKJV)
There existed within them a unity of thought and purpose as they daily met in close fellowship. Notice it was not only in the tabernacle but also within their homes on a daily basis.
Today we have a hard time just coming to church and meeting once a week, and we wonder why we are so weak.
Look at the progression, first thy met in the temple, which today we’d consider church services. Coming together at these set times is vital for our health and growth in the Lord. It was at these times they would listen to the apostle’s teachings.
But they also met together in smaller groups, and it’s here that the deeper associations developed.
3. The Sacraments
The word sacrament means those practices or rites that were established by Jesus that brings grace to those who practice them. Within the pattern revealed in Acts there are two: baptism and communion.
“Then those who gladly received his word were baptized … in the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:41-42 NKJV)
The breaking of bread here is communion. This wasn’t something they just decided upon doing, but something Jesus told them to do. After taking the bread and the cup and giving it to the disciples, Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” (1 Corinthian 11:24-25)
Baptism is an outward sign of an inward doing. Baptism doesn’t save; at best it washes away some dirt. Only the shed blood of Jesus washes away our sins. Baptism symbolically represents Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, that is death and burial to our old way of life, and then a resurrection to a new life we now live in Him.
Jesus also gave this as a command saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a NKJV)
This includes all forms of prayer including, intercession and supplication, personal and corporate, praying in the Spirit and more, because prayer is simply a two-way communication with God. It’s our speaking to Him, and Him speaking back.
There are a lot of books written about prayer, and many more with prayer highlighted within them. But all of them say the same thing, which is our need to be a people of prayer.
“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 NKJV)
They were a giving community, and if someone had a need, they helped them with it, but let me put in a word of caution. Giving someone money isn’t always the help they need. Sometimes as the church we can be enablers. What we need is to help people know how to use their money wisely for the Lord, and what a budget is.
Now, as far as giving is concerned, there are three ways the Bible outlines how we are to give.
The tithe is not an Old Testament law that’s no longer applicable. Jesus said of the tithe that we are not to neglect it, Luke 11:42.
Within the Old Testament there are three tithes that the people were to set aside and give. Now, the word tithe means ten percent.
• The first tithe was to be given to the temple to maintain its function and provide for those who ministered there.
• The second tithe was to be held by the individuals and used to help them take the prescribed trips and offer up the prescribed sacrifices.
• The third tithe was to be offered to the city elders to take care of the orphan, widow, and stranger that was in need.
Within most churches, and amongst most Christians, the offering is thought of as the same thing as the tithe. When the pastor or elder calls for the tithe, it’s called the offering, and he or she says, “It’s now time to give unto the Lord our tithes and offerings.”
The offering is not the same thing as the tithe. Instead it’s quite different. It’s designed to meet more specific needs within the church, and it goes above and beyond the tithe.
It’s a gift we give to God, whereas the tithe is God’s command. The offering, like the tithe, is given from a willing and grateful heart. And while the offering is mostly monetary in nature, the giving of our time, talents, and treasure also define it.
Alms are different from both the tithe and offering. It’s in the area of giving alms that most people miss God’s calling. Alms are acts of compassion extended to those in need. It’s doing whatever is needed to help relieve the burden of the infirmed, poor, oppressed, and dispossessed.
In Acts 3:2-3 a lame man sat everyday at the gate called Beautiful asking for alms, that is, something monetary to help him survive.
The giving of alms is considered an act of righteousness, but not to gain notoriety, but rather to meet the need of another while helping them maintain their dignity.
It is through the giving of alms that many unbelievers come into contact with the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
When we follow God’s pattern for the church in our teaching the full counsel of God’s word, prayer, fellowship, the taking of Sacraments, and our giving that we’ll begin to be that church and the bride God desires for us to be. It is through these that the church is making itself ready.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study