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Defining “Church” – in the Early church

January 25, 2015

Defining “Church” – in the Early church

NOTE TO THOSE READING ON-LINE:  The congregation was handed an outline to fill in.  We did not cover all of the Scripture passages during worship.  The outline is at the end of the sermon.

Intro:  Last week we began to take a look at the church, the “ekklesia” that Jesus said he would found with Peter.  And so it did begin.  Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  The Church has not always behaved the way that Jesus wanted it to or God created it to.  Are you in shock?  The church has been responsible in different times and places for horrible things.  In those times, the church forgot why it was in existence. Today we are going to look a little deeper at what Jesus meant the church to be when he introduced it to Peter and the disciples.

 

There were no by-laws drawn up and no constitution written and they didn’t vote to approve an annual report – although they did share the stories of what was going on in the life of the church with one another. We can draw from Scripture that the apostles led the church based on what they had learned from their life with Christ.  So in order for us to understand what the early church was like, we need to look at Scripture. Through the book of the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul and Peter to the churches, we catch a glimpse of what was going on in the early church – what was worthy of encouragement and where the church needed to be disciplined and called to account to get back on the right track.  There are also writings outside of the Bible that tell us about the church and Christians of the day, but the best source for getting a picture of the early church is scripture itself.

 

There are 114 verses that have the word “church” (ekklesia) in them.  I went through them and gleaned the ones that gave us snapshots of what the early church was like. I’ve given you a paper for reference so that you can take them home and look them up for yourselves and dig a little deeper on your own!  I’ve even made the sheet so you can fill in the blank as we go through them this morning.  Are you ready?

 

This is going to feel more like a big Bible Study than a sermon.  Just go with it!  But in the end, I hope that we will assess whether we look like the church described in these verses.  I hope that each of us will be challenged in an area we need to grow, shift our focus or flat out change.  And one more comment before we begin– there are other references to the church in the New Testament such as the Body of Christ, the people of God, etc.  We’re not looking at those today.  The following references are just from the word “Church” from “ekklesia”.  Let’s go!

 

Acts 8:1  On that day (the day that Stephen was martyred) a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.

 

The church was __________________________ and

 

__________________________

 

 

For later – read Acts 8:1-8

 

When we hear that the church is persecuted and scattered, as it is in Syria today and Jerusalem 2000 years ago, we assume the worst.  And it is really a bad situation.  In both instances people died for their faith and were imprisoned.  But God, in his redemptive power, makes all things work together for the good of those who are in Christ Jesus.  I encourage you to read Acts 8:1-8 all together, to get a better picture of how God redeemed the situation.

 

Acts 9:31  Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

 

After the church was scattered and persecuted these things happened:

 

______________________________                    ____________________________

 

 

 

 

It is the habit of God to redeem his people.

 

Acts 12:5  So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

 

The church did this for someone in need

 

_________________________________

 

(Read ALL of Acts 12 for a great story!)

 

God calls us to pray for those in need.  This story of the church praying is key in understanding the power prayer has to make things happen.  In this case it set a prisoner free.  There is still a need today for the church to pray that prisoners be set free.

 

 

Acts 14:23  Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

 

The church has always had _________________________, to oversee the church as spiritual leaders.

 

 

Acts 14:27  On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

 

The church has always gathered to

 

_____________________________________

 

 

 

Acts 15:1-21  The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad.  When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

 

The church both __________________ and ________________________ those who ministered among them.

 

I want to stop and tell you a little bit about this long passage, but I’ll leave you to read it on your own.  Peggy Hughes and I are privileged to serve the larger church.  She serves on ECO’s Preparation for Ministry Team and I serve on ECO’s Ministry Assimilation Team.  In these capacities we get to hear all of the unique situations that individuals and churches encounter as they make the switch over from wherever they are coming from.  We are learning that one answer doesn’t fit all. 

 

In this passage in Acts, the Jewish Christians are trying to make the Gentile Christians fit into a particular mode by getting circumcised before they are welcomed into Christianity.  But Peter and James point out their unique situation and how God made it evident that it was by grace through faith that they were called into the kingdom and that their journey would look different than another’s.  I find this to be empowering and refreshing!  No two churches are alike.  No two Christians are alike.  We are all saved by grace through faith, but each journey is unique.  I pray that we will always have the courage and humility to walk with each other as we come to and grow in faith.

 

Acts 16:5  So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.

 

Churches were _________________________ and _____________________

 

This is something we don’t see happening now as it did then.  Why do you think they grew daily in numbers?  Could it have been that the believers were so excited about their new life in Christ that they just had to share it with others?  What has happened to the church, to us, between then and now? Have we become stagnant here in America?  In other countries the church is growing.  Islam is growing in our country.  What needs to change?  How do you personally answer that question?

 

 

In this next passage Paul is speaking to the Elders of the Ephesian church.

 

Acts 20:28  Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

 

What are elders to do? 

 

_______________________________________________

 

Why are they to do it?

 

_________________________________________________

 

The task of the elders was to shepherd the flock, to oversee it.  Not because they were elected by the congregation but because the Holy Spirit had chosen them for the task.  It was an important task because the church was bought and paid for, not through generous donors or hard workers but by God’s own blood.  So elders present and past, who is it we seek to serve, as those ordained as overseers of the church?

 

 

Romans 16:3-6  Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house.  Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.  Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.

 

The church appreciates its members and praises the work that is done.

 

How well do we do commending one another?  How well do we hand out praise for jobs well done?  Just as there are times for caution and holding each other accountable, there are times when we should not hold back our praise and thanks for folks who are working hard in the church today.  When we shift gears in a bit and circulate around our tables to get food!  What a great opportunity that would be to affirm one another.

 

 

1 Corinthians 1:2  To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:

 

In what three ways is the church of God identified?

 

_____________________________________ 

 

_______________________________________

 

 

 

The church isn’t just an institution or a tradition.  The church of Jesus Christ is a kingdom of sanctified and holy people who call on God.  Being sanctified and holy is not something we do for ourselves – it is what the Holy Spirit works in us as we surrender our lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

1 Corinthians 5:12  What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?  (See 1 Cor. 5:9-13 to get the whole context)

 

Who is the church supposed to judge? 

 

______________________________________

 

The church is often accused of being judgmental.  I believe this is because over the years, we have tried to hold the world – those who have no intention or desire to follow Christ – to the standards of Christ.  When they fly in the face of what we believe, we accuse and judge them.  Not our job!  In the process, we have not properly attended to the sin that goes on within our own people.  So we have become soft on “sin within” and harsh on “sin without”.  How can we hold the un-churched guy on the barstool to the same standards as an elder in the church?  The bar guy doesn’t even know what a life in Christ is supposed to look like, so why would we ever think he should be living one?  However, if I see Ed O’Connor drunk on a barstool, I could call him out on many things!  Those outside the church, we seek to bring to faith.  Those inside the church we hold to the faith they proclaim.

 

 

1 Corinthians 6:3-5  Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!  Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church?  I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?

 

 

1 Corinthians 11:18  In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.

 

 

1 Corinthians 12:28  And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.

 

There are eight spiritual gifts listed in this passage:

 

_________________________                          __________________________

 

_________________________                        __________________________

 

_________________________                        __________________________

 

_________________________                        __________________________

 

These are eight gifts manifested in the church.  There are others.  What do you personally believe about these spiritual gifts?  Are they still active in the life of the church today?  Have you seen people use them?  Are some still relevant and others not?  Why?  (More on this in the future, but it’s good to begin to come to terms with what goes on in your own head when we begin to speak of spiritual gifts.)

 

The following two verses speak about the purpose of spiritual gifts in the life of the church, here specifically the gift of tongues.  Let’s identify their purpose.

 

1 Corinthians 14:4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church.

 

 

1 Corinthians 14:12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.

 

From these two verses what do we see that spiritual gifts are for?

 

___________________________            ________________________________

 

 

1 Corinthians 16:19  The churches in the province of Asia(A) send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.

 

Where did the early church meet? 

 

_____________________________________________

 

 

Ephesians 1:22  And God placed all things under his (Speaking of Jesus Christ)  feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,

 

What has Christ been appointed to? 

 

________________________________________

 

Why is it important for the leaders of the church to seek Christ in all things?  Because it’s His church!!  It is why we seek to line up with what Scripture says so that is why it is important that we read and learn Scripture.  The final authority is not the session or the pastor or the trustees.  The final authority, the One by whom we are governed and to whom we are accountable is Jesus Christ himself.

 

 

Ephesians 3:10  His (God’s) intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,

 

Does the church have a mission?  How is it described here? 

 

 

 

I read this verse and respond with “Wow!”  Through us – God’s church – God intends that we inform the angels about how God’s wisdom works.  As we figure out how to be the church of the risen Christ, the angels watch and learn more about God.  We are teaching the angels in heaven how God’s mercy, forgiveness and redemption work themselves out in human lives.  This is something heavenly beings cannot experience for themselves, so they watch us.  What sort of teachers and example do we want to be?

 

Ephesians 5:24-25  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

 

How is marriage an analogy of Christ and the church?

 

________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

1 Timothy 3:15  if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

 

What are the two descriptions given of the church?

 

 

 

 

 

How seriously do we take ourselves?  These are big, important designations with a lot of implications.  “God’s household” his rules.  “The pillar and foundation of the truth”, tells me that we better make every attempt to get it right and use as our guide, Scripture.

 

1 Timothy 5:16 If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.

 

In this verse we see that it is the responsibility of individuals to meet the needs of others, but it is also the responsibility of the church as a whole to make sure those needs are met.

 

 

3 John 1:10  So when I come, I will call attention to what he (Diotrephes) is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.

 

To the church, individuals come who stir up trouble.  They gossip.  They misconstrue.  They make people feel unwelcome.  They thwart the growth of those who are young in Christ.  The Apostle John understood that part of his responsibility as a leader of the church, was to make sure these situations were taken care of.  This is where the larger church may fit in.  The presbytery and synod are not set up as watchdogs but they are gatekeepers to guard the church from things that are false and hurtful.

 

 

Concl.  I hope that you will take these study guides home and look at them a little more closely.  Use them to think about the life of the church and your life as a Christian.  My prayer is that your eyes will be opened to new things in the word of God.  I hope that you will not just use the verse on the paper but look at the whole context in the Bible.  It will help you grow and it will help the church of God grow. And our growth, the expansion of the kingdom, is what God is after.  Ought our goal be to please the king of the kingdom?

 

Let us pray.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VERSES THAT DESCRIBE THE CHURCH

 

Acts 8:1  On that day (the day that Stephen was martyred) a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.

 

The church was __________________________

 

and __________________________

 

 

For later – read Acts 8:1-8

 

 

Acts 9:31  Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

 

After the church was scattered and persecuted these things happened:

 

______________________________                    ____________________________

 

 

 

 

 

Acts 12:5  So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

 

The church did this for someone in need

 

_________________________________

 

(Read ALL of Acts 12 for a great story!)

 

 

 

Acts 14:23  Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

 

The church has always had _________________________, to oversee the church as spiritual leaders.

 

 

 

 

 

Acts 15:1-21 (3-4)  The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad.  When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

 

The church both __________________ and ________________________ those who ministered among them.

 

 

Acts 16:5  So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.

 

Churches were _________________________ and _____________________

 

 

Acts 20:28  Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

 

What are elders to do? 

 

_______________________________________________

 

Why are they to do it?

 

_________________________________________________

 

 

 

1 Corinthians 1:2  To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:

 

In what three ways is the church of God identified?

 

_____________________________________ 

 

_______________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

1 Corinthians 5:12  What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?  (See 1 Cor. 5:9-13 to get the whole context)

 

Who is the church supposed to judge? 

 

______________________________________

 

1 Corinthians 12:28  And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.

 

There are eight spiritual gifts listed in this passage:

 

_________________________                          __________________________

 

_________________________                        __________________________

 

_________________________                        __________________________

 

_________________________                        __________________________

 

 

1 Corinthians 14:4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church.

 

1 Corinthians 14:12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.

 

From these two verses what do we see that spiritual gifts are for?

 

___________________________            ________________________________

 

 

 

Ephesians 1:22  And God placed all things under his (Speaking of Jesus Christ)  feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,

 

What has Christ been appointed to? 

 

________________________________________

 

 

 

Ephesians 3:10  His (God’s) intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,

 

Does the church have a mission?  How is it described here? 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Timothy 3:15  if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

 

What are the two descriptions given of the church?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

+++++++

 

Acts 14:27  On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

 

The church has always gathered to

 

_____________________________________

 

 

Romans 16:3-6  Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house.  Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.  Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.

 

The church appreciates its members and praises the work that is done.

 

 

1 Corinthians 6:3-5  Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!  Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church?  I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?

 

 

1 Corinthians 11:18  In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.

 

 

1 Corinthians 16:19  The churches in the province of Asia(A) send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.

 

Where did the early church meet? 

 

_____________________________________________

 

 

Ephesians 5:24-25  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

 

How is marriage an analogy of Christ and the church?

 

________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

1 Timothy 5:16 If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.

 

What responsibilities do we have as individuals, and as a corporate body, to those who are in need?

 

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­______________________________________________________________

 

 

3 John 1:10  So when I come, I will call attention to what he (Diotrephes) is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.

 

To the church, individuals come who stir up trouble.  They gossip.  They misconstrue.  They make people feel unwelcome.  They thwart the growth of those who are young in Christ.  The Apostle John understood that part of his responsibility as a leader of the church, was to make sure these situations were taken care of.  This is where the larger church may fit in.  The presbytery and synod are not set up as watchdogs but they are gatekeepers to guard the church from things that are false and hurtful.