What is the church? What do you think of when you speak of the church? The concept of the church has been so greatly distorted since the writing of the scriptures that it is easy for us to miss what church is all about. Today, church is something you go to. Church has become something you do. Church is somewhere you go for about an hour, perhaps two or three hours a week. Church is something you attend. Church is something for when you need God. The perception of church rests at a level somewhere between having a psychiatrist and belonging to the girl scouts. When you need church you go. Otherwise you go when you want to go. These concepts are extremely unbiblical at best and slanderous of God at the worst. But this is what we see, where people rank church somewhere between a hobby and an extracurricular activity. So we kick off a new series of lessons today entitled, “Don’t Go To Church.” What we are going to do in these lessons is examine the scriptures to learn what the church looked like in the first century and observe what God depicts to be a local church.
Our primary text for our study is Acts 2:42-47 where we read about a group of Christians who are the local church in Jerusalem. In Acts 2 Peter has preached the gospel concerning the salvation found in Jesus. In verse 41 we see that on the day of Peter’s sermon about 3000 people respond to the word, were baptized, and were added to Christ and his kingdom. What did these new Christians do? What was their natural response to becoming saved by God’s grace? Acts 2:42-47 tells us what they were doing.
Who We Are
There is a concept that we repeatedly see in the scriptures concerning Christians that is easy to miss in our individualistic driven society. We are going to look at a number of texts and I want us to observe who we are in Christ.
Look at Acts 2:44. “And all who believed were together and had all things in common.” There is a devotion to being together that is highlighted and emphasized throughout Acts when describing the church. In Acts 2:42 Luke records that they were devoted themselves and were persistent in the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers. The same word translated “devoted” also appears in Acts 2:46 which is translated by many Bible versions as “continued.” The HCSB maintains the word correspondence and reads in verse 46, “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex.” Notice Acts 4:32 Luke makes the same point about these Christians in Jerusalem. “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” There is a tremendous picture of unity that existed among the Christians in Jerusalem. We are reading about a radical change in the lives of these people.
A common view of Christianity is that it is something we add to our lives. Our lives are very much the same as the rest of the world with one difference: on Sunday morning we go to a place of worship for a brief service. But in Acts their whole lives and whole outlook changed. The apostle Paul described the change this way: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV) We are to be completely changed and our lives reflect a radical change because we are in Christ. The change caused these Christians to desire to spend their time together. They devoted themselves to continue steadfastly together. It is not that they were commanded to be together. The apostle Peter did not have to beg these Christians to spend time together. They wanted to be together.
I believe the ultimate problem is that we do not see ourselves as a “we.” Each of us see ourselves as individuals who come together for a couple hours, maintaining our individuality, and not forming what the scriptures describe as the church.
The body of Christ.
One of the pictures the scriptures use to describe this new life we have in Christ is to call us a body. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27 ESV) A body has unity. Your hand is never doing something over here that the rest of the body does not know about. We often view the church as a membership to Costco. You show up when you need something. You go to Costco and you are a member of Costco, but your identity is not tied to Costco. But the church is not the same. The church is described as the body of Christ. Your hand is identified with your body. It is not separate.
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:4–5 NIV)
Though we are many members and we do not have the same function, listen to the apostle Paul, we are joined together as one body. Each member belongs to all the others. We form one body together. We must ask ourselves this: Does it sound logical for this great plan of God for the redemption of the world to suddenly become a purely individualist pursuit, somehow separate from a body of people who are called into eternal, covenantal unity with him? The word, the gospel, creates not only a new individual in Christ but joins you to a new community in Christ.
Family of Christ.
Another picture that is used to describe who we are is a family of Christ.
But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48–50 ESV) Jesus had come to create a new family in Christ, a spiritual family that is stronger than our physical family ties. The scriptures similarly describe us as a spiritual house (1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 2:5) which also draws upon the same family image. The ideas of belonging to the body of Christ and the family of Christ speak to having a new identity. Church is not somewhere you go. Church is not only what we belong to. We are the church. You do not go to church. You are the church. We need to treat church with the idea of ownership and not as a rental. Think about the difference between renting an apartment and buying a home. You treat things differently when you own something versus simply renting something. We need to own what we are doing together here rather than being an observer or attender. We are the church. We are the body of Christ. We are the family of Christ. Listen to how the apostle Peter made use this ownership language.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9–10 ESV)
Notice that Peter does not speak in individual terms at all. Nor does he speak of the church as something outside of ourselves that we just go to. You are a chosen race, not a chosen person. You are a royal priesthood, not just an individual priest. You are a holy nation, not just a holy person. You are a people for his own possession, not just a person for God. Verse 10 really drives this point. Before you were not a people. Before you were just you. You were all a bunch of individuals. You did not have an identity before. But now you have an identity and it is a joint identity. You are God’s people. Now you have become part of something greater than yourself. We are not just individuals, but called into God’s family to act with honorable conduct because of our new identity. We are a people, not just a collection of individuals. This means that we must be committed to one another just as members of our body are committed to one another and as members of a family are committed to one another.
We must stop looking at the church as event-based that is done once a week. We are the people of God. We are the family of God. If you have breakfast with your family, leave for work, and then have dinner with your family and spend the evening together, at what point am I part of the family and at what point am I not? Being a part of my family is my identity and it affects the way I live when we are together and when we are apart. Being family is not an event; it is who you are. I desire to be with my family. Only dysfunctional families do not desire to be together. I think about way to do good by my family. I look to share my experiences with my family. This is what is missing in our thinking. We are reading in Acts that these Christians are sharing their lives together.
To put it simply: I don’t understand how this can be just a hobby to some. This is a boring hobby. Go do something interesting if all you are going to do is consider the church as nothing more than something you go to. If this is just a weekend activity, go boating. Go do something else if all the effort you are going to give to Jesus only rises to the level of belonging to the girls scouts or to a little league team.
As we look at the scene in Acts 2:42-47, I want us to notice that they did not come together merely to accomplish a task or duty. They did not look at coming together as something that needed to be commanded. They did not need to be told to do this. Nor did they see God as five acts that must be accomplished and God will be angry if we don’t get here and get these five acts of worship done. Perhaps this is the worst thing that has come from the idea of the “five acts of worship.” It is as if there are tasks that have to be completed, and once the checklist is finished, then we can go home and get back to our lives before God interfered with the day. Since we think we got these things done on Sunday morning, why do we need to come back tonight? Why come back on Wednesday night? Why go to community groups? Why have each other in our homes? We just go to church, right? The reason why we do not these things is not because there is some command somewhere that compels us to come together as some sort of duty. If that is your attitude toward worship, then you might as well stay home. God does not want your duty. I hope we have learned this point clearly and powerfully from our study of the prophets in the scriptures. We come together because we are family.
What I want us to do is change our thinking about who we are and what we are doing. I want us to consider what it would require for us to model the first century Christians whose “full number were of one heart and soul.” The apostle Paul praised the Thessalonians because the love they had for one another was increasing (2 Thessalonians 1:3). Listen to what John writes:
We know that we have crossed over from death to life because we love our fellow Christians. The one who does not love remains in death. (1 John 3:14 NET) Here is how we can know that we have been transferred from rightfully being condemned before our Lord because our sins to a condition of justified and receiving life from God: by what we do with each other. Why should we do this? Why should we see ourselves as family and as a body that cares and loves one another?
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:10–11 ESV)
Let our thinking change about church. Don’t go to church; be the church. Do not think of church as something to do like the girl scouts. Do not think of church membership like belonging to Costco. You are a new creation and you have a new identity to which you belong: God’s people. We are to be individuals that are transformed by God’s word and empowered to join God’s corporate family and participate in God’s plan to reconcile all things to himself (Colossians 1:20; Ephesians 2:16).
Second, show love. The scriptures tell us to encourage each other daily (Hebrews 3:13). The scriptures tell us to have our love ever increasing (2 Thessalonians 1:3). God made us alive together with him (Colossians 2:13) who are to be knit together in love (Colossians 2:2). Be the church of Jesus Christ. Show love. Live like the family of God together.