The Birth of the Church, Story of the Book # 8

August 27, 2015

The
Birth of the Church
Sigmund Freud wrote “The act of birth is the
first experience of anxiety, and thus the source and prototype of the affect of
anxiety.”    Which might explain Andy Warhol’s statement “Being
born is like being kidnapped. And then sold into slavery.”
This
is week eight of our Story of the Book series and since the beginning of July
we have been on a whirlwind tour of the Bible. 
Last week we arrived in the New Testament and from the Gospels I
selected the book of Mark to speak on and my central theme was what it will
take if we want to be more than an average Christian. 
The
Gospels of course begin with the birth of Christ and take us on a journey
through his life and ministry leading to his death and resurrection.  And that brings us to the next stage of our
journey.  This is only one of two
sections where we will only be looking at one book, in a few weeks we will look
at the book of the Revelation but today we are looking specifically at the book
of Acts or more correctly “The Acts of the Apostles.” 
It
is accepted that author was the same author who wrote the book of Luke, Luke,
who was a Gentile physician.   The book of Acts was written around  AD 63 and Luke  was writing these accounts for a friend of his
by the name of Theophilus, who was either a new believer or someone seeking to
know more about Christ and the early church. Interesting name Theophilus, it
was my great grandfather’s name but more than that in the Greek it means Lover
of God.
I
never knew my Great Grandfather and the only person I ever met with the name Theophilus
was a pastor from Burkina Faso who I met when I taught in Ghana in 2013.  Three weeks ago today Pastor Theophilus and
his wife were killed in a motorcycle accident on their way to church and Pastor
Theophilus was also a lover of God.  
And
so Acts is really book 2 with the Gospel of Luke being book 1. 
And
if I was to ask you what was important about the book of Acts I would get all
kinds of answers. 
It
is in the book of Acts that we read about the Holy Spirit coming upon the early
believers on the day of Pentecost.  It is
in the book of Acts that we read about the martyrdom of Stephen and James, it
is here we read about the persecution of the believers and how because of that
persecution many of those believers were forced to leave Jerusalem. 
It
is in the book of Acts that we read about a man named Saul, and his journey
from an obscure reference in a tragedy involving the first Christian martyr to
his becoming one if not the most influential voice in Christianity.  Oscar Wilde
could have been speaking about Saul when he wrote “Every
saint has a past, every sinner has a future.” Because with his
conversion Saul became Paul and Paul would go on to write the majority of the
New Testament and develop and shape the theology that would make Christianity
distinct among world religions.
In
the Wesley Study Bible we read:  “The entire Book
of Acts is an expansion and fulfilment of the promise in 1:8 —- “you shall be
witnesses . . . in Jerusalem . . . Judea and Samaria, and the end of the
earth.”
But
when I think of the book of Acts I think of the birth of the church.  Bill Hybels of
Willow Creek community Church is noted for saying “The
local church is the hope of the world.”  And
I truly believe that. 
The
church is the instrument that Christ planned on using to change and impact the
world.  That was apparent when he told
Peter in Matthew 16:18  Now I say to you that you are
Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all
the powers of hell will not conquer it.  But
when Jesus spoke those words there was no church. 
If
the Gospels are the story of Jesus then Acts is the story of the church and Groucho Marx said “Although
it is generally known, I think it’s about time to announce that I was born at a
very early age.” And the church was born at a very early age. 
So
what do we learn about the New Testament Church?  Because you will hear folks say from time to
time, “We ought to be a New Testament Church” or “Our church should be more
like the New Testament Church.”  I’ve
even had a few pastors through the years tell me, “We are a New Testament
Church.”  I’ve always wanted to ask them,
“So has anyone died taking communion lately?” 
If you didn’t get that you need to read 1 Corinthians 11:30.
The Church was Born in a
Partnership   
Have you ever heard the
phrase “It takes two to tango”?  That is
particularly true when it comes to making babies.  Here is the reality it takes a boy and a girl
to make a baby.  2 girls can’t make a
baby and 2 boys can’t make a baby and neither the Supreme Court nor popular
opinion can change that. 
In
the case of the Church the two it required was God and People.  Peter spoke, the Spirit moved and the church
was born.  Could God have done it without
people?  Sure, he’s God, but that isn’t
how he chose for the church to be born. 
And two thousand years later it still requires the moving of God and human
effort.
It
reminds me of the story of the man who bought an empty lot and turned it into a
beautiful garden.  Originally it had been
overgrown with weeds and filled with rocks, but through hard work,
determination and love he turned it into an object of beauty.  One day as he stood admiring his garden a
stranger happened by and commented, “That sure is a beautiful garden the Lord
has given you”  “Yes it sure is” replied
the man, “but you should have seen it when the Lord had it by himself.”
Every
church is born out of a partnership with God and with people.  Every growing church grows because of a
partnership with God and with people, every healthy church is healthy because
of a partnership with God and with people. 
Unfortunately
when things aren’t going well God often gets the blame. “I guess it’s not God’s
will that our church should grow.  We’ve
been praying and praying and nothing has happened.”
I
have discovered through the years that the two cop outs that churches and
pastors use to explain why one church is doing well and theirs isn’t are 1) God
is really blessing that church or 2) They are lucky.  And I’ve heard them both applied to
Cornerstone. 
And
it’s a cop out because they are both things we can’t control so we don’t have
to accept responsibility for what we can’t control.
My
response is: Why wouldn’t God bless other churches?  Is it in His will that they are not
growing?  Does He not want people to meet
Jesus and experience his grace?   Doesn’t
God want all churches to be healthy? 
And
as for the luck comment, I had a boss once who used to say “Luck is what failures call success.” And it was Pierre Trudeau who said “Luck, that’s when preparation and opportunity meet.” 
In
Acts chapter 2 we read what happened when the Holy Spirit came upon the
believers in the upper room, it says a great crowd gathered and were asking
questions about what happened.  And then
we read in Acts 2:14 Then
Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd,
“Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no
mistake about this. . .”  And he goes on to preach and call people to
repentance and they respond.  But What if the Holy Spirt had
moved and Peter had of stayed silent? 
Not
only was the church born out of a partnership, the next thing we discover is
that The Church was a Growing Church.  The early church was not stagnant or in
decline, it was a church that was growing and not just a little bit of growth
either, it was off the charts.
Listen
to some of the early descriptions of the church Acts
2:41
Those who believed what Peter said were
baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all. Acts 2:47  all
the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each
day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.  Acts 4:4  But
many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of
believers now totaled about 5,000 men, not counting women and children.
Eventually
they just stopped counting, and so we read in Acts
5:14
Yet more and more people believed and
were brought to the Lord—crowds of both men and women. Acts 9:31  The
church then had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it became
stronger as the believers lived in the fear of the Lord. And with the
encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it also grew in numbers.
I
am passionate about church growth and have been since I started pastoring, and
I’ve beat that drum in each of the churches I’ve pastored and with other
pastors.  And because of that I’ve had
people say “Denn, you are only concerned about numbers.” 
And
that’s not entirely true, that’s not all I’m concerned about, but it is one of
the things I’m concerned about.  And if
numbers are just numbers that that might be an issue, but when you realize that
numbers are actually representative of people it becomes different, especially
when they are people you care about.
When
a church grows it means more people are hearing the word of God, more people
are being presented with the opportunity to accept Christ, and more people are
being discipled.
When
a church grows there is more opportunity to reach more people with the love of
Christ, more opportunities to impact the world. 
 And that is all in keeping with
the command of Christ to reach all the world. 
And
we are going to come back and park here for three weeks in September and take a
look at why the church should grow, how they church will grow, and what the
cost of that growth will be, but that’s not until September so I’ll leave it
alone for now.
The
next thing we discover about the New Testament Church was that The Church was a Multiplying Church  The church didn’t start and finish in
Jerusalem.  There wasn’t just one mega
church that Peter pastored.  By the end
of the book of Acts there were churches scattered across Asia and into
Europe. 
And
that was what was supposed to happen, the last command of a Jesus was for the
church to go into all the world.  But
they didn’t go willing.  We all like to
be comfortable, change isn’t always something that most folks look forward to,
let alone leaving home and hearth to go start churches in faraway places.
So
for the first seven chapters of Acts we see the early church growing at an incredible
rate, I think the technical term is Hand over Fist, but it was limited to
Jerusalem. 
But
remember what Jesus told the Apostles in Acts 1:8 But
you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my
witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea,
in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  
In
Acts chapter 1 it seems that Jerusalem was to the be the starting place for the
church, but by Acts chapter 7 it would appear that Jerusalem has become the
stopping place, the only place that the church was making inroads. 
And
then we come to Acts 8, Stephen has become the first martyr of the early church
Acts 8:1  Saul was one of the witnesses, and
he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution
began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers
except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria.
It
was only when the believers were forced to move outside their comfort zone that
what was supposed to happen actually happened.
Years
ago when I was at a church planting seminar of some kind I heard a speaker say,
“Churches are programmed to reproduce, the question
is will be a planned pregnancy or an unplanned pregnancy?” 
Twenty
years ago I watched a church from our denomination go through a church split.  That was an unplanned pregnancy. 
Ten
years later I saw the same church take part in an intentional church plant
where they participated with people and finances. You might say that was a
planned pregnancy.  
Which
of the two births do you think was less stressful for all involved?  And which one ended up with the stronger
daughter church? 
There
are life cycles to churches, they are born and they die.  That is reality.  None of the churches that were written about
in the book of Acts exists today and if the church is going to continue to
exist then new churches will have to be started.
One
of our core values when Cornerstone was in the planning stages was that
Cornerstone would be involved in starting additional churches and while we
having been involved financially in several we still haven’t birthed a church,
yet.
We
just celebrated our 20th anniversary by the time the Jerusalem
church had celebrated their 20th anniversary there were dozens of
new churches as a result of the Jerusalem church.  Hmmmmmmm.
But
it wasn’t just a growing and multiplying church.
The Church was a Demanding
Church 
When you hear people talk
about wanting to be involved in a New Testament church they always seem to have
this vision of a church where everyone is sitting around in a circle, holding
hands, enjoying fellowship and being taught things that don’t offend or challenge
anyone, and seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy
all day. 
When
someone says they wish the church was like the New Testament church it’s
because in the their heart of hearts they know that if they attended a New Testament
church then the only songs that would be sung would be their favourites and
they would be sung the way they liked to sing them. 
They
know that if they attended a New Testament Church they would never be asked for
money and they would never be judged on their behaviour and would never be
asked to volunteer in the nursery.
But
trust me on this, that wasn’t the way it was. 
 
I
don’t know what your favourite music style is but I can almost guarantee you
that isn’t what the New Testament Church was singing. 
And
listen to what the Bible tells us about stewardship in that church Acts 2:45 They sold their
property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.   And Acts 4:32 All
the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned
was not their own, so they shared everything they had.  
And
as a matter of fact there is a story told in Acts  about a 
couple who sold a field, told the church they were going to give all of
the proceeds to the church and then only gave half, well let’s pick up the
story in Acts 5:3-5  Then
Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the
Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself.  The property
was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money
was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t
lying to us but to God!”  As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to
the floor and died. Everyone who heard about it was terrified.
Wow,
at Cornerstone if you make a financial commitment and don’t keep it, we don’t
even call. Are you sure you want us to be like the New Testament Church?
And
there was behaviour that wasn’t tolerated in the early church, regardless of
what culture said, and regardless of what the government decreed.   And I don’t know how many times through the
years people have told me the church isn’t supposed to judge people.  But that wasn’t a reality in the New
Testament church, listen to what Paul told the church, 1 Corinthians 5:12  It
isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your
responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. Wow, in
a day and age when the church seems to be more and more vocal about the
morality of those outside the church.  Maybe
we’ve lost our focus. 
And
the church is reminded in Ephesians 5:3 Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you.
Such sins have no place among God’s people. 
And that isn’t an isolated instance, over and over again
throughout the New Testament the church is held to a much higher standard than
the world, in how they gave, how they loved, how they served and how they
behaved.
And
what was the result of that? Well ultimately The Church was an Impacting Church 
There is a great statement in Acts 17.  As Paul and Silas are travelling and
establishing new churches they arrive in Thessalonica and as was their custom
they first go to the Synagogue to preach. 
And
we are told in Acts 17:4  Some
of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with
many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women. Cool right, but not
everybody was happy and if we continue to read in Acts
17:5-6
 But some of the Jews were
jealous, so they gathered some troublemakers from the marketplace to form a mob
and start a riot. They attacked the home of Jason, searching for Paul and Silas
so they could drag them out to the crowd.  Not finding them there, they
dragged out Jason and some of the other believers instead and took them before
the city council. “Paul and Silas have caused trouble all over the world,” they
shouted, “and now they are here disturbing our city, too.” 
The
charge was that Paul and Silas had caused trouble all over the world. In some
versions though it reads this way “These who have
turned the world upside down have come here too.”  And that is what the church did, it
turned the world upside down.  Never
again would the world be like it had been before the church.
I
know there are critics of the church, and some of their criticisms are
valid.  But understand this, that the
world is a better place because of the Church of Jesus Christ.  The church has been at the forefront of
providing education, health care, of taking care of the poor.  It was the church who rallying against slavery.  It was the church who embraced the cause of
women’s rights and civil rights. 
And
locally the church continues to make a difference, because of a Church named
Cornerstone marriages in our community have been saved and made stronger, young
men and women have made better choices than they might have made without the
church. 
 Families
have been embraced and supported during transitional periods.  Ask some of the new moms the difference a
week of meals made when the baby came home from the hospital.    
Because
of Cornerstone in Action, volunteers have made a difference with feed Nova
Scotia, St. Georges Soup Kitchen, Adsum House, Phoenix House and other
agencies. 
Last
Christmas the people of Cornerstone provided sleeping bags and long underwear
to dozens of homeless people in partnership with Souls Harbour.  Each month Cornerstone provides dozens of
cans of chunky soup and evaporated milk for Feed Nova Scotia, every two weeks
Cornerstone provides meals at Ronald McDonald House for families with sick kids
at the IWK.
Because
of Cornerstone there are families drinking clean water in Sierra Leone and the
Democratic Republic of the Congo.
But
bigger than all of that, there are people today who will spend their eternity
with God, because of Cornerstone and around the world through the ministry of
those we support and partner with. 
We
have turned our world upside down.  Because
as Bill Hybels says “The
local church is the hope of the world.”  And
as Jesus said “And the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”