So far (Defining the Church part 1, part 2, part 3), we have examined the gospels (Matt 16:15-99, 18:15-20; John 15-17) in order to define the church (ἐκκλησία = “assembly, community”). The main points are that the church belongs to Jesus and is created by Jesus. He builds the church of those who believe and follow Him, and He promises that death will not defeat the church. Finally, Jesus gathers the church together in order for the church to obey Him, to represent Him, and to demonstrate His character.
In Acts 2:42-47, Luke presents a beautiful image of the church. Many look to this picture to define the church; however, it seems that Luke was showing what happened as a result of believers being the church. In other words, since believers were gathered as the church, they “continued steadfastly in (“were faithful to”, “were devoted to”, “persevered in”) the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). Continuing in the Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers did not MAKE them the church, nor do these activities define the church. Instead, the church, when built and gathered by Christ, will demonstrate these activities, among many others. As an analogy, rain is not defined by the ground being wet; however, when it rains, the ground usually becomes wet.
So, what can we learn from the first two chapters of Acts that will help us define the church? As I read the first two chapters of Acts, there is a theme that may aid us in our study of the church. Notice the passages of Scripture below (emphasis added):
The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen… (Acts 1:1-2)
And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5)
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4)
But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy…’ ” (Acts 2:14-18)
(Peter still speaking) This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. (Acts 2:32-33)
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call. (Acts 2:37-39)
In summary, Jesus commands the believers to wait in Jerusalem until He sends the Spirit (the Promise from the Father). When Jesus sends the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, Peter reminds the crowd that the Spirit was promised by the prophet Joel, and that the Spirit was sent by Jesus. Peter extended Jesus’ promise – which is the Promise of the Father, which is the Holy Spirit – to all who believe, to as many as the Lord our God will call. It is only at this point – after the coming of the Spirit – that Luke describes the result: the church. All believers – the original 120 as well as the 3000 added by God – are now bound together by the same Spirit into the one church of Jesus Christ. Jesus continues to build His church – through His Spirit. Jesus continues to communicate to His church – through His Spirit. Jesus continues to abide with His church – through His Spirit.
Or, as Irenaeus said many years ago: “Where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church.”
As Jesus (through His Spirit) gathers together those who believe and follow Him (through His Spirit), those believers will reveal His character, live according to His commands, and represent Him in the world (all through His Spirit).
- Defining the Church 1 – Matthew 16:15-19
- Defining the Church 2 – Matthew 18:15-20
- Defining the Church 3 – John’s Farewell Discourse
- Defining the Church 4 – Acts 1-2
- Defining the Church – Implications