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Acts 8:1b-4
The Church is Not a Country Club
There arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him.
But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.[1],
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ou will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
This statement summarises the task imposed upon each church that would be a New Testament congregation.
Every member must be an evangelist.
Every member shares in the great task of transforming the culture in which he or she lives.
The church doesn’t exist for Christians.
The church is designed for those who are not members.
Jesus searches for true disciples among the professed churches of this day, and I rather suspect that He is having difficulty finding many disciples.
Need evidence?
Read the headlines.
Churches are losing ground when it comes to effecting change in our culture.
Instead of a trend toward godliness, the trend of our society is toward secularism and an utter absence of anything related either to God or righteousness.
Christians have retreated from the battle for the souls of men for the hollow pursuit of self-comfort.
True disciples follow Christ into the struggle for the souls of men.
The standard for church growth, growth which necessarily results from every member evangelism, was set by the first church, the First Baptist Church of Jerusalem—the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved [*Acts 2:47*].
Evangelism was the mark of the first disciples and the resulting salvation of lost souls gave evidence that each member was engaged in that great work.
Consequently, those saved did not need a few years to decide whether they should be obedient to the command of Christ, but rather they were baptised immediately, just as He commanded.
Likewise, they united openly with the church instead of floating on the fringes basking in the light resulting from the labours of the saints of that particular congregation.
The people spoke of Christ and thus many of those who had heard the Word believed [*Acts 4:4*].
Christians were united in heart and persistent in prayer, and thus, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and continued to speak the Word of God with boldness [*Acts 4:31*].
Because these first saints were indelibly marked with the presence of God’s Holy Spirit, more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women [*Acts 5:14*].
Several weeks back I related in a social setting of being privileged to have heard Vance Havner, a great preacher of a bygone era.
Among his many sermons, one which effected me in a powerful fashion was entitled “Is This That?”
The message was taken from *Acts 2:16*, as translated in the *King James Version* of the Bible.
In that translation, the verse reads, This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.
Havner focused on the power demonstrated among those first disciples and pointed out that Peter confessed that this (the powerful signs) was that (the prophecy) which Joel had spoken of.
Then he contrasted what was to what is, asking hearers to reflect on the current state of religious activity and ask themselves, “Is this that?”[3]
We would do well to reflect on that question, “Is this that?” as we explore one vignette from life of the early church at the first blush of Christian Faith.
Focus on the reaction of the world about that early congregation and the means by which God worked.
Ask yourself if you long for Christ to work in power among His people in this day, and if you are willing to accept His means to stir us to the service that He has commanded.
The Commission Jesus Gave — As He prepared for His exodus, following His passion, Jesus, the Son of God issued a charge which is incumbent upon each disciple.
That command has come to be known as the Great Commission.
It is provided variously throughout the Scriptures, but perhaps the best-known version is that which is found in *Matthew 28:19, 20*.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
God’s design for His churches is not that they exist for my comfort or for the convenience of the membership, but He instituted His churches to be equipping stations to thrust His people into the harvest for souls.
One wag has commented that contemporary Christians have transformed the Great Commission into the Great Omission.
The purpose of the church is to win the lost to faith in the Son of God, incorporating those saved into the fellowship of the assembly and instructing them so that they will grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me speak somewhat pointedly to professed Christians who share this service.
Have you ever knowingly led someone to faith in Jesus Christ?
When did you last make the effort to obey this Great Commission?
Do you believe that charge applies to you?
Sunday School teachers who make no effort to lead their scholars to faith probably have no business teaching Sunday School.
If we are not in the business of winning souls, we have no business being in business.
Even if a teacher only tells Bible stories about Jesus, we should expect the Spirit of God to work occasionally to convict the lost during the lessons.
If lost people are absent, we need to stir up our congregation to ensure that lost sinners are present at each service.
It is our purpose as Christians to win the lost to faith.
When they are left in darkness we sin against them and against God.
Gene Veith cites an article by David Shiflett in the Wall Street Journal to demonstrate that “born again” Christians are in too many instances lost.
He cites poll data from George Barna demonstrating that “26 percent of born-agains believe all religions are essentially the same and that 50 percent believe that a life of good works will enable a person to get to heaven.”
Veith further notes that one in three “born-again” Christians do not believe that Jesus rose physically from the dead.”[4]
Could this possibly be true of members of our congregation who claim to be born from above?
I pray that such is not the case, but the evidence may indeed point in that direction.
Mr. Veith draws the conclusion that Christianity is “conforming to the dominant secular culture.
It is all right to be religious, according to the dictates of postmodernism, as long as your faith exists just in your head.
If you start claiming that your beliefs are more than just a private mental state that makes you feel good, asserting instead that what you believe is objectively real and valid for everybody, then you are an intolerant menace to society.”[5]
The church at Ephesus was surrounded by false religions and egocentric philosophies.
Residents of Ephesus were consumed by their sexual appetites and had given themselves up to sensuality and they were greedy to practise every kind of impurity [*Ephesians 4:19*].
However, those Ephesian saints were not instructed to shut themselves inside their building, close the door and lock out the evil that permeated their society.
Rather, they were commanded to walk in a manner worthy of the calling they had received [*Ephesians 4:1*].
The members of that congregation were taught to obey God’s commands, to stay true to the divine strategy and to be Christians right where they were.
This church is a divine institution.
The church was not an afterthought with God.
We, the congregation of the Lord, are the strategy of God, divinely designed to confront the godlessness of our culture.
When Christ says were are the lighted city on a hill, He meant that we are responsible to shine in such a way that those struggling with the turbulence of life will be able to safely navigate to the harbour of God’s grace.
When the light from our church sweeps across this culture, people see our good works and give glory to God in Heaven [see *Matthew 5:16*].
It is an intentional effort on our part to understand that church is not about us—it is about God.
Our church exists to promote the Kingdom of God, making His Name known among the nations [*Psalm 46:10*].
Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of the precedents for our text.
Jesus, in a final act before His ascension, iterated His command to preach the Word and to be His witnesses throughout the world.
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth [*Acts 1: 8*].
Though the Master had given the command that those who were His people were to be witnesses throughout the entire world, the saints proved themselves disobedient.
This disobedience had continued over a period of months, if not years.
They had done an excellent job of witnessing in Jerusalem and throughout Judea.
They had carried the message to a number of Jewish communities beyond Judea.
However, Samaria was without the Gospel.
Not a single Gentile had received the message of life at this point.
In short, the first church was disobedient to the command of the Saviour.
They would need to be motivated if they were to fulfil the Great Commission.
The Disobedience of the Churches — There are multiple reasons why Christians may be disobedient to the last command Jesus gave.
Perhaps the saints feel inadequate for the task that He assigned.
Again, it is possible that people do not trust the message proclaimed at their services.
It is also possible that Christians are overly sensitive to the feelings of their friends and family.
However, I am convinced that the most prevalent reason for our disobedience is that we are consumed with a desire for self-exaltation.
We have filled our churches with half-saved people, who are in fact not saved at all.
I suggested one possibility for disobedience is that *saints may feel inadequate* to evangelise.
This should not be a reason, for Christ gave us the Holy Spirit to live within us.
He has given to us His divine power that enables us to do far more than we could ever expect as we deliver the message of life to those who are dead in trespasses and sins.
I suspect that few saints are convinced that there is a Holy Spirit who lives within.
Sadly, many professing saints of the Most High God have yet to see the power of the Spirit at work in their lives, and consequently, they are silent before the onslaughts of wickedness.
Far too many professing saints who claim to believe the power of the Holy Spirit appear to be more focused on manipulative techniques than they are on divine power.
They are more confident in the enthusiasm of a mixed multitude than in the proclamation of biblical truth.
They are more convinced that exciting music will convert the lost than they are in the unleashed power of the message of Christ’s love.
Listen to God’s Word.
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