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10th May 2015
In the first five chapters of Acts, we've seen the Early Church established and at work. One of the key questions raised is this: is the Church fit for purpose? Based on these passages, can we say of the church that she is ‘man enough’ for the task? That she carries answers and resources? Ultimately, that she can make a difference?
In Acts 5:12-16 there is an amazing description of the Early Church. Signs and wonders happened regularly; there was a mixture of fear and high esteem for the Church, because of all that had been happening; there was greater growth than before, and people were coming from all over to see them.
However, from verse 17, more persecution follows. Provoked by jealousy, the Sadducees arrest the apostles and throw them into prison overnight. Yet God breaks through, and, miraculously, an angel appears to free them! When the Sadducees arrive to put the apostles on trial, they are perplexed to find that the prison is locked, the guards are posted, but the cells are empty – the apostles have returned to the temple to teach about Jesus.
From verses 27-32, as the apostles are brought before the council, they are confronted: "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us." (v28). But the apostles respond by demonstrating great courage: "We must obey God rather than human beings!" (v29). Although the council become so angry that they want to kill the apostles, a Pharisee named Gamaliel intervenes. He argues that if this is a work of God, any opposition to it will lead them to fight God - whereas if it isn't a work of God, it will fall on its own. In this way, he persuades them to free the apostles. The council has them flogged, again charging them not to speak about Jesus; yet even in this great suffering they leave rejoicing and continue to teach the Good News.
Returning to the opening question: is the Church fit for purpose? We need to look at whose plan the Church is (why it’s here), what the Church looks like, and how we should respond to her.
The Pharisee Gamaliel speaks the truth in Acts 5:38-9: “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”
Ephesians 1:20-23 proves that the Church is certainly part of God’s plan. " All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence." (The Message).
The Bible describes the church as being Christ's body, and Christ's bride. With this in mind, our response should be to ask whether what we're part of is in step with God, which makes it fit for His purposes. Secondly, what do we see from the Church? In the passages we've read, there are amazing resources at their disposal. These include the life-changing message they carry (Acts 5:20, 5:28, 5:42); signs and wonders, including incredible healing (Acts 5:16); angelic deliverance (Acts 5:19); incredible courage (Acts 5:29); joy in suffering (Acts 5:41); holy awe and fear (Acts 5:13); unity and generosity (Acts 4:32b); and powerful prayer (Acts 4:31). Is she fit for purpose? Yes - what we see gives us the answer.
Finally, what about us? Should we simply admire the Early Church, or imitate her? The answer is that she is there to provoke us and stir us into action. The apostles didn't get everything right, but they pushed on in faith and courageously took ground for Jesus.
God has poured out His Spirit on His Church. God delights in working with us, using broken people to display his glory and mending our brokenness for His pleasure. Although one day we will be made perfect, for now, "We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." (2 Corinthians 4:7). God’s Spirit is poured out on us to be our helper, and we're to walk in step with Him (Galatians 5:25, Ephesians 5:18). Do you know if you've been filled with the Holy Spirit?
The Church is God's wonderful plan, the bride and body of Christ. Although she isn't yet perfect, she is at the centre of God's plan. As we keep in step with Him we are something incredible: truth-filled, powerful, compassionate, fear inspiring, generous, prayerful, unified. Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit to empower us in all of these areas, and we need to go on being filled if we're to be everything that God has for us.
Phil Moore said: 'I've started making room for the Holy Spirit to be the primary witness, and discovering that he makes us very fruitful when we do.'
As the Church, we're more than 'fit for purpose' - we're the cherished bride of Christ, His own body. Let's grow into all that He has for us.
Posted by Paul Mann