“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:36-42).
This is the first church, and though there were temporary characteristics that are not patterns for the future (e.g., apostles, apostolic signs, communalism), the following characteristics should mark every New Testament church:
Salvation (Acts 42:41)
- The fundamental mark of a New Testament church is a regenerate church membership.
- A regenerate church membership requires the preaching of the gospel (Christ crucified and risen, Acts 2:22-36; “many other words” Acts 2:40). It is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation (Ro. 1:16). Salvation requires coming unto the knowledge of the truth (1 Ti. 2:4). It involves obeying from the heart “that form of doctrine which was delivered you” (Ro. 6:17). Christ taught that the gospel is to be preached to every creature, and those who believe the gospel are those who are saved (Mr. 16:15-16). The gospel is summarized in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.
- A regenerate church membership requires conviction (Acts 2:37). This is the supernatural work of the Spirit, drawing, enlightening, convicting. There is no salvation apart from this work.
- A regenerate church membership requires repentance (Acts 2:38). Repentance is commanded by Christ (“except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish,” Lu. 13:3, 5) and by Paul (“God now commandeth all men every where to repent,” Ac. 17:30). Paul preached “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ac. 20:21). Repentance is to turn to God in submission. It is a change of mind that results in a change of life. Repentance is not works salvation; it is a change of mind, not a change of life. But it produces a changed life. Paul preached “that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Ac. 26:20).
- A regenerate church membership requires glad faith (Acts 2:41). Their faith was not manipulated or pressured. When the Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip if he could be baptized, Philip replied, “if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest” (Ac. 8:37).
- A regenerate church membership requires conversion (Acts 2:42). True salvation is regeneration. It is being made a new creature in Christ (2 Co. 5:17). It is to be translated from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.
- Supernatural salvation is the fundamental of fundamentals for a sound New Testament church. We have gotten ever more careful about this.
Baptism (Acts 2:41)
- This is believer’s baptism by immersion. It depicts the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, which is the gospel, and the believer’s identification with Christ (Ro. 6:4-5). It is commanded by Christ (Mt. 28:19). It is a fundamental doctrine and practice.
- Salvation and baptism are the requirements for church membership--“and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Ac. 2:41).
Discipleship (Acts 2:42)
- They continued stedfastly. This is a strong emphasis of their obedience, zeal, and faithfulness.
- The most common name for a New Testament believer is “disciple” (methetes in Greek). The term “believer” appears two times (Ac. 5:14; 1 Ti. 4:12); “Christian” appears three times (Ac. 11:16; 26:28; 1 Pe. 4:16); “saint” appears 62 times; “brethren” appears about 135 times; but “disciple” (referring to a disciple of Christ) appears about 268 times. Jesus defined a true disciple as follows: “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” (Joh. 8:31).
Apostles Doctrine (Acts 2:42)
- The members of the first church loved doctrine. They loved Bible study. No one had to order them to be present in Bible teaching meetings. As soon as I was saved at age 23, for the first time in my life, I loved to read and study the Bible and was eager for good Bible preaching/teaching, and by God’s grace, that has not waned in 47 years.
- This is evidence of true discipleship. “He that is of God heareth God’s Words” (Joh. 8:47). “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” (Joh. 8:31-32). “My sheep hear my voice” (Joh. 10:27).
- They loved sound doctrine. They continued in the apostles’ doctrine, not the doctrine of heretics. A church that continues in apostolic doctrine has a testing mindset. See 1 Th. 5:21-22. A New Testament church exercises a ministry of proving, evaluating, analyzing, judging. This is not a critical attitude. The objective is a positive one to avoid error and to “hold fast that which is good.”
- A church that continues in doctrine is a serious Bible study church. We aim to make every member a serious Bible student. “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28). “... for every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:12-14). We are convinced that the equivalent of a Bible Institute education is the beginning of the level of Bible knowledge that is required for a fruitful Christian life in God’s will.
- A church that continues in doctrine involves the right kind of preaching/teaching that feeds the sheep and builds them up in the faith and teaches them how to study and understand the Bible for themselves.
Fellowship (Acts 2:42)
- The members of the first church loved the brethren. This was their family, their crowd. And they loved zealous brethren.
- True fellowship is spiritual. It is not just eating and playing together. The world does that. The spiritual character of a church will be seen in what the members love to talk about. What do the young people talk about? The men? The women?
Breaking of Bread (Acts 2:42)
- The members of the first church loved the Lord’s Supper. Compare Acts 20:7.
- It is an important and essential practice. It is the time of remembering Christ, of learning of Christ, of expecting Christ’s return.
- It is a very serious practice. It is a time of heart searching (1 Co. 11:27-32) and an element of church discipline (“with such an one no not to eat,” 1 Co. 5:11).
Prayers (Acts 2:42)
- The members of the first church loved prayers (plural). It was a praying church.
- Prayer is mentioned at least 415 times in Scripture; 129 times in NT; 35 times in Acts; 25 times in Paul’s epistles. It was a major emphasis of Christ’s teaching.
- The true disciple is a praying Christian. His life is a life of prayer. He loves prayer. He has a daily prayer closet. He has seasons of prayer. He intercedes in prayer. He prays without ceasing. He is in communion with his God all through the day. He prays with his wife and family. He loves corporate prayer. He loves praying with the brethren. He has prayer partners.
- This is in great contrast to the typical church today. How can a church claim to be a New Testament church if its people don’t “continue in prayers”?
Acts 2:41-42 is the image of a NT church. And it is the test of a NT church.
An Acts 2:41-42 church is not a church without sin and without problems. Compare Acts 5 and 6. But it is a congregation of true disciples of Christ who are zealous for the things of Christ.
We need to stop following tradition, even Baptist tradition. Tradition has weakened churches, not strengthened them.
I think of the southern Baptist church in which I grew up in Florida. All the kids made professions of faith, but there was no caution, no wisdom, no looking for evidence, and the professions were never questioned later on, regardless of how empty they proved to be. My former best friend (growing up) died at age 62, having lived a Christ-rejecting, filthy life, and being steeped in Native American spirituality, which is demonism, but his Southern Baptist mother thought he was in heaven because of his empty childhood profession. That is typical.
I think of Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in its heyday. The governing principle seemed to be “get as many as you can as fast as you can.” When Lee Roberson became pastor in 1942, the membership was 1,000, the Sunday morning attendance was 400, and the mid-week service attendance was about 10, so 60% of the members were nowhere to be found and only 1% had enough Christianity to attend a mid-week service. (These statistics are from James Wigton, Lee Roberson: Always about His Father’s Business, 2010, p. 22.) That was and is typical both for Southern Baptists and for fundamental Baptists. And that pattern never changed at Highland Park even as the numbers exploded. When Dr. Roberson retired in 1982, Highland Park’s membership was 63,000, but Wednesday night attendance was about 3,000. That is the best measure of active membership, and that would leave 60,000 unaccounted for! The huge membership numbers got Highland Park listed as the world’s largest church, but since the vast majority of those “members” were not active, what did it mean?
Acts 2:41-42 Christianity is not “negative” or “boring” to saved people. Our young people enjoy their Christian lives. They love prayer. They love studying the Bible. There is zero pressure from them for entertainment. They love separation from the world because they want God’s will and they don’t want to be devoured by the devil. They have turned from drugs, given up beautiful but worldly girlfriends, given up worldly social media, given up immodest dress, given up secular education that was hindering their spiritual lives. They love playing and singing sacred music. They love Christian ministry.
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