Study 8 WHAT THE CHURCH IS AND HOW IT GROWS
HOLDING OUT THE WORD OF LIFE
by Francis Dixon
(Scripture portion: Acts 2:32-47)
Verse 47 of this chapter reads, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved”. It is with these significant words that Luke, the writer of Acts, concludes the chapter. His words tell us something vital about the Church, that it is not a building made of bricks and mortar, but is the company of believing people, of those who have been born again (John 3:3,5) and baptised into the body of Christ, which is the Church (1 Corinthians 12:13). As these words were true of the early infant Church, so they are true of the Church today, because for over 2000 years Acts 2:47 has been going on! Every day the Lord has been adding to His Church those whom He is saving.
1. The Risen Lord is actively engaged in building His Church
We must remember that the Lord, who “added to their number daily”, was and is on the throne in heaven. He is there now, so what is He doing? One thing is that He is adding to the Church those who are being saved. The Church, therefore, is a divine institution, because He does the adding. No man can “add” to a Church; it is purely the Lord’s prerogative, and each day this is what Jesus is doing. Compare Acts 1:1 (notice the word “began”) with Luke 19:12, which again tells us what the Lord is doing now prior to His second coming. In Matthew 16:13-18 we have the record of the great truth that was unveiled at Caesarea Philippi, and the words to notice are at the end of verse 18. Once we realise that the Lord is the Builder of His Church, two results follow:-
- 1. We shall be delivered from discouragement and from a sense of defeatism and despair. The Church today seems weak and ineffective. The forces of evil often seem to overwhelm the Church – materialism, liberalism, worldliness, Romanism and many other ‘isms’. But the Lord has said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
- 2. We shall be delivered from pride and self-congratulation. At Pentecost about three thousand people were saved, but whose work was it? It was the Lord’s – not Peter’s, not the work of the apostles; it was the Risen Lord Himself who accomplished all this great work of grace, and that is what He is doing now, so there is no room for any of us to congratulate ourselves on any success that we may have.
2. The progress and growth of the Church are helped or hindered by the witness and testimony of its members
Only the Lord can do the work of building His Church; only He can add to the Church so that it expands and becomes stronger each day, and He does this through the yielded lives and testimony of His people. Notice the word “and” that comes in the centre of verse 47. These early Christians, most of them recently converted, were “praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added…” The Church is His Body and He works through His Body, that is to say, through the members of the Church, through Christians who are members of the Church, to build it up and extend it. What was there about these early Christians that resulted in these additions every day? Look at verses 41-46 to see the following characteristics of these church members:-
- 1. they were soundly converted (verse 41);
- 2. they were openly committed (verse 41);
- 3. they were truly obedient (verse 42);
- 4. they were gloriously united (verse 44);
- 5. they were obviously consistent (verses 46-47).
How do we measure up to this word-picture of the ideal church member?
3. Those who have been added to the Church are “being saved”
It was not only true that new people were being converted daily, but those who were converted were “being saved”. Were they not saved already? Yes, they were – justified, but they were not yet sanctified (in a practical sense), or glorified. Salvation is a process. When we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ we are saved from the penalty of sin – justification, to do with the past. We are “being saved” from the power of sin each day – sanctification, to do with the present. We shall be saved from the presence of sin at the Lord’s second coming. This is glorification, to do with the future. So if we are Christians we are “being saved”; we belong to the Lord and we are absolutely secure in His keeping (John 10:28-29), but the work of grace is, or should be, still going on within us. Notice what this tells us:
- 1. There are many babies in the Church. Some of these (as in Acts 2) were no more than day-old chicks! – young and immature. They were spiritual babies in God’s family.
- 2. Sanctification and spiritual growth are a process. A baby does not become a man at once. We must not expect too much of new converts. Babies need food, exercise, rest and air in order that they may grow up.
- 3. There are no perfect Church members: all are “being saved”. Every Christian should be growing – pressing on to maturity (2 Peter 3:18).
- 4. There is nothing static about a growing Church. New people should be coming in all the time, and there must be no room for cliques. Every baby must be welcomed into the family circle.
- 5. All who are being saved should be in the fellowship of the Church. In the New Testament there was no such thing as an unattached Christian. Christians should not be isolated units; we should all belong to a local fellowship of God’s people, if this is possible, so that we may enjoy the privilege and responsibility of worship and witness with the Lord’s people.
Remember, those who are “being saved” will ultimately be fully saved – look up Romans 8:29-30 and Philippians 1:6.