How should a godly church look like? What ought to mark its commitments? To answer this vital question, a quick survey through the Book of Acts will be worth our time. While the early church as described in this book was not perfect by any means and is not given as a pattern for us to follow, I think in general, we would agree that the early church was a godly church and there is much we can learn from their actions.
Over the next few posts starting with this first one, we will look at 12 commitments that marked the early church. I believe these 12 would be a worthwhile pursuit for any present-day church that seeks to be a godly church.
[Note: Here is the link to a sermon that addresses all the 12 commitments in one message]
Commitment #1. Saved Membership
While all were welcomed, only those who had accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ were taken into membership. That is evident from Acts 2:41. The prior verses tell us that Peter preaches the gospel and urges them to turn to Christ. And then we read in verse 41, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Notice, they were saved before they were added to the church. The Holy Spirit had come upon all of these people. They were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, which happens only when one accepts Jesus as Savior and Lord.
Whatever method a church adopts in terms of how membership is structured, it should ensure people are saved before they are recognized as members.
Commitment # 2. Growing in Bible knowledge
Saved people will be marked by a deep love for God’s word. And that is what we see in the early church. Acts 2:42 says, “they devoted themselves to apostles’ teaching.” That word, “devoted” has the idea of a continual commitment to a task—in this case, the task of learning God’s word as the apostles taught it. Acts 2:46 says, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.” You can be sure there would have been teaching going on as they met together. They were hungry people—hungry for the word of God.
And the apostles were also committed to teaching them sound doctrine. They were not interested in entertaining the flock but in feeding them with the pure milk of God’s word. The apostles also knew Jesus’s prayer in John 17:17, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” They knew the Holy Spirit uses the word to cleanse a person from sin in the initial sense at the time of conversion, but it is also God’s word that continues to keep that person clean.
Growing in Bible knowledge should be a vital commitment of a godly church. Believers should commit themselves to be present not only when the word is preached from the pulpit, but also through other avenues such as bible study groups, etc. And qualified teachers should also labor in the word to teach it to the people.
Commitment # 3. Practicing of Ordinances.
The church has two ordinances that God has ordained. One is baptism, and the other is partaking of the Lord’s Supper, also called as Communion or breaking bread.
Ordinance # 1: Baptism. Jesus in the Great Commission commanded the church to make disciples by going and preaching the gospel and then baptizing them upon accepting the good news and then teaching them all things [Matt 28:18-20]. In obedience to that, as Peter preaches the gospel on the Day of Pentecost, he urges the hearers to get baptized as well following genuine repentance from their sins, “Repent and be baptized” [Acts 2:38]. And Acts 2:41 says that in response to this call, “those who accepted the message were baptized.”
It’s clear that these people, first of all, accepted Christ in their heart and immediately testified of their faith publicly through the waters of baptism. In other words, the Bible only knows of believer’s baptism, i.e., baptism that follows only after hearing and responding positively to the gospel.
A godly church should encourage those who have repented of their sins and placed their faith in Jesus to testify publicly through water baptism of their commitment to follow Jesus without much delay. True faith always results in obedience to Jesus’ commands—with the first command being baptism. One should not delay in this act of obedience.
For a more detailed understanding of baptism, read this article.
Ordinance # 2: Lord’s Supper.
Jesus, on the night he was betrayed also gave the church another ordinance to practice. While baptism is a one-time ordinance for the church to practice, the Lord’s supper, whereby the church remembers Jesus’s death, resurrection, and second coming as well as their love and commitment to one another, must be a regular practice. Luke tells us in Acts 2:42 tells us that the church “devoted themselves…to the breaking of bread.” The term “breaking of bread” refers to a meal. And typically, the Lord’s Supper was held along—most likely—at the end of a meal.
Initially, it seemed to have been done daily—verse 46—“Every day they…broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” Later in Acts 20:7, it seems like they had the Lord’s Supper every week.
While the frequency of the Lord’s Supper is not expressly stated in the New Testament, it is safe to say that it should be done regularly.
Commitment # 4. Fellowship
Acts 2:42 says, “They devoted themselves to…fellowship.” The word fellowship has the idea of a shared life, a life with common interests. And that makes sense they were all united with the one Lord Jesus, and they shared a common life in him. That fellowship led them to spend time together and as Acts 2:46 says, they “ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”
The New Testament also talks about several one-another commands that should be practiced amongst believers, and that can happen only when people are in fellowship with one another. If we don’t spend time with one another, how can we apply the one-another commands? One cannot say they are committed to fellowship as the Bible describes if all they do is simply show up for Sunday service and run out quickly! The church leadership should strive to create situations where believers can come together to study the word, encourage one another, and at times, even have a meal together. And believers should cooperate with the leadership by not only showing up but also taking on tasks to facilitate these gatherings.
So, we have seen the first 4 of the 12 commitments in this first post namely: (1) Saved Membership (2) Growing in Bible Knowledge (3) Practicing of Ordinances and (4) Fellowship. We will see another 4 in the NEXT post.
Until then, why not prayerfully reflect on how you can help your church strive to be a godly church?