This past Friday, I was invited to preach in the New Georgia Baptist Church where my friend Keith Stell serves as pastor. The subject of my sermon was “The Marks and Mission of the Local Church” from Acts 2:42-47. Many books and ministries exist to help educate and equip the church with the goal of making the church more healthy. As we consider the marks of a healthy church, what does the healthy church look like? We could go to Mark Dever’s excellent book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, for reference purposes, but as we consider this subject, what church could we reference? Certainly not the church at Corinth with their continuous sin issues. Certainly not Ephesus with their lack of discernment and unwillingness to follow faithful leadership. As we explore the Bible for a fitting example, we can look back to the early church in Acts as an example. Although very young and immature, the early church can teach us some valuable lessons about church health.
They Were Together in Worship
At least twice and emphasized several additional times, the word “together” is used in this paragraph regarding the early church. They were a together people. Specifically, regarding worship, they were together in their devotion to four key elements of worship.
- Devoted to the apostles’ teaching
- Devoted to fellowship
- Devoted to the Lord’s Supper
- Devoted to prayer
It’s clear that the early church loved the Word of God, but they also loved one another. The Greek term used here is κοινωνία, emphasizing “close association and mutual interests and communion, fellowship, close relationship, and all of this marked by intimacy.” What brought these people together in this intimate relationship of love? It was certainly the blood of Jesus Christ that had been shed for them a little more than 50 days earlier. Their relationship to the cross and their close proximity to the cross in redemptive history caused them to remember Jesus with vivid detail at the Lord’s table and pray earnestly each day as they sought to remain faithful under pressure and threats of persecution. They knew the risk of following Jesus, and they would soon watch their leaders die as martyrs for Christ’s sake.
They Were Together in Life
As you read this paragraph, you see the early church together in worship but also together as they lived life together. They demonstrated genuine Christian hospitality and care for one another. If a need arose in the life of a fellow church member, they would sell possessions and help meet the needs. They would visit the temple, meet people, and fellowship together over meals. I can imagine as people passed by their houses in Jerusalem they would ask, “Why are all of those people in that home so happy and full of joy?” The Word of God says, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). The people’s hearts were glad in God.
They Were Together in Mission
The early church is seen visibly carrying out the Great Commission. They were praising God publicly. This would involve spoken words of praise, song, prayers, and sermons. They were telling the good news of Christ who had saved them through His substitutionary death on the cross. As they would meet unbelievers, they would explain the work of Jesus Christ and how He provided eternal redemption in an eternal covenant by His blood.
- Fulfilled the law of God.
- Defeated the grave.
- Conquered the devil.
- Satisfied the Father.
- Paid our sin debt in full.
As they were diligent in sharing the good news of the gospel, they trusted in the sovereign work of God to bring about results. The results came, and as the text says, day by day, the Lord added to the church. As we consider what a healthy church looks like, let us consider the young and immature early church as an example. As we read the book of Acts, we must constantly ask ourselves, “Is this prescriptive or descriptive?” In this text, it’s both. It’s a fitting description of how the early church functioned, and it’s a necessary model for us to follow.