|The Church An Extension of Christ
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
The Book of Acts unveils one of the most exciting dramas of the Bible. In the first four books of the New Testament, commonly referred to as the gospels, we have an historical account of God being manifested in one person, Jesus Christ. But in the next book of the New Testament, the Book of Acts, we have God manifesting Himself in the Church, the extension of Christ.
As we face the 21st Century, nothing could be more helpful to us as a church than to review the record of the early churchs rise and growth. The same principles which produced explosive growth then will do so today. The same pattern of leadership which prevailed then must prevail today. The same remarkable power which accounted for the churchs success then can and must be found today, for, as we discovered in our last study, the gates of hell cannot overcome the church built on the truth as it is in Christ.
The church of Acts is designed to be normative Christianity. That is why its history has been recorded and preserved. And that is why we are going to spend the next twelve studies on the Book of Acts. I believe that the Holy Spirit is today restoring our church to the pattern given in the Scriptures. For too long the Christian church, including our own denomination, has been following the pattern of the world.
No wonder the church has become secularized. As a result, there is not much difference between the people of the world and the members of the church. The only difference is time. What takes place in the world today creeps into the church tomorrow. This cannot continue if the church is to truly represent Christ and turn the world upside down with the gospel message, as it did in the first century. Acts 17:5-7:
But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jasons house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesars decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.
In Pauls letter to the Ephesians, he employs two symbols to describe the church, two major figures that help us to understand what the church is to be really like. At the end of the first chapter he defines the church as the body of Christ. Ephesians 1:22-23:
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
What the apostle is saying here is that the church is an extension of Christ and, therefore, must reflect Him. He is the head, while we are His body.
Then, in the second chapter of Ephesians, Paul compares the church to a building made up of stone and mortar, that is, made up of members united together in love, and which grows up into a holy temple designed by the Spirit to be the dwelling place of God. Ephesians 2:19-22:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with Gods people and members of Gods household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
When we put these two symbols together that represent what the church should be like body and building we come up with a true description of the church. It is a living organism manifesting the life of Christ on this earth.
That is what the early church was like. Acts 4:32-35:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
Unfortunately, this manifestation of the life of Christ was short-lived. You know why? Because false teachers crept into the church and perverted the gospel. The Bible calls it the falling away. Once the gospel was perverted by human ideas, the church lost its power and became another human organization, not much different to the world around it.
That is why, if we are to experience another Pentecost, we must first restore the gospel message that was first preached by the apostles. Once we have grasped this massage and surrendered to it from the heart, self will be put aside and Gods Spirit will take over. Acts 1:4-8:
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
So when they met together, they asked him, Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?
He said to them: It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
This passage contains the key ingredient for a successful church: the baptism or infilling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus requested His disciples not to go outside the city but they were to stick around in Jerusalem until they receive the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit. Why did Jesus make this request? His implication was: Because you will meet with nothing but failure, if you try to witness Me without the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is an essential. We cannot be effective Christians if we arent operating in the power of the Holy Spirit. Every attempt we make to advance the cause of Christ which does not arise from this source of power destroys the message of the gospel God wants us to convey to the world. Just as Jesus worked and witnessed His Father in the power of the Holy Spirit, so must the church witness Christ. Luke 4:14-15:
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
Today we tend to put a lot of emphasis on education and training, important as these may be. But without the power of the Holy Spirit, we will meet with nothing but failure. The disciples had very little education and they certainly did not have the qualifications to be effective witnesses. Yet, when they were powered by the Spirit, they turned the world upside down.
Look at Peter. While waiting in the courtyard while Jesus was on trial, Peter denied even knowing Jesus three times [Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-17, 25-27]. Yet at Pentecost, 50 days later, empowered by the Holy Spirit, Peter stood up and addressed a huge crowd in Jerusalem [Acts 2:14-36]. His words cut [them] to the heart and 3,000 were baptized.
In the passage we read in Acts, Jesus said that John the Baptist baptized people with water, in contrast to His baptism of the Holy Spirit. While it is true that the baptism of John was the baptism of repentance, preparing people to receive Christ, we must not forget that the reason his ministry was successful was because he, too, was empowered by the Holy Spirit. Luke 1:11-17:
Then an angel of the Lord appeard to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice becaue of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
This is the first important truth we learn about the early church. Let me take you through the three steps that brought about the birth of the early church. These are the same steps you and I must take if we are to repeat the success of the apostolic church:
Also a dispute arose among them as to which to them was considered to be greatest.
This self-emptying made it possible for them to be of one mind and heart while they were waiting for the outpouring of the Spirit. Likewise, the cross must destroy all our selfish ambitions. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15:
For Christs love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
Then he said to them all: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.
The Spirit must also guide us to the true gospel. Like the disciples, we are victims to preconceived ideas.
According to the Gospel of John, this is how the good news of the gospel is defined. John 1:14:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Paul puts it this way. 1 Timothy 3:16:
Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.
The word mystery in the Bible means something that can be known and seen but cannot be explained. Colossians 1:26-29:
...The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
The mystery is the fact that Christ manifested God in our humanity. The early church was a continuation of this mystery. In the same way, God wants to be revealed to the world (the word Gentiles in Colossians 1:26-29 means unbelievers) in these last days through His church, the body of Christ. This must become our goal.