January 23, 2022

THE CHURCH: MEMBERSHIP AND LEADERSHIP

Passage: Acts 1:12-26

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “‘Let another take his office.’
21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
— Acts 1:12-26, ESV

In the Gospel of Luke, the author records the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In the book of Acts, Luke records the advent of the church.  The Gospel tells of how Christ took upon Himself a body and gave it for the church.  Acts tells of how the church became a body and gave itself for Christ.

This paragraph tells about their preparation.  They gather as the family and friends of God, then they organize into the members and leaders of the church.  There was never anything like it before, and ever since the church has taken her cues from these founding fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers.

They were original, a new creation put together by the Author of all new creations.  They were pure, with no ulterior motives for fortune or fame, simply a burning desire to honor and obey God.  They became a smashing spiritual success, growing from a few dozen ragtag souls to the millions, if not billions, of people who have become Christians since the advent of Christ and His church.

Just as every person ought to know something of their ancestry, and every American ought to know about the founding of our country, so every Christian should have a vital interest in the beginnings of the church.  It is here we should see ourselves.  Their core should be our core.  Their commitments should be our commitments.  This church should be this church, consisting of true members and qualified leaders.

The Original Members of the Church

Church, meet your forefathers and foremothers, some 120 or so souls.  The eleven names are the twelve minus one, Jesus’ original small group through which He planted His church.  Women were a prized and equal part of the membership, a new thing in the old world, and Jesus’ mother Mary, though this is her last mention in Holy Scripture, is among them.  So were the Lord’s biological half-brothers, who came to faith after the resurrection, at least two of whom became pillars of the church and writers of the Bible.

Though the word “church” does not appear in this paragraph (it can be found 23 times in Acts and 114 times in the New Testament), we find our forbearers being what the church is and doing what the church does.  We are an assembly, assembling together, not forsaking the assembly (ref. Hebrews 10:25).

To repeat one of my oft used observations, success in life is owed about 90% to just showing up.  You want to be a good spouse, parent, friend, student, employee, church member?  Then be present, not absent, give your best effort, and don’t quit.  Spell l-o-v-e with t-i-m-e, and the love you give will become effectual with the people with whom you spend time.

I once preached a sermon (which I will summarize in this paragraph) entitled “How to Be a Jesus Freak in Eight Hours a Week.”  Spend one hour each at a worship service, a small group Bible Study, and a prayer meeting, that’s three.  Add three more hours of personal Bible study and prayer (30 minutes a day, six days a week), that’s six.  Then, spend the other two hours, one hour each, a visit or a meal or a lengthy conversation, with a person already in your church and another person who needs to be in your church.

Admittedly, Covid-19 complicates our best laid plans.  Other providential hinderances will coincide also, like other sicknesses and surgeries, varying work requirements, a need for periodic travel to see family and friends, and so on.  But Christianity and ecclessiloglogy are synonymous, and one cannot consider himself a genuine Christians if he is not a good church member, like these originals.

Speaking of the originals again, look at what they were doing as they gathered.  They prayed, putting on public display their faith in God.  They preached, on this day taking a specific text for a certain need, of which we will say more in a moment.  Subsequent texts in Acts will show them singing and praising God, reading Scripture, taking offerings, and sharing in communion and baptisms.  The church today should strive to be unoriginal, just copying these regulative principles.

There is one other, most important, thing about the original church members which must be emulated.  For the first of eleven times in Acts, we find the first Christians in “one accord.”  How did they all get in one Honda automobile?  Of course, one car was not the issue since no cars were available for the first Christians.  But they shared something far greater.  “One accord” in the original language is “homo-thumos,” “homo” meaning same or one, “thumos” meaning heat or fire or passion (sometimes it is even translated wrath).

The church will be unified and remain unified as long as the members share the same Spirit-inspired desires, which are the glory of God, the glad obedience to His word, and the getting out of the gospel to all the world.  If you have any other agenda, you will do harm, not good, to your church.  Get in one accord, or get out.

Now, who can be the leader of this here outfit?

The Initial Leaders of the Church

The Apostles, capital “A,” were the first leaders, the first Pastors and Elders of the church.  We see an Apostle added in this text, and we will see the office fade away after the first generation.  The book of Acts will show Pastors and Elders multiplied as the church multiplies, with Deacons thrown in for good measure down the road.

The Apostles had certain qualifications for a limited time.  It is clear from the text that the number needed to be twelve at the beginning, to show the church and the world that the New Testament Church is the new Israel, the new covenant community of God in Christ, the new and living hope for the salvation of souls from every nation under God.  After Pentecost as the church advanced in the world, this fixed number of twelve would bend to add a few others, like the half-brothers of Jesus and Saul of Tarsus.

Apostles had to be eye witnesses of the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This means that after they all died, the office of Apostle died with them.  Now all Christians are apostles, small “a,” which means we are all appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ as His messengers to spread the gospel to the world.

Present and future leaders of the church should be like these first leaders of the church.  Bad ones, like Judas Iscariot, generally weed themselves out, though sometimes it is necessary to pull the weeds.  Good ones, like the eleven, like Matthias and the alternate, Joseph, should be identified and ordained as needed.

Good leaders are called by God and man, by the invisible presence of the Holy Spirit and the visible church.  A man must know when he is being called by God to serve as a leader in the church, and the church must know based on their experience and observation of the man’s character and gifts.  In this episode, lots are cast to decide the election, strange but true (and biblical according to Proverbs 16:33), but at the time necessity prevailed to limit the number at 12, and lots are never used again in the New Testament church.

Good leaders are given authority to lead, but their authority is limited by plurality and democracy.  Yes, the church virtually invented shared leadership and participatory decision-making in an age ruled by autocrats and iron fists.  Peter was no Pope, but rather first among equal Apostles and Elders in the early church, whose major decisions needed to be ratified by the congregation at large, a practice continued to this day.

Good leaders must be able to speak scripturally, accurately, and boldly.  Eloquence is overrated (just ask the Apostle Paul), but a Pastor who cannot preach is like a quarterback who cannot pass.  There are other things to be done, for sure, but the main thing a Senior Pastor or Teaching Elder does is speak for God, according to the word of God, to the people of God.

To any potential leaders out there, I give the advice Spurgeon gave to his students.  If you can do anything else, do it!  But if God compels you, preach, pastor, lead, serve.  To the church selecting leaders I give the advice Paul gave, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (ref. 1 Timothy 5:22).  Proven character and obvious ability are required.  In other words, make sure they can drive, lawfully, before you give them the keys to “one accord.”

Church, take a good long look at your family album.  See the first members and leaders of the organism which has been living and growing for two thousand years.  See yourself, I pray, among the faithful members carrying on their tradition.  See your leaders, I hope, in at least the shadow of these bold and courageous men.  In “one accord,” let us carry on to glorify God, to give our glad obedience to the word of God, and to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ in Hot Springs, Arkansas, America, and the world.

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