Week 15 April 8-14, 2018

What is the first image that comes to your mind when someone mentions the term “local church?”

Most people conjure up mental snapshots of colorful stain glass windows, polished woodgrain pews, and hand-crafted supper tables with a timeless inscription that reads “This Do in Remembrance of Me.”

While these images are often attached to precious memories of how our faith was nurtured in a local congregation, these artifacts are as much a reflection of our American culture as they are our Christian beliefs. Right now, there are churches all over the world that don’t have windows, pews, or tables, yet they still celebrate salvation through one Savior, worship together through one Spirit, and are transformed through the truth of one Scripture.

So, if churches can look and sound so different yet still hold the same key convictions, what does the Bible reveal are the core characteristics that all congregations must have in common to be considered a true New Testament church? The answer is found in Acts 2:42-47, as our early Christian ancestors demonstrate the following five essential elements of church life:  (1) Teaching & Preaching; (2) Fellowship; (3) Worship; (4) Service; and (5) Outreach.

First, the teaching and preaching of the Holy Scripture is the very foundation of any true Christian church. Verse 42 states that the new believers after Pentecost gathered and “…devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching.” These apostolic teachings constitute portions of what we have today in the New Testament. They proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah who lived perfectly to earn our righteousness, died sacrificially to take on our punishment, and rose supernaturally to blaze a trail for us from death to eternal life.

Second, as verse 42 continues, the passage emphasizes that these believers also devoted themselves to “the fellowship.” This fellowship that we share among our church family is the primary source of our encouragement and support as we seek to run our Christian race with endurance. When our churches extend the hand of fellowship to each other, we find the strength to lock arms and hold up the banner of gospel truth to a lost and dying world who needs Jesus.

Third, verse 42 ends with a mention of “the breaking of bread and the prayers.” These two actions encompass our call to worship God in spirit and truth. The breaking of bread is our reminder to celebrate the New Covenant through the Lord’s Supper, and the prayers reflect our desire to praise God and also petition His throne of grace for our continued needs.

The final two elements of service and outreach can be found together in verse 45 where the believers were “selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” This sacrificial act of selling possessions to meet community needs reflects Christ’s call to servanthood. And in personally distributing the proceeds to those in need, this act of outreach was an evangelistic tool that powerfully demonstrated the gospel as “…the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Together these five key elements capture the essence of what the church is called to be and do. From the preaching of the Word, to the fellowship of believers, the genuine corporate worship of the one true living God, and service and evangelistic outreach in the community, these five elements reflect a true church in the Body of Christ because they reflect the very heartbeat of Christ Himself.

The Five Essential Elements of a Local Church  

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The Folly of Fearing Man

In Luke 22:2 we see the true folly of fearing mankind more than God. The passage states, “…the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put [Christ] to death, for they feared the people.” The tragedy of this statement is that the reality of the souls of the chief priests and scribes were so corrupted by sin that they had no fear in putting God’s Son to death but instead had total fear over what other men might say if they didn’t perform the horrendous act.

When Our Eyes Tell Us Lies

There are four passages in the book of Judges (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25) where the author repeats two key concepts to remind the reader of Israel’s spiritual condition after the conquest of Canaan. These two concepts include the following: (1) There was no king in Israel, and (2) Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. This repetition emphasizes Israel’s need for a shepherd to guide them, but also for a savior to redeem them from a nature that has blinded them to the truth. As Christians, when we read these passages we are reminded that we come to Jesus for the same two reasons because we often go astray and allow our own eyes to tell us lies.

A Heart-to-Heart with the Word

Two passages in our reading plan this past week beautifully illustrate how the Spirit of God can open up the human heart to receive the gospel message. In Luke 24:32 the two men who walked with Jesus on a road to Emmaus stated, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And in Acts 2:37 as the Apostle Peter was preaching the gospel after Pentecost, the passage records, “…when they heard this they were cut to the heart” as 3,000 souls came to faith in Christ.

Tips to Keep You on Track

Week 16 Readings:  April 15 - 21

-Day One:  Ruth 1-2; Acts 3

-Day Two:  Ruth 3-4; Psalm 37; Acts 4

-Day Three:  1 Samuel 1-2; Psalm 120; Acts 5

-Day Four:  1 Samuel 3-5; Psalm 23; Acts 6

-Day Five:  1 Samuel 6-8; Acts 7


          As we move forward in our Week 16 readings, pay close attention to how the people of God constantly call out in moments of brokenness for someone to provide redemption, guidance, and protection. In Ruth 3:9, the Moabite widow Ruth cries out to Boaz and says,“Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” In 1 Samuel 8:6, Israel begs God to “Give us a king to judge us.” And in Psalm 23:4, King David proclaims, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” These passages are the echo of our human hearts in a dark and fallen world. Our souls are always looking to find someone greater than ourselves who can save us and sustain us. Let these passages remind us of our constant need for Christ, not only for our eternal salvation but also for our strength to survive the dark valleys of our daily life.