My Dream For The Church
Today I want to share with you “my dream for the Church.”
Now, I must admit from the outset that this dream is not at all original. It’s as old as the Book of Acts. You see, I cannot hope or desire for more than that powerful, joyful experience which was common to the Church of the New Testament. Please do not misunderstand me. The first century Church was not perfect. Far from it. Read any of the New Testament epistles and you will find words of counsel and admonition directed to those in the Church who were hypocrites or gossipers, to those who were divisive or intolerant, to those who were indifferent and unloving. You even find reference to behavior as extreme as getting drunk on the communion wine! It was no perfect Church. Yet, in spite of that, as you read the New Testament, you can clearly see the church in its real strength and glory, spreading out like a mighty army through the world. There you see a great company of believers which no man can number, a great cloud of witnesses who through faith subdued kingdoms and wrought righteousness and fulfilled promises and stopped the mouths of lions.
And I want to suggest to you today that the secret behind the glorious picture of the Church is to be found in a simple verse: Acts 2:42. These four distinctive marks of the early Christian Church are set down. And it is my belief that those four marks in the life of the Church today would constitute the best of all dreams for the Church of Jesus Christ in our time.
The first mark of the Early Church was that they “devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teachings.”
The phrase might be better translated: “they gave themselves constantly and persistently to the Apostles’ teachings.” That is to say, they allowed nothing to prevent them from learning as much as they could about the Lord Jesus Christ—both what He said and what He did. And my dream is that this Church shall be a great company of people steadfastly and creatively engaged in learning about Jesus.
Let me put it to you this way. We can’t possibly live triumphantly, successfully, or morally in this modern world without having something more than a cursory knowledge of the Scriptures—and with the dizzying advance of our technology, that will be even more necessary in the future. Recently, there has been much talk and much publicity devoted to concern that our schools need to get back to basics, that our educational system is producing functional illiterates. Well, I am just as concerned that the church is producing Biblical illiterates. My friends, the Bible is ready to be the sourcebook for the changing of our society. The Bible is ready to speak to the problems, the concerns, the issues, the threats, the curses of our time and of our lives. But it can’t speak to us if we don’t know what’s in it or how to use it. As I observe the church in my travels about the country, I am pleased to see the church moving away from what I would call “the fundamentalism of the left”—that is, regarding the Bible as nothing more than the words of men, a collection of stories and reminiscences. This Book is the Word of God, our infallible rule for all our church and all our believing.
In the patterns of the early church, let us then give ourselves persistently and constantly to the Apostles’ teachings in Scripture in our church school classes, in our small groups, in our circles, and in our youth fellowships.
Now, the second-mark of the early church was that they gave themselves to ’’fellowship.”
Sad to say, but many times the fellowship which we encounter in the church today is not much more than a celestial country club or a sanctified sensitivity experience. But the fellowship of the early church was much more than that.
It was a fellowship that tangled together the rich and the poor, the slave and the free, the prominent and the insignificant—and then made them all one in Christ Jesus. And out of that unity, that oneness came an awesome strength. So that when they met temptation out in the world, the fellowship was an unseen force backing them up, steadying them and making them strong. When tragedy struck, the fellowship reached out to pick up the pieces, and remold them into new life and new hope. When there was heed, the fellowship was moved to sacrificial giving and the needs were met. And the secret of that fellowship was the fact that they shared together the very life of Jesus.
And that’s what we need to do. We need to build our fellowship on our shared experience of Jesus. We must talk about Him with each other, yes. But we need to do more than talk to each other about Jesus. We need to love as He loved. We need to share good news with each other, yes, but we all need to be Good News to each other. A friend says “our high tech society requires high-tech Christians.” We’ve got to start loving one another. Our world is becoming more and more impersonal. More and more people are carrying more and more burdens but there are fewer and fewer people who care. We need to know that here we are surrounded by people who care, people who love us. We must put aside petty jealousies, minor complaints, and personality conflicts. We need to see one another only as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. Then we shall know the towering strength of the fellowship of the early church.
Then the third mark of the early church was that they gave themselves to “prayer.”
They never talked to the world without first talking to God. But there is something about the prayers of those early Christians I want you to notice. They prayed to God through Jesus Christ, yes—but then led by the power of the prayers they prayed, they went to work in the world. They knew that physical answers to prayer come from physical involvement, that the mental health which is a by-product of prayer comes from mental exercise, that growth in holiness comes from work in holy things.
I have to tell you that I find myself increasingly uncomfortable with those church people who regard prayer as an unnecessary extra in the Christian life, those church people who say, “Let’s get on with the business, let’s take the actions required, let’s do whatever has to be done,” without even taking the time to seek God’s blessing or to ask for His guidance or to praise Him for His sovereign rule over us. But I have to tell you that I am equally uncomfortable with those Christians who pray and pray and pray and never get beyond praying. Jesus prayed, yes—He prayed regularly; He prayed without ceasing. But then Jesus went out to do battle with sin and evil wherever He found it and to suffer and die for the sake of the world’s people. We are called to be a praying church. So let us be.
The last mark mentioned is that the early Christians broke bread together.
That’s what we do here today. We believe in what is known as “the doctrine of the real presence.” That simply means that when we come to the Table Jesus is present with us. Spiritually, He becomes part of us. When we partake of the bread and the cup, we partake of the spirit, the person, the power of Jesus Christ. He enters into us in ways beyond our full understanding. He offers to actually live in our minds, our hearts, our motives, our wills. He offers to take up residence in every fiber of our nature, changing us, making us into what He wants us to be so that we in turn may change the world.
The old Greek Archimedes used to say that if he were given three things, it would be possible—physically, scientifically possible—to move the earth off its axis. He said: “Give me a standing place out in space, a fulcrum, and a lever long enough and strong enough, and I will move the world!” Well, as the church we have our standing place—we can take our stand upon the supreme, infallible authority of Scripture. We have our fulcrum—the redeeming life and death of Jesus Christ. And we have our lever—the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work in us, in the church, and in the world. Why then should we not move the world? Given These three things, all things are possible. We can master life and conquer death and change lives and storm the battlements of heaven.
That’s what I want for us. I want us to be a life-changing, world-changing church. Is that just a vague hope, just an idle dream? Not on your life! For, if we come to this Table and confess our sins and open ourselves to Jesus, then we shall find that right here and right now, our dreams for the church will begin to come true…