I recently watched an excellent panel discussion on The Gospel Coalition’s website entitled “What Should A Local Church Look Like?” featuring Crawford Loritts, pastor of a Bible Church, Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist, and Tim Keller, pastor (then) of Redeemer Church, New York City. I love Crawford’s comment, “Sometimes we can principalize applicational stuff.”
So what should a local church look like? Are there 9 marks? 5? 4? or __?
In Acts 2:42, Luke, that Spirit-led early Church historian, indicated the first ‘4 marks’ of the first local church. The Spirit of God, having guided Peter to preach the Word of God honouring the Son of God, now guides those hearts, in whom He has been working, to respond in the following way.
- Acceptance of the Message of the Lord
- Baptism as Believers in obedience to the Great Commission of the Lord
- Devotion to Spiritual Disciplines in a deepening love for the Lord
“They devoted themselves to….
…the apostles’ teaching and
…to the fellowship,
…to the breaking of bread and
Notice the connected list! This was not an optional checklist of possibilities, but a full-orbed commitment to all that God desired from them.
a) The apostles’ teaching – Ephesians 2:20 reminds us that the Apostles functioned as ‘foundation layers.’ The New Testament was penned by apostolic authority – those who were apostles, or those who served with apostles (like Dr Luke). Christ had commissioned the group of 11 (Matthew 28) to go into all the world, making disciples and teaching them to obey everything He had commanded. The apostles had heard, seen, followed and believed in Jesus Christ. He had discipled them, now they were discipling others. The newly formed church of 3,120 had 12 leaders, a plurality of those charged with teaching, preaching and exemplifying the pathway of following Jesus Christ.
b) The fellowship – We diminish this truth when we speak of ‘coffee and doughnuts’ as fellowship. Fellowship reflects a common sharing, a spiritual common living where there is a ‘one another’ ministry. We need others to pray for us, warn us, counsel us, love us, encourage us,….shall I continue? Christianity is not a ‘solo’ relationship but a community of faith. Those believers who forsake ‘the assembling of themselves together’ (Hebrews 10:19-25) have no biblical authority for opting out. Broken relationships must be mended–that’s the essence of the gospel, isn’t it?
c) The breaking of bread – How often should we remember the Lord in His death? Think this one through, as I am seeking to with an ethnic pastoral leader who is struggling with this act of obedience. It reflects the core of our faith – Christ died for our sins. He died so we may live. Our hope is centred in Jesus Christ. I need ‘no other argument,’ I need ‘no other plea,’ it is ENOUGH that JESUS DIED and that HE DIED for me. Eating together reflects relationship and of course, the early church included this as part of a larger meal, not simply with bite-size tokens of Christ’s broken body and shed blood.
d) Prayer – Pray without ceasing. Keep praying. Learn to pray. Worship. Confess. Thank. Petition. True prayer comes in all shapes and sizes framed within the will of God. These early believers launched well. They prayed and prayed and prayed.
This new group of converts were devoted. God had brought them into His family and now they began to live with a fresh commitment to Jesus Christ, their Lord, and to each other. May we be stirred to examine our core commitments to the basics of what it means to be part of the family of God.