What marks a local church? Ask any Bible-believing pastoral leader and you’ll have an earful of answers. We’ve been influenced by a) our own study of Scriptures; b) our own church experience; c) our training and instructors–to name just a few.
The 3,120+ member Jerusalem church came to life by the power of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Jewish pilgrims who had come to the ‘city of the great king’ as an act of obedience under the Old Covenant were powerfully drawn to the Mediator of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ, and committed themselves to Him and to His appointed leaders. Remember it was the ‘apostles’ teaching’ which they devoted themselves to as part of the first IV Marks of a local church.
These newly minted believers, instead of returning home as they had originally planned, stayed together to learn and grow in their new-found faith. The sense of God’s moving among them was palpable.
“Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.” These Christ-appointed leaders were empowered to work miracles, credentialing them as bona fide Spirit-led directors of a new movement. The power of God was present confirming their testimony and transforming lives spiritually and physically.
These new believers had exhausted their resources. Extended stays in our own travels bring us to the end of our physical and financial capacity. How could they eat? How could they ‘afford’ to stay in Jerusalem and receive this essential discipling?
Luke answers these questions with a remarkable account of sacrificial sharing.
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”
A deep sacrificial love for others marked the new church. Voluntarily and lead by the Spirit they pooled their resources, identified needs and became God’s hands and feet to help others.
Although sacrificial giving is taught elsewhere, the communal living was not mandated. If it was you wouldn’t have instructions to the rich and poor in Paul’s letter to Timothy, or the warnings of James about showing favouritism to the rich. Believers are called to love one another. The ‘new commandment’ of Jesus in John 13:34,35 mandated this evident love which proved to be a distinguishing mark of the early church.
Some of us ‘get this.’ I could name a multitude of believers, some with very limited resources, who are tuned into the needs of others. In two mission trips to very diverse nations, I witnessed very sacrificial giving. I’ve journeyed with the Lord and watched Him multiply ‘my five loaves and two small fish,’ when He prompted me to share.
May those of us who claim to have been transformed by God’s grace offer ourselves and our resources to the One who defines sacrifice. Well might we sing today and every day ‘Take my life and let it be, consecrated, Lord to Thee!’
By the way, if you want to see and hear a more modern of this Havergal’s hymn, take a look at this. (YouTube – Chris Tomlin)