Tuesday, August 17, 2010

many believers, one church

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
Acts 9:31

The book of Acts is punctuated with these little pauses to measure the growth of the gospel. And they show us the growing maturity of the young church in the process of moving the gospel forward into new regions and to new people. At this point, the church has broken through the walls of Jerusalem and pretty much the entire Holy Land has now been responsive to the gospel. From north to south, Israel has had the gospel preached to it. There are hundreds of little congregations in the towns and villages around the countryside, and important urban centers have a strong central core of believers: Jerusalem, Samaria, Damascus, Caesarea, and Joppa all have churches that have become centers of gospel proclamation and outreach.

And in chapter nine of Acts God does the unthinkable: He converts the fiercest of persecutors into the most aggressive of evangelists. In Saul, a new energy for advancing the gospel and building up the church is born. There was a lull in the attacks on the gospel when God in mercy saved the chief enemy of Christianity. This was the "peace" mentioned in this growth survey. That stability in the absence of the threat of Saul allowed for believers to be built into solid disciples who did two things: They walked in the fear of the Lord and they experienced the comfort of the Holy Spirit. This led to more gospel outreach and a multiplication of the message.

When believers really fear the Lord, the gospel advances. Why? Because they realize just Who Jesus is, what He has done, and what He wants from His followers. Fear is not a cowering in a corner, but rather a healthy respect and awe that moves one to worship the Lord and obey His commands. Real worship leads to an advance of the gospel, not a retreat into a comfortable assembly.

And they were not alone in the move to advance the gospel. The Holy Spirit of God was comforting and encouraging them to multiply the message and grow new churches. All of this was being directed and empowered by God Himself as believers grew and obeyed their Lord's command to take the gospel forward to all who would hear it.

One other point of note from this passage... It is a point of theology, but it is beautiful. The text uses the word "church" (ekklesia) in the singular to refer to the actions of all the believers in the entire geographical extent of gospel outreach. The oldest texts of this passage are consistent in this usage. The entire body of Christian faith began to be referred to as "the church". The assembly, the ekklesia, began to be the term to refer to all of Christian faith. There are many believers, but one church, one faith, and one Lord over them. For those who think celebrating diversity is a liberal value, you might want to look to the true celebration of it in the biblical text. It has been going on through the grace of God for over two thousand years in the church that Jesus founded. And it has been going on in lives that have been changed by that grace. One God gets celebrated. One Savior is praised in song in His church. He is the center around which the diversity makes one beautiful church! Diversity without the center is chaotic and eventually celebrates sin. Diversity within the focus of the central saving work of Christ creates a unity and a joy that is the vibrant, holy life of the church!

- Posted with my iPad. The Apple Kool-Aide tastes fine.

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