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What should church look like?

There are so many varieties of church these days. Are some better than others? Is it like when I go shopping, there are lots of varieties and I can choose the one I prefer? Can I change my mind later?

In our Growth Group, we’re looking at various New Testament passages together to learn about the church (helped by a book by Melvin Tinker and Nathan Buttery called Body Beautiful). It seems a good idea that as we start a new church, we should be clear about what God wants the church to be! One of the passages we’ve looked at is Acts 2:42-47, which describes what the church looked like straight after Pentecost and which helps us think about what our churches should look like.

Here are some of the things we learned and want to be central to our church.

Teaching

This new church in Acts was devoted to the teaching of the apostles, which for us is found in the New Testament and of course points us back to the Old Testament. We want a church that trusts the Bible, teaches the Bible, knows the Bible and lives out the Bible.

Fellowship

The idea fellowship is about the mutual care and support Christians should share in community. We see such a strong example of this in Acts 2:44-45, where Christians were using what they had materially to make sure that their brothers and sister in Christ had what they needed.

Breaking Bread

A quick look at the notes of my ESV Study Bible tells me that breaking bread probably refers both to the Lord’s Supper (bread and wine remembering Jesus’ body and blood at the cross) and a broader fellowship meal.

Jesus deliberately took a meal and made it a memorial, just like the Lord did with the Passover in the Old Testament. We want to be gospel-focused in our church and so centred on the cross . Jesus left us a way to do that.

We want to have strong fellowship. Meeting and eating together builds that love and fellowship within the church family, whether at the Lord’s Supper or more broadly.

Prayer

As Christians and as a church we are committed to having a living relationship with God. We have a speaking God, who we listen to in his word – the Bible. And we have a listening God, who we speak to in prayer.

He has provided for our relationship with him and we have the privilege, duty and joy of taking up what he has provided for us in the Bible and prayer.

Meeting

We find that this church met up in the temple and in their homes (Acts 2:46). Well it’s been a strange year for meeting! Zoom and restricted face-to-face meetings have, I suspect, taught us all the more that God’s plans for us to meet together are crucial for our spiritual growth and fellowship

Praise

This church praised and thanked their God (Acts 2:46-27). How could they not? They had received the most wonderful message in the world – a message of grace and forgiveness in Jesus. The only right response is praise. Singing is perhaps the most natural way to praise and it breaks our hearts not be able to sing in our meetings at the moment because of COVID. But as we say Psalms together, listen to Christian songs and express our praise and thanks to God in prayer, we want to be a praising church.

Reaching Out

We see that by the way they lived and the message they proclaimed that people saw God at work in the church and the Lord brought growth by people being saved (Acts 2:47). They were a church that reached out with the good news of Jesus.

God doesn’t promise dramatic growth. Sometimes we might feel like we go backwards, but the good news of Jesus is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16) and brings fruit (Mark 4:14, 20), so we want to live it and proclaim it, so that, if the Lord chooses, we will see people being saved and added to our number.

That seems like a pretty good list to be going on with! More than that, it is a challenge to churches, old or new. We may live in a consumer society, but we are not about getting market share and changing who we are and what we do just to get people through the doors. We should look the way we do because we are being faithful to what God has called us to be in the Bible.

It’s a challenge to Christians too. We don’t chop and change churches to suit our whims – how could we have true fellowship and love if we did that? We don’t choose church on our preferences. We seek to serve and live out our faith with our brothers and sister in Christ in churches that are faithful to God calling in his word.