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Daily Life of the Local Church, Part 1
In our previous study, we have been dealing with the resident ministries in the local church, particularly the ministry of the elders. We dealt with the qualifications and the general nature of the ministry and the need for that ministry, pointing out that the elders are the shepherds of the flock and that sheep without a shepherd, both in the natural and the spiritual, are scattered and become prey to wild beasts, sickness and every kind of problem and trouble.
Now in this present study, I want to try to give a brief outline account of the daily life of the local church as pictured in the New Testament. Some time ago I came to realize that as a preacher I was continually preaching people into something but never telling them what to do after they got into it. I was always going over the initiatory experiences that brought people into a kind of life but left them without any direction or instruction as to how to live that kind of life after they came into it. And I think this has been one common fault with preachers throughout many sections of Christendom in this present generation. The result is we’ve got a lot of people into something but they don’t know what they’re in, they don’t know how to handle the situations that meet them and they really don’t know why they even got into it.
So I want to deal mainly with the picture of the daily life of the local church. Of course, this is just an outline to establish certain basic principles but before we do that, let’s look briefly at what I call three initiatory experiences. There are three single one-time experiences set as the gateway or entrance into the local church and into daily Christian living and let’s look at what the Scripture says about these experiences.
To begin with, I’d like to turn to Acts 2:37–38. Acts 2:37 records the question asked by the multitude who had heard Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, who had come under conviction, realized that they were sinners, that they were not reconciled to God, that their lives were wrong and who wanted to know what God required of them to do to put their lives right and be reconciled to God and to come into line with His will. And we’ll read their question and then we’ll go on to read the answer that Peter gave them.
Now I believe that Peter was inspired by the Holy Spirit and that in this answer he gave God’s answer. He was the mouthpiece both of the church and of the Lord Himself. The question is put this way:
Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost [or the Holy Spirit].
Now to me that is one complete, comprehensive answer. And yet I think most sections of the Christian church if they’ve attempted any answer have cut away most of what Peter said. In most churches, if there were any attempt to answer that question scripturally, it would be “Repent and believe.” If it were a Baptist or a Pentecostal church, they would say, “Well, and we’re having a water baptism service two weeks from now. Maybe you’d like to be baptized.” And then if it was a Pentecostal church, they would begin to tell you, “Now there is an experience beyond this called baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, you ought to get interested in that.”
Now that was not the way that Peter presented it. He presented a package deal. They said, “What shall we do?” He said, “Get it all. Repent, be baptized in water, receive the Holy Spirit.” As I understand the Scripture, they got it all. Most, if not all of them got that total package deal that very day. There was no putting it off. And I believe that God’s will and His answer to that question hasn’t changed the least bit. If the sinner goes to God and is willing to receive an answer from God that is in line with the Scripture given by the Holy Spirit the answer is still exactly the same. Repent, be baptized in water, receive the Holy Spirit. That is God’s answer.
The Scripture is quite emphatic: Repent. The Greek tense used means “do a thing once and never repeat it.” There’s not a teaching in the New Testament about continually repenting. A person who’s living right shouldn’t have to keep repenting, because if a person’s continually doing wrong, it’s better to keep repenting than not repenting, but it is not the pattern of Christianity. This is very decisive and incisive in the Greek. Repent. That’s it. Change your mind. Stop doing the wrong things, start doing the right things. Turn from the devil, turn to God. Obey God, submit yourself to God. All this is included in repentance. It’s a decision.
Many, many Christians imagine is a kind of emotion. They turn to the altar of the church and try to work up some kind of emotion and then wonder if they’ve got it. The next day their lives usually indicate they don’t have it. Because they’ve been wrongly instructed. It’s not “get emotional”; it’s “make a firm decision.” The literal meaning of the word “repent” is to change your mind. Stop living the way you’ve been living and start living another way. Somebody said repentance is “Change your way of doing things.” And that’s a pretty good definition. If a person doesn’t change his way of doing things, he may claim to have repented, but he hasn’t.
The second thing is be baptized. And the Scripture is specific “everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins [into the remission of sins].” Being baptized in water in the early church was the official recognition that that person had placed his faith in Jesus Christ and received forgiveness of sins. It was not requisite for the forgiveness, it was an indication that sin’s forgiveness had been claimed by that person and was acknowledged by the leaders of the church. As I said in an earlier study, baptism is the human recognition of that person as eligible for membership of the church of Jesus Christ. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is divine recognition. It’s a seal placed upon that person as being now a member of the Body and both these seals, both these recognitions, should come right at the outset of Christian living. A person should be acknowledged by those already in the church and exercising leadership by the act of water baptism and a person should be acknowledged by the head of the church by the supernatural seal of the Holy Spirit. Paul said in Ephesians 1:13–14: “In whom also after that ye trusted, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise.” The baptism in the Holy Spirit, in that sense, is a seal, a supernatural seal, placed upon a person by the Head of the body, Jesus Christ, acknowledging that person as being now a member. I do not mean that that person is not a member if he does not have this seal, he can be a member unsealed, but the seal is part of the total provision of the New Testament for that person. So this is what God requires: repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit—be baptized in the Holy Spirit.
In the Book of Acts, I think if you check you will find that every convert who claimed salvation through faith in Jesus Christ was baptized within a few hours of conversion. There is no question of postponing it. In the 16th chapter of Acts, the Philippian jailer was saved at midnight and was baptized before dawn. In the 8th chapter of Acts, the eunuch on the road to Gaza couldn’t finish his journey. He saw a pool of water by the wayside and said, “Look, there’s water there. What hinders me from being baptized right now?” This is the general New Testament pattern and I envisage a time when the church will be back to that; in fact, I’ve seen evidence that we’re getting quite close to it.
Now there is, in the New Testament, a pattern taken from the Old Testament that very beautifully illustrates this. And I’d like to turn to it. It’s found in 1 Corinthians 10, and we’ll read just the first two verses:
Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.... [Then in verse 6 it says:] Now these things were our examples.... [And in verse 11:] Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples [types or patterns]: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the [ages] are come.
So though these are incidents from Old Testament history, they are recorded as types of behavior and conduct and faith which are written specifically for the benefit of us who are living in this closing dispensation of the present age. And the first two types or patterns that are set before us are passing under the cloud and passing through the sea. This, of course, refers to the time when Israel were delivered out of Egypt, when they came to the waters of the Red Sea, the Egyptian armies pursued after them determined to take them back into captivity again but a supernatural cloud, which really was the manifest presence of Almighty God came down over the people of Israel. If you read carefully in the 14th chapter of Exodus, it stood at the head; but when the Egyptian army approached from the rear, the cloud moved to their rear and stood between the Israelites and the Egyptians all night. Next day, the waters of the Red Sea miraculously parted when Moses stretched out his rod, the children of Israel went down into the water, passed through the water, and came up out of the water on the opposite side. The Egyptians tried to follow them through the water, Moses stretched out his rod, the waters returned and drowned all the Egyptians. And in the 11th chapter of Hebrews it explains very clearly the Israelites could pass through the waters of the Red Sea because they believed; the Egyptians tried to do the same but, not being believers, were drowned. So that the basis for passing through was that they were in the faith.
Now these two experiences are each designated by the apostle Paul as a baptism. Here is the interpretation, the application, of the Old Testament type to New Testament living. All our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea. In other words, the cloud represents a baptism, the sea represents a baptism and when we have the teaching and the experience of the New Testament, it is very clear that the cloud represents in the Holy Spirit; the sea represents baptism in water and every one of God’s people was immersed in that supernatural cloud that came down over them and if you read the account it’s clear because it stood at their head and then passed over them and they passed into and through and out of the cloud. In other words, every Israelite was actually immersed in the cloud.
I was pointing out the other day there are two ways of being immersed. You can go down into the swimming pool and be immersed or you can stand under Niagara Falls and be immersed. There’s an immersion that is going down into, but there’s an immersion that is coming down over you from above. Now the baptism in the Holy Spirit, in the New Testament, is always an immersion from above. In every place where the baptism in the Holy Spirit is described in the Book of Acts, it states specifically that the Holy Spirit came down over them from above. On the Day of Pentecost it says, there was a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind and it came down from heaven and it filled all the place where they were sitting. If you work that out, every person in the Upper Room was literally immersed in the Spirit of God coming down over them from above. That’s why it was a baptism. Every Israelite was literally immersed in a cloud that came down over them from above and you’ll find that the Lord Himself was in that cloud because it says the next day the Lord looked upon the Egyptians out of the cloud and troubled the Egyptians, so that cloud was actually the manifest presence of Almighty God Himself coming down over His people.
Likewise, every Israelite entered into, passed through the water, and came up out of the water in one of the most clear and specific types of water baptism. So if we are to go into the whole pattern of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt we have to say there were three experiences. The first is not mentioned in 1Corinthians 10, but it is mentioned elsewhere in this epistle where it says, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” You’ll find that in 1Corinthians 5. So there were three experiences that together procured the complete deliverance of Israel out of Egypt: the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, and its shed blood and the baptism in the cloud and the baptism in the sea. The whole process of deliverance began when the Israelites put their faith in the blood of the Passover lamb. And we know that Christ is our lamb, killed for us, and that it is faith in His blood that brings us forgiveness and cleansing and deliverance from the consequences of our sin. But once the Israelites have put their faith in the blood, they were not allowed to remain there any longer in that territory. Their message of God was “Come out immediately.” And they went out in haste, the same night, with their loins girded and their staves in their hands and that’s the same with the sinner who puts his faith in the blood of Jesus for cleansing and forgiveness. God’s message is: start moving, come out. You can’t hang around. You’ve got to move out of that whole area and territory of sin in which you have lived and it’s an urgent message.
2 Corinthians 6, the Scripture says, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing, saith the Lord, and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” God has not promised fatherhood to any person who remains in his sinful state, environment and condition after having put his faith in the blood of Jesus Christ. But the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt was not fully accomplished by the blood of the Lamb, the deliverance was made complete by the double baptism. Temporarily, the cloud separated between Israel and their enemies, the Egyptians, only for the period of one night and it says the cloud was darkness to the Egyptians but light to the Israelites, which is just what the Holy Spirit is today. It’s light to the believer, but darkness to the unbeliever. But the final separation was not even by the cloud, it was by the water.
The thing that ultimately cut off the Egyptians from following God’s people, killed them and sent them away, never to become a danger to God’s people again, was the passing through the water, and this is the final separation for the believer from the world. It isn’t the faith in the blood, it isn’t even the baptism in the Holy Spirit, it’s baptism in water that cuts off the enemy and gives him no right to follow. I often tell people in the ministry of deliverance, if God has delivered you and you’re not baptized in water, you’d better go and be baptized because otherwise you’ve left the way open for the Egyptians to follow you. And they’ve got a legal right to follow you and dog your steps until you pass through the water and cut off their right to follow you. So here are these three initiatory experiences of which the pattern is given in the Old Testament and the application is given in the New, faith in the blood of Jesus Christ, baptism in the Holy Spirit, baptism in water.
It’s very interesting that Paul does not say, if you look in 1Corinthians 10:2, he does not say they were all baptized in the cloud and they were baptized in the sea, he says they were baptized in the cloud and in the sea—it was one baptism with two aspects. Remarkably enough, Peter, in Acts 2:38 says, “Repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit.” Again, it’s almost presented as a package deal. And I believe without a question that is how it was experienced in the early church. If a believer went into the water not having been baptized in the Holy Spirit, he would be expected to receive the baptism at the time of his baptism in water. And recently I have seen this happen on quite a number of occasions.
I was in a baptismal service in an Assembly of God church last year and after four days of meetings I think 65 people were baptized of whom quite a number were Catholics. And, as far as I was able to discover, every Catholic that was baptized that had not received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, received it in the baptismal tank. And I thought to myself, “Now, why are the Catholics?” And I said to myself, “The truth of the matter is, they have faith in the sacraments and when the sacraments are explained the right way, they’ll experience them the right way.” This is the sacrament—repent, be baptized in water, receive the Holy Spirit. That’s the divine pattern established in the New Testament and I don’t believe God has ever departed from it.
As I have said on several occasions, “To my way of thinking, God doesn’t experiment and come up with a Mark I which isn’t good enough and then a Mark II and then a Mark III. When God comes out it’s right the first time and any modification is not an improvement. This is true, I believe, with ministry, with gifts, with the baptism in the Holy Spirit, with the baptism in water.
So here are the three initiatory experiences that bring a person out of Egypt and identifies them with the people of God. You see, it says in 1 Corinthians 10:2: “they were baptized unto Moses.” That means they were officially set apart as the people following Moses. Now, they’d already followed Moses before they came to the Red Sea but the Red Sea set them apart as the followers of Moses and that’s exactly what baptism in the Spirit and baptism in water does. We are already the followers of Jesus Christ but it sets us apart, a distinguishing experience that marks us out and closes the way to return back into Egypt. Now I want to go on to the continuing activities of daily life in the New Testament church. Now, let’s look at Acts 2:41 for a moment. It says:
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
My comment is if you gladly receive the word you always will be baptized. The people that don’t get baptized may have received the word like a lot of people I know but they didn’t receive it gladly. Those that gladly receive the word will get baptized.
Being by background Anglican, I’m able to understand something of the conflict that goes on when people from certain sacramental backgrounds are presented with the truth of baptism by immersion. But when you gladly receive the word, the word becomes your authority rather than any other source or tradition. Now what did this lead them into?
I think the 42nd verse is the official New Testament declaration of regular daily Christian living. And you notice it begins with the phrase, “They continued.” Now we’ve got out of the initiatory single experiences which do not have to be repeated into the continuing daily regular pattern of life.
They continued steadfastly in [four things:] the apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
And I believe these are the four basic activities of New Testament Christian living. Let’s look at them one by one. First of all, the word “doctrine,” as I have said before, does not represent so much a hard and fast set of conclusions, as a process of teaching and being taught. They continued under the apostles’ teaching. The first essential for people that have come to Christ, been baptized in water and baptized in the Holy Spirit is regular authoritative teaching of Scripture. If they do not receive that, they are frequently headed for disaster. They will perish somewhere in the wilderness even if they get out of Egypt they’ll never make it to the Promised Land if they don’t come under sound teaching.
This is a disaster we see repeated time and time again all over this nation at the present time. People receive wonderful experiences—baptism in the Holy Spirit, conversion, but six months or two years later they are way out somewhere in the wilderness, far off the beaten track with little hope of ever getting into the Promised Land because they’ve never come under sound teaching. You see in Ephesians 6:17–18 it says these two things: “take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” — and then 18: “Praying always in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication....”
I believe praying in the Spirit is that which the baptism in the Holy Spirit leads us into—it’s this supernatural praying in the unknown tongue. But before you start that, the Bible says “take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” And I believe that’s the divine order. Don’t come into this thing unarmed and unprepared. Take the Word of God with you. Because you’re open to a whole new range of problems and temptations and difficulties that never come the way of a person that has not been baptized in the Holy Spirit. The clearest example of this, I believe, is Jesus. For thirty years or so He led a normal, perfect human life and we hear nothing about temptations, nothing about persecution, nothing about problems. Then He came to the River Jordan, as recorded in the 4th chapter of Matthew, He was baptized by John the Baptist, came up out of the water and the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended in the form of a dove and abode upon Him.
Now, He was not, as I understand it, baptized in the Holy Spirit. He did not need it. In fact, He could not be baptized in the Holy Spirit because He was the baptizer in the Holy Spirit. There was no one to baptize Him in the Holy Spirit. But He had an experience which, on His level, we may relate to our receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit. He became the Anointed. The Spirit of God came down upon Him and He received the most tremendous attestation from heaven. The Father spoke and said, “Thou art My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Now after that tremendous experience, what happened next? Forty days in the wilderness, alone with the devil. Was that a sad accident? No, it was part of the pattern. And it’s part of the pattern for the believers to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. It initiates us into a realm of conflict and temptation that was never open to us before and you’ll find that in the three temptations recorded, Jesus used only one weapon against the devil. Every temptation was answered with the words “It is written... It is written... It is written....” What’s that weapon? The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Jesus is our perfect pattern in this respect and every person baptized in the Holy Spirit desperately needs to get a sound, thorough, practical knowledge of the teaching of the Word of God.
Now this is what the Lord provided for the early church. You see, if you look at the obvious results of the earthly ministry of Jesus, they weren’t very tremendous. On the Mount of Olives He left a group of 11 men who really were dedicated disciples. He could raise 120 disciples who would go back to the Upper Room and do what He told them to do, although Scripture says He’d appeared to about 500 after His resurrection at one time. But apparently about 380 of those didn’t hear what He said about tarrying in Jerusalem until they were indued with power from on high. You can say that those 120 persons in the Upper Room were the visible, tangible result of 3½ years of ministry. Not very impressive by human standards. But when the Holy Spirit came, they were increased by 3,000 persons in one day. And what was the function of those persons in the Upper Room? It was to provide the teaching and the authority that was immediately needed by the persons that came into the baptism. If the apostles had not been there, ready to teach, there would have been chaos when the Holy Spirit fell on 3,000 persons.
Now this is not a theory. We have seen it happen. There was a place in Africa, near where we were missionaries where there was a sovereign outpouring of the Spirit of God, mainly on Quakers. And hundreds and hundreds of them received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Some were actually put in prison for speaking in tongues. It may sound comical, but it actually happened that the American Quaker Missionaries got the British authorities to imprison these humble Africans for speaking in tongues. I mean, it sounds fantastic but it’s true. They had the most tremendous experiences but there was no one there qualified to teach them because their own missionaries forsook them and would not help them, did not believe in their experience, and there were hardly any missionaries in the whole area that knew what the baptism in the Holy Spirit was. The result was that many of those unfortunate people went off into the most fantastic errors and facets of fanaticism because they had no restraining, disciplinary, instructive influence at work. I mean, this is a thing of which we’ve seen the results.
And I believe, had not God made provision on the Day of Pentecost, even though these people were Jews and had a background for knowledge of Scripture, still the results would have been disastrous. And it’s my personal opinion that God cannot pour out His Holy Spirit on the United States of America as He would wish even now because there are just not enough people there to take care of the consequences. Let’s look in Romans 6 and see a statement that’s made there. Romans 6, we’ll just read the 17th verse.
But God be thanked, that ye were the [slaves] of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
Now I don’t believe that’s the correct translation and some of the modern translations agree with me. I prefer to say, “that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.” And the word “form” is the Greek word which gives us the English word “type” and it means, essentially, a mold, designed to produce a certain pattern or shape.
I’m no expert on metals but we are perfectly well aware that there’s the process of casting metals in molds. I’m slightly more familiar with a type of mold that hangs in some people’s kitchen, in fact we have one in ours which is intended theoretically for making Jell-O. And I realized that whether it be Jell-O or metal one essential is that the thing has got to be warmed up. It’s got to be soft, it’s got to be in a state it will accept the shape to which it’s required to conform. Then when the thing becomes soft, it’s essential that you have the mold ready. Think what would happen if you’d got your Jell-O and poured the hot water over it and then just poured out on the kitchen table. It would just end up an amorphous patternless mess. It has to have the mold ready to receive it.
So we have the two facets of this. First of all, there’s got to be an experience that makes the material subject to the mold. If it’s metal it’s got to be heated. Secondly, there has to be the mold that will produce the right shape. Now, as I understand it, conversion, the baptism in the Holy Spirit, are like the process of heating. They make a person subject, they bring them into that relationship where they’ll accept something that they would not have accepted before. Certainly it was true with me. If anybody’d tried to tell me about obeying the Scriptures before I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, they would have been hammering away at something that just wouldn’t have yielded or changed shape in the least bit. But the baptism in the Holy Spirit melted me. It made me willing to accept the new form.
Then, when a person is made willing, the next urgent necessity is to put them into the right form. Because whatever form they’re put in is what they’re going to come out like. And Paul says, as I understand here in Romans, the form is teaching. So, as soon as a person is melted by the experience of the baptism, we’ve got to have the right teaching ready to turn them out in the right shape. But, alas, what is happening many times now is either that they’re not getting into any mold and just ending up a kind of sticky mess on the kitchen table, which just leaves the mark of some experience, the evidence that once they had an experience; or else they’re getting into a wrong mold and ending up in the wrong shape. And to me it’s a matter of urgency when people are baptized in the Holy Spirit to have the right doctrinal mold ready to put them into. And I have seen, time and time again, if you get a person baptized in the Holy Spirit who doesn’t have too many religious preconceptions and traditions and just teach them the simple truths of God’s Word, it’s remarkable how quickly they come out in the right shape. It doesn’t take years and years of teaching. A few weeks of real solid teaching can produce the most wonderful change and can bring a person out in an aspect of character and living that will stand the test of everything that lies ahead if they are put into the right mold when they begin.
Now I’d like to look at two Old Testament pictures of God’s people left without teaching. To me they’re tragic but they’re extremely up to date. They’re just exactly the way it is today. Isaiah 5:13. The other one is Hosea 4:6. We’ll look at them in order. Isaiah 5:13, God says:
Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.
That, to me, is very much like the people of God today. They are in captivity because they don’t have knowledge—not the knowledge of the world, not the knowledge that comes from universities, but the knowledge of the Word of God. And particularly, I’m struck by the words, “their honourable men are famished”—even their theologians and their leading ministers are dried up, they’re desiccated, they have nothing to give and no matter and no wonder if the honorable men are famished, then the multitude must be dried up with thirst.
And to me, that is God’s people today, by and large. Their honorable men are famished, their multitude dried up with thirst. They’ve gone into captivity, they’re in bondage and servitude to all sorts of conditions that the Lord did not intend them to be subject to. The reason is because they have no knowledge.
Now, in Hosea 4:6, we have a similar picture:
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: [and then God speaks to His people and especially to the leaders] because thou has rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.
You see, the requirement of a priest is that he shall know and be able to minister the Word of God and teach the law of God. If you look in Malachi 2:7 the Lord defines this as the responsibility of the priest. Malachi 2:7:
For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.
But God says to the priests of His people in Hosea’s time, because thou hast rejected the knowledge of God’s Word, I will also reject thee and thou shalt be no priest to me. And this is equally true today. No person can enter into a priesthood ministry who has rejected the knowledge of the Word of God. A man may be called a Catholic priest, he may be called a Protestant priest, but he has no priesthood ministry in the sight of God if he has rejected the knowledge of the Word of God. And then the last statement in that 6th verse of Hosea 4 is so tragic and so true: “because thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.”
And we look at America today, a nation of God-forgotten children. Why? Because their parents have forgotten the law of God. This is an exact fulfillment of God’s judgment. If parents forget the law of God and do not bring their children up under the teaching of the law of God, God says, “I will forget your children.”
Somebody was telling me just yesterday that the whole group of the wealthiest Jewish families’ children from this area, and I don’t want to give names on a tape, migrated en masse to New York to live there as hippies, children whose parents own some of the major department stores and whose names are well-known in this area. But their parents have nothing to give them of spiritual value and these children would rather go off and sleep in the gutters of New York than live on the fat of the land. And this is the picture of modern America. God-forgotten children because their parents forgot the law of the Lord.
Now let’s look at fellowship, the next basic activity. We have to understand that fellowship is the end purpose of the gospel. Looking quickly at two Scriptures: 1Corinthians 1:9:
God is faithful, by whom you were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Fellowship is ng proceeds praying. This is the first positive ministry of the church—the outreach that proceeds forth from the teaching. Because if you sow the Word of God, always something will come out of it. And what you sow will be reaped. If you sow the full truth of God’s Word in the hearts of God’s people, inevitably there will be a response. Activity will result. But the activity will be commensurate with what is sown. Turning on to 1Timothy 3:15, you will notice that Paul says—well, we have to read verse 14:
These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God....
Why was this epistle written? That Timothy might know how to behave himself in the house of God. And Paul goes on to say: “the church of the living God, is the pillar and ground of the truth.” That’s a tremendous statement. eans are intended to accomplish and whether they actually accomplishing what they are intended. In the majority of churches, organized as we understand it today, and I’m not saying this to be critical, there isn’t any fellowship at all. As I said before, you cannot fellowship the back of somebody’s neck. And in most churches, that’s precisely what you see of the person.
I remember preaching in a church, it was a Pentecostal church, and it was rather a nice church and I preached what I thought was a good sermon and the pastor thought it was a good sermon, too. It was Sunday morning. And at the end of this, before the people were allowed to go, the pastor said this. He said, “Now, don’t hurry home. Stay and have fellowship. Shake hands with at least half a dozen persons.” And I thought to myself, “Dear God, is that what your people are living on? Is that their ration of fellowship? Shaking hands with half a dozen persons before they go home?” But that was really, by his standards, a pretty generous portion.
Now I don’t say this in any sense to be negative, but the truth of the matter is, most Christians do not even begin to realize that fellowship is the end purpose. And we go on and on through religious procedure and rituals and ceremonies and programs and projects. All of the means that never bring us to the end. And for this reason, mostly, by and large, they’re useless.
Now the early church immediately entered into a life of fellowship and there were two main, should I say, main areas of fellowship. I think a word we could use is platform. Fellowship needs a platform. If people are going to be and meet together in fellowship, they must have a place, a platform, on which to meet. Platform isn’t important in itself. I don’t think it matters what kind of a platform they have in a way but there must be one. But so often, again, when a movement comes into being that provides a platform, the platform ends up by being the end instead of a means and then we have to find another movement that we realize it wasn’t the end.
Now if you look at the picture of the early church in Acts 2, they had two platforms: one was what I call a large-scale platform, the other the small-scale. The large-scale platform was the temple, which was the national, institutional place of worship for the Jewish people; the small-scale was the obvious practical one which we find all through the New Testament, the homes of believers, which is the obvious place for people to have fellowship. We find this stated in Acts 2:46:
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat [or their food] with gladness and singleness of heart....
Notice that every day they were in the temple, and they ate together in their homes. I want to say that, as far as I understand, breaking bread does not mean taking the Lord’s Supper. I mean, I am strongly in favor of taking the Lord’s Supper but I do not believe this is what is meant in these passages. It simply means they ate together every day in their homes. And Acts 5:42 carries the same statement, or a similar statement:
And daily in the temple, and in every house [or home], they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
Notice this was daily, every day. They were in the temple, the large-scale place of worship, and every day they had fellowship together, mainly around the meal table in their homes. So their fellowship was on the large scale of the temple and on the small scale of the their homes. And I make this statement here, which I’ll read out. The first Christians continued for a time to attend the institutional place of worship, but with two qualifications: they did not compromise their testimony, and they did not depend on the institution for their personal spiritual life. I think this is extremely irrelevant.
Many Christians say, “Well, I still want to keep attending my church.” Well, God bless them. But do not compromise your testimony because you’re attending your church. Many Christians fearlessly proclaim what they believed even if it was in the temple and believe me, it’s not nearly so likely to arouse opposition that you’ll tell people in a Presbyterian Church to speak in tongues as it was to tell the Jews in the temple that they believe that Jesus was the Messiah. That was a much more revolutionary statement than even talking about speaking in tongues in a Presbyterian Church. But they did not compromise on the truth for the sake of remaining within the institution.
And secondly, I do no believe they depended on the large-scale institutional type of meeting for their real spiritual nourishment. And I’ve seen Christians receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit and get no nourishment outside the institutional church, which often opposed that experience and they starved slowly to death. There’s no alternative. You cannot get nourished by people that don’t believe what you have experienced, don’t understand it, cannot teach you about it and if they do anything will tend to discourage you. There is no nourishment for you there. You may go there, but you certainly cannot depend upon it for spiritual life and nourishment.
Now the fellowship of the early Christians in Jerusalem was expressed in a very intimate kind of sharing together. Remember that the word fellowship means actually “sharing together.” Some of you have probably heard the word used in English koinoniaused by CFO people and others, but that means simply “having things in common, sharing together.” The main thing that we share together is the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit but these early Christians shared practically everything. Read in Acts 2:44-45:
And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
And in Acts 4:34–35:
Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.
There is no question that the early Christians felt an obligation to minister, not merely to the spiritual needs of their fellow-believers, but to the physical and practical and material and financial needs, and did so. On the other hand, I think, in some ways the situation in Jerusalem was unique. We do not read that in every other city the Christians sold all their possessions. And I’ve often felt that this was the wisdom and inspiration of the Holy Spirit because in less than a generation from this time, Jerusalem was totally desolated by the Roman armies and Jews were not allowed to own land anywhere in that area.
So there are times of urgency when the Spirit of God will prompt us to sell out and share with everybody, but it isn’t necessarily a universal pattern for every situation. But without question, Christians, if they’re real Christians, will share together with their fellow-believers in every situation and need. And the marvelous testimony was there was none among them that lacked. I wonder if that could be said of all Christians today, that there were none that lacked. But if we shared as the New Testament believers shared, I believe it would be possible.
Now I want to say something further about fellowship and this, to me, is extremely important. I have the statement there. Fellowship is the place of spiritual birth and the reference I’ve given is John 3:6. Jesus is speaking. He says: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Many people read that verse as though Jesus said, “He that is born of the Spirit is spirit,” but He doesn’t. He is not necessarily speaking merely about an individual, in fact, I know He isn’t. He’s speaking about two different kinds of birth: the birth out of the flesh, which produces the flesh; and the birth out of the Spirit, that produces the spirit.
Now I believe that this applies within the fellowship of the church. There is much in contemporary Christianity which is born out of the flesh and all the flesh can ever produce is flesh. Only that which is born out of the Spirit will have the life of the Spirit in it. Now my statement is: The place of spiritual birth is fellowship.
Now this is a tremendously far-reaching statement, if it be correct. It means if we are not in fellowship, there can be no spiritual birth. Fellowship is where the Holy Spirit brings forth that which is spiritual. Now I’ve come to be convinced that this is true. And so many, many times we bypass the fellowship and want the result. We want a project, we want a program, we want to know what to do, we want to appoint a committee, we want send people here and send them there. All we have is flesh because flesh only produces flesh. I believe this applies very closely to the situation we’re in right here and now. God is disciplining and dealing with a group of us that come together once a week on Wednesdays, and I’ve come to see that God at the moment is not interested in our producing a program. What He’s interested in is fellowship and out of that fellowship God will produce not a program nor a project but a birth. And that’s a totally different thing. And if you look at the simple fact of the New Testament, I think you have to acknowledge that in the fellowship of the believers, spiritual birth took place.
Let’s look at two conspicuous examples in Acts 1:14, speaking about the believers in the Upper Room in the time between the Ascension and the Day of Pentecost:
These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.
They continued for ten days in close fellowship in a fairly confined place in prayer and supplication. That’s a pretty searching experience. My wife says about fellowship: her definition is, “you’re all fellows in the same ship and you can’t get off.” Fellowship isn’t fellowship if you can back out, turn away at any moment you please and there’s no commitment. Fellowship demands a commitment to other people. That’s where it begins to test you. Actually, fellowship, as I understand it, is the light. If we walk in the light, we have fellowship one with another. And you’ll find that immediately sin or darkness enter into a person’s life the first obvious result is a withdrawing of fellowships. And I have learned by experience there’s an intensely testing experience to live in the light of fellowship.
I think Brother Don is here, he would probably recall—I don’t know whether he was there in Jamaica when this happened—there was a lady that came down to our training course in Jamaica last summer. She wasn’t there three days, she upped and took a plane and flew back home. She paid her fare all the way down there, registered for the course. But there was something in about 45 Spirit-baptized people being together that that dear precious soul just couldn’t survive. There was another lady who didn’t do that but the night we were going to have a deliverance service, she told me afterwards, she said, “If I could have swum, I would have swum away from this island! I just couldn’t stand the pressure with which I was being surrounded.” It was the pressure of fellowship. Not that anybody was preaching at her or arguing with her but just that people were being together generates something that you’ve either got to stand the fire or back out. And I’ve seen lots and lots of people, they just cannot stand the fire and light of continued fellowship. But as my wife says, real fellowship, “you’re fellows on the same ship and you just can’t even jump off.”
We’ve seen this on some of the tours we’ve taken to the Holy Land. There’ve been times when we’ve been put together in situations and circumstances when we had to stand together. And in this standing together and being together, God has made the most miraculous changes in people’s lives and characters. In fact, I’m looking at a few of them right now. I will not say anything further because of the widely dispersed areas to which this tape is likely to come, but I have seen it. It’s a truth.
And think of what was involved in being together for 10 days in continual prayer and supplication in the Upper Room. It must have tested every fiber of their being. Because we find that before that time many of those apostles didn’t always see eye to eye with their fellow apostles. And then the climax comes in Acts 2:1: “...when the Day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” What happened?
Now, I don’t want to argue theology. Some people say the church was born on Resurrection Sunday, some people say it was born on Pentecost, I don’t want to get in that argument, but I think it’s not wrong to say there was a spiritual birth. What came into being was the church of Jesus Christ. At least it came into its full-fledged manifestation. What was it born out of? On the human realm, it was born out of ten days of fellowship by 120 persons. Now, turn on a little to Acts 13 and you’ll see a somewhat similar situation repeated on a smaller scale. Acts 13:1–4:
Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers [and five are named: Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen and Saul].... As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
Again, there were five men continuing together with prayer and fasting and waiting upon God. And out of this fellowship was born what we call foreign missions. This was the first specific occasion on which a church sent forth people specifically to bring the gospel to the unevangelized. On previous occasions, it had happened through persecution or, more or less, by chance, so far as human agency is concerned. Here people were actually specifically commissioned and sent forth and in most standard textbooks this is referred to as Paul’s first missionary journey. What begot it? Out of what did it come forth? Out of five men waiting on the Lord together in prayer and fasting. Not planning a project, not appointing a committee (and I’m not criticizing committees, we have to have them) but they are not primary. What is primary is the fellowship. And this, I believe, is one of the great lessons that God is now confronting us with. If we want spiritual birth, we’ve got to be in the place of spiritual birth because if it’s born out of the flesh, no matter how much we may dignify it with a nice title, it’s only going to be flesh. I’m sure this is true on every level. It’s true in home life. Out of home fellowship, there is spiritual birth. It’s true in the local church and it’s true on the mission field, it’s true anywhere. And having been a missionary on more than one field, I would say it’s much easier for the flesh to sit in 15 committee meetings than it is to have one day of fellowship.
I’ve never been in so many committee meetings, this is when I was a missionary—in fact, I’ve had enough committee meetings, really, to last me the rest of my life. And I used to say to my fellow-missionaries, “All we do is scramble out of one crisis in time to tumble into the next.” Because I believe, though I had a wonderful group of missionaries to work with, and I’m not criticizing them, we were neglecting a basic principle. One day, and I’m not going to specify this mission, we had a meeting to solve the various insoluble problems and started at early dawn and went on hour by hour and all the missionaries’ children were rampaging over the mission compound, getting into trouble and doing all sorts of things. And about mid-afternoon, my wife said, “You carry on in the meeting, we’re going to go have a meeting for the children.” And we had a meeting for the children. Two of the children, who were problem children, received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, one of them is in full time ministry. I don’t know what’s happened to the other. But that was revolutionary! But I saw that, while we were there, picturing ourselves as the saviors of Africa, in actual fact, we couldn’t even control our own children! And the reason is we were neglecting the great big principles in Scripture. It’s out of fellowship that spiritual birth takes place. Committees and projects and programs may be all right in their place, but they’ll never produce—they may be the means when something has been produced.
Now let me point out, and I close with this, it’s a good place to close though I haven’t gone as far as I had hoped, the basic form of fellowship is very simple: it’s eating together. This is so simple that people overlook it. How did they have fellowship? They ate together—in their homes, around the table, they praised the Lord, they prayed, they shared the Word of God—this was the place of fellowship.
Again, we discovered this in Africa because in this very same situation in Africa theoretically we were all equal, theoretically there was no barrier between the black and the white but in actual fact there was a very deep cleavage and my wife and I were troubled about this and concerned about it and wondered what we should do about it and eventually we decided to invite the Africans to meet in our home. Well, that was somewhat socially revolutionary. And it was revolutionary because the Africans, many of them, could not handle a knife and a fork. And to have somebody in your home that sits 18 inches away from the table and pours with perspiration when he tries to handle a knife and fork, can be embarrassing. But they were so sweet. They said, “Don’t worry. We don’t understand, but you’ll teach us. We want to know.” But we did discover that this really changed the whole relationship.
Later on, my wife and I would go down with the students who I was supposed to be responsible for, and we would eat with them in their dining hall twice a week. We didn’t enjoy the food, but we found it made a completely new relationship between them and us and I believe that, again, this is scriptural. You see, according to Eastern custom, if you eat with a person, you’ve committed yourself to that person. You cannot then go back and be disloyal to that person. Psalm 41:9 says: “He that ate bread with me has lifted up his heel against me.” And that’s spoken of Judas. That was the ultimate of disloyalty. To eat with a person and then betray them. And so when we eat with people, we are, in actual fact, committing ourselves to loyalty to those people.
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