What Is A Truly Great Church?
Matthew 16:13-19, "When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some [say that thou art] John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed [it] unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Acts 2:41-47, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added [unto them] about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 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 they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved."
Ephesians 3:20-21, "Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him [be] glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen."
A. The word "Great" carries many meanings.
B. God's standard of greatness is utterly foreign to that of this world:
1. When we call a church "Great" we may mean:
Large buildings --- Wealth --- Many members --- Influence and prestige --- Historic importance
2. However, a Great New Testament Church may mean ALL of these or it may mean NONE of these.
C. Let's look at the early fellowship --- the primitive patter --- what was great about them ...
D. We are great today where they were small --- we are small where they were great --- and nobody even seems to recognize it ...
I. The New Testament Church Was Great Because --- It Had Great Power:
A. Acts 4:33, And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection" of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all."
B. A truly great church operates ONLY by the power of the Holy Spirit --- not by human persuasion.
1. Some churches would never know the difference if the Holy Spirit went out of business.
2. A Scripturally great church is a Spirit-filled church.
C. We boast of our organization and efficiency --- but our efficiency without His sufficiency is only deficiency.
D. You will observe that this was WITNESSING POWER.
1. Acts 1:8, "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."
2. Acts 4:33, "And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all."
E. There is a lot of work in our churches --- but not much witnessing.
1. The Holy Spirit produces witnesses.
2. All the church work in the world is beside the point if it is not the work of witnesses by life and lip.
F. They witnessed to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. They did not talk about:
Themselves --- The Church --- The Singing --- The Preacher --- The Association ...
2. They talked about the Lord.
3. The heart of their testimony was that He had risen and was alive forevermore.
G. Americans are not so much Gospel-hardened as they are Gospel-ignorant --- most church members don't even know what the Gospel is.
H. If our church is not:
1. A Spirit-filled church,
2. Operating in Pentecostal power through witnesses,
3. Testifying to a risen Christ,
It is not a great church even though it may be as big as the Pentagon.
I. Revelation 3:1, "... I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead."
II. The New Testament Church Was Great Because --- It Had Great Grace.
A. Acts 4:33, "... and great grace was upon them all."
The Church is the product of the Grace of God!
B. The grace that rested upon the early church was the fullness of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit.
1. Saving grace,
2. Living grace,
a. To forgive ...
b. To die to self-will ...
c. To commend others ...
d. To further the cause of Christ rather than your own cause ...
3. Dying grace,
4. Praying grace,
5. Testifying grace,
6. Loving grace,
7. Giving grace ...
II Corinthians 8:7-8, "Therefore, as ye abound in every [thing, in] faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and [in] all diligence, and [in] your love to us, [see] that ye abound in this grace also. I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love."
C. When we trust and obey --- we receive of His fullness and grace upon grace.
John 1:16, "And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace."
D. By receiving abundance of grace we reign in life by one --- the Lord Jesus Christ.
We do not have to go through a graveyard to enter into rest --- We reign in life.
E. Of how many churches can it be said, "Great grace was upon them all?"
1. You see a lot of self, pride, denominationism, etc. --- but, how much of God's grace do you see in the church services.
2. A Church is great only in proportion to its measure of grace.
III. The New Testament Church Was Great Because --- It Was A God-Fearing Church.
A. Acts 5:5, "... and great fear came on all them that heard these things." --- V. 11, "And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things."
B. There is very little of the fear of God in our Churches today.
1. Sin is excused and tolerated.
2. No wonder the "Ananias and Saphira Club" is flourishing today.
C. People were afraid to join the church after this startling tragedy --- Ananias & Saphira ...
1. Yet, multitudes of TRUE believers were added to the church.
2. Here was a church at such a fever pitch of consecration that liars and fakes could not stand it.
3. The temperature was so high that it killed all the germs.
D. If today the church had such great power and great grace:
1. Great fear would fall upon us ...
2. Strange things would be happening ...
3. Men would be conscious of the presence of a Holy God who cannot tolerate sin.
E. Our is often a cheap imitation that can be found in any club and nobody is afraid to join such churches.
1. We have become so busy being happy --- that we have forgotten to be holy.
2. We have gone in for fun and lost our fear.
IV. The New Testament Church Was Great Because --- It Was A Persecuted Church.
A. Acts 8:1-5, "And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen [to his burial], and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed [them] to prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them."
B. When WE speak of a great church --- we mean a popular or prosperous church --- but this was a persecuted church.
1. That would be un-thinkable to your average Sunday-morning churchgoer.
2. "Why, the church should get along with everything and everybody."
3. Opposition is the last thing we'd want or think of.
C. There is not a line of Scripture to indicate that Christians will have it easier as time goes on --- exactly the contrary is declared.
1. We have more pagans and heathens today than ever.
2. A true New Testament church will arouse as much opposition as ever.
D. What church do you know that is causing terror and amazement among the forces of evil in the community?
E. The persecution in Acts turned church members into missionaries.
1. Acts 8:1, "And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles." --- V. 4, "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word."
2. Maybe we need some persecution to turn believers into witnesses.
F. We are not meeting opposition because we have come to terms with the world --- Sin .....
1. We are living in peaceful co-existence with the enemy.
2. James 4:4, "... know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God."
G. Such a policy will produce a popular and prosperous church --- a great church in the eyes of the world --- but it will be part of the apostate world-church shaping up.
H. A Scripturally great church --- great in power --- great in grace --- great in fear --- will meet great persecution for: --- II Timothy 3:12, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."
V. The New Testament Church Was Great Because --- They Had Great Joy.
A. Acts 8:6, "And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, ..." --- V. 8, "And there was great joy in that city."
B. It was a joyful church and it produced joy.
1. These early Christians proclaimed "glad tidings of great joy."
2. Acts 2:46, "And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,"
3. II Corinthians 8:1-2, "Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality."
C. But this great joy was such a different thing from what we try to whip up today.
1. It was not the "excitement" that a cheer leader can work up at any ball game.
2. It was the joy of the Lord.
3. John 15:11, "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and [that] your joy might be full."
4. It smiles through tears.
5. It is happy in persecution.
Acts 16:25, "And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them."
6. From prison it cries out: "Rejoice in the Lord alway: [and] again I say, Rejoice." (Phi. 4:4)
D. It is the work of the Holy Spirit and not even distantly related to the so-called joy of this world.
1. The joy of the world is the kind that depends on what happens.
2. But the joy of the Lord may be ours no matter what happens.
E. The substitute fools a great many people today but the difference is profound.
1. It is the joy of "obedience".
2. John 13:17, "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them."
3. It rest upon two "IFs" --- Knowing and Doing the will of God.
VI. The New Testament Church Was Great Because --- It Was Great In Numbers.
A. Acts 11:21, "And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord."
B. Certainly, some were guilty of being too busy counting nickels and noses.
1. It is time to stop counting numbers and begin making numbers count.
2. However, there is a place for statistics.
C. The difference is then they were a result but today they are a goal.
1. The early church started out with great: --- power --- grace --- fear --- joy --- and the great numbers followed.
2. They did not "shoot for three thousand" on the day of Pentecost.
a. They were Spirit-filled --- preached Christ --- and there was an ingathering.
b. Acts 2:41, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added [unto them] about three thousand souls."
3. They did not launch a drive for five thousand the next day.
Acts 4:4, "Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand."
4. After the death of Ananias and Sapphira.
Acts 5:14, "And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.)"
5. After the "SEVEN" were chosen.
Acts 6:7, "And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith."
D. Numbers are important because numbers are people.
A. The growth, the increase, the additions, were a result of Christian living and witnessing in great power and grace and fear and joy.
1. When we fulfill the conditions --- God will give the increase.
2. When the organism is functioning properly --- it will reproduce itself.
B. When we try to reach goals by others methods --- we add from without but we do not grow from within.
1. When Spirit-filled Christians follow the Lord they become fishers of men.
2. A church is great in God's sight only in proportion as it is a church of great: --- power --- grace --- fear --- joy --- and enduring great persecution.
C. However, a church is made of individual members and every mark of a New Testament Church is also a mark of a New Testament Christian.
D. When Christians :
1. Are filled with the power of the Spirit,
2. Receive abundance of grace,
3. Walk in the fear of the Lord,
4. Abound with joy,
5. They will be persecuted,
6. But, through them more will be added unto the Lord.
E. There will be a New Testament church only in proportion as there are New Testament Christians in it.
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