July 24, 2016

Why Join a Church

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Series: Doing Church Biblically Scripture: Acts 2:42–47

The Centrality of the Local Church—Acts 2:42-47

This evening, we start a new series. And this series is going to be a little different than the way we normally do things around here because, instead of working our way passage by passage through a book of the Bible, we’re actually going to do more of a topical series. We’re obviously still going to be studying the Bible and trying to understand the Bible better, but this series is going to be built around a topic rather than a particular biblical book. And that topic is “Basics of a Biblical Church.” That’s what this series is all about: “Basics of a Biblical Church.”

And the reason we’re talking about the basics of a biblical church is because, as many of you know, there are a group of us attending this Bible study who believe God is calling us to start a church. But in order to start that church well, there are a number of key biblical principles that I think we absolutely need to understand. And so, we’re going to spend the next 12 weeks looking at those biblical principles, trying to understand the things we need to understand in order to start that church well. So the plan is to spend this week and the next 12 weeks going through this series on “Basics of a Biblical Church” and then, on October 23, covenanting together as a church. 

And “covenanting together” simply means starting the church. In the Bible, a covenant is a sacred agreement between two parties, usually between God and human beings, to do certain things. And so, when we talk about covenanting with each other, we’re simply talking about making a commitment to one another to live like a church, to minister to one another like a church, to do whatever we can to help each other along spiritually and do what Jesus calls us to do. And once we covenant together, I believe that according to the Bible, that’s when this gathering stops being just a Bible study and starts being a church. And it’ll gradually start to look more and more like a church. For example, we plan on adding a music ministry in the very near future. 

And I realize there may be a few in here who are already members of other churches and plan on staying at those other churches. And that’s very much okay. Our goal isn’t to steal you away from them, as long as that other church is healthy. Because the way I see it, if we can help you spiritually and build you up and equip you to be a more effective member of your own church, that’s a win for us. So we would love for you to keep coming. Of course, at some point in the future, we’ll try to start meeting on Sunday mornings, making it impossible for you to attend both. We may even start doing that before the winter—I don’t know. But until then, whenever that is, if God uses this to make you stronger as a Christian so that you’re able to make your home church stronger as a result, that would be amazing. So please understand that you’re welcome here. You’re welcome to continue gathering with us during the next 12 weeks, and you’re also welcome to continue gathering with us even after we start calling this gathering a church. And if you have any questions about anything, we’re actually going to just have one discussion group this evening, so you can ask those questions in a little while. 

Now however, especially since this is a Bible study, I would very much like to open the Bible. So let’s do that. Please turn with me to Acts chapter 2. We won’t be confined to this passage this evening, but it does serve as a good foundation of everything we’ll be talking about. Acts chapter two, and we’re going to be looking at verses 42-47. And the main thing I’d like us to see from this passage is that the local church is at the very center of New Testament Christianity. The local church is at the very center of New Testament Christianity. And just to set the scene here: Peter has just finished giving delivering his famous sermon at Pentecost. Acts chapter 1 records Jesus ascending into heaven, and then the beginning of Acts 2 record the apostles being empowered by the Holy Spirit in a very dramatic way. And as he’s filled with the Spirit, Peter preaches a powerful sermon about Jesus dying on the cross and resurrecting from the dead. And then look what it says in verse 37: “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” So 3,000 people were saved. God was moving in an incredible way. This is where the church started. 

Then, look what it records in our main text, verses 42-47: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Now, I believe one of the most important things this passage shows us is that the local church is at the very center of New Testament Christianity. And this is so obvious in this text that it’s very easy just to pass right over it without a second thought. But notice how when Peter preaches his sermon and 3,000 people come to faith, they don’t just all go their separate ways after that. “Hey guys, this was fun, and…maybe we’ll do this again next year.” No, that’s not what happens. They don’t just take a few selfies and then disperse. They form a community. They continue meeting together on a regular basis, and verse 42 records how they continue listening to the apostles’ teaching on a regular basis. That’s really significant. Don’t just read over that. 

From the very first day Christianity started and onward after that, Christians have always formed themselves into Christian communities. Here in Acts 2, they viewed themselves not as isolated followers of Jesus with each one doing their own thing but as a distinct community of people that other passages throughout the New Testament commonly refer to as a church. So we see that church isn’t an event we attend once a week, and it’s definitely not just the building we use. Church buildings didn’t even exist for the first 300 years. The church is a community of Christians. That’s what it is: a community of Christians who have been sent out on mission by Jesus. And one way the Bible speaks of church is as the whole community of Christians in all nations from all time periods. That’s what we might call the “universal church.” It includes every Christian who’s ever lived and ever will live from every part of the world. But there are also neighborhood expressions of that universal church—smaller communities that we might call “local churches.” So there’s the universal church, but then there’s local expressions of that—local churches.

And as I mentioned, I believe Acts 2 illustrates in a very powerful way that the local church is at the very center of New Testament Christianity. And there are two reasons why I believe that’s the case. And I’d like to spend the rest of the sermon unpacking these two reasons. Number one, the local church is central to our personal spiritual health. And number two, the local church is central to God’s plan for reaching the world with the gospel. 

The Local Church Is Central to Our Own Spiritual Health

So first, the local church is central to New Testament Christianity because it’s central to our personal spiritual health. I’ve already shared with some of you what God used in my life to show me how important it is to be part of a Christian community. It was the summer after my first year of college, and I was serving as a counselor at a Christian summer camp called Snowbird. And I went into this summer camp with a very individualistic mentality. Yes, I attended church because I knew Christians are supposed to do that, but I didn’t really think I needed the church to move forward spiritually. I would spend a number of hours each day in personal prayer and Bible study and kind of became proud about that and had a mentality where I didn’t think I needed other Christians. And that’s the mentality I brought to Snowbird. But God used that summer to break me down. If you imagine how tired you are after a week’s vacation and then multiply that many times over, that’s how tired I was. Camp lasted for 12 weeks, with new church groups coming in every week. Every day was high energy. I was barely able to get any sleep at night. I felt exhaustion—true exhaustion—in a way that I had never felt it before. I felt so exhausted that I couldn’t even concentrate on my Bible reading any more. I had to literally walk through a trail in the woods as I read my Bible just to stay awake. 

And they required us counselors to meet in small groups of 3 or 4 every morning from 7-7:30am, and I thought these groups were such a waste of time. Why did I need to spend valuable morning time talking to these other guys—half the time not even talking about “spiritual” things—when I could be doing more quiet time? I knew I physically could not get up before 6am, and that only left me with a single hour for my personal devotions. It really annoyed me. But as the weeks progressed and I became more and more exhausted and had more and more difficulty concentrating in my personal devotions, you know what God used to sustain me?  Those very small groups that at the beginning of the summer I had thought were a complete waste of time. That’s how God nourished me the second half of the summer. And that’s how I learned how much I needed and could benefit from meaningful interaction with fellow Christians. God had to break me down to teach that to me, but he made sure I understood it.

And you know what? As we might expect, it was in the Bible the whole time. Turn over with me to Hebrews chapter 3. The book of Hebrews was written to Christians who were going through a rough patch spiritually. They were experiencing persecution for being Christians, and they were tempted to revert back to their old way of living. And it’s in response to that temptation that the book of Hebrews was written. So look at Hebrews 3:12-14: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” So do you see what that’s saying? So apparently, looking at verse 13, there’s a real danger that we’ll be “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Left to ourselves, we can very easily wander astray and start chasing after sin instead of chasing after Jesus. Sin’s “deceitful” like that. It deceives us into thinking that it’ll satisfy us, that it’ll take care of us, and that it’s our best option. And it can very easily pull us in. That’s why we need each other. 

One author named Paul Tripp writes in response to this verse, “I need you in order to really see and know myself. Otherwise, I will listen to my own arguments, believe my own lies, and buy into my own delusions. My self-perception is as accurate as a carnival mirror. If I am going to see myself clearly, I need you to hold the mirror of God’s Word in front of me.” That’s what we need as Christians. We need each other. And the place you get that kind of nurture and that kind of committed love is in a church. 

You see, we’re all breathing the air of an increasingly secular society day in and day out. I remember reading about China and all of the problems China’s been having with their air quality. And you may have heard that it’s actually gotten so bad in China that when they had the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing, a lot of the athletes were worried about even going there. One of them actually dropped out of the Olympics because she was so concerned about her health. Even more recently, it’s estimated that polluted air contributes to about 17% of deaths in China. One scientist, on a trip to Beijing, happened to be there on a day when the air quality was even lower than usual, and he actually calculated that he was losing 20 minutes off of his life expectancy for every hour of that he breathed that air. And guess what we’re breathing in all the time? Not only are we probably breathing in more physical pollutants than we want to think about, but we’re also constantly breathing in spiritual pollutants as well. We live in a relatively godless culture, and that culture is the air we breathe. 

That’s why it’s so vital that we’re plugged into a healthy, Bible-teaching church that will give us the truth in undiluted form so that we can detox from the hazardous air we’re taking in every day. And we need that truth both from the pulpit and in the context of everyday conversations. So that’s why I’m convinced that you can’t be a healthy Christian without being involved in a local church. 

The Local Church Is Central to God’s Plan for Reaching the World with the Gospel

And not only is the local church central to our own spiritual health, but it’s also central to God’s plan for reaching the world with the gospel. In fact, it may not even be an overstatement to say that the local church is God’s plan for reaching the world with the gospel. 

Later on in Acts, after we see the first Christians in Acts 2 form themselves into a church, we see the Apostle Paul highlighted as the key missionary who spread the gospel all around the Roman world. And what was his strategy? Did he organize a media blitz? Did he try to infiltrate the government? No, everywhere he went, he set up local communities of believers—local churches—so that those churches could continue reaching their city even after Paul moved on to the next city. He would move into the city, share the gospel, see people come to faith, organize them into a local church, and then move on to the next city. Then he would typically come back through a while later, once the believers had time to mature a little bit, and he would appoint leaders in these churches. And when he went away again, these churches would often times get off track in various ways, so he would either send a representative to them to get them back on track or he would write a letter to them correcting their errors. And it’s a good thing he did because those letters are a major part of what we now know as the New Testament. Most of the letters we find in the New Testament are letters Paul wrote to the churches he established. 

So these churches weren’t an afterthought for Paul; they were central to his missionary strategy. And they were also central to God’s strategy, because the book of Acts mentions time and time again how the Holy Spirit was the one leading Paul to do the various things he did. So if the local church was so central in Paul’s mentality, and if it was so central in God’s mentality, don’t you think it should be central in our mentality as well? As we strive to do our part to reach the world with the gospel, how knuckleheaded would we have to be to neglect something that the Bible presents as so central?

Please turn over with me one last time to Matthew 5. Listen to what Jesus says to his disciples in this passage. Matthew 5:13-16: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

You can’t tell from the English translation, but when Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth,” and “you are the light of the world,” in the original language, that “you” is in the plural. He’s not saying, “Each of you individually is salt, and each of you individually is a light,” although that may also be true by implication. But the primary thrust of what he’s saying in this passage is that, “You corporately, together are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” And then he compares them, in verse 14, to “a city set on a hill.” Think about that: “a city set on a hill.” Last I checked, you can’t be a city if you’re just one person. A city is a group of people. And Jesus says his followers are supposed to be like “a city set on a hill,” visible for miles around because it’s so evidently supernatural. That’s God’s plan for reaching the world with the gospel. It’s something Christians do as they’re functioning as an integral part of a local Christian community. 


Unfortunately, many times, we’re so quick to write off the local church as an irrelevant relic of the past or become embittered against the church for all of its imperfections or come up with 1,001 other reasons why we don’t need to be part of a church. But the New Testament shows us that that doesn’t work. The concept of being a Christian drifting through life by yourself, apart from integral involvement and commitment in a local church, is completely foreign to the New Testament. Instead, the local church is at the very heart of New Testament Christianity. It’s central to our own spiritual health, and it’s central to God’s plan for reaching the world with the gospel. And because of that, we believe that God is calling us at this study to start a local church.

other sermons in this series

Feb 28


Matthew 26: The Lords Supper

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Scripture: Matthew 26:26–29 Series: Doing Church Biblically

Oct 16


Trusting in Man vs. Trusting in God

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Scripture: Jeremiah 17:5–10 Series: Doing Church Biblically

Oct 9