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The New Testament Church - What Is It? -Part 2
The Attitude of the Church
The New Testament Church was birthed at Pentecost by the coming of the Holy Spirit to unite all believers into one body with Christ as her head. Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, ". . . upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Notice he was speaking of something yet future - ". . . I will build . . . ."
On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended and united the church. The disciples were not only linked to Jesus through the Spirit, but were linked to each other through the same Spirit. This was the first church, and the pattern for all other churches.
In Part 1 we looked at the fact that most of the references to church or churches referred to individual, local, called out assemblies of believers. These churches were to follow the pattern of the first church. So what was the attitude of the first church that New Testament churches are to mimic? Our attitudes really convey to the world what lies within. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Who we are begins with what we think, and what we think creates attitudes. Let me give you three definitions, and then three questions to ponder.
- Manner - the attitude that we act on
- Method - the way we act, or our actions
- Attitude - the posture or position of a person showing or meant to show a mental state, emotion, or mood. The manner of acting, feeling, or thinking that shows one's disposition, opinion, etc. (Webster's Dictionary)
Now the questions. Take some time and really consider where you are.
- What causes me to act the way I act?
- Why do I do the things I do?
- What do I base my attitude and my actions on?
Many things come into play when we think about the basis for my attitude. Is it the flesh? The Spirit? How about the lust of my heart? Could it be the past? The present? My personal opinion? Maybe the Bible? You get the idea. What your focus is on is what will cause the result of your actions. Seriously take some time and consider each question. How you answer will shape who you are in the body of Christ.
Now consider this question. what are my overall attitudes toward others? My mate? My family? My church? My country? Your church attitude ought to be lived out toward everybody everyday, not just toward a select few on Sunday. You may be quite surprised where the Holy Spirit might lead you if you honestly address these questions. it may even be painful, but the pain will seem small compared to the healing it will bring.
Two Possible Reactions
There are two ways you could go after examining yourself. The body is never stronger than its weakest member so think on the following.
In Luke 19:1-11 we read the story of Zacchaeus - that wee little man that climbed up in a sycamore tree." And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way" (Luke 19:2-4)
Even though Zacchaeus was rich he still sought the Saviour. His heart was drawn to him and he deliberately sought Him out. He wanted to be in His presence although he did not feel worthy.
What about Lazarus? In John 11 we have the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead by the Lord Jesus. Mary, his sister comes willingly to Jesus. She loves Him and seeks comfort from Him. Zacchaeus and Lazarus both responded to the teaching of Jesus.
How do you respond to the teaching of Jesus? Instruction is one part of the local church? Notice this in Acts 2:41, 42 "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."
There is much to consider here. First of all those that gladly received His word and were baptized became part of that called-out assembly, the ekklesia, the church. but what I want us to see here is in verse 42, "And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine . . . ." they continued to be taught. They continued to seek as did the church at Berea in Acts 17:11.
On the flip-side we see the chief priests and elders on Matthew 16:13 - "Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand." Because they did not seek God or His wisdom, Jesus spoke in parables to intentionally conceal the message.There can be no doubt that part of the New Testament church is to teach the doctrines of Christ. If teaching is required, we can assume that learning is required. None of us have arrived. We must always be learning and growing spiritually.
Who do you say Jesus is?
Back to Attitudes
Now, let us go back to our attitudes for a moment. In Matthew 16:13 we see Christ questioning the disciples as to the general attitude that people held toward Him."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?" In verse 14 we see the many answers that were offered; maybe John the Baptist, or Elijah; perhaps Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
The world have their ideas as to who Jesus is, but in verse 15 Jesus makes it intensely personal by asking the question, "But whom say ye that I am?" That is what you will have to answer. The true church knows that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world for our sin. He was the substitute in your place as He hung on the cross. Your sin - my sin was poured over Him - the innocent for the guilty - the pure for the filthy - the righteous for the despised.
Just as Jesus made the question intensely personal, so it remains today. Without having a personal relationship with Christ, you cannot be part of His church. I am not trying to be critical, just factual. Your "church" membership will not save you. Your baptism will not save you? Your good works will not save you? Trying to keep the Ten Commandments will not save you. Loving your neighbor will not save you. Observing the Eucharist will not save you.
You simply cannot earn God's favor. Salvation is by grace through faith in a person, not an organization. It is all about what God did for you on the cross, and has nothing to do with anything you can do or have done.
Only after one has acquired a personal relationship with Christ can one be part of a church. Being born-again is the beginning. The Holy Spirit will come to indwell you, just as He did the early believers. He will link you to the body of Christ. Then, and only then are you ready to take your place in the local church to serve and worship God. There is one other requirement for taking part in a local church and we will look at that next time. Part Three will be coming shortly.
Until then . . . .