Our Unity Is in Christ

A unifying spirit is necessary if a family is going to function well.ÊThis does not mean that there will be no diversity among the family members. There is plenty of room for rugged individualism and yet members be united in a common spirit. This is also true in the family of God.

The New Testament places great emphasis on the importance of unity in Christ. Jesus prayed for believers of all ages, “I pray that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you . . .ÊMay they be brought to complete unity to let the world know thatÊyou sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”Ê

John 17:22,23 While Christ prayed for unity among His apostles,ÊHe knew there would be strong differences of opinion within theÊ

group. Their personalities were different. Peter was an extrovert and a leader. Andrew was willing to live in the shadows of his brother. Don’t you think their personalities often clashed? JohnÊ

was a warm-hearted person and must have been irritated at times with Peter’s mannerisms. Thomas was a doubter and was not able to understand how the other disciples could acceptÊ

everything that Jesus said without doubting. But in spite of these differences, which often could fill their meetings with tension,Êthey were one in the Spirit.

The Apostle Paul wrote about the importance of being united in Christ. He tells the Romans, “May the God who gives endurance

and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one head and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ

(Romans 15:5, 6). He also wrote to the Christians at Ephesus, “There is one body and one Spirit just as you were called to one hope when you were called one Lord, one faith, one

baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Christianity and unity was not an option.ÊAs Christ drew believers to Himself, His followers were brought

into one body as brothers and sisters.Ê

Dr. George Forell, former professor of religion at the University of Iowa, has written in his book, The Protestant Faith, “Christ is the source of the Church’s unity which is not dependent upon a

united organization. There seems to be no evidence that the Christian Church was ever organizationally one. Such unity was apparently

of no concern to the early Christians. No super organizations controlled the various Christian groups in the earliest centuries of Church history. The oneness of the Church transcends the disunity of the churches.”

While the Scriptures talk about members of the Church being united in Christ, they do not teach that there will be no diversity among the Body of Christ. The New Testament tells of times when there were strong differences among the disciples. In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas were planning a mission trip. Barnabas was anxious to

take Mark on the trip, but Paul did not agree. Mark had been with them on a previous mission trip and on the way had left them.ÊThis irritated Paul and therefore he wanted someone more

dependable than Mark along on the journey.

Can’t you hear the conversation between Paul and Barnabas as they discuss Mark? Barnabas could have reminded Paul, with a little fire in his soul, that there is such a thing as Christian charity and he had better apply it in the case of Mark. Paul could be heard saying in reply to Barnabas’ chastisement, “It is not a matter of

charity. Mark is too immature. He is not ready for a mission like this one.” They did not reach an agreement whether or not to include Mark on the trip. The Bible tells us that Barnabas took Mark and went on his way, while Paul chose Silas and pursued his mission. Because they were humans, it is possible that their departure was not too cordial.

Were they united in Christ? Yes, they were. A strong difference of opinion has no effect on the unity in Christ. It is also interesting to note that Paul’s attitude towards Mark changed. Paul loved

to see Mark grow up in his faith. In his last letter to Timothy, he asks him to come soon and bring Mark with him. Paul knew that his days were numbered and he wanted to see Mark while there

was yet time to visit. Their oneness in Christ drew them to eachÊother. Strong personalities do things differently and that is also true in the Church. Let’s take a look at some of the practical teachings on Christianity as it existed in the New Testament Church.

A study of the New Testament Church must convince us that the unity of the Christ transcends denominational loyalty. I am a Lutheran.ÊI love my church. This is the church that delivered the message of Christ and His saving grace to me. However, should the time

come when the Lutheran congregation to which I belong does not preach Christ, l will have to attend some other church. It is sad when people feel so tied to a particular congregation of their

denomination that they continue to worship there Sunday after Sunday though they are not being spiritually fed.

I had a telephone call from a friend some days ago telling of her family’s dilemma about transferring to another congregation in town. For years they have been leaders in their church. They have realized that things were not as they should be in the church’s ministry. The emphasis was far from the Gospel. The question as, “What shall we do? If we leave our parents will be hurt and we will be leaving a host of friends who are so important to us. We will continue to see them, but since our friendship is a by-product of the congregation, our relationship will not be the same.Ê What shall we do?”

It is not an easy question to answer and much prayerful consideration needs to be given before doing anything unwise. Maybe there should be an extra try at remaining with the congregation. Perhaps there should be a very honest conversation with the pastor or leaders in the church, but when all of that has been done and there is an honest conviction that you need to move if you are going to grow spiritually, the answer is clear.ÊRemember that when you are one in Christ Jesus, you have a unity that transcends denominational lines.

A second insight from reading the New Testament shows that there was little structure in the New Testament Church. Professor ForellÊ

writes, “Protestants are generally suspicious of those who insist that organizational unity is the condition of the oneness of the Church.”Ê

The Church is one because Christ is one. To make the oneness depend upon the consent of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theÊefficiency of ecclesiastical machinery would contradict the

Protestant assertion that man is justified by grace. For this reasonÊall movements towards organizational unity are for Protestants to be justified on pragmatic grounds.”

The mergers between and within denominations are sometimes necessary, but they are for practical reasons and have no great Biblical significance. In my own denomination, we have witnessed two major mergers within the last 40 years. People are not in agreement as to whether or not these mergers benefitted ourÊ

denomination, but we must agree that the unity in Christ was there long before the churches merged into one denomination.Ê If leadership can convince the congregations who make up the

denomination that ministry could be done much more efficiently and better use could be made of the church’s funds and trained staff,Êthere might be good reasons for a merger. However, this would not add to the oneness of those Christians who belong to these church contemplating merger. In Christ they are one.

A third insight that we learn from the New Testament is the denominational differences should not create bitterness and strife

between congregations or among the denomination. At an early morning Bible study a dozen men gather to study God’s Word.

In the group are a Baptist, a Roman Catholic, an Episcopalian,Êa Presbyterian, a Wesleyan, and several Lutherans. If we wanted to center the studies on what divides us, it would be a negative

experience. However, if we concentrate on our salvation inÊChrist and how He brings change to our lives, it is always a rewarding experience to be there and learn from each other.

It is pathetic when people confess faithfulness to the New Testament,Êbut refuse to accept Biblical teaching that we are one in Christ.ÊThe unbeliever can wonder what Christianity is all about. I recall being at a theological seminar where certain people did not enter the room to hear the lecture until the prayer, which always opened the session, had been prayed. It was their conviction that, unless you are in complete doctrinal agreement with all present, you should not pray with them. In such a case denominational policy has thrown

a vicious attack at the New Testament teaching of our oneness in Christ.

How does today’s Church compare to the New Testament Church regarding oneness in Christ?Ê

Thank God for the unity that we experience in Him, and where there is separation because of denominational loyalties, let them not disturb

us but let us move on lifting high the cross of Christ where we are all brothers and sisters for all eternity.

They Were Willing to Pay the Price

Christianity has always had its enemies and the faithful, in one way or another, have felt the wrath of its society. In spite of the cost to be a follower of Christ, those committed to Him were willing to pay the price, whatever it might be.

That’s the theme for this study, “The willingness to pay the price.”ÊThis is another characteristic of the New Testament Church which we need to look at as we continue our evaluation of today’s Church in relationship to the New Testament Church. As an example of being willing to pay the price, let’s look at two days in the lives of Peter and John as recorded in Acts 3 and 4.

One afternoon at 3:00, Peter and John went to the temple to pray.ÊNow you would never think that people could get in serious trouble going to church, but such was not the case with these two disciples.ÊAs they entered the court yard of the temple, they met a crippled man begging for money. Looking at this handicapped person, Peter said,Ê”I don’t have any money, but what I have I will give you. Get up and walk.” When this man, who was well-known to the crowd, began to walk around with Peter and John, the people got excited. “Isn’t this the man who has been sitting at the gate of the temple for years?” they asked. “What happened? How was he healed?”

Eventually the attention was turned to Peter and John and they were asked, “How did you heal this man?” This gave Peter an opportunity to talk with the crowd about Jesus, and he would never miss that opportunity.Ê(We might stop here and ask, How often does God open the door for us to talk about Christ?)

Looking at the crowd, Peter said, “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we made this man walk? The God of our fathers has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned Him before Pilate, though he had decided to let Him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the Author of Life, but God raised Him from the dead.ÊWe are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man, whom you see and know, was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him, that has given the complete healing to him as you can all see.”

Peter confronted them with their sin. However, his message did not stop there. He continued, “I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders… Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that He may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you even Jesus.” That is the Gospel. That sermon produced results. The Bible tells us that many believed and the number of men (women and children were excluded in the count) grew to about five thousand. This growth got the attention of the priests and Sadducees. They confronted Peter and John about what had happened and put them in jail. So the day that was moving along without any problems ended by these two disciples spending their night in jail. It was a part of the price they paid for being committed to Jesus. You see, from the very beginning, Christianity has always had its enemies and the faithful, in one way or another, have felt the wrath of its society.

What characterized Peter’s sermon on that day in the temple’s courtyard? First, the message was personal. In verse 10, Peter is quoted as saying,Ê”You crucified Jesus, but God raised Him from the dead.” He is not talking in general terms.

This brought a strong response from those being accused of doingÊsomething wrong. Can’t you hear these religious people say, Don’t try to hang a guilt trip on us. Jesus had to die. He threatened our religion and was an irritant to the government. But while the religious leaders responded negatively, many heard the Gospel being proclaimed by the disciples and turned to Christ. They were forgiven. This is God’s grace.

Christianity’s personal message drives some away, but never forget, it brings hope and new life to others.

Secondly, the disciples’ message was Biblically based and delivered with strong convictions. Peter told the chief priests, “Salvation is found in no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”ÊThis was not an emotional statement based on his own feelings. It came from Jesus’ teachings, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”

When they were ordered by the authorities not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Wouldn’t it have been easier to have said nothing and bow out of this tense predicament they were in? Didn’t they bring on some of theirÊpersecution by speaking too much? Well, these two men wouldÊhave said, “One day Jesus told us that ‘anyone who loves his fatherÊand mother more than me is not worthy of me'” (Matthew 10:37). To remain silent when told never to mention the name of Jesus moved us to tell the enemies of Jesus that we could not obey them. If we were to obey Him more than our parents, wouldn’t we need to obey Jesus more than them?

For Peter and John, Jesus had spoken and that was their authority. They would obey no matter what the cost would be. That was life among the Christians in the New Testament Church.Ê

In comparing today’s Church with the Church of the New Testament,Êis its message personal?

Your answer to this question is important. What are you hearing?ÊMy answer is, “Yes and no.” When the message is personal, you can expect some negative comments.ÊOne person told me that I was a master at hanging a guilt trip aroundÊhis neck. I actually had people who did not come to church when IÊwas preaching, but when one of the associate ministers preached, they were there. A couple of families transferred to other congregations saying that life was too difficult to be made uncomfortable at a worship service. This caused me some concern, because I not only wanted to preach the Law, but also the Gospel. Evidently they became so upset when the Word was making them feel guilty that they didn’t hear the rest of the story, which is the good news of the Gospel.

It is when the message is too personal and applied to concrete situations in our lives that we experience the wrath of society. Some of the comments accuse the witness of being a religious fanatic or preaching a message that tends to be divisive. Dare we follow the New Testament Church when these accusations come to us, the Church of today?

But there is another side to the picture. Let the message be positive,Êand people respond positively. This is the message I need. That’sÊwhat happened to Tom Phillips one night as he sat in Madison Square Garden listening to Billy Graham. The Holy Spirit was at work in this man’s life. He was converted and later was instrumental in leading Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Ministry, to the Lord. We live in a day where the number of people in the congregation grows fewer and fewer because it is a family tradition. People today become interested in the Church when the message speaks to their needs.

I have two favorite church services that are televised. I tape these services and am thrilled with how God’s Word speaks to me through the messages. The sermons are well prepared and preached in love, but there is no question that the message speaks to the individual’s heart.Ê

The preacher often receives many comments as he greets people after the service. People who have been to church are generally kind and their comments are gracious. The greatest compliment I could get from a parishioner was, “The message spoke to me this morning.”ÊHopefully, the person was saying, “The Gospel touched my heart today.”

It is also a joy to see how personal some of the witnessing is when I listen to people talking to other people about what Christ has done for them. It is this personal emphasis that identifies us with the New Testament Church.

Is the message in today’s church as Biblically based and presented with as much enthusiasm and conviction as it was in the New Testament Church?

There is a lot of good expository preaching today, and those churches are reaching people. Lives are being changed. There is also a departureÊfrom the Scriptures. There are those churches where the cost ofÊdiscipleship is not emphasized. The message is entertaining andÊattempts are being made to keep people in the church by makingÊthem feel good. In other places, the message has become so objective that unless there are some interesting stories and humor in the message, boredom sets in and the congregation decreases in attendance.

The more difficult passages of the Bible, which cause the listenerÊ to be irritated and very uncomfortable, receive new interpretationsÊwhich make them less offensive. For example, how do we handleÊthe statement, “Only in Christ is there salvation,” when we live inÊa pluralistic society?Ê

There is a doctrine known as Christo-universalism. It teaches that when Jesus died, He died for all people. This is correct. However,Êthe Bible says that only those who will receive Christ are saved.Ê

Christo-universalism says, Atonement has been made for the sins of all and therefore, all are saved, regardless of whether they believe or not. A loving God would not damn any one. This sounds nice,Êbut it isn’t Biblical and was not the teaching in the New TestamentÊChurch. Such difficult questions as divorce, co-habitation, and the homosexual lifestyle are receiving more acceptance today based not on Scripture, but on science and better psychological insights into human behavior. Thus, there is another departure from the New Testament Church.

What happens to that part of Christ’s Church which is willing to set aside those parts of God’s Word which do bring conviction of sin, but also other parts of the Word which tell of God’s forgiving grace in Christ and bring peace and hope? The answer is evident. That part of the Church grows sicker and sicker, and finally dies.

We love our church. That’s why we have to wrestle with the question of whether or not we have departed from the New Testament Church, and if we have, how can we get back to biblical teaching?

The Verbal Witness

Believers in Christ were not ashamed to tell others about Jesus Christ!Ê The verbal Christian witness was heard clearly in the New TestamentÊ

Church. Is that verbal witness as strong in the Church today? That’s the question we look at in this sermon as we continue our study on the theme,Ê”How does the Church in the year 2000 compare with the Church in the New Testament?”Ê

Let’s meet Philip. This is not Philip the apostle, but Philip the deacon.ÊHe was one of the seven men chosen to care for the more personal

questions that plagued the Church. One such complaint was that the Greek widows were not given as much attention in the distribution of food as were the Hebrew widows. The apostles felt their time was better spent in preaching the Gospel, so God-fearing people were chosen to care for these matters.

Philip was walking on a country road between Jerusalem and Gaza when he came upon a chariot in which the official in charge of the

treasury in Ethiopia was riding. This official must have been a convert to Judaism and had been to Jerusalem for a religious holiday. He was a religious man with little peace in his soul and many unanswered questions. Today we would label him a seeker and encourage him to attend one of our services where the purpose is to speak specifically to those who do not know Christ as Savior and Lord. While there he

got a copy of the book of Isaiah. Philip drew close to the chariot andÊheard him reading the words:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearers is silent, So he did not open his mouth.

“In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth” (32-33).

Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

“How can I unless someone explains it to me?” the Ethiopian replied. So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. “Who is the Prophet

talking about, himself or someone else?” he asked Philip. Then Philip used that passage to tell him about Jesus. For the first time this official

heard that God had sent His Son to earth to be the Savior of all who would believe in Him. Christ had died to pay the price for all people’s sins and on the third day was raised. Through faith in Christ he could be brought into a personal relationship with God.

Having told the story Philip left the rest to the Holy Spirit. As they continued their journey, they came to some water and the Ethiopian asked, “What hinders me from being baptized?” The Holy Spirit led this man to faith in Christ and empowered him to give his life to Christ. Upon the confession of his faith in Christ, Philip baptized the man and he left for Ethiopia, a new person in Jesus Christ. There was peace in his heart and many of his questions had been answered.

Eusebius, one of the church fathers, tells us that when the official returned to Ethiopia he established a strong church which was used

by God to bring many people to faith in Christ. This points out that, unknown to Philip, he was ministering not only to one man but to a nation who would be introduced to Christ by this new convert.

In the New Testament Church lives were being changed through the verbal witness of believers in Christ.

Now one could say, Three cheers for Philip! We thank God for these powerful witnesses who were fluent with words and had the personality which made it easy for them to talk with other people

about Christ, but Philip was the exception. Percentage wise you can be sure there were few in the New Testament Church who were verbal witnesses for the Lord. People are people, whether they live in the first or the twenty-first century. We have these brave souls today. I am not one of them, but there is as much

witnessing going on today as there was then.

I know there are many dynamic witnesses today, but I believe the percentage of believers who are witnessing to the Gospel of Jesus Christ are fewer today than was the case in the Church of the New Testament. What is my basis for such a statement? I do not believe that the leaders of our nation consider the Christian faith a threat to

our society. They do not envision us as being a dangerous group of people whose minds and hearts have been captured by Christ, and He alone has our first loyalty. We can point to the Christian right and say, “These people can make life uncomfortable, but they are no threat.” We do not hear the voices of people in Congress and

the White House who confess faith in Christ as Savior, and even attend Church on Sunday, giving a clear testimony of what God’s will is on this matter as revealed in the Bible.

Such was not the case in the New Testament Church. Nero would not have been concerned about the Christian movement if he thought

they were a dying group. Had he thought that of these followers of Jesus, he would have let them busy themselves with an organization that, in his mind, was going no place and certainly presented no problem to the Empire.

Nero was very much aware that their message was capturing peoples’ souls, and they had to be killed or the future of the Empire could well be in question. Consequently we have the Neroian persecution, where thousands died for the cause of Christ. But in spite of the persecution, the number of believers increased until the historians report that the edict of Milan was signed in 313 by Constantine and Lycinius, because Constantine knew the future of his Empire was bound up in Christianity.

What made the Christian Church grow in those years? God was using great preaching to make Christ known. But more than that, the streets

were filled with those verbal witnesses who used the opportunity to tell the story of Christ and the way of salvation.

Look at Philip. He was an ordinary man led by God to share Christ with another person. Philip felt led to the chariot. When Philip got there,

a man invited him to share his witness about Jesus and what the Lord had done for him. Philip had a clear understanding of God’s way of

salvation, which he shared with his new friend, and then he left the rest to the Lord. The result was a conversion. A life was changed.

The convert was excited and went on his way rejoicing, and the witness was elated because God had used him to deliver the best news in the world. That is what witnessing is, and that is what the Church is all about.

Does this strong verbal witness continue in the American Church today?

It would be unfair and incorrect to say that there is little or no verbal witness in America today. There are millions of parents who are bringing

a powerful verbal witness to their children and these young people who are committed to Christ give evidence of the work of faithful parents in

introducing their children to the Savior.

Let’s not forget the faithful Sunday school teachers whose mission in the congregation is to help the children grow in their relationship withÊ

Jesus. Think of the hours pastors have labored with youth in confirmation classes, helping them have a better understanding of the Christian faith.

But it goes beyond youth. There are many Christians who are giving a strong testimony of what Christ has done in their lives to their friends

and relatives who yet walk in the darkness of unbelief.

So, do we get an A+ for doing a good job in the department of verbal witnessing? No. When the Church is decreasing in membership, or even

remaining status quo, it is evident that evangelism does not have a high priority in its ministry. This is not to say that there is no verbal witness for Christ, but the percentage of church members who do speak up for Christ in crucial moments is small.

Gustav Nelson, in his book Service is the Point (Abington Press), tells us that between 1965 and 1990 the Presbyterian Church lost one-third of its members. It went from 4.2 million members to 2.8. The Methodists went from 11 million to about 9 million. Nelson says, “The disturbingÊ

part is that of those still in church, about one-third are not very active.Ê

It doesn’t paint a promising picture for mainline churches. During the same time that Protestant mainline churches have been losing members,

evangelical churches have grown. From 1965 to 1990, the Assembly of God Church increased from 500,000 to 2 million members. Southern

Baptists went from 10 million to 15 million members.

The last thirty years of my ministry I gave special attention to evangelism training. I know from experience that teaching people to share their faith did not come natural for the average Christian in the congregation I served. Those dear friends needed encouragement. They needed to be taught some of the basic principles on sharing Christ. We offered them wonderful opportunities to learn how to share their Christian faith, but the response was minimal. This is serious, for Christ’s mandate to His

Church was to tell the story of God’s love and the way of salvation.ÊIf the Church does not do this on a one-to-one basis, it is not beingÊfaithful to the mission Christ gave us to do.

Yes, in the early Church lives were being hanged and Christ’s Body was growing. It continues to do the same today in those parts of the world, and in our nation, where people freely point men and women to Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world.

Is there a strong verbal witness for Christ coming from your congregation and denomination? This is a question that must be given much consideration,Êfor the life of the Church depends on it.

Changed Lives

It has been my privilege to serve on three major boards in our community. These experiences were extremely beneficial in my serving as the senior pastor of a large congregation with a multiple staff. Each one of these boards had a primary reason for existing.ÊThe school board was charged by the community to provide the

best schools possible for a community of our size. The bank board was elected to serve the community financially while earning a good profit for the stock holders.

Great effort and considerable financial expense was given to accomplish these goals. Administrators, board members and employees were sent to conventions and seminars to learn from others what was proving effective to reach the goals set by each institution. As I sat in some of these meetings, I often asked myself, “Does the church have anything like

these meetings which would force us to take inventory of what we are doing, and is what we are doing the primary mission of the Church?”

Any institution or organization can do some nice things and not give their primary mission the top priority. For example, a bank could have a beautiful building, and an outstanding public relations department, which would treat its customers and the general public with kindness, but still not show a financial profit. How long would this bank be in business? Not long.

Likewise, the congregation or denomination could be doing some fine humanitarian activities, but not carrying out the mission for which Christ established His Church.

Is there any source which we could use in evaluating our denomination and the congregations to which we belong? What is the primary mission of the Church? Is the congregation or denomination accountable to

anyone, or are we all free agents just doing “our thing”?Ê

Thank God there is a basis for such an evaluation. It is the New Testament Church.

In this series of sermons, I would like to turn your attention to the important question, “How does our church compare to the Church of the New Testament?” In this first sermon, I point out that in the New Testament Church, lives were being changed. Is this happening in the Church of 2000?Ê

St. Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:17). The Apostle knew

from personal experience that receiving Christ was a life-changing experience.

Jesus was with His disciples in Caesarea Philippi when He asked,Ê”Who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” This answer moved Jesus to respond,Ê”Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you

are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gatesÊof hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:13).

There are no other references to the Church in those last days of Jesus’ life until the day of His ascension. He gathered His disciples around and commissioned them “to go and make disciples of allÊnations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have

commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). As ambassadors for Christ, they

were to tell the world that Jesus Christ was Savior and Lord, and if they would receive Him, He would restore them into a personal relationship with God. This is what the Church of the New Testament did.Ê

Their primary mission was to hold up Christ as “the way and the truth and the life, and that no one could come to the Father but by Him.”

This all started ten days after the disciples had received their commission from the Lord. It was Pentecost and Peter was the preacher. He told the people of their sins (Acts 2) in such a dynamic way that when he hadÊfinished the sermon, many in the audience were convicted of their sinfulness and asked, “What shall we do?”

Hearing their question Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins.Ê

And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). That day about three thousand were converted. Their lives were changed. The

Church was born and this mission of building God’s Kingdom continued.

While the Church was moving out to reach the nations with the Gospel, there was an arch enemy of the Church who wanted the good news of Jesus Christ blotted out of people’s memories. He was Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul.

Saul of Tarsus hated Christ and His followers with a passion, but things changed in his life when Christ met him on the road to Damascus. His

mission was to find Christians in Damascus and bring them back to Jerusalem as prisoners. As he neared the city, there was a bright light that

flashed around him, and then there was a voice saying to him, “Saul,ÊSaul. Why do you persecute me?” The voice then identified himself by saying, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:4-6).Ê

In Damascus Saul was led to the house of Ananias, who shared with him the message of salvation through faith in Christ, and baptized him. From that day on, Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul, was a changed person. He who persecuted the Church became its greatest Apostle.

Here is just one of Paul’s many testimonies telling the change that had taken place in his life. “I consider everything a loss for the sake of Christ.ÊWhat is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,Êbut that which is through faith in Christ the righteousness that comes from

God and is by faith.” In the early Church lives were being changed.

Later Paul visited Philippi and met a business woman by the name of Lydia. Paul shared with her the Gospel of Christ. Here are the results,

“The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her

home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house'” (Acts 16:11-15). Lydia’s house became Paul’s

headquarters in Philippi. Lives were being changed.

A man by the name of Philip, not the disciple of Jesus but a believer, had an interesting experience one day as he met the Secretary of the Treasury from Ethiopia. Hear this story, “This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’Ê

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked.Ê

‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’Ê

So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. . . Then Philip began and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the

road, they came to some water and the man said, ‘Look, here is water.ÊWhy shouldn’t I be baptized?’ and he gave orders to stop the chariot.

Then both Philip and the man went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the man did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.” What an exciting day in Philip’s life as

he saw God working through him to change a life!

One of the characteristics in the New Testament Church was to minister with the Gospel and witness lives being changed. This is one of the criteria that must be used today in a true evaluation of the Church. Are lives being changed?

The answer is, “Yes, lives are being changed as Christ meets them in His Word.” One of my colleagues has just returned from a mission

trip to Africa. He reports with great enthusiasm about the spiritual awakening that is taking place in many parts of that continent.Ê

People walk for miles to attend worship as they hunger to hear more of God’s Word. There are many lives being changed in the Church here in America. Now the important question which is difficult to answer honestly is, “Are we satisfied with what is happening in our congregations and denominations when we limit our focus to the topic, changed lives.

How easy it is for us to begin our rationalizing by saying, Only God knows what is happening in the lives of people. Not everyone has to be converted. Some were fortunate enough to be born in a Christian home and have always been Christians.

Another common answer is, I believe that ultimately all people will be saved. A loving God is not going to permit anyone to be lost. This is a universalistic philosophy which is extremely appealing, but not Biblical.

What about your congregation? Can you point to many and say, “Look what the Lord has done for this person. His life would not be the same had Christ not been at work within him.” This

person could be one of those who was raised in a Christian home.ÊHis or her parents brought the child to Christ, and God entered into a covenant relationship with him or her at an early age. The parents then took the child home and introduced their son or daughter to the Lord through the years. Such a person has had many spiritualÊ

awakenings and grows in the faith. On the other hand, can you point to other people who were not that fortunate? They had never had a

personal relationship with the Lord until one day Christ met them and their lives were changed. They are completely different people.

If you want to have a true evaluation of your congregation, it is important that this matter of lives being changed be given serious

consideration. If little or nothing is happening in lives being changed, you are in trouble. Considering what we are seeing in our culture today, there is little reason to believe that the congregation will be around too many years longer.Ê

Years ago the congregation played a strong social role in the lives of people. They might not have had a personal relationship with Christ, but they went to church to see their friends and enjoy the only social time they would have for the week. Today the Church has little appeal to an indifferent world when it comes to satisfying social needs. There are other places who take care of that need in their desires until their lives are changed by Christ. Then there will be a

strong desire to be together with the people of God. That encounter with Jesus Christ is basic for a strong congregation.

What shall we do with this first part of our congregation’s evaluation?

Thank God for what is happening in your group. Then face the realitythat more must be done in reaching those outside of Christ. Commit

yourselves as leaders in the congregation to see how the Lord is anxious to use you in this day as He did Christians in the New Testament Church.