MARKS OF A VIBRANT CHURCH
Part 2 of 2


In the first part of this article, we saw the first 3 marks of a Vibrant Church as can be seen in chapter 2 of Acts, namely: (1) An emphasis on true preaching; (2) An emphasis on doctrine; and (3) An emphasis on worship and the sacraments. In this second part of the article, we look at the next 3 marks….


4. An Emphasis on Fellowship and Sharing


And they continued stedfastly… in [the] fellowship… 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 (vv. 42–47).


It is interesting that although Luke mentions the other aspects and emphasises of the New Testament Church, it is on the subject of fellowship that he dwells on the most. This, I submit to you, is to be expected because the local church, after all, is comprised of people; a people who are all redeemed by the blood of Christ and placed as a part of the body of Christ by the Lord; a people who are called to be in one family and so to be brothers and sisters in Christ. And since they are brothers and sisters in Christ, they must have a special care for one another. Thus one of the most important aspects of a vibrant church is that of fellowship. The word “fellowship,” translates the now famous Greek word koinonia, which simply speaks of participation—participation in each other’s life—sharing of each one’s blessings and burdens. But what are the characteristics of a true fellowship, as evidenced in this Acts 2 church?


Firstly, we are told that they were having fellowship meals (v. 46; here, breaking bread is not a reference to the Lord’s Supper as in verse 42) in each other’s house “with gladness and singleness of heart.” Which says that they were genuinely glad, and were sincere rather than hypocritical towards each other. Those who are hypocritical are described by Jude as “spots”—hidden reef rocks in the feast of charity (Jude 12). But not so in the church of Acts 2. There is a certain transparency among the members. No one has any hidden agenda or ill-will towards others and no one suspects others as being hypocritical. In a word, there was no politics in the church. This is the basis of their having “all things common” (v. 44). Sadly this is often not the case in many a church today and I wonder if we will be spared.


But why is there so much disunity, hypocrisy and politics in the average church today? I believe the fundamental problem is that of sin. And it is particularly acute in the Church in this Laodicean age when sin paraded in the garb of self-esteem and personal-ambition is seen as a virtue. The inner garment of self-esteem and personal-ambition is of course that of self-love and selfishness. Paul warned that this problem of self-love will reach epidemic levels in the last days: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,…” (2 Tim 3:1–2).


If this list sounds very unchristian, it is. But realise that Paul is not speaking about the average unbeliever in the street, but about professing believers, for in verse 5 he tells us that these same people “[Have] a form of godliness, but [deny] the power thereof.” Who are these but professing believers in the church?


How did the church today arrive at the current state? I believe it is due largely to a rampant employment of Arminian and Pelagian forms of evangelism even in churches that claim to be Reformed. This, coupled with an aversion to the Puritan emphasises on assurance of salvation, false profession and introspective spiritual exercises, has led to the inward decay of many a church.


Secondly, not only were the members of the apostolic church self-less and sincere towards one another, we see that they also had great sensitivity and care for others, for we are told “And [they] sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need” (v. 45). Why did those richer believers sell their possessions and goods? It was clearly to provide for the needs of the poorer members in the church.


Naturally, the sensitivity and care to other believers in the church must extend beyond the poor in the church. The poor merely gives the occasion for expressions of love. But Paul instructs us to do good to all, especially to the saints: “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:9–10).


In a biblically vibrant church, where members are sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the conscience, every believer is ready to do good always to one another. If a brother is going through a rough patch in his life, many brothers and sisters will realise it without his even talking to anyone, and they will automatically help him as much as they can. And yes this sensitivity extends beyond just physical needs. Rather, members in a biblically vibrant church continually provoke one another to “love and to good works” (Heb 10:24); and “exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of [us] be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13).


The churches of Ephesus and Colosse during Paul’s days were known not only for their faith, but also for their love for one another (Eph 1:4; Col 1:4). It is my prayer that our church may, similarly, not just be known for its Reformed distinctives, but our love one for another. Think for a moment what impression will be left in the mind of a visitor who comes to PCC for just one Lord’s Day? Will they feel the warmth, or will they return home saying that they felt left out and unwelcomed? Could it be that they came just once and no more because of this reason? Will you not, brethren, make every effort to show love to one another and to our visitors especially? Will you not resolve to minister rather than wait to be ministered unto?


5. An Emphasis on Evangelism


A biblically vibrant church must also emphasise on evangelism. Not only are we told that 3,000 were added on Pentecost in response to Peter’s preaching, but we are told that the numbers increased daily: “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (v. 47b).


Apart from the sovereign grace of God, how was this achieved through the instrumentality of the Church? I believe it was largely through preaching, which is the main evangelistic arm of the church. But interestingly, according to the context of our passage, Luke would have us know that this increase in numbers is closely linked to the warmth of the fellowship between believers in the church. How is this so? Again we can see it in this passage. We have noted how the early believers were filled with genuine love, sensitivity and care towards each other. But what is the result of this? I believe the result is found at least partly in verse 47. The result is that the church gains “favour with all the people.” This is a factor which we often neglect, but it is an important aspect of the church, which is taught by our Lord when He gave the disciples His new commandment. For He said: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (Jn 13:34–35).


Because of the extraordinary love and concern that is exhibited by the believers in a biblically vibrant church, unbelievers are attracted to come and take a look. And some of them may be so deeply touched that they would listen attentively to the Gospel as it is presented whether it is in the church, or outside when the believers go out to witness in public. There must be something about the Gospel, if it can transform lives so drastically that unfeigned love between members arevisible. It is likely that in this way “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (v. 47b).


The emphasis on evangelism is also the reason why we should continue to go out to hand out tracts and invitations in the neighbourhood of the church and of our members. This is also part of the reason why we are thinking and praying about starting an evening service, where the Gospel is preached with simplicity, so that unbelievers or the uninitiated may benefit more.


6. An Emphasis on the Children


Finally, the biblically vibrant church must have an emphasis on the children in the covenant community. Peter tells the inquirers: “the promise is unto you, and to your children” (Acts 2:39). This verse of course speaks much more of the covenant family than of children directly, but as children are included in the covenant family, we are not to neglect our ministry to them. I am referring not only to infant baptism to incorporate the children into the visible covenant community by the sign and seal appointed by the Lord, but also to the children’s ministry in the church. In this regard, although it is increasingly popular in churches to have separate programmes for children during worship, I personally believe rather that they should worship together with the congregation. Indeed, the children may not be able to understand the proceedings and the sermon, but this is where their fathers will have the responsibility to instruct and reiterate during family worship on the Sabbath days. In addition, I am also fully persuaded that children must be trained in the faith through systematic catechising. The primary role of catechising the children, of course, lies with the fathers, but the church should supplement by way of catechism classes. I believe that covenant children who are properly nurtured will most likely grow up to be believers according to the promise of God. We must not assume they are regenerate until they are old enough to demonstrate a credible profession of faith. However, as covenant children, they ought to be treated as believers,—taught to pray, to read the Word of God, to sing the songs of Zion, to walk in the straight and narrow way, and to repent of sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, they must also be taught that they are sinners who will, like us, deserve damnation if we be without Christ. Pray, dear brothers and sisters, for the salvation of the children in our midst.


Conclusion


May the Lord grant us that, as a church, we may not only exhibit the marks of genuineness, but of vibrancy. May our sermons not only be faithfully preached but carefully heard and attended to. May the teaching ministry of this church be given much emphasis so that we have a solid foundation to withstand the shifting winds of errors and heresies. May the Lord grant us that we will worship in spirit and in purity of truth. May He grant that we will grow to love one another and be willing to lay down our lives for one another as Christ so loves us. May He grant us compassionate hearts for the lost to pray for them, to earnestly witness to them and to lead them to the Lord. May we not forget the covenant children in our midst to nurture them in the fear of the Lord that they may be the stalwarts of faith in the next generation should the Lord tarry.


J.J. Lim
 
Part 1 of 2


“Many crowd to get into the church,
but make no room for the sermon to get into them.”
(Thomas Adams)