THE CHURCH AT JERUSALEM

(Acts 1-7) 

THE Jerusalem church is worthy of special mention 
1 because it bears the distinction of having been the 
first church of Christ. It was established and nurtured 
under the direct supervision of the apostles, who were 
guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit. Hence the 
church at Jerusalem becomes the divine pattern for all 
churches of Christ. 

The word "church," as used in the New Testament, 
has two distinct meanings. In its limited application, 
it stands for a local assembly of obedient believers, 
those who have been called out of the world by the 
gospel of Christ, and worship the true God according 
to the revelation of His will through Christ (Rom. 16: 
16; 1 Cor. 1:2; Rev. 2:7). In other words, it stands 
for a local congregation of obedient believers under the 
supervision of elders and deacons, such as "the church 
of Ephesus," "the church in Smyrna," "the church in 
Thyatira," etc. (Rev. 2 and 3). 

In its universal application, it stands for all the 
elect of God, of all nations of the world, who consti- 
tute the entire body of Christ, of which Christ is the 
head (Eph. 1:22, 23; Col. 1:18). In this catholic 
sense, it stands for the one fold of which Christ is the 
one Shepherd (John 10: 16) ; for the one body of which 
He is the Head (Eph. 4:4) ; for the consummation of 
the eternal purpose of God (Eph. 1:9, 10; 3: 1-7; Col. 
1: 18-20; Eph. 2: 11-22) ; for the kingdom of which He 
has been crowned King, and of which those who are in 
Christ are citizens (Matt. 13:38; 26:29; 28:18; Bom. 
8:16, 17; Gal. 3:26-29; 1 Pet. 2:9). This church 
universal must not be regarded as a visible organization 
with ecclesiastical officers, because, in the Scriptural 
sense of the term, it is a spiritual institution under the 
absolute authority of Christ, whose w T ill is revealed in 
the New Testament (John 18:36; Acts 2:47; Col. 1: 
13; Heb. 12: 28; Rev. 20: 12). In this sense it is "the 
general assembly and church of the firstborn, who are 
written in heaven" (Heb. 12:23), as well as the bride 
of the Redeemer (Rev. 21:2; 22:17). It includes all 
who have "purified their souls in obeying the truth/' 
thereby having been "born again," not of the cor- 
ruptible, but of the "incorruptible seed, the word 
of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (John 
3:3; 1 Pet. 1:22, 23), and having been translated 
from the kingdom of this world into the kingdom 
of Christ. 

In this discourse we will study the term in its lim- 
ited sense. We will study the church at Jerusalem, as 
the model local congregation of the saints. 

1. Membership. Of what did the church at Jerusa- 
lem consist? It consisted of those who heard the gos- 
pel as preached by Peter ; believed the gospel message, 
and asked what to do to be saved ; repented, or turned 
from the power of Satan unto God, and were baptized 
in the name of Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 
2:14-47). By complying with the law of restoration, 
they received remission of sins, the indwelling of the 
Holy Spirit, and the promise of eternal life (Acts 2: 
38, 39). They did not "join church," but the Lord 
"added" them to the church (Acts 2:47). Thus we 
see that the first church of Christ consisted of baptized 
penitent believers in Christ. 

2. Worship. Having been added to the church by 
the Lord, there were three distinct items constituting 
their regular worship as Christians. "We read that they 
continued stedfastly "in the apostles' doctrine and fel- 
lowship, and in breaking of tread and in prayer" 
(Acts 2:42). These three items are necessary to keep 
kindled the fires of devotion. God kindles the light 
when we obey the gospel of His dear Son, but we must 
keep the light burning; and it is only by doing so that 
we show forth the excellency of Him who called us out 
of darkness into His marvelous light. Too frequently 
baptism and the Lord's Supper have been made purely 
mechanical. 

We enter the church as "babes in Christ," and 
must be nurtured by "the sincere milk of the word" 
(1 Cor. 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:2). By a faithful study of the 
Word, we can learn the will of God (Col. 3:16). We 
can renew our spiritual strength from week to week by 
the faithful observance of the Lord's Supper, which 
turns our minds back to the vision of the cross, and 
forward to the return of our Lord (1 Cor. 11:23-26). 
By prayer we can draw closer and closer to the great 
loving heart of the Father (Phil. 4:6; 1 Thess. 5: 17). 
By means of these divine appointments, God's children 
are "strengthened with might by His Spirit in the 
inner man" (Eph. 3:16), and can attain unto the 
stature of full-grown men and women in Jesus Christ 
(Eph. 4:13). 

3. Liberality. This was a feature of the Jerusalem 
church that is worthy of special mention ; also a feature 
that has been overlooked in the restoration of primitive 
Christianity (Acts 2 : 44, 45 ; 4 : 32-35) . The Christians 
at Jerusalem did not regard what they possessed as 
their own, but they had all things in common. They 
sold their possessions, and distribution was made accord- 
ing to the needs of every man. This sale of property 
was purely voluntary, the result of a spontaneous out- 
burst of Christian love; and the money was left in the 
hands of the apostles first, and afterwards the deacons, 
to be distributed from time to time as every man had 
need (Acts 4:35). The care of the poor and needy 
was a part of the regular work of the seven deacons 
(Acts 6:1-7). In such manner they began to fulfill 
the law of Christ by bearing one another's burdens 
(Rom. 15:1; Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 12:25, 26). 

Very few congregations of to-day emulate the liber- 
ality of the church at Jerusalem. "We have stressed 
the restoration of the primitive plan of salvation, and 
the primitive items of worship, but have neglected to 
stress the restoration of primitive liberality, a liberality 
flowing out of Christian love. We have seen many 
congregations, representing thousands of dollars, eking 
out a miserable existence, and doing nothing for Christ 
or the extension of His kingdom. Such congregations 
can not be termed "Christian" in any sense of the 
term, and are not worthy of being called "churches of 
Christ. 99 The man who is fundamentally selfish at 
heart has not been "born again." The one who has 
really surrendered to God counts nothing of a material 
nature as his own, realizing that it all belongs to God, 
and that he is God's steward for an appointed time 
upon earth, and will be held responsible for his stew- 
ardship. A congregation composed of men and women 
who have surrendered absolutely to God would repro- 
duce the liberality and charity of the church at Jeru- 
salem. It is high time that ministers of the gospel 
begin to stress this neglected item of Christian service ! 

4. Evangelistic zeal. The original membership of 
the church at Jerusalem numbered some three thousand 
or more (Acts 1:15; 2:41). The number of believers 
was soon increased to five thousand (Acts 4:4). The 
spread of the gospel brought the church into a conflict 
with the Jewish Sanhedrin. But, in spite of opposition, 
multitudes of souls were added to the Lord (Acts 5: 
14). The apostles were thrown in prison, but delivered 
by an angel (Acts 5 : 17-20). They defended the gospel 
before the Jewish council, and were released at the 
suggestion of Gamaliel. The word of God increased 
and the number of disciples grew day by day. Even 
a great company of the priests deserted Judaism for 
the religion of Christ (Acts 6:7). This aroused the 
bitter opposition of the Jewish authorities. They turned 
into an infuriated mob, blinded by religious prejudice, 
and stoned Stephen to death (Acts 7). A great perse- 
cution arose against the chjirch. Saul made havoc of 
it, going from house to house, seizing the followers of 
Christ, and thrusting them into prison. But this per- 
secution merely resulted in the spread of Christianity 
over Judea and Samaria, as those that were scattered 
abroad went everywhere preaching the Word (Acts 8: 
1-4). Every disciple became an earnest exponent of 
the gospel. Persecution merely stimulated their evan- 
gelistic fervor. And thus it was that the scattering of 
the church at Jerusalem merely resulted in the world- 
wide evangelism that soon followed. Within the small 
company of obedient believers at Jerusalem was con- 
tained the power that was destined to overcome Jewish 
ritualism, Greek philosophy, and even the paganism of 
imperial Rome herself. 

Those who hear, believe and obey the gospel to-day ; 
who continue stedfastly, as individual Christians, in the 
apostles' doctrine, in the breaking of bread, and in 
prayer; who have all things in common, and minister 
to each other's needs; and who withstand all opposition 
to the pure gospel, and go about everywhere preaching 
the Word — constitute a church of Christ in the fullest 
sense of the term. Let us not neglect to stress any of 
these items in the restoration of the primitive church. 
What we need to-day is not a church for the twentieth 
century, but a reproduction, in every particular, of the 
church at Jerusalem. Such a reproduction would result 
in another wonderful period of evangelism, both at 
home and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.