What is Community?

This week we begin up our look at community in the Book of Acts. We’ve spent the last month talking about the importance of prayer. It is our conversation with God that stems from hope in Him and joy that He loves us and has saved us. We also pray as an expression of faith, knowing that God will provide for out needs and take care of us. John tells us in his epistle, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15 ESV). Now lets move into a conversation about the foundations for community.

The “Is” and “Is Nots” of Biblical Community

Before we talk about the foundations of a biblical community, let’s work though a few misconceptions about what we’re talking about here. From my own experience, I have established three ideas about what christian community is not. Christian community is not…

  • Going to Church – Regular attendance at a church building does not necessarily make one a part of the Christian community. While regular presence within the body of Christ is crucial for one’s spiritual growth, one can not claim to be a part of community by attendance alone.
  • Having Christian Friends – Did Jesus congregate ONLY with other believers? Certainly not. He was accused of spending much of his time with sinners (that is, people who were not considered worthy of association; see Matthew 9:11-13). While I wholeheartedly believe that one should have close friends who share the same convictions and belief in Christ, just because you may only hang out with Christian people doesn’t mean you are a part of a Christian community.
  • Doing “Church” Stuff – By this I mean any kind of work or church event for the sake of doing it because you feel a) obligated to do so or b) guilted into participation. Is there work to be done at the church? Absolutely! Is it good to participate in various events and activities? Of course! But the mere participation in these things does not make for Christian community.

So what is Christian community. Here are three quick “Is” ideas that correspond the above “Is Nots.” Christian community is…

  • Worshiping God Together – This is coming together for the purpose and desire of worshiping God through music, the sacraments and preaching of the Word and helping one another through each others spiritual gifts.
  • Being Accountable to One Another – Guided by the Holy Spirit and God’s Word, we come together to show grace and love to one another and meet each person where they are at in life in order to share joy, pain and burdens. We are accountable to one another because we have made professions of faith that say, “I believe in Christ and I want to follow Him and do what He commands.” We hold each other accountable to this call.
  • Doing the Work of Christ – We willingly serve one another and the community in order to make Christ known and give Him glory. We do not serve in order to be saved, we serve because we are saved. This includes everything from standard tasks at the church building, to serving in worship to mission opportunities and sharing the Gospel around the world.

Now that we have set a general framework for community, let’s take a look at Acts 2 in order to build our foundation.

Acts 2 and the Spirit-filled Church
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know- this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”
(Acts 2:22-24 ESV)

In this passage from Acts 2 we find the apostle Peter giving a sermon and explaining the outpouring of the Spirit at the day of Pentecost. During the course of this sermon and the events immediately proceeding, we see what the early church looked like and the basic foundations it rested upon. Peter tells the crowd about Jesus Christ. He speaks with force and conviction regarding the historical work of Christ upon the earth. So much was his boldness that he pointed out the fact that many people present actually witnessed the facts of Christ’s crucifixion. Just a few sentences later, Peter proclaims Christ resurrection by saying, “He (David) foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” (Acts 2:31-32 ESV) Great! Sounds like every Sunday morning flannel-graph story we’ve always heard. But what does this mean for community? The first foundation is the work of Christ, the real historical and physical work of Jesus Christ. We do not believe in a spiritual force or oneness. We do not believe that if you empty your mind and pray hard enough that you will receive heavenly insight. We believe in a man, Jesus of Nazareth, who was the incarnation of God the Son to this world who carried about the plans of the Father according to His good will and joy (Rom. 1:4; Eph 3:11; Heb. 12:2; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 John 4:2-3, 14-15, 5:5-6). This is what Peter preaches.

Next we see Peter preaching the second foundation for the church, the Holy Spirit. Verses 33 tell us, “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” Christ, following His ascension, poured out the Spirit on us as promised. God the Spirit is our helper, our guide and is the power of God given to believers upon faith in Christ. It doesn’t make us like God, rather it is God’s voice in our hearts guiding us into truth, convicting us of sin and growing us in the process of sanctification. Yeah, it’s that cool! Believers in Christ can point to the Spirit as their agent for salvation. As Peter wraps up his sermon, his audience was “cut to the heart” and said, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (v. 37). They were stricken and convicted of their sin and need for Christ. Peter’s response mirrors any good Baptist preacher’s call, “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.”
(Acts 2:38 ESV) Yee-haw! That’s it! The third foundation for biblical community is regenerated believers who have the mark of baptism. Now any old Baptist will tell you it’s all about faith, and that is true. But for those who have taken that step in faith they should desire to be baptized as a profession of their faith to the whole world. This does not mean that one must be saved to step into a church or even attend church events, however, this foundation is key for one to experience true biblical community. Church is not the place you go once you learn to clean yourself up, church is the place to go because you can’t possibly clean yourself up. The Body of Christ exists to share the love of Christ for all peoples, and all peoples are welcome to come and find relief, however, for one to enter the kingdom and the body of biblical believers, repentance and subsequent baptism are key foundations.

For the last two foundations, we move to verses 41-44. Once these early believers received Christ by faith and received the mark of baptism, they immediately got together to take care of business! They ate together, they shared together and, yes I’m gonna say it, DID LIFE TOGETHER! They also committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, meaning, they devoted themselves to the life and teaching of Christ. This also undoubtedly included a continued emphasis to the Old Testament scriptures. Basically, they committed themselves to the Word of God. This is the fourth and fifth foundation: the Word of God and the Lord’s Supper. It’s so vital that we continually remember the death and resurrection of Christ until His return as this is the basis for our faith. We should desire to get together and share life and we should desire to pursue Scripture, both in personal time and through teaching of His Word. These final two foundations seal the deal on our foundations for biblical community. Without these five essentials for our Christan community, then our gathering would be in vain. As Paul said, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17 ESV). The reason I call these foundations is because that’s what they are, foundational!

So what?

We have seen in Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 and the following response, five foundations for biblical community come forth. We see the work of Christ as the first step then the giving of the Holy Spirit through faith. Next we have a body of regenerated and transformed believers who submit to God’s Word and worship Him though gathering together and partaking in the Lord’s Supper. I truly believe that many people are longing for this kind of community, they just don’t know where to taste it. The Psalmist says, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalms 34:8 ESV). This is our call: to make much of Christ, bringing Him glory through showing the world a picture of biblical community with a call for people to taste and see that the Lord is good and that He is our refuge. I pray that we will look at our community and our calling in such a fashion. It’s a great feeling to be a part of true biblical community and throughout the next few weeks, I invite you to look at your own heart and see if this is how you view your place in the community of believers. Are you showing others what they can taste and see? I pray we all will. Take care and have a great week in the Lord!

Peace in Him,

Coleman

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