This series so far has been looking at the church in broad strokes. We’ve been tracking a rough framework in the book of Acts, and the New Testament will develop all the things we’ve seen here. It will provide a richer theology to everything we’ve been saying.
Our sketch of Acts is beginning to show a picture. A picture is emerging and we’re getting close to a definition of what the church is. The church is at the center of our lives, it’s the headquarters. It’s essential to the life and mission of Christ-followers. It’s messy, but you can’t be apart from it. Here in Acts, its being recognized by society. They’re seeing there’s something different about it. It’s getting organized. The New Testament will fill in the organization and authority later.
Jew and Gentile are emerging in Acts, not theoretically, but actually. Stephen will die for it. Jesus will rise from his throne to approve the message. Peter will have his entire life transformed to pull it off. Saul, the most hated enemy of the church, will have to be converted. There’s this saga of Jew and Gentile coming together into the church.
Ephesians is very critical to our theology of the church, our ecclesiology.
Three participles that form the framework of the chapter and the book.
Three times in one verse, he’ll use the word blessed. It starts with all the blessings believers have. Then we see that it was all foreordained. It was planned ahead of time. Then we see that it’s a revealed mystery.
All of these are gifts, God’s blessings.
The mystery revealed is Jew and Gentile coming together. Something no one could pull off but God. We are let in on that secret.
The fulfillment of everything. In the beginning there was a mystery containing God’s plan for the entire universe. When time is complete, what is it going to look like? It will all be united or reconciled in Christ.
The word “unite” is talking about everything being brought under his headship. It’s summing up all things in Christ in heaven and on earth.
There’s this cosmic goal of the church. We’ve been brought into it in a very unique way to participate in it.
If God is going to be head over the whole universe, and he’s the head over the church, then we are a microcosm of what will come. The world can look in on his church to get a glimpse of how God will rule later.
Somehow, when we do life together as a church, the supernatural powers of the universe are watching, and God is showing off to them. That brings you in to participate in showing it to the world.
We learn together, we forgive, we serve––but at the consummation, everything is going to come together into a harmonized whole together. Jesus is at the center of that. He’s the one who makes sense of creation and redemption coming together.
I’m doing some side reading on topics I’m interested in. One of the writers talking about creation said, “Christology enabled God to conceive of a world that could relate to him.”
My New Testament professor said even though that’s future, a corner has been turned with what God has done and is doing in the church.
We’re just so hopeful for where the whole universe is going. How much more beautiful when you consider how much disharmony characterizes our universe now. There will come a time when everything will be summed up in Christ. All of the current horrors will disappear. It’s almost Tolkien in its picture of these supernatural forces at work.
How is God going to pull this off and how is he going to use the church to do it? He’s going to have to transform hearts and lives. We have to steward the message and the mission. As we get further from the church’s origin, the message has to be stewarded even more. The message is grace, not race. No culture is unreachable, and every culture has to be redeemed. And we saw with Peter that eating unclean foods doesn’t make you unclean, and eating clean foods doesn’t make you clean.
No one of us alone could live out or demonstrate what God is trying to show in the universe. No one of us could do that. You were never intended to. None of us were given that authority.
Remember Peterson quoted Jung that the Reformation made each man his own church. That’s going too far. No one of us is the church. We together are the church.
After Peter goes to Cornelius’ house, the church called him in and they got to speak into whether that was really from God or not. Even Peter––the one Jesus called the “rock” of the church––even he couldn’t stand alone. Then they rejoiced when they heard the message had come to the Gentiles. But Peter had to be accountable to the church.
The mission and message have to be stewarded.
By Acts 11, not only does Cornelius come to Christ, but a number of others do as well.
Antioch is our second major church. They were dealing with all sorts of nationalities there. But the apostles were still speaking to Jews. They still didn’t get that it was supposed to go past them. Someone else had to come in and take it past them Jews, and it wasn’t the apostles here.
Barnabas can’t believe what he sees. He goes and gets Saul, brings him to Antioch, and they taught all these people. This is a pivotal moment where they’re first called Christians.
The new math is that you’re always added to the church, not subtracted.
Christ has radically transformed people and they have a new identity, a new humanity. The issue of their identity comes into play. If you’re not Jewish, who are you? When you get to Antioch, it’s a very pivotal place. Third largest city and very cosmopolitan. Jews, Arabs, Egyptians, everyone gathered here. It was a commercial hub filled with different kinds of people. What do you call these people?
Now this church is a visible and tangible demonstration of unity, such that the definition of it is watching literal barriers fall by the interaction of these people. They’re overcoming all sorts of obstacles in a divine melting pot where their identity isn’t in their race anymore. You don’t recognize them any longer from how they speak or where they’re from.
Think of the word Christian. Somehow, what Christ has done to these people has created a new race.
To call yourself a Christian and not part of a church is ridiculous when you trace the name back to its origin. Where would you find a Christian? In the church.
Agabus shows up and warns them of a famine. If you told them that in Antioch at any time, they would have said they don’t care about the Jews in Jerusalem. But the Christians here take up a collection and send it to Jerusalem. The barriers are gone.
If you weren’t there, didn’t show up and participate, you wouldn’t be a Christian according to this text. This is where the whole universe comes together under the headship of Christ.
They would have said the same thing, if it weren’t for Christ I wouldn’t be here or sending a penny to Jerusalem.
We’ve seen “Christian” for the first time, and now we see “elder” for the first time. Behind the scenes, they must have already figured out how to organize organically. These elders oversee the funds and make sure the relief effort gets accomplished. We don’t know much about them yet. But we do know this becomes an important piece and it’s essential to your Christian life.
Now Paul and Barnabas are with the church in Antioch and the Spirit tells them it’s time to start the mission. They go on the first mission trip in the New Testament in Acts 13. They start planting churches and appointing elders. All the churches had elders.
They’ve already had this conversation, but now it’s a doctrinal problem. Who is solving that?
They go to the elders. They form a council. Who can be saved? Do they have to become Jews? The elders and the apostles are going to speak to it in a council. It’s very important for you to know Acts 15.
Only grace saves. That’s the message. Grace, not race.
Then the apostles and elders write letters, give them to Paul and Barnabas and send them to every church to make sure they know their doctrine.
Then the second missionary journey starts. They go all the way to Corinth in chapter 18, and then they report back to Antioch. Then the third missionary journey starts and they get to Ephesus, another very important location in Asia Minor. If you haven’t read chapter 19 to see the nuttiness, it’s crazy.
Paul calls the elders together in Ephesus. They come to that meeting and this is what he tells them. This is the first window into the office of elders.
How many sheep are in a flock? More than one. Elders are overseers over God’s church that he obtained by his own blood.
Who is going to be the authority in the church when the apostles are God? Each congregation has to pick wise men to oversee it.
This is the first time with a direct reference to the sacrifice of Christ and it’s not for the believer, it’s for the church. We’re all a part of it. There’s nothing like it. He bought it. He owns it.
All of us who are set apart have an inheritance and are being built up.
We see the lengths God will go to create a picture of what he’s going to do in the whole world.
These are our elders.
If you want to reach any of them, email@example.com.
They’re overseeing what God has purchased. That’s a sacred role that they do on a volunteer basis.
The New Testament will speak into all the issues we’ve surfaced in Acts. What does it mean to be a Christian in the context of Acts? Be a part of the community and steward the mission and the message, and be led by elders.
In this text, you can sense Paul’s emotion when he says, this is how God is going to care for his church. There is a sense of vulnerability for anyone outside or out from under that leadership.
You’ll come up with all kinds of crazy stuff about yourself. Who is going to help deal with hypocrisy and manage hurt? That’s the elders job. No single individual has been given this kind of authority given to the elders.