Are we going God’s Way in our church? (Acts 11:1-18)

One of the saddest things I ever heard was a Christian leader say that the power of God was no longer working in lives that he was overseeing.  When asked what the solution could be, he replied, “we’ll just have to work to get it back”.  How sad!  It is amazing that someone involved in the ministry would think that repeating the mistaken assumption of the Pharisees that we could work to become more holy and impress God would now work.  Works by mere men will never alter the ways of God.  When God is at work, we need to get out of His way so He can work unhindered.  We need to jump onboard and go His way.

When God is at work, things change.  If any man be in Christ, He is a new creature, old things pass away, behold, all things become new.  In Acts, God was putting together a new assembly of believers into a body unlike anything before.  This church would not just included one group, but would consist of all people.  This change was God’s plan, but the early Jewish Christians struggled with this change.  What do we need to know about change?

First, some changes are inevitable.  We need to reinvent ourselves to stay in touch with our times.  While our message should never change, our methods and presentation should fit our ever-changing culture. 

Second, any change will require and adjustment period.  We have to be flexible to change when God wants us to change.  Only God established truth is unchangeable.  Man’s traditions and preferences need to be examined.

 Third, EVERY AND ALL changes must be examined in light of the Word of God.  If what the Bible teaches will be compromised by a change, then we must avoid the change.  However, if the only ones changed are us, then we must be willing to change.  Man’s traditions may need changing.  God’s principles and Word never will.  The absolutes are those truths relating to teachings of God and the fundamental foundation for our faith and practice. 

The greatest hindrance to change is when a church has ceased being a corporate BODY and has become an institution.  An institution is a   exists independent of its members.  A corporate body is an ordered assembly of its individual members. These are two completely different concepts of “Church”.  What are some of the characteristics of an institution?

  1. Our collective group becomes more important than individual people.
  2. Individuals begin to function like cogs in a machine, each with the same checklist of duties, instead of members of a body in which each has unique responsibilities.
  3. We stress adherence to a shared pattern instead of individual creativity and individuality
  4. A family atmosphere is replaced by an intimidating atmosphere where no “uncomfortable questions” can be asked of leaders; instead we are told just to trust them.
  5. The structure of worship and membership becomes rigid and inflexible, under the guise of remaining true to outdated methods which have been elevated to Biblical standards.
  6. People invite people to come to their church instead of come to their Savior
  7. There is a communication breakdown due to repression of information by leaders, who sweep things under the rug.
  8. Policies and rules are numerous while fresh new ideas are rare
  9. Uncommitted “consumers” develop special individual interests away from the body, producing a lack of unity within the family.
  10. People lose initiative and get discouraged because they never measure up, so they settle for going through the motions of worship.
  11. As the organization gets bigger, the church divides into cliques and a pecking order develops.

The word “Church” itself is “ekklesia” which means an assembly. And we see that “(Christ) is the head of the body, the church” in Colossians 1:18 and that He suffered “for the sake of his body, which is the church”in Col 1:24.   In addition the body of Christ is supposed to be a living, healthy body and not a sick or dead body. The difference between these is that a sick or dead body has non-functioning members. You could assemble a body together by assembling a bunch of dead non-functioning members together and end up with a dead body. But that is not the kind of assembly the Bible speaks of when referring to the Church.  Unfortunately, this type of “church” is an institution in which the members become “consumers” and come seeking something they want.  If they want to enjoy good singing, as long as the music of the church is entertaining they will come.  If they like the style of preaching by the pastor, they will come.  But if the music changes or the pastor leaves, or they just grow tired of this, they will find the next big thing in churches.  Many times, an institutional church will be one that people have no other commitment than their friends all go.  A church with a membership that is lacking commitment to the mission of the church is not a Biblical church, but a counterfeit from Satan.  The cause of Christ is hindered as broken lives are cast aside by these institutions.  In a true church, lives are edified and people are involved with the Great Commission.

It is time to examine what changes are necessary in our church if these things begin to characterize our church.  Peter is confronted with a group who wants things their way and limits the power of God.  We limit the power of God by holding on to the things which with we are comfortable.  In this account, we see that the Jews were comfortable with the wall dividing Jews from the evil Gentiles.  Jews were not fond of the Gentiles. In some rabbinical writings, the Gentiles were considered to have been created by God to kindle the fires of hell. They were called dogs (see Matt. 15:26) and unclean (10:14).

Those of the circumcision refers to Jewish Christians who believed that Gentiles had to become Jews when they became Christians. The Jewish Christians had been circumcised as a seal of the Mosaic covenant and had kept the Jewish laws. They were not pleased that the Gentiles were considered equal to them in the eyes of God, based on nothing more than their faith in Christ. They wanted the Gentiles to be circumcised and to keep the Law of Moses in order to become Christians. When we read “contended with him” don’t think of this as a polite discussion, but an intense argument due to their preconceived doubts. The Jewish Christians were upset because Peter had broken Jewish law by going into the home of a Gentile and eating with him. The Jewish Christians justified their prejudice by claiming that it was God who had forbidden eating with Gentiles. However, the Levitical laws were not intended to teach isolation.

In verses 4-10 Peter again goes over what had taken place.  Luke reported on this three different times.  Since he was led by the Holy Spirit in what to write, this must be tremendously important information.  Personal prejudice limits Christ building His church because we are rebellious and hinder the work of the Holy Spirit.  Instead of focusing on God in our worship, we focus on whether someone meets our standards to be included in our worship.  Notice that Peter spoke by showing them the orderly sequence of how God was working to change.  He is attempting to build a bridge between what God was doing and their institutionalism.

Peter had wisely taken six brethren with him when he visited Cornelius’s home (10:23). The Holy Spirit had given Him the wisdom to anticipate the argument from “those of the circumcision” (v. 2) and he included witnesses to what God had done and was doing.

The words “began to speak” show us that Peter considered the words he spoke in Caesarea to be just the introduction to the sermon he had intended to preach. The Holy Ghost came upon them and the sermon was stopped.  He ties this event to the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came on the Jews with the words “as upon us” and “at the beginning”. 

In verse sixteen Peter reminds them that Jesus Himself spoke of this change in the words, “John indeed baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.   This is the seventh time in the New Testament we find the statement “baptized with the Holy Spirit”.  This refers to a once-for-all act whereby Christ places believers in the care and safekeeping of the Holy Spirit until the day He returns.

One of the hurdles to change is our obsession to the familiar rules and regulations that we have labeled religious but that are either our preference or the result of our misunderstanding and misuse of the Bible.  We attempt to put ourselves back under the law.  By these we limit grace.  God was doing something new, different and fresh.  The issue was whether the Jewish Christians could put aside their attachment to the old, when God wants us to experience the new.  Remember the Bible tells us that if any man be in Christ, all things are new and the old passes away.  Far too often we are unwilling to release the old and let God change us.

The acceptance of change is healthy within the body of Christ.  Notice this acceptance had two parts.  First, they stopped arguing against the change.  Second, they glorified God.  They were willing to embrace the change of the mission of the church, the gospel worked whether the hearers were Jews or Gentiles.  Jesus Christ was building His church and filling it with Jewish and Gentiles Christians.  The church was now ready to fulfill the commission of Acts 1:8 and Matthew 28:18-20.  This is a Biblical church.

In contrast to Biblical churches are the previously mentioned institutionalized churches.  Biblical churches recognize that each member has a spiritual gift which makes them essential to the ministry of the church.   Non-Biblical churches elevate only the elite few.  Biblical churches stress individual growth and accountability to Christ, while using the Bible as our only authority.  Non-Biblical churches  are churches which see itself as the only legitimate form of Christianity and believes that Biblical instruction is best given by a gifted pastor.  Any question or challenge is taken as a threat and is dealt with in a hostile manner.   One of the sad truths is that in many churches, questioning methods is considered an act of a rebellious person who is out of God’s will.  They will often be forced to leave or to repent of questioning the leadership.  Remember, Christ was murdered by institutional leaders.  Churches have been persecuted by institutional churches.  Christians have been betrayed and cast aside by institutional churches. There is a price to paid to live in God’s will.

Biblical churches are based on the teachings of the Holy Spirit through apostles and their writings.  Do you believe that your pastor has the ability to understand God’s revelation better than you?  Biblical churches have the right instruments (members) prepared to carry out the mission of the church.  (There is nothing worse than sending out an unprepared person to do the work of the church.)  What is your role in fulfilling the mission of Christ’s church?  Finally, a Biblical church loves without prejudice.  Who would you not accept within the church?  Biblical churches are churches built by Christ, in which everyone invests their lives in ministry.  Who built your church and in what way have you invested your life in ministry?

It is time that we return to the church of the Bible and the Savior who built it.  We are to give our lives away as we follow the Lord to heights we come never reach on our own.  Instead of worrying about the limits of our abilities, we need to surrender and allow Him to empower us with His ability.  God wants us to work in our churches if He is the Head and we all surrender our lives to Him so He can invest us into His mission.  There are people and communities He wants to reach through us as He reaches the world.  What choice have you made? While this Biblical church is our standard, following this standard involves time and constant surrender.  I praise God that I attend a church that sees this standard and desires to be this type of church.  As our pastor states, and our Savior commands, let us be the church by given ourselves totally to the Head of the Church, and not just have a form of godliness lacking His power.  Power will come when He is the Head of our church!


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