I ended the last chapter by saying that it is through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).
What in the world is the kingdom of God?
That's a perfect way to phrase it. In the world, the kingdom of God is the church.
Most of the time, when the Scriptures talk about the kingdom of God, it's a reference to the next age. Examples include Matt. 7:21; 1 Cor. 6:9-11, Eph. 5:5, Gal. 5:19-21, and 2 Pet. 1:5-11, which all speak of what we must do to inherit the kingdom of God (or the kingdom of heaven).
Acts 14:22 is also almost certainly a reference to the next age. It goes along with verses like Rom. 8:17 and 2 Tim. 2:12, which tell us that if we suffer with him, we will also reign with him.
However, while we are here on this earth, the church is God's kingdom. Paul says that we have already been transferred out of the domain of darkness into "the kingdom of his beloved Son" (Col. 1:13).
We modern Christians are way too prone to understanding the Gospel individually.
We think the Gospel is mostly about our going to heaven—which is what the Scriptures have in mind most of the time that they mention the kingdom of God—but it's not.
The Gospel is mostly about raising up a people for God, a people known to the Scriptures as the church.
An example of our overly individual way of thinking is the common statement made by modern Christians is that "all I need is Jesus and my Bible."
Not according to your Bible!!!
According to your Bible, if you are not exhorted every day by your brother or sister in Christ, then you are probably going to be deceived by sin and wind up with a hard heart (Heb. 3:13). According to your Bible, you cannot say that you don't need your brother or sister in Christ (1 Cor. 12:***). According to your Bible, we grow in Christ together, as every part does its share, speaking the truth in love to one another (Eph. 4:13-16).
The church was incredibly important to the apostles.
The church is the bride of Christ. Jesus loves the church, and the Bible says that he gave himself for it, to sanctify and cleanse it so that he might present it to himself as something glorious (Eph. 5:25-27).
The church is the very purpose of God. According to Ephesians 1, God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless and to be adopted as God's children through Christ.
The end result of this will be that in the fullness of times, everything will be brought together in Christ. Until then, God has given Christ to be the head over the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that fills all in all.
The church? The fullness of God? The eternal purpose of God?
Oh, yes. And the final presentation of the church is awe-inspiring. The church, figured as a city, descends out of heaven like a bride adorned for her husband (Rev. 21:2).
God's idea of the church is far greater than our own.
The church is much more than what we think of it now.
Today, most churches are not churches, but clubs. They are not really any different than the Moose Lodge or the Boy Scouts, except that their focus is theology.
I mean that the way I say it. For most churches, their focus is theology, not Christ.
They have rituals, songs, and even worship, but what will get you in trouble with the church? What will cause them to suggest you go to another church?
Is it greed? Adultery? Envy? Worldliness? Fornication? Living in general disobedience to the commands of Christ? Loving the world?
There are exceptions, but for the most part none of those things will get you disciplined in modern churches. Instead, saying things that are against the church's statement of faith—which is not really a statement of faith, but a list of theological tenets—will get you in trouble with the church's leaders.
To God, the church is his family.
The church, according to 1 Tim. 3:15, is the household of God. It's his children, brought together into one family, living their lives together and bound together in much the same way as any of our families are.
Except more so.
Jesus thought that the unity of the church should be equivalent to the unity that he experiences with the Father.
Look it up. He said exactly that—more than once—in his prayer in John 17:20-23.
Is that what you experience?
You can find a picture of what that's like in the Book of Acts. There, you find the church in Jerusalem taking care of each other so thoroughly that some members were selling their houses in order to support the poor. According to Acts, none of them were saying that anything was their own. They were sharing everything.
Of course, because we don't do that today we believe that the church in Jerusalem was a special situation.
We are not left with only the testimony of Scripture. For some reason, churches today don't mention that we have extensive records of how the apostles' churches carried out the faith that was committed to them.
Listen to some of these descriptions, written mere decades after the last apostle died:
Justin's Apology 14
Tertullian's Apology 39
There we have a testimony from 50 years after the apostle John died, and another 100 years after the apostle John died, and both say virtually the same thing. Christians were a family, sharing everything.
And these testimonies are not isolated instances. Both of them are from "apologies," defenses of the faith written to describe Christianity to non-Christians.
In Justin's mind and Tertullian's mind, this is how all Christians lived.
Apparently, there was a tract circulating in the early churches called "The Way of Light" or "The Way of Life." It found its way into two very early Christian works that are still extant.
One is The Didache (or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), and the other is The Letter of Barnabas.
In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, before the canon was set (i.e., before the books of the Bible were fully agreed upon by all the churches, which happened not by decree but over time until almost all churches agreed in the 5th century), there were churches that considered either one or both of these books to be Scripture.
That doesn't mean we should treat them as Scripture. I'm convinced that neither The Didache nor the Letter of Barnabas were written by apostles nor by men who knew the apostles.
Nonetheless, the fact that some churches accepted them as Scripture does prove that what they taught was in agreement with what was being generally taught in the churches. Otherwise, those books would have been rejected like gnostic works like the Pistis Sophia and The Gospel of Mary Magdalene were.
Both those writings contain the tract "The Way of Light," and both of them contain very similar wording. Both of them also contain this command:
***call nothing your own
There is really no doubt that the churches started by the apostles did not agree with us that the family, sharing atmosphere of Jerusalem was extraordinary.
There are plenty of indications in the Scripture that they are correct.
Paul, for example, in 1 Cor. 8***, tells us that God only provides us with an abundance so that we can share with other Christians in need. He also allows us to be in need so that we may be supplied by other Christians.
It is true that we are not talking about communism here. Paul specifically mentions rich Christians, though he tells them that they must share.
Of course, that's the way it was in Jerusalem, too. The selling of houses was not something mandated. It was done to take care of needs. When Ananias and Sapphira gave only part of their money they did not get in trouble for withholding money. Peter specifically says it was their right to do so. They got in trouble for lying to God.
In fact, God took their lives for lying to him.
What was important in the early churches was not a set of theological tenets. There is almost no theology discussed in the Book of Acts. In fact, when doctrinal matters come up in the letters to the churches, it is easy to read between the lines and see that Paul was correcting gross doctrinal error. How did that gross doctrinal error happen? It happened because there was an emphasis on knowing Jesus and living by his commandments, not an emphasis on even basic doctrines like the resurrection. Paul had to correct very serious error on the matter of the resurrection in his letter to the Corinthians. How could that have happened if they had already been thoroughly indoctrinated in theological matters?
What was important in the early churches was obedience to Christ.
Paul told the Corinthians not to eat with certain "Christians." The ones to be avoided were fornicators, greedy brothers, drunkards, and those full of insults. There is no list of theological tests there, nor a requirement to adhere to a certain statement of faith.
Admittedly, there were theological matters that were important. Paul addresses one, the matter of the resurrection, in 1 Cor. 15. John addresses another, that Jesus came in the flesh, in all three of his letters.
Nonetheless, by A.D. 325, the accumulated theological issues that the church had to deal with could be summed up in one paragraph. The Nicene Creed is a mere *** words.
This chapter is not finished!