THE CHURCH IN THE BOOK OF ACTS
BY KEVIN J. CONNER
Having seen the Church as to its Divine origin as set forth in promise and prophecy in the Gospel of Matthew, we turn to the Book of Acts to see the progression of this prophetic word.
The thoughts there are in “seed form” and now watered by the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles. The revelation of the Church in the Acts and the Epistles especially grew out of that Gospel “seed”.
There are basically two aspects of the Church as seen in the Gospel of Matthew; the Church Universal and the Church Local (Matthew 16:18, 19; 18:15-20).
A. The Church Universal
Matthew 16:18, 19 especially refers to the Church Universal. “My Church”–NOT Churches! ONE Church, even as there was but ONE Tabernacle, and ONE Temple. We saw this in Chapter One. The Book of Acts shows clearly how the early believers accepted this concept and outworking. The early believers counted themselves as part of the one universal Church, wherever they were, in whatever locality they lived.
As noted in Chapter Four, E, on the “Ekklesia”, as the citizens of Athens, wherever they were, and wherever they assembled together, counted themselves a part of the city of Athens, so the believers, whenever and wherever they gathered together, counted themselves as part of the heavenly city of Jerusalem. They would gather together to the Heavenly Zion, Heavenly Jerusalem, to the General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn ones (Hebrews 12:22-24).
The earthly Jerusalem, where the Church began under the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit symbolized this truth.
The disciples were part of the one universal Church, the Church that Christ said He would build (Matthew 16:18).
They were “added to the Church” (Acts 2:47).
Christ was the Head of the Church (Ephesians 1:22).
The wisdom of God was known by the Church (Ephesians 3:10, 21).
The Church is the Body of Christ (Ephesians 5:23-32; Colossians 1:18, 24).
The Church is His House (I Timothy 3:5, 15).
Christ was in the midst of the Church, His worshipping congregation (Hebrews 2: 12).
The Church universal spoke of the mystical union in a spiritual Body of the habitation of the Spirit, having Jesus as its Head, of all believers everywhere at all times. It is not spoken of in a visible sense but it is an invisible union of all true believers in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:21; 2:19-22; Hebrews 12:22, 24).
B. The Church Local
However, within this one universal Church, there were many Churches in many and venous localities, all replicas and part of the whole. The concept was from the whole to the part, and part to the whole. This concept maintained the unity of the Church universal and the Churches local.
The second use of the word Church in Matthew s Gospel seeds the best concept of a Local Church.
Matthew 18:15-20. This passage is applicable to the Church local, for it is evident that if it is a brother that comes under the need of discipline and it must be told to the whole Church, then it would have to be sent worldwide if it meant the Church universally.
* Where–anywhere, regardless of place (Deuteronomy 12:15-18; 16:2, 22). In the Old Testament the only place that was allowed by the Lord for Israel to meet was either the Tabernacle or the Temple where God chose to place His Name.
Jerusalem was the PLACE where His NAME was recorded, and all gathered together there for worship and festival times.
In the New Testament, we gather to the place where HIS NAME is, and this is in the Church. Where two or three gathered together IN My name (I Corinthians 1:1-2).
Jesus Christ is now THE TEMPLE, or THE TABERNACLE (John 1:14-18; 2:18-21).
* Two or Three–the persons, the believers, the smallest possible grouping of believers, as a cell. However, not just one person, but minimum of two or three.
* Gather Together–constitutes the assembly, harmonize together, make a symphony and it is the coming together that makes the Church.
* Into My Name–the only true place and person of worship; not into denominational names. Tabernacle and Temple were built for His Name to dwell. Now it is the Church.
* There I AM in the midst of them–Gathering in or into his Name is the guarantee of His Presence in the midst. The risen Lord present in the midst as Head of the Church. Exodus 3:14, 15; Deuteronomy 16:5,6; I Kings 8:15-21.
* Binding and Loosing Ministry–As in Matthew 16:18, 19 in relation to the Gates of Hades, so here the same ministry in regards to Church discipline.
It is this that constitutes a Local Church. Where believers gather together in true and spiritual harmony, of one accord, in one place, unto His Name then the Lord is in the midst of them. Whether’ in a home, or building or any geographical place, then if it is UNTO HIM in gathering, He is there.
As the Church in Jerusalem began to fulfill the great commission, then the Church spread into many different localities. We see the development and establishment of numerous local Churches, yet each counting themselves a part of the whole. Any member of the Church was a member of the Church both locally and universally. As in the Roman concept, any Roman citizen, wherever meetings were held, was a part of the great concept of Rome. There was no meaning apart from Rome. They were part of a great unity. Any citizen coming into town was automatically and without introduction a member of the group. Though separated from Rome geographically, he was part of it in spirit. So with the Church. The believers were connected in spirit, not with earthly cities, but with THE HEAVENLY CITY, Jerusalem, of which the earthly Jerusalem was the symbol.
We note now the development of the Local Churches in Acts and the Epistles.
1. The Church in The City
The following shows the concept of the Church in a city. ONE Church in ONE City, yet within this city were many congregations, part of the whole. There were no buildings large enough to house the many believers, generally speaking, so they met in homes, etc., yet were the Church in that city.
a. The Church at Jerusalem (Acts 8:1; 11:22).
Acts 1. The Lord, Head of the Church, here gives the final teachings concerning the Kingdom, after 3 l/2 years ministry with the Twelve Apostles.
Acts 2. Birthday of the Jerusalem Church by the outpouring of the Spirit. About 3000 souls added to the Church, added to the 120 initial company. The Lord added daily to the Church at Jerusalem.
Acts 3-4. The healing of the lame man. Unity. Signs and wonders done. Grace.
Acts 5. Apostolic discipline for sin against the Holy Spirit. Fear fell.
Acts 6. The choosing of the first Deacons at Jerusalem.
Acts 7. Stephen, the first Deacon-martyr in Jerusalem.
Acts 8. Philip, the first Deacon-Evangelist ministers at Samaria, from Jerusalem because of persecution.
Acts 10-11. The Lord sends Peter from Jerusalem to the Gentiles, who experience the same outpouring as did the Jews at Pentecost. Caesarea.
Acts 12. James, the first Apostle-martyr. Peter is delivered by a miracle.
Acts 15. The great Jerusalem Council over the matter of the Gentile and the Law Covenant and New Covenant. Legalism battle.
Acts 21: 15-40; Acts 22-23. Paul taken prisoner at Jerusalem here, testifying very strongly and before the religious leaders of the nation. From here he is taken to Rome.
The history of the Jerusalem Church shows its decline from that early glory into legalism, sectarianism and bigotry because of the legalistic Judaizers mixing Law and Grace. These were Paul’s greatest problems. Centralization dangers are seen also.
However, the Jerusalem Church laid the foundation. There were the fivefold ministries, elders and deacons, local government, healing, supernatural manifestations of the Spirit, the apostles doctrine, repentance, faith, water baptism, Holy Spirit baptism, fasting and prayer, laying on of hands, visions, trances, miracle transportation, angelic visitation, spiritual gifts, Divine discipline, the redemptive truths of Messiah Jesus. etc.
Any other Church born out of Jerusalem must need to continue stedfastly in the apostles doctrine, the faith that was once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
b. The Churches of Judea, Galilee and Samaria (Acts 9:31)
As the Gospel spread, so Local Churches arose in these cities also.
Acts 1:8; 2:9., 14; 5:16; 8:1; Galatians 1:22. Many converts were gathered in the cities of Judah, where Christ and His apostles had ministered previously.
Acts 8:40. Azotus of Judea.
Acts 9:31. Churches in Judea and Galilee.
Acts 9:32-34. Lydda, Saron, Joppa cities had believers also.
Acts 10:36, 37. Churches in Judea and Galilee.
Acts 11:1, 29. Brethren from Judean Churches trouble the Gentiles.
Acts 15:1; 21:10. Agabus was a prophet from Judea.
Thus under Peter’s ministry Churches are established in Judea, with signs and
wonders and apostolic doctrine. Jerusalem reproducing herself.
C. The Church in Samaria
Acts 1:8; 8:1-25; 9:31; 15:3. Philip the Evangelist, from the Church at Jerusalem preached Christ in the city of Samaria.. Signs, wonders, exorcism, salvation, water baptism took place under his ministry. This was the harvest time spoken of in John 4:35-38. The city was stirred. Then Peter and John, apostles from Jerusalem, minister the Holy Spirit to the Samaritans.
d. The Church at Caesarea
Acts 10-11; 21:7-16. Planted by Peter an apostle, under a sovereign outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles.
Acts 23:33-35; 24; 25; 26; Acts 18:22. Paul testified and ministered here also.
e. The Church at Antioch
Acts 11:19-21. The word was planted here by unknown and unnamed disciples under the persecution of the Church at Jerusalem. The believers were scattered and so was the Seed of the Word. Acts 8:1; 11:19.
Acts 6:5. One of the deacons was a proselyte of Antioch.
Acts 11:22-26. Barnabas sent forth from the Church at Jerusalem to Antioch. Seeks for Saul and brings him to minister at Antioch. The Disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.
Acts 11:27-30. Prophets from the Church at Jerusalem foretell at Antioch the coming famine, and prepared for it.
Acts 13:1-3. There were prophets and teachers at Antioch. This Church became the great missionary Church to the Gentiles. Many Churches established out of here by Paul’s ministry, as the missionary to the Gentiles.
Acts 15:14, 22-35. The Church at Antioch was troubled by Jerusalem Judaizers and the law-grace teaching and legalism. The Conference settled this problem by the Word of God. Acts 15:35.
Acts 16-20 shows a number of Churches established by Paul.
Acts 14:23. Elders were appointed in every local Church.
Galatians 2:11; II Timothy 3:11. Paul contended with Peter at Antioch over his compromise with the legalizers.
Antioch not founded by apostles, but an unnamed group, but then established under apostolic ministry. Gentile Churches needed teaching as they did not always have the Scriptures as did the Jews. Jewish believers needed interpretation and spiritual application of Scripture truths they already knew. To the Gentiles all was new material and lifestyle. Thus from Antioch we have three great missionary journeys of Paul in establishing Gentile Churches.
From Jerusalem to Antioch, Peter to Paul, Jews to Gentiles is the order in Acts. Acts 1-12 is Peter’s ministry while Acts 13-28 is Paul’s ministry. Both are responsible for the founding of local Churches; Peter from Jerusalem, Paul from Antioch.
f. The Churches of the Gentiles (Romans 16:4).
There were many cities where Paul founded local Churches amongst the Gentiles.
We list a number of the cities here. The Church in a City is the order.
* The Church at Babylon (I Peter 5:13).
* The Churches in the cities of Asia (Revelation 1-2-3).
Christ wrote, through John, to each of 7 of the local Churches in 7
Church of Ephesus (Revelation 1:11; 2:1-7).
Church of Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11).
Church of Pergamos (Revelation 2:12-17).
Church of Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29).
Church of Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6).
Church of Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13).
Church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22).
Thus each letter sent to each local Church–NOT ‘headquarters’ anywhere!
* The Church at Cenchrea (Romans 16:1).
* The Church at Corinth (I Corinthians 1:2; II Corinthians 2:1).
* The Church of Thessalonica (I Thessalonians 1:1; 11 Thessalonians 1:1).
* We list other cities where believers were gathered together. Any believers who met together constituted a local Church. They were the called out and assembled ones in that city. They were THE CHURCH in THE CITY!
* Many other cities are mentioned and even though the word “Church” is not specifically mentioned, yet our definition of the Church shows they were such.
* Damascus (Acts 9:10, 19). Saul converted here and under Ananias, receives healing, water baptism and Holy Spirit, and a prophetic word. Saul began ministry here also (Acts 22:1-11; 26:12-20; Galatians 1:17; 11 Corinthians 11:32, 33).
It was a memorable place of testimony for Saul.
* Cyprus–Salamis and Paphos (Acts 13:1-6).
* Perga in Pamphilia (Acts 13:13; 14:25).
* Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14, 15, 24).
* I conium (Acts 13:51; 14:1-5; 16:2).
* Lystra (Acts 14:6-8).
* Derbe (Acts 14:6, 20, 21; 15:36; 16:1-7).
* Troas (Acts 16:6-10; 20:5-12).
* Philippi of Macedonia (Acts 16:9-40; Philippians 1:1).
* Thessalonica (Acts 17:1; I Thessalonians l:l; II Thessalonians 1:1).
* Berea (Acts 18:10-14).
* Athens (Acts 18:16-34).
* Corinth (Acts 18:1-18; I Corinthians 1:1, 2; II Corinthians 1:1, 18, 19).
* Ephesus (Acts 19-20; Ephesians 1:1; Acts 20:17; Revelation 2:1).
* Miletus (Acts 20: 15-36).
* Tyre (Acts 21: 1-6).
* Sidon (Acts 27: 1-6).
* Melita (Acts 28:1-10).
* Syracuse (Acts 28:11, 12).
* Rhegium (Acts 28: 13).
* Rome (Acts 28: 14, 28-31; Romans 1:7).
Acts 2:10; 18:2; 23:1; Romans 1:7, 15. Strangers from Rome at Day of
Pentecost, undoubtedly founded the Church there. Paul’s Epistle to them
shows his desire to see them and impart to them.
* Church at Colossae (Colossians 1:2).
Thus we have about 38 places and names and in these cities were
groups of believers, large or small, and these constituted the Church in the city.
2. The Churches in the Provinces
We consider now references to the Churches in the Provinces. These were
Local Churches in the cities in Provinces.
* The Churches throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria (Acts 9:31).
* The Churches in Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:41).
* The Churches of Asia (I Corinthians 16:19; Revelation 1-23).
* The Churches of Galatia (Galatians 1:2, ll; I Corinthians 16:1).
* The Churches of Judea (I Thessalonians 2.14).
* The Churches of the Gentiles (Romans 16:4).
* The Churches of Macedonia (II Corinthians 8:1).
The word “Church” or “Churches” as above refer to local gatherings of believers in local cities, different localities.
It is not “The Church” in Asia, or Macedonia, or Syria, etc., but “Churches”.
3. The Church in the House
The Church in the house is mentioned several times. Not having buildings in those days, many Churches would gather in homes and that constituted “The Church in the home”, or the house-church.
* Romans 16:5. At Rome.
* I Corinthians 16:19. To Corinth. Church, in order under Christ (Matthew 18:20).
* Colossians 4:15. At Colossae.
* Philemon 2. At Colossae.
Every Home should be a miniature Church, in order under Christ.
Thus we have two definable areas of a local Church, which are 11) A CITY, and (2) A HOUSE.
Church in a city–about 38 times. Church in a House–4 times.
Church in a Province–about 36 times in all. Church universal–about 20 times.
Church local, not exactly defined–about 16 times. Church in a city–not once.
Church in a province–not once. Church in the Wilderness–once.
Assembly (of the city of Ephesus) — 3 times. The local Church meets as members, joints and bands, working together in harmony. Ephesians 4:3; Colossians 3:14; I Corinthians 1:9; I John 1:3, 4; Acts 2:1; 13:1-6.
The separation of Churches was only on the basis of geographical location, and nothing else. They were one spiritually though separated geographically. I Corinthians 7:17. “All the Churches”.
C. The Church and The Churches
It is important to note what the Apostles, the founders of the Church, did NOT do with these Churches.
1. They did NOT create a Denominational Church of all local Churches.
2. They did NOT use Jerusalem or Rome as “the Mother Church”. Though Jerusalem reproduced itself, there was no centralization nor was Jerusalem the “headquarters” for all the Churches. CHRIST was Headquarters!
3. They did NOT have Country Churches. i.e., The Church of ENGLAND in Japan, etc.
4. They did NOT have Provincial Churches. There were Churches in the Provinces but never the CHURCH in Galatia, Macedonia, etc.
5. They did NOT have a National Church. The JEWISH Church in Corinth, etc.
6. They did NOT have a District Church and bring all Churches under a District.
ALL CHURCHES were locally governed. They were autonomous, and reproduced themselves accordingly. They were not welded into a great organization, nor was the unity an organizational unity, but unity of the spirit, by the Spirit.
However, there was not extreme independence in these local Churches either.
1. They DID have a spiritual unity in Christ.
2. They DID recognize each other’s sovereignty under Christ’s headship.
3. They DID share with each other, and minister to each other as possible.
4. They DID receive ministries from each other.
5. They DID recognize that the revelation of Christ to one could be profitable for all Churches (Revelation 1-2-3). What He saith to the Churches, although spoken to one local Church in particular.
I Thessalonians 2:14; I Corinthians 4:17; 7:17; 16:1.
Thomas M. Lindsay, in “The Church and the ministry in the EARLY Centuries” ( p. 4,5), summarizes his thoughts on the Church:
“Thus TO THE JEW the Ecclesia had been the Assembly of the Congregation of Israel summoned to meet at the Door of the Tabernacle of Jehovah by the blowing of the silver trumpets.
TO THE GREEK the Ecclesia was the sovereign assembly of the Greek free City-State, as summoned by the Herald blowing his horn through the city street.
TO THE CHRISTIANS the Church was to be the congregation of the redeemed, and therefore the free, summoned by the Heralds of Christ to continually appear in the presence of the Lord, who is always in the midst of them.
The Old Testament Ecclesia had been the Congregation of Jehovah (Psalms 74:2). It was in the future to become the Congregation of Jesus the Christ (Galatians 6:16). It had been the self-governing Greek republic ruled by elected office-bearers, but hereafter communities of Christians were to be the Ecclesia, self-governing societies where the individual rights and responsibilities of the members would blend harmoniously with the common good of all.”
The term ECCLESIA has its home in Pauline literature and used about 115 times in the New Testament, 86 of these times by Paul in his Epistles and in the Acts of the Apostles.
In the majority of cases the word ”Church” denotes a local Christian community, varying in extent from all the Christian Congregation within a Province of the Empire to a small assembly of Christians meetings together in a house of one of the believers.
The following classification of this word “Church” is based on that of Dr. Hort:
a. The word ‘Ecclesia’ in the singular and with the article is used to denote:
1) the original Church of Jerusalem and Judea when there was no other (Acts 5:1 1; 8:13; Galatians 1:13; I Corinthians 15:9; Philippians 3:6).
2) The sum total of the Churches in Judea, Galilee and Samaria (Acts 9:31). Note–Word here in many translations is in the singular.
3) The Local Church in a particular named city. (Refer to list of Churches in cities).
4) The ASSEMBLY of a Local Church (Acts 15:22; I Corinthians 14:23).
5) The House Church (I Corinthians 16:5, 19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2).
b. The word ‘Ecclesia’ in the singular and without the article is used to denote:
1) Every Local Church within a definite district (Acts 14:23).
2) Any or every Local Church (I Corinthians 14:4; 4:17; Philippians 4:15; and
probably I Timothy 3:5, 15).
3) The ASSEMBLY of the Local Church (I Corinthians 14:19, 35; 11:18; 3 John 6).
c. The word ‘Ecclesia’ is used to denote:
1) the sum total of Local Churches in definite districts, the name being given according to locality. Refer to Churches in the Provinces (I Thessalonians 2:14; Galatians 1:22; I Corinthians 16:1; Acts 15:41; 16:6; II Corinthians 8:1, 19; I Corinthians 16:19; Revelation 1:4, 11, 20; 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:13, 22; 22:16).
2) An indefinite number of Local Churches (II Corinthians 11:8, 28; 8:23, 24; Romans 16:4, 16).
3) The sum total of all the Local Churches (II Thessalonians 1:4; I Corinthians 7:17; 11:16; 14:33; II Corinthians 12:13).
4) The ASSEMBLIES of all the Local Churches (I Corinthians 14:34).
d. The word ‘Ecclesia’ is used in the singular to denote:
1) The one Universal Church as represented in the individual Local Church (I Corinthians 10:31; 11:22 [and probably 12:28]; Acts 20:28 and [perhaps] I Timothy 3:5,15).
2) The one Universal Church absolutely (Colossians 1:18, 24; Ephesians 1:22; 3: 10, 21; 5:23, 25, 27, 29, 32).
This shows us how the word “Church” can be used to denote communities of various sizes, from the sum total of all Christian communities everywhere down to the very small gathering which met in the house of Philemon.
The Church can be present in many places at the same time and in such a way that, as Ignatius says, “Where Jesus Christ is, there is the WHOLE Church.” Paul counted the congregation at Corinth as the Body of Christ, not A BODY, but THE Body of Christ. Christ is not divided. The Body is one, locally, universally. The Local Church may do what the universal Church may do in miniature form, as to its worship, communion and ministry of the Word, according to the measure of the gifts of Christ in its midst in the members.
THE CHURCH UNIVERSAL meeting in every place is a unity (I Corinthians
THE CHURCH LOCAL meeting in many places is a plurality (I Thessalonians 2:14).
The Church Local as a replica and representative of the Church Universal may be defined as:
* A group of believers in a given locality (Matthew 18:20).
* Gathered to the person of Jesus Christ for worship (John 4:24).
* Marked out by a confession of faith (Romans 10:9, 10).
* Living a disciplined life (Matthew 18:15-20).
* Under the oversight ministries Christ has set in the Church (Ephesians 4:9-16; I Timothy 3; Titus 1).
* Obeying the teaching of Christ according to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19, 20).
* Established in the first principles of the doctrine of Christ (Hebrews 6:1, 2), which is the apostles doctrine (Acts 2:42).
* Keeping the memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection (I Corinthians 11:23-34).
* Locally governed under Christ’s headship, yet recognizing their unity in spirit with all other believers in their locality as well as world-wide (Revelation 1:1l; Philippians 1:1; Matthew 16:18, 19).
* Exercising the authority of Christ by use of the keys of the kingdom which are given to the Church (Matthew 16:18, 19).
* Not forsaking the gathering of themselves together to worship the Father, to glorify Christ, to edify one another, to extend the kingdom of God in the earth (Matthew 24:14; John 4:20-24; I Corinthians 11-12-13-14).
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS TAKEN FROM THE CHURCH IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, AND PUBLISHING, 1982, PAGES 50-58. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.