The Growing Church

The Church of Jesus Christ will always grow – the Almighty has so willed it. How wonderful that we get to help. 

Jesus told His disciples to go to the uttermost parts of the earth and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1). For 2000 years the Church of Jesus Christ has shared the good news of the gospel throughout the world. The body of believers has grown from 120 members in the Upper Room (Acts 1:15) to over 2.3 billion people, out of a total world population of 7.3 billion, today. While the Way of Christ is growing by leaps and bounds in places like China and sub-Saharan Africa, progress seems to have stalled in Europe and North America. In the heavily Muslim areas of North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Indonesia, Christians comprise a tiny fraction of the people. Growth feels impossible, and some become discouraged.

Sometimes Christians have effectively demonstrated the saving grace of Jesus to those around them, but other times have not. Many people reject Christ because they don’t have a clear idea who He is. Dedicated believers have often looked to one of the most exciting periods in the history of Christianity, the early Church, for guidance on how to grow. This is a great practice, for the earliest years of any new religious movement (NRM) are the most dynamic. Since few NRMs survive their founder, early Christianity was an example of how to grow and sustain growth over the decades, centuries, and millennia.  This article will examine Acts 2:41-47, which describes the earliest days of the Church, to look for clues about how to grow and sustain the Body of Christ today.

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Jesus’ Discourse on the Bread of Life

Jesus’ most controversial discourse stuns, shocks, offends, and has lots of other signs of good teaching. 

Jesus has often been called a master teacher, and the book of John illustrates the truth of that label.  Good teachers do not merely tell their students the material; they show them.  John 6 begins with Jesus teaching a multitude of people on a hillside on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee in spring.   He taught for hours and when the disciples advised Jesus to let the people go to find food, He miraculously fed all of them, possibly more than 15,000 people.  The parallels between Moses giving manna to the Israelites (Exodus 16:1-21), Elisha’s feeding of 100 men (2 Kings 4:42-44), the Lord hosting a magnificent banquet (Isaiah 25:6), and Jesus feeding the multitude were striking to the Jews, hungry as they were for a political Messiah to lead them out of bondage to Rome (6:14). As a result, they tried to make Him king (6:15).  Jesus escaped and allowed time for the fervor to abate.

The next morning Jesus gave His famous, to some infamous, Bread of Life discourse.  With the amazing miracle of the prior day, Jesus had shown the people, and His disciples, that He could provide bread for those who followed Him.  Now Jesus intended to teach them about greater bread. The greater bread is not the bread that perishes with the eating, but that which lasts forever.  It comes from God, and ultimately the bread, that which nourishes the people of God for eternity, is Jesus Christ Himself.  After showing the people His ability to provide physically for those who followed Him, He had then described how He Himself was the ultimate bread.  Finally, Jesus finished the lesson telling His listeners that they needed to “eat His flesh” and “drink His blood” to have eternal life (6:53-58).

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Acts as Theological History

Modern historiography, almost regardless of the topic, has a standard framework.  Whether describing a person’s life or describing an event or series of events, the modern historian will write chronologically; things that happened earlier in time will occur earlier in the article or book. Certain elements are also usually present.  A biography, for example, will almost invariably contain a chapter about the subject’s family and background, another about his birth and childhood, both early in the book, several chapters about his life’s work and contribution in the middle and then a chapter about his death at the end.   Modern authors carefully specify when and where events happened so that readers can associate what they are reading with other people and events.  Ancient history is more likely to be thematic and dialectic than modern history, and less willing to sacrifice theme for chronology.

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