Boletim dos Obreiros

Church alive or dead?

"I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead"
Revelation 3:1

The idea one has of a local church is always connected with the following aspects:

  1. A well constructed building, within the most modern techniques of use: lighting, ventilation, acoustics, circulation, accommodation, sound equipment, and so on.
  2. A good organisation chart with the indispensable support of a well prepared management structure, with the job descriptions of each department or sector.
  3. Multiplicity of departments: seniors, juniors, adolescents, social, sports, women's, with subdivisions involving areas of sewing, cooking, painting and sometimes also physical training, dancing, and so on.
  4. Diversity of programmes to satisfy to audience, with well prepared shows, where it is essential to have choirs, musical groups, theatrical scenes, choreography, and so on.
  5. Evidently, amongst all this, it must not be forgotten that the local church must have devotional meetings programmed normally, such as Sunday School, services and prayer meetings.

Would this be the type of "Living Church" that the Lord is aspiring to? The text which heads this commentary, taken from the letter addressed to the church in Sardis, makes us perceive that the vitality of the Church is defined by the appreciation of the Lord: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead." A church moulded as described above may be a well organised and very active "church", yet be a dead church in face of the appraisal of the Lord.

In the light of the New Testament model we have in the Word of God, we shall see some of the features of the Living Church, in Acts 4:31 … "when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness."

1 – CHURCH OF PRAYER 

"when they had prayed"

The information given us by Luke of the primitive church in this aspect is of a praying church. He does not say: "after they said prayers", but "when they had prayed." In order to be alive the church must have a constant experience of prayer. It is through prayer that we get to know the will of the Lord and the church exists to strictly comply with the will of the Lord, not to satisfy the schemes which come up from the fertile human imagination.

Our intelligence, skills, ability and hands build architecturally beautiful temples, with exceptional accommodations for the audience, but the experience of prayer builds the "Live Church". This type of experience involves:

  • OUR FAITH – The Lord guaranteed: "whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive." (Matt.21:22). Today we pray trusting much more on our resources and on material possibilities we have in hand than in the spectacular reality of the non-existence of the "impossible to God." To pray with faith is to pray trusting in the resources of the Lord, which have no dimensions and exceed any human expectancy, no matter how daring. When all are "believing", the church is really praying with faith; only then is the experience of prayer valid. We spend much time with programming, scheming, working out through systems developed by our intelligence, imagining spectacular results and vainly priding ourselves beforehand on "our" success. Faith will be totally absent there. But when the priority is to pray in dependence on the Lord, the result will be extraordinarily great, outside of human perspective, but within the will of the Lord. Faith, now present, becomes a humble but real and complete joy, of those who are used by the Lord and in the true praise of the Lord by them.
  • OUR SINCERITY – The prayer of the church involves our authority. The prophet Jeremiah said: "Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." (Jer 29:12,13 -NKJV). Sincerity in the experience of prayer of the church implies two things: (1) An experience of prayer where we really trust to be given the best solution of the Lord, even if this is contrary to what we think is best. There is no point in asking the Lord when we are not prepared to accept the solution the Lord will give us. (2) This sincerity also implies the deep involvement of our conviction. The Church must not only pray to fulfil the programme of the prayer meeting. The attitude must result from a firm conviction that God has His plan and this must be reached in the life of the church.
  • OUR HOLINESS – Here is a point which has much to do with the efficiency of prayer of the church! Relationship with God presupposes dedication. God notifies His people in a clear manner regarding this requirement: "For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy…" Lev 11:44 (NKJV). The prayer experience denotes the "Living Church" when consecrated life is involved. Sins must be confessed and separated away from the Christian behaviour. The apostle Paul exhorts the church in these terms: "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (2Cor.7:1 -NKJV). " I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting" (1Tim 2:8 -NKJV). God hears not, rather turns His face away from the prayers addressed to Him by lives wilfully tainted; to come before the Lord like this is to affront Him before in His holiness. The experience of the people of Israel was disastrous exactly because of this, in God's saying: "When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. 'Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil'" Isaiah 1:15,16 (NKJV).
  • OUR HOPE – to pray with faith means to pray trusting and depending on the Lord. To pray with hope means to pray certain of the action of the Lord. Hope does not mean to rest awaiting the answer in the form of our longing, but to remain open to the action of God in the form of His will. The psalmist said: "I waited patiently for the LORD" (Psa.40:1 -NKJV); and added "Behold, I come… I delight to do Your will, O my God" (Psa.40:7-8 -NKJV).
  • OUR PERSEVERANCE – It is easy to give up when we do not reach what we aspire to soon enough. We often desist along the way because we do not know how to pursue the objective. Prayer presupposes perseverance. Prayer cannot be understood without perseverance. Prayer without perseverance isn't prayer. The experience of prayer in the primitive church is defined like this: "And they continued steadfastly … in prayers." (Acts.2:42 -NKJV). When Paul wrote to Timothy, he guided him as to the correct behaviour of the Christian widow with regard to prayer: "Now she who is really a widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day" (1Tim.5:5 -NKJV).

And so we have seen some of the necessary involvements in the true experience of prayer of the "Living Church". Our faith, sincerity, holiness, faith and perseverance.


2 – EVANGELISTIC CHURCH
"they spoke the word of God with boldness"

Two points are to be stressed in this feature of the "Living Church":

I. "THEY SPOKE THE WORD OF GOD"

The sovereignty of the Word of God is manifested when it is really the message preached and the teaching made for edification. They didn't preach what they thought right or judged best, but exclusively shat God said. In preaching, they were only interested in passing on the Word of God. They didn't preach what pleased men, nor sermons prepared for the convenience of their audience, but they transmitted to the people what God wanted the people to hear.

In order to speak what God says in His Word, it is necessary to know what it contains. To "speak" it is necessary "to know"; to "know" it is imperative "to study". The Bible always puts in evidence the importance of its sovereignty in our verbal ministry. God established for His people, as a condition for their prosperity, fidelity to the teaching of His Word starting from the family environment: "Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (Deut 11:18-20 - NKJV).

In this text we see the importance of the Word of God in forming a blessed people. The expression in v. 18 is "words of mine". What ought to be taught was not what Moses thought was right, but exclusively the Word of God. Before teaching the people, he needed to know it well and that is why God said "lay up" in your heart (conviction); in your soul (understanding); on your hand (action); between your eyes (vision). Only after this personal experience with the Word of God itself can we teach it: sitting at home, walking by the way, lying down, rising up.

Furthermore the Israelite must always have it on the door posts and on the gates of his house, signifying an expressive evidence of testimony before others, of the extraordinary value and power of the Word of God. The "Living Church" is the church which is exclusively concerned in announcing the Word of God in the divine manner, knowing it and transmitting it. In Acts 1:8 we read that the last words of the Lord Jesus Christ, before ascending to heaven, were "You will be my witnesses". Note: "my", that is, "of what I told you". The Lord places the responsibility for passing on His Word to the ends of the earth upon us.

The apostle Peter told the time-honoured Sanhedrin, who wanted to shut up his precious verbal ministry, as well as John's: "we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:20 -NKJV). In his turn, the apostle Paul testified as to his condition of preacher, before king Agrippa: "Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance." Acts 26:19,20 (NKJV). A "Living Church" is a church which evangelises by preaching the Word of God.

II. "WITH BOLDNESS"

The attitude of the primitive church surprises us with the remarkable boldness in preaching, despite the inflexible antagonism made against it. It was not intimidated, nor did it omit itself: "At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word." Acts 8:1-4 (NKJV)"

This is the example which the primitive church left us as a "Living Church". This is the second feature of the "Living Church".