People didn’t understand how we could call ourselves a church when we first started. We met in a funeral home. That raised all kinds of questions and objections that started like this “We don't know if you can call yourself a church if …”
- you play music with guitars rather than organs.
- you have a pastor who doesn't have that much education.
- you don't even have bulletins.
For the first three years we didn't have bulletins. To a lot of folks, all you need to be a church is bulletins.
When is a church really a church? Thank God for the book of Acts. It's the unfiltered story of the first church. In Acts we see the church when it’s raw, unrefined, and fresh. This is group of believers gathered together in beauty. We’re able to examine their behavior and compare – or contrast – it to what we see today.
I remember a record I bought when I was a young. It was one of my favorite albums. I had it in vinyl. You know: turntables, needles, little grooves. I’m dating myself. I bought that very same recording in a new format a few years later: eight-track tape. It wasn’t very long after that, to keep current, I needed it in cassette, then compact disc. Just recently, I bought that same album one more time. No case; no jacket; its just digital information living on my computer.
The music didn’t change; it’s the same. Nothing changed in its substance or content. What did change is its form and fashion.
I pray that when it comes to content and substance of our church, it’s just like the church we read about in Acts.
When it comes to fashion, when it comes to format, there's incredible freedom so that generation after generation the church can look like the original the church in Acts. The first church is the model for the church today.
The Bible gives us a warning, though. The word used in the Bible is Ichabod: the glory has departed. The Bible teaches specifically that in the last of the last days, there will be a church that has a form and fashion of godliness, but denies its power. It will look like a church, but it's not. There's nothing happening. Lives aren’t being changed in this last-days portrayal of church.
Right now, the power of the Holy Spirit is free to transform lives. But imagine if we gathered together and heard a great sermon and lives didn’t change and no one grew. It would be a church and a message that avoids the Bible and is void of the Holy Spirit. That isn't how it was with the church in Acts.
That church transformed and changed in every sentence of every chapter of Acts and I pray we do the same. When you're doing kingdom business, sinners are genuinely attracted to the way God works and we grow and people change.
If we grow through biblical content, substance, and the power of the Spirit, praise the Lord because He is at work. But if we adjust fashion and format and start to grow numerically, there’s reason for concern. People are fickle. People are very fashion conscious. You can do church the exact opposite of the Acts church and still get people to come out.
You can appeal to carnal instincts rather than to the spiritual nature and still draw a crowd. Look at wrestling. It fills arenas across the country with screaming fans. You have these really big guys with no shirts who rehearse beating each other up for an audience. They know ahead of time which wrestler is going down. It’s fake but draws a paying, fanatical crowd that acts like something real thing is happening.
In the first chapter of Acts, something real is actually happening. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” [Acts 1:8 NKJV].
There are two words to notice here: “power” and “witnesses” - dunamis and martyros. From dunamis we get “dynamite.” You get power that’s explosive when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. It’s power that makes men witnesses – martyros (that’s where we get our English word for “martyr”). You will be so filled with the Holy Spirit that you'll be willing to die for your faith.
Let me just ask you this: do you have explosive power in your life right now? Peter had two experiences with the Holy Spirit. The first was in John 20 where he received the Holy Spirit. Do you know what Peter did with his newfound salvation? He went fishing. But in the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit of God came upon the disciples and Peter preaches so powerfully that three thousand people got saved! Something marvelous happened to Peter between John 20 and Acts 1. He goes from fishing for fish – and catching nothing – to fishing for men and catching three thousand!
If you lack power in your life and ministry, pray this prayer: “Lord, baptize me afresh with Your Holy Spirit.” The Lord loves to answer that kind of prayer. Allow the Spirit of God to transform you into a fisher of men.