Acts chapter 2 discusses in great detail many of the attributes and details of the church established in Jerusalem. It can and often has been often argued that the ideal, perfect, and biblical precepts of how a church is to be operated is exhibited within this chapter of Acts. In this article, we will briefly analyze and discuss four facets of this first century congregation and how the church of the 21st century can, and should, in many ways emulate this example.
The amazing effectiveness of the evangelistic efforts of the Jerusalem church
We are to “take the Gospel into the whole world” and “unto every creature” (Mark 16:15). Nowhere in scripture does a church fulfill this command and commission more effectively than the church at Jerusalem.
In Acts 2:41, we see 3,000 conversions from a largely Jewish audience in a single day, with 5,000 more on another day (Acts 4:4). Mass numbers of Jews had ventured to Jerusalem for Pentecost, one of the three feasts of the Jews (2 Chr. 8:12-13), with the others being Passover and Tabernacles. “Pentecost” was also known as “Firstfruits,” “Harvest Festival,” and “Feast of Weeks” (Lev. 23:15). Having such a massive Jewish audience would provide the perfect opportunity for these earliest Christians to widen their following. These mass baptisms likely occurred at the pool of Siloam, just south of the Jerusalem Temple, or possibly Upper Gihon or Lower Gihon (“Pool of the Sultan”).
The sheer numerical tallies, impressive as they may seem, of these early evangelistic efforts do not serve to adequately express the impact of these early efforts. We can certainly assume there were uncounted and unrecognized results from that first sermon in the power of Pentecost, lost to history. Masses of people heard the Word, and were converted, and obeyed and received baptism, and were thus added to the Lord; these people would soon return to their homes and native lands across the known world of the time, and would thus help dramatically to help spread Christ’s message. We can never know precisely how many souls were ultimately affected and influenced for the cause of Jesus Christ due to the Jerusalem church efforts, but certainly it would be exponentially higher than the specific numbers we are provided in Acts 2. A seed was planted, so to speak, which would spread across the Middle East, and ultimately the world.
Even Jewish priests, seemingly the ones who would be the most resolute in their dedication to Judaism, were brought to the gospel (Acts 6:7). Souls were added to the church daily (Acts 2:47), proving that these jaw-dropping evangelistic results were ongoing, consistent, and startlingly effective.
We may well never equal the amazing numerical conversion results, but we certainly can, and should, apply the evangelism efforts seen in Acts 2 to today’s world, largely apathetic and indifferent to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As is stated above, we cannot know the effect, for untold generations to come, of a person who obeys Christ…saving “merely one” might well be the prelude to saving many, many more. One saved soul, fervent and dedicated to the cause of Jesus Christ, may influence many more to follow, across geographical areas as well as for the future.
Stewardship and need
We see a startling view of wealth, money, and stewardship from these early saints. Let us briefly consider the circumstances and atmosphere of the day. There were literally thousands of people on pilgrimage in Jerusalem, many of them hundreds of miles from their homes, with no effective way to provide for themselves food and shelter. The only realistic way to provide for the gathered masses was for followers of Jesus Christ to surrender their own possessions, selling what they owned so that the proceeds might be given to the church for “distribution” to every man who had need (see Acts 4:31-35).
The Jerusalem church was filled with cheerful and supportive givers (2 Cor. 9:7). There was no rampant greed, no thought of self, no hoarding or desire to gather and accumulate the temporal possessions of this world. Possessions were “all things common,” the expressed ideal of community of goods, lands, wealth, and possessions. This phrase does not, as some would claim, indicate that everyone was obligated to sell off everything that was owned, but instead illustrates the ideal that all held their possessions not for satisfaction of their own wants and lusts, but as a communal trust for the good and benefit of all. We see this theme expressed in 1 John 3:17 as well.
Many of the Jews present had traveled vast distances and had few, if any, supplies. People willingly give what they had so that others might have what they needed. This is a startling and foreign mindset for many in modern culture, where the pursuit of wealth and “things” is tantamount to self-worth and “success” for many people. The Jerusalem church did not merely give from convenience, as we often do today, but gave until they impoverished themselves (see Heb. 10:32-34, Acts 11:27-30, Rom. 15:25-27) for the cause and the mission of Jesus Christ. These amazing first century Christians did not regard their possessions and wealth as belonging to them, but instead as the property of the brethren as a whole, and thus to be shared as need arose (see Acts 2:44 and Acts 4:32).
How many of us today would truly be able to say that we would do likewise? Could you literally sacrifice EVERYTHING you owned in the name of Jesus, to help provide for the needs of others you do not even know?
Necessity of baptism clearly established
Numerous faiths, denominations, and “churches” of today will claim that baptism is not at all necessary for salvation, or that salvation may be a necessity but somehow precedes salvation. It is imperative that churches of today can effectively address this all-too-common viewpoint, which is also thwarted in Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, etc.
A cursory reading of Acts 2:37-38 seems to clearly illustrate the necessity of baptism, except for those who simply choose to not read the text openly. The Jews, upon hearing the preaching, were “pricked in their hearts” and ask the eternal question of “What shall we do?” for salvation (this clearly demolishes the viewpoint that “faith alone” or “faith only” provides salvation). Peter does NOT tell them that they are saved by faith alone, and replies “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Scripture is abundantly clear here in response to the “What shall we DO?” query. What they were “to DO” in response to hearing the Gospel is stated with no ambiguity by Peter. They were to be baptized for the remission of their sins.
Earthly leadership established
The church at Jerusalem was established and organized as per biblical principle, not upon the whims of culture of popular opinion. Specifically, elders were selected and installed to oversee the church (Acts 15:6 and Acts 15:22). Deacons were likewise selected (Acts 6:1-7). These men (and contrary to popular public opinion amongst many today, elders and deacons were NOT to be women) were selected based on qualifications very clearly specified and described in 1 Tim. 3:1-10.
It is important to note that the church at Jerusalem, established biblically, did NOT belong to or adhere to dogma from any “society”, national group, “accrediting agency”, “convention”, denomination, ecumenical “alliances”, board of directors, or any other earthly foundation. Each individual church was to be established and overseen by elders, who would be responsible for their individual congregation (Acts 11:29-30).
In summary, the Jerusalem church serves as the epitome of Christianity in its most pure, first century-form. The structure, function, and amazing effectiveness of this church should serve as the inspiration and goal of Christians every bit as much today as it did nearly 2000 years ago. We have no better model to emulate or imitate than the Jerusalem church.