Here are some notes from my lectures on “Discipleship in the Local Church”, a class I teach at The Masters College. This is not the full content of the lectures, but rather an outline of some themes covered n the lectures:
Acts 2:42-47 gives the first description of the Church in practice. One may be tempted to simply take the description as the norm (the measure for practice). However, whenever using a narrative text (a description) we must be careful to determine whether that description rightly functions as a norm.
E.g., Judas betrayed Christ. Judas was a disciple of Jesus: one of the twelve. Therefore, I should also betray Christ, so that I can be like a disciple.
Before using a narrative text as a model, we should look to see whether the principles described in the text are discussed elsewhere in Scripture. For example, the narrator of the text may tell us how to think about the event. (Job 1:22).
Yet, most of the time, the narrator does not tell us explicitly what to do with a narrative. Therefore, we must look more broadly through the Bible to be certain of doctrine. One way to understand the structure of the Bible is to consider it in terms of persons: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd: First person would be a description of what an event is like to the speaker. The speaker writes of himself. The Psalms are full of this sort of perspective. Second person would be writing directed to the reader: You should think this; you should do that. The New Testament Epistles are an example of such writing. Finally, third person texts are descriptions of what someone has done. The book of Acts would an example of such writing.
Therefore, when considering what we should think about the text in Acts, we should consider other direction or information we have on the constitution and function of the church.
We considered two primary points of direction.
The Great Commission.
The command to love (this would include all of the one-anothers).
The Great Commission: Matthew 28:18-20.
This contains on command: Make disciples. There are two means or elements of making disciples: (1) baptizing (bringing people into the visible fellowship of the Church); (2) teaching them to observe (providing the rules of the new fellowship/community which has been created).
The primary command to the church is to love: God and one-another. John 13:34-35 sets forth this command and explains that such visible love is the evidence of true disciples of Jesus. John 17:21 shows that love for one-another is evidence that Jesus has been sent by the Father. For further reading on this point, see Schaeffer, The Mark of a Christian. Available on-line here: http://www.ccel.us/schaeffer.html
Love repairs what was broken in the Fall (look at Gen. 3 and the Curse). The human being was utterly alienated from others, nature, himself and God. Love restores those connections, primarily in the restoration of the relationship between God and man and man and man.
Observations on the Acts text:
With those principles in mind, consider the particular elements of the text in Acts. Which elements are normative for the Church at all times; which are unique to that setting.
Differences with the current church:
The miracles of the Apostles. The office of Apostle is no longer in existence, therefore, the peculiar evidences of apostleship are not needed at this time.
Selling all: Christians are required to share and to love. However, the particular expression of that varies from circumstance to circumstance. We noted that nothing in the text mandated such an expression of love. We still have freedom of making such gifts (as opposed to compulsion).
The church is a fellowship of believers who continue in the teaching of the apostles and who love one-another. Teaching within the context of a loving fellowship is the means of making disciples of Jesus which is the only purpose of the Church. The Holy Spirit is the principle member of the Godhead who functions in the Church to bring this about (see John 14).
We can understand this as follows:
Immediate: The Holy Spirit works directly
Mediated through the church
Immediate: The Holy Spirit works directly
Heb. 3:13; 2 Cor. 1:4
Mediated through the church
In addition, you covered the first half of Life in the Father’s House which sets forth mechanics of the parts of the church.
The goal here was to solidify the outline developed in week one: teaching and love.
First point: Since all we have to work with are words when it comes to direct instruction, we must be extremely careful of the words we use.
Small deviations in language can result in tremendous problems with expressions of sin. Example of the man who feels constantly defeated because he is not the “new man” but rather must engage in actions to become the new man. And since such actions are difficult, he must not be the “new man”. As opposed to understanding that after justification one is a new man 3:10. Therefore, since we have become the “new man” we should begin to live like our new man. We should become in practice what we are by nature.
Development of the idea:
Sin a matter of desire and deceit. Often the basic desire is not inherently wrong (a desire to not be alone, a desire to be approved or loved). However, sin seeks to solve the problems of life by taking something from the Creation without reference to the Creator. For example, even the bare act of eating can be sinful if it is done without thankfulness to the Creator. Rom. 1:21, 1 Cor. 10:31.
Think of it this way
Neutral desire (hunger) Information Result
[Important point: In actual fact, there are no “neutral” desires – because desires will either be in rebellion against God or for the glory of God. By “neutral” I mean some desire or action which could be God-glorifying or sinful depending upon something else. Some things are necessarily sinful. Some-things are potentially sinful or not.]
If the information stage ignores God, then the result will necessarily be sinful. Counseling works at the information stage to put the desire and its solutions into the correct relationship. A useful resource on this matter would be John Piper’s Future Grace. http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/online-books/future-grace-sample
You can see here the importance of instruction (teaching to observe) when it comes to grappling with the problem of sin. Sin proposes many lies to the human being to make the sin acceptable. In counseling, you must reveal those deceptions and teach one rightly about God. A useful resource for cataloging the deceptions of sin and how to correct the error in one’s doctrine is the book Precious Remedies for Satan’s Devices. http://gracegems.org/Brooks/precious_remedies_against_satan.htm
One of the great deceptions which can creep into the Christian life is discouragement. Discouragement over sins is a great means which Satan can use to keep someone from progressing in sanctification. Since faith is the great conduit of the Christian life, attacking faith can hamper the entire Christian life. (Precious Remedies has a great section on discouragement; another excellent resource for discouragement is Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes, http://www.monergism.com/bruisedreed.html and also Spiritual Depression by Lloyd-Jones. These books are all available in inexpensive paperback.)
A point was raised: Merely telling someone what to do, especially when they are in an extremely difficult place will sound hard – perhaps impossibly painful.
That is why this must be done in the context of the church.
Point Two: What discipleship looks like in the context of Christian fellowship. Discipleship is not bare instruction: Do this, don’t do that; think this, etc. While it does contain a great deal of propositional content, that contention is in the space of the Church – a loving fellowship of believers seeking to be disciples of Jesus.
Development: This was developed in a reading of Colossians. Imagine a man or woman who is struggling with a sexual sin. You could take them to Col. 3:5 and tell to merely stop engaging in the sin (put it to death). (Our a struggling wife, whom you first take to 1 Peter 3, without unpacking the first two chapters). However, that is not how Paul counseled the Church. Note that this command is the third chapter, not the first sentence.
As we read through the letter, we saw how Paul put his instruction in the context of the Trinity and the Church. The instruction exists in a context of love to/from God and love to/from believers. God has marked us off and brought us into a fellowship which is broken off from the world and devoted to him.
When we reached the specific command to put sin to death it was preceded and followed by this context. In the immediately preceding verses, Paul has explained that mere asceticism is insufficient to deal with sin. Rather, there is a life of spiritual devotion to God in Jesus Christ. Then Paul gives the command. Then Paul reminds them that they are new creatures who are being renewed in their knowledge.
Paul then proceeds to instruct them on loving one-another in actual deeds. There is both demonstrative love and express instruction.
Comparison imagine instruction given to a struggling brother or sister who lives in poorly functioning church. They come to see you in an office for an hour and then return to their regular life. They are effectively alone, their bad theology will be repeatedly reinforced and they will likely have great difficulty changing.
Imagine another person who is in a church which is rich in love and fellowship. The corrective instruction given in your counsel, together with the continual encouragement and reinforcement by the church at large will assist greatly in the change.
In fact, this is the specific means which the Holy Spirit has designated for change: There is both the direct instruction and encouragement by the Spirit (when He works in our hearts to make the Word of God effective), but also the mediated instruction and encouragement, whereby the Holy Spirit works in the lives of believers to provide instruction and encouragement.
Reminder: The means by which you address and counsel a particular person will differ. There is no always use this methodology. Consider the letters of Paul, he uses various tones and styles with each of the churches depending upon the particular circumstance in view. He takes a strong tone with Corinth and even stronger tone for Galatia. He is gentle with the Philippians. In Thess. 5:14, Paul gives instruction for dealing with various types of sin and difficulty.
Richard Sibbes gives some sound instruction on dealing with members of a congregation. It begins:
Preachers need to take heed therefore how they deal with young believers. Let them be careful not to pitch matters too high, making things necessary evidences of grace which agree not to the experience of many a good Christian, and laying salvation and damnation upon things that are not fit to bear so great a weight. In this way men are needlessly cast down and may not soon be raised up again by themselves or others. The ambassadors of so gentle a Saviour should not be overbearing, setting up themselves in the hearts of people where Christ alone should sit as in his own temple. Too much respect to man was one of the inlets of popery. `Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ’ (1 Cor. 4:1), neither more nor less, just so much. How careful was Paul in cases of conscience not to lay a snare upon any weak conscience.
He then goes onto provide more good counsel: