Lesson 12

The Great Controversy and the Church

(Acts 1,2,4,6 & 15)
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Introduction: How important is the church to Christian living? How important is it to regularly meet with fellow believers? In my religious freedom litigation, I generally have to prove the sincerity of my client's religious beliefs. Over the many years of litigation I have noticed that those Christians who regularly worship with other Christians are the most sincere. Most of my "sincerity" problems arise from individuals who worship on their own. My conclusion is just an observation and not a scientific poll. What does the Bible teach us about the importance of the church in the controversy between good and evil? Let's dive in and find out!

  1. The Holy Spirit and the Group

    1. Read Acts 2:1-4. Who are "they" who are meeting together? (These are "believers" who probably are composed of the two groups mentioned in Acts 1:13-15.)

      1. Why are they together? (In Acts 1:8 Jesus told them He was going to send them the Holy Spirit. They were apparently assembled waiting for that event.)

      2. What they were waiting for happened! What significance do you find in the fact that the Holy Spirit first came upon them when they were in a group?

    2. Let's go back and read Acts 1:12-14 to look at these two groups that made up the early Christian church. The first group: Jesus' disciples, mother, brothers and "the women" got together to pray. Why pray in a group?

      1. Do you prefer to pray alone or in a group?

      2. Is there more power in group prayer?

        1. Read Matthew 18:19-20. Why does Jesus mention getting together a (small) group for answered prayer? (If you read the further context, Jesus is endorsing the church. The Lord obviously hears the prayers of individuals. However, there is apparently a dynamic to group prayer that is important to believers and God.)

    3. Read Acts 1:15-17, 20-22. This is the second group mentioned. What is the purpose of this group's meeting? (This is an "organization" meeting.)

      1. What is the reason for having organization? (Peter (v.20) quotes Psalms about "leadership." In verse 22 Peter refers to being a "witness." The purpose of the group is to organize leadership for witnessing.)

      1. Recently, I was in a church meeting to discuss re-organization for soul-winning. One member (at the end of the meeting) complained that we could have been out witnessing instead of being in the meeting. What do you think about that comment?

    1. Now that we have identified the group, let's go back and look at Acts 2:1-4 again. We have a group praying together. We have a group organized for witnessing. What is the result? (Their prayers were answered and they received special power to witness.)

    2. Let's read on: Acts 2:5-6, 41-42. What was the result of Holy Spirit-powered group witnessing? (3,000 new members.)

      1. Did these new converts go off on their own? (No! It says they devoted themselves to "the fellowship.")

    3. After reading these verses, do you think "group action" is simply being reported to us, or is this the model for our Christian work?

    4. Read Acts 4:31-32. What do you think "the place where they were meeting was shaken" means? (They had an "earthquake" in the room.)

      1. Do you need an "earthquake" in your church? In your prayer group?

      2. Again, we see the believers in a group. Is that important? (Yes. Verse 32 tells us that they were of "one heart and one mind." They were together, and they were looking for the Holy Spirit. He came to them in a most impressive way.)

    5. How do we get from where we are now in church, to where the early believers were?

  1. Persecution and the Group

    1. In Acts 4 we not only have the Holy Spirit making the earth move, we have Satan in action. Read Acts 4:1-3. What is bothering the Sadducees - that Peter and John are preaching about Jesus? Or, is it something else? (No doubt they do not want to hear Jesus preached. However, the problem is more fundamental. The Sadducees denied that there was a resurrection ( Matthew 22:23), so worse than talking about Jesus was talking about the fact that He had been resurrected from the dead!)

      1. Peter and John get jailed, why? Why not just debate them? (Force is the answer when you do not have an adequate logical answer.)

        1. Were the authorities just getting them out of the way for the evening? (No. Notice the phrase (v.3) "because it was evening." The officials planned to do something to Peter and John, but it was time to for the authorities to go home. They put Peter and John in jail until the next day when the authorities could decide what to do.)

    1. Read Acts 4:4. We now have 5,000 believers. Why is the church growing so fast? Is it because believers are being jailed?

      1. Is it because the believers are working together?

      2. Is it because of the power of the Holy Spirit?

    2. If you believe that persecution makes the church grow more rapidly, tell me why? (I think the formula is just the reverse. On-fire Christians who are sharing the gospel attract the attention of the enemy.)

    3. In this episode, are any of the Christians working alone? (No. Even Peter and John are working together. Report after report is about group activity.)

  1. "Politics" and the Group

    1. Read Acts 6:1. I recently finished up a religious liberty case where my client, a former Southern Baptist minister, said that he left the SBC because he didn't like the group politics. He was looking for a solitary religious experience. Were "politics" a problem in the early church? (Yes. It seems any time you have a group dynamic, you open up the possibility for "politics.")

      1. What kind of "politics" is this? (This is a cultural problem.)

      2. How would you solve this? Do you think the Hebrew Jews were really not feeding the widows who were from the Greek culture?

    2. Read Acts 6:2. What does this text suggest is the nature of the problem? (The disciples suggest that this is a problem simply because not enough time and attention are being given to the matter.)

    3. Read Acts 6:3-5. What kind of names are these? (They are all Greek.)

      1. Let's review this situation. The complaint is that the Greek Jewish widows are being discriminated against. Why choose Jews with a Greek background to administer the program?

        1. Isn't this just rewarding "whiners?"

        2. If you had a similar problem in your church, would you handle it this way? Turn the program over to those complaining?

        3. What do you learn about the early church from this story? (This is a very interesting look into the attitude of the early church. Cultural charges of discrimination are made. Instead of denying the charges (which I feel certain were not the result of deliberate discrimination) the church votes to have those from the "victim" culturerun the program. There is no attempt to culturally "balance" this new group -- they vote in Greeks!)

          1. Why do you think the early church did that? (This shows the "majority" culture trusted the minority culture. They were not afraid for the welfare of the Hebrew widows if they put the Greek Jews in charge.)

      2. What lessons do we learn about politics in the church and advancing the gospel? (This shows that in any group you can have misunderstandings. The important part is not the misunderstanding, but rather how you resolve it.)

      3. Do you see any advantage to having a group in this situation? (Sure. The church was running a type of social security system for widows. Without the organization, this would not have taken place.)

  2. Doctrines and the Group

    1. Read Acts 15:1-2. What is the problem?

      1. Why go to Jerusalem with this issue? Didn't Paul and Barnabas already have their minds made up on this? (This shows they were willing to submit to church authority.)

      2. The lesson (Thursday) lists a whole group of famous Christians who did not submit to church authority. The list includes Martin Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Melanchthon and Westley. Why did Paul and Barnabas submit to church authority and Luther and Westley did not?

    2. Read Acts 15:5-20, but pay particular attention to verses 7, 12, 13, 19. Who discussed this issue? (The apostles and elders.)

      1. Who decided the issue? (It seems James did.)

      2. Did the group take a vote? (No.)

        1. What happened at this meeting is recounted in a letter recorded in Acts 15:23-29. Read. Do verses 25 and 28 indicate a vote was taken? (While it does not appear that a vote was taken, it also does not seem that James unilaterally made the decision. Instead, we get the picture that the Holy Spirit lead them all to the same conclusion. Praise God!)

        2. How can you have such agreement in your church meetings?

    3. How important was this doctrinal question to the church? (In Acts 15:19 James says it was making it difficult for Gentiles to join the church.)

      1. What do you think about this idea of getting rid of doctrines that make it difficult for new believers to join the church?

      1. Is it possible for a church to have too many doctrines - so that they get in the way of bringing in new members?

      2. How important is church doctrine, anyway? (What we have continually seen in the early church is agreement and consensus. Doctrines, as long as you don't have too many, are a way to help the church stay in agreement. Certainly, the resolution of this doctrinal dispute was very important to keeping the church together.)

    1. Friend, the pattern of the early church was group prayer, fellowship and witnessing. They helped each other and they worked through their problems together. If you are not working with a group of Christians today, consider if you are missing the power and the blessing of a group united by the power of the Holy Spirit.

  1. Next week: The End of the Great Controversy

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