The Structure of the Church - Growing Together
During the tremendous, yet tumultuous commencement of the church, these new believers we looked at last week, were not first known as Christians, but, rather, people of the "way" (Acts 9:2).
"That way"...a way that was so explosive, that the high priest in Jerusalem proclaimed in exasperation, "behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine...!" (Acts 5:28)
The Apostle Paul, who once persecuted people of this way and doctrine, gives us a glimpse into how this way was perpetuated, when he was writing a young man by the name of Timothy:
"But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience,... But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned [them]; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works."
- 2 Timothy 3:10, 14-17 KJV
Paul, here, refers to a process of personal investment that today we call, discipleship. A life of transparency, and vulnerability, that poured faith into Timothy, a young man who was now in the throws of ministry difficulties himself. Paul put up no facade with Timothy or anyone else God allowed him to invest in on his journeys. Who Paul was on Mars Hill, was the Paul you would encounter by the campfire. This glimpse into the discipleship mentality of Paul, displays an obedience to a portion of the great commission then, that today appears to have been left off, to the detriment of the body of Christ. When Christ commanded, "teaching them to observe (regard, adhere to, guard) all things whatsoever I have commanded you:", He was teaching us that we are supposed to, not only, be reaching people with gospel of Christ, but we are to be diligently teaching them to walk in the way of Christ.
Some deflect their culpability in negligence by trying to make it seem like there is no certainty of interpretation of the Scriptures, and thus abandoning each individual to seek their own interpretation. That Christianity is, somehow, all based on hearsay, dogma, or personal "interpretations" of any given passage. However, this sentiment, and the resulting confusion, is a telling sign of the symptomatic deficiency of discipleship within the body of Christ. The Apostle Peter addresses this poor understanding of Scripture clearly in the first chapter of his second epistle, when he says:
"For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty...We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost." (1v16,19-21)
Notice the highlighted words of certainty! The early church understood clearly, that God had been, and was continuing (at that time), to communicate truth to His people, yet the last segment goes much deeper when brought with the words of Christ in John 16:
"I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, [that] shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. - v12-13
Of course, now, the Scriptures are complete in Its cannon. We have all of the Word of God we will ever get until we are with the Lord in glory. So, then, as an honest observer of the Bible, as I hope we all would aspire to be, we cannot look at these two passages (and a myriad of others), and come away with the thought that the Word of God can be simply interpreted by what we as individuals think, feel, or believe. The same Holy Spirit that indwells you and me, is not going to guide us to a different, opposing "truth", but to drive us to unity in the Word He has inspired. In this definite, discernible truth we have within the Word of God, we our foundation for growth in our walk with the Lord, and also in discipling others in that same clear, Scriptural way.
So how then, is a Biblical level of discipleship maintained in both integrity, and intensity? The Bible shows us this provision most clearly, in two passages.
The integrity of discipleship is helped by the first Divine provision we see in I Timothy 3v15:
"But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." - 1 Timothy 3v15 KJV
The local church is responsible to clearly proclaim and protect, the truth of God's Word. Again the church, as we defined last week, is a voluntary assembly of saved, baptized believers, gathered for the purpose of the exaltation of Christ, edification of the believer, and the evangelization of the spiritually lost. These early believers are recorded to have been meeting regularly to not only fellowship, but to continue steadfastly "in the apostles doctrine" (Acts 2:42). This was accomplished through reading of the Old Testament Scriptures, communication of the teachings of Christ (Matthew 28:20), as well as scriptures that were being written at the time (II Peter 3:16). Any heresy or confusion, was straightly dealt with, and corrected (Romans 16:17-18).
The Second provision is given to maintain the intensity of the communication and explanation of God's Word. These gifts, as God calls them, were given to believers in the specific context of Spiritual maturity, gained through corporate and personal discipleship and ministry:
"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we [henceforth] be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, [and] cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, [even] Christ:" - Ephesians 4v11-15 KJV
Do you see the amazing scope of discipleship here? God has given us the gift of His preserved Word, proclaimed through His church locally, to the end that we would grow personally. Yet, this also enables us to propel the growth of others through various means of ministry and fellowship. That is the essence of discipleship.
I know many churches that are very faithful in being a fervent witness both individually and corporately, yet have left off the responsibility of discipleship. And the reason isn't as complicated or convoluted as many would have you think. In reality, discipleship requires a level of time, resources, and transparency that many in Christian circles are just not willing to sacrifice. Maybe this is why the church is seeing such a decline in attendance, and a devastating surge of apostasy. We need to pray that God would work in our hearts, that we would no longer seek to keep to ourselves, but, for His sake, by His strength, be endeavoring to live the "way" of Christ, and pour that faith and love into someone else.
Today's Bible reading:
2 Timothy 3v1-17 KJV
 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.  For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,  Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,  Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;  Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.  For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,  Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.  Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.  But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all [men], as theirs also was.  But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience,  Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of [them] all the Lord delivered me.  Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.  But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.  But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned [them];  And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.