Growth | Spirit Filled Community, pt. 5
Think back with me about communication, before any of our modern ways of communication:
FaceTime or Zoom or Skype;
texting, instant messaging, chat rooms, or social media;
wifi, mobile hotspots, and even before the internet;
cell phones, before “land lines” (we just called them phones);
telegraph machines and morse code;
before any of our modern ways of communication.
The Early Church started with the Disciples. They didn’t have any of these advantages. In one generation they had completely evangelized the entire Roman Empire. They had reached beyond the Roman Empire to remote parts of the earth like India. The Early Church grew. How?
“Growth was rapid. The total number of those baptized soon reached five thousand (Acts 4:4). Multitudes were later mentioned as becoming a part of the church (Acts 5:14).”
The Early Church grew rapidly, but how?
What sparked the growth?
What can we learn from the Early Church about growth?
I. GROWTH FROM EVANGELISM
Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.
Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
The Church began with only 11 Disciples and some close followers like Mary Magdalene. Why did it start? The Risen Lord . . . more specifically an experience with the Risen Lord . . . and then witnessing, or evangelism, Mary being the very first evangelist.
And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,) (Acts 1.15)
Within a few short days, the Disciples had grown to 120 faithful followers. This is growth due to eye-witnesses who had seen Christ alive again. It is also growth due to evangelism, the Disciples spreading the word.
Now you may look at the numbers later in Acts and think 120 is a small number. But if there were only 11 Apostles to begin with, then 120 was almost 11 times as many.
II. GROWTH FROM PENTECOSTAL POWER
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. (Acts 2.41)
What happened? How did 3,000 get saved in one day? There was the Pentecostal experience. The sign of speaking in tongues caught their attention. After they gave their attention, Peter proved the Gospel to them.
Irenaeus of Lyons: “For this reason, too, did the apostles, collecting the sheep which had perished of the house of Israel, and discoursing to them from the Scriptures, prove that this crucified Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God; and they persuaded a great multitude, who, however, [already] possessed the fear of God. And there were, in one day, baptized three, and four, and five thousand men.”
They proved to people that Christ had risen. They made a rational argument. If anyone didn’t believe, they could just take a walk to the empty tomb. The Apostles were eye-witnesses.
“gladly received his word”
The people had an emotional response to the Word. Acts 2.37, states they were “pricked in their heart.” They realized that their sins crucified Jesus.
“By this conviction the people were first brought to despair (v. 37) and then to surrender and glad acceptance of the truth (v. 41).”
The power of the Gospel, driven by the Holy Spirit (H.S.), still saves lives today!
“If we pay attention to the literary style of Acts we find that at crucial points in the advance of the gospel the Spirit is mentioned, so his initiative is clearly what takes the church forward.”
III. GROWTH FROM FAVOR
Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2.47)
The Church not only grew from evangelism and grew from Pentecostal power, the Church had unity. They began to share everything. They participated in unity and in real sharing, something known as Table Fellowship. We’ll go into Table Fellowship in another article, but it was like a perpetual potluck.
The Church also had something else, “favour with all the people” (verse 47). The Greek word for “favour” is often translated grace. These mobs of people who had just crucified Christ, now turned to the Apostles and the Early Church in grace. If we’ll just come to the table of fellowship with each other and Christ, then Christ can take those who were against us and turn their hearts toward us.
They weren’t only meeting needs in the Church. They were tearing down social barriers with Table Fellowship. Anyone was welcome at the Table.
They had favor with the masses of Jews in Jerusalem. They were attractive to outsiders. They grew because they knew no boundaries.
IV. GROWTH FROM PERSECUTION
Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand. (Acts 4.4)
This is a response to the miraculous. The lame man just, “went walking and leaping and praising God” (Acts 3.8). We even have a song about it. Certainly, the world takes notice when miracles begin to happen, but something else is happening here.
There is a response to persecution.
And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them,
Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide.
Now 5,000 are saved – but why?
Have you ever been told that you can’t do something?
What does it make you want to do?
In Acts 4 the people see the 1st taste of persecution
They saw that the Apostles not only believed the Gospel. The Apostles were willing to lay down their lives for it.
They saw how much the Gospel requires, and rose up to pledge their all to Christ. We paint the Christian life out to be a bed of roses. People don’t respond to patty-cake Christianity. Christianity is hard. Life is still hard, but we have Christ and the Church to walk with us now.
My Christ is worth dying for; And since I have Someone worth dying for; I have Someone worth living for
V. GROWTH FROM MEETING WITH GOD
And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.) (Acts 5.14)
What was happening in this passage? Ananias and Sapphira, a husband and wife, tried to lie to God.
“This was the first step to the sort of political maneuvering that sometimes puts churches into the hands of unspiritual people.”
Ananias was struck dead by the Holy Spirit, followed later by Sapphira.
Tune into what happens when they die
When Ananias dies, “great fear came on all them that heard these things” (Acts 5.5). When Sapphira dies, “great fear came upon all the church” (Acts 5.11).
The Church feared God
This means reverence for God, but it also means more. It is phobos the root for our word phobia. God reminded the Church who He is.
You may play Church and deceive others, but you can’t fool God.
The Church expected to meet with God
The Passage says, “many signs and wonders,” were done by the Apostles (Acts 5.12). They came to Church expecting. God showed up as the Gifts of the Spirit were exercised.
“The gifts of the Spirit are still God’s primary means of building the Church both spiritually and numerically.”
“multitudes both of men and women” (Acts 5.14)
The numbers got away from Luke.
If a Church has a reputation for meeting with God, people show up.
VI. GROWTH JUST FOR THE EARLY CHURCH (E.C.) OR FOR TODAY?
The E.C. experiences growth. Growth is not as an end in itself. Growth as a by-product of a Spirit-filled community.
Is the growth only something for the E.C. or for today?
Philip Jenkins has conducted research on the growth of the worldwide Church
Jenkins doesn’t claim to be Pentecostal:
- Pentecostals are the fastest growing religious group in the world today.
- They started at the beginning of the 20th Century, the early 1900’s.
- They grew out of nothing to several million by 2,000.
- At their rate of growth they are projected to hit the one billion mark by 2050.
- “By 2000, Pentecostal numbers worldwide were increasing at the rate of 19 million each year.”
- The largest Church in the world, Guinness World Records is Full Gospel Central Church in Seoul, Korea. They are Assembly of God and Pentecostal. They have over 500,000 members. 
There is E.C. growth and Missions growth, but . . .
What about the Pentecostal Church in America?
“Some of the most successful U.S. movements are also conservative, evangelical, or Pentecostal, exactly the sort of groups that should in theory have been hardest hit by modernization.”
Is the Spirit concerned about growing the Church?
“Since there were only a handful of Pentecostals in 1900, and several hundred million today, is it not reasonable to identify this as perhaps the most successful social movement of the past century?”
As Pentecostals, we have an advantage.
What can we do with it?
Are we attracting others?
pic credit: jaefrench | 01.03.17 | pixabay
For more writings on the Kingdom of God CLICK
- Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through The Centuries: A History Of The Christian Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1981), 56.
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies IV.XXIII
- Stanley M. Horton, What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit, Rev. ed. (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2005), 127-128.
- Samuel Escobar, The New Global Mission: The Gospel from Everywhere to Everyone (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 124.
- Horton, 151.
- Ibid., 283.
- Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 9, 72, 82.
- Philip Jenkins, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 188.
- Jenkins, The Next Christendom, 9.