Today, I would like us to talk about the Christian Church and what it should mean to each of us.  At least once a year, I do a few sermons about church.  Why do we need to talk about church?  We need to talk about church because church is a creation of God for the betterment of humanity.  There are only three human institutions created by God.  The first institution created by God was marriage.  Genesis 2:24-25 says to us, “24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.  25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:24-25).  The second institution was governance.  After the days of Noah and the flood, we begin to see in Genesis 10, the emergence of nations.  The concept of human governance, human law, is that government is a force that can restrain evil.  Finally, we come to the third institution established by God and that is the church. Church is the only New Testament institution and church is foundational to the ongoing work of Jesus Christ.  The Church is intended to cut across all lines of governance because the church is universal and was created for us that through the church the living presence of Jesus Christ could be seen by all.

          Unfortunately, in our modern era, we have come to use the word church in several ways that were not intended.  We refer to church as a building, a physical structure.  We also refer to church as an activity, a time in which we gather for worship, song, prayer, and proclaiming God’s word.  Still further, we refer to church as an organization, an institution that makes decisions.  But the proper context for the word church given to us in the New Testament comes from the Greek word, ekklēsia, ek-klay-see'-ah, ἐκκλησία, which means any collection of people who have received salvation through Jesus Christ. The church is a group of saved people.

          And so, one of the things we discover and should keep in mind always is that church, a collection of people who have received salvation through Jesus Christ, is a supernatural creation.  Jesus taught that all who would believe in Him must be born again, not of natural descent, but of God.  In short, all believers are born a second time and in the second birth they are born as children of God.  It does not matter where you were physically born, the United States, Brazil, Ghana, Portugal, Dominic Republic, Pakistan, France, on and on, for when we are born again our identity becomes brother and sister to other believers.  It does not matter what color our skin we share because we all have one father, God.

          Jesus expressed this coming together of different people groups into one identity and one destiny this way, “16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16).  Jesus established that harmony by whatever metric anyone wanted to measure people should exist in His church through obedience to Him.  Economically, racially, by sex, by education, occupation, age, and national origin did not matter because believers become part of a single group called ekklēsia, ek-klay-see'-ah, ἐκκλησία, or church. Think about it this way.  Someone says to you, “Hey are you going to church on Sunday?”  You could say, “No, I am going to do something supernatural by being the church.”

          Now having established church, this supernaturally created collection of believers in Jesus Christ, Jesus commanded, he did not suggest, he commanded that believers maintain the harmony he created and that they do so through love.  And that showing love to one another, keeping the harmony of the ekklēsia, ek-klay-see'-ah, church, would evidence to those inside and outside the church that Christ lived within them.  “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34b-35).

          We saw how this supernatural creation began with our Scripture reading today from the Book of Acts. “42 They {The church] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47). 

We probably have all heard a sermon or two or three from this passage about the early church because there is so much evidence of harmony and love.  Pastors like to preach on Acts 2:42-47 because the Scripture paints a picture of what we long for across the entire Christian community.  The scene shows the greatest evidence of the love of Christ being expressed within the ekklēsia, ek-klay-see'-ah, ἐκκλησία, or church.

          But.  There is always a but with which to contend.  But that harmony of the early church was short lived because before long conflict came into the church.  Just four chapters later in Acts, the church was found be be in conflict.  Now I am not sure of the elapse time between Acts 2 and Acts 6 but I am guessing that there is not a lot of time between Acts 2 and Acts 6.  That harmonious picture in Acts 2 now showed in Acts 6 an ekklēsia, ek-klay-see'-ah, ἐκκλησία, or church in conflict.

          As a rule, we are raised to believe that conflict is inherently bad and should be avoided.  Today, we have some powerful tools to avoid conflict, not in healthy ways, but people use these techniques to avoid conflict. If someone says something that we do not like and they create a conflict within us or in our relationship with that person, we can unfriend them on social media.  We can block their text messages and phone calls.  We can cancel them out of our lives.  Relationships suffer.  And when, not if, that happens within the church, then we can see that the image of Christ suffers. 

It is, however, through conflict that we learn and grow.  Think about it this way.  You make plans to meet someone.  They say to you, “I will meet you in one hour at the corner of Spring Road and Russell Road in Quaker Springs, New York.” I suspect every one of us would be in conflict because it is unlikely that we know where that person intends for us to meet them or even if we could get there in one hour.  To resolve this conflict, we must learn something. We must ask for directions from someone or put that address in our trusty GPS app.  Conflict precedes all learning.  Unless we have a conflict, we can never experience an “Aha” moment.

          So then, we ought to look for a conflict in the early church and see what they learned and we might learn from them.  From Chapter 6 of the Book of Acts we find a conflict as we read, “The Hellenistic Jews among them [the church] complained [evidence of conflict] against the Hebraic Jews because their [Hellenistic] widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food [that is a conflict]” (Acts 6:1b).  That marvelous sharing of food with those in need we read about in Chapter 2 of Acts had come to an end by the beginning of Chapter 6 of Acts.  A serious problem had developed.  A racial division had occurred within the church expressed in the distribution of food to the Hebrew (Jewish) born Christians and the Hellenistic (Greek) born Christians.  That is a disturbing situation but one of the things I like about this passage is that rather than ignore the problem or pretend it did not happen, the church admitted to the problem, in writing!  Luke wrote down that the church of harmony in Christ had a racial problem.  We also see that that it does not say the Hellenistic Jews having been neglected immediately left the church never to return. Not at all.  The Hellenistic Jews stayed and complained.

          What did the church then do with this conflict?  The first corrective step was the leadership of the church acted. “2 So the Twelve (Apostles) gathered all the disciples together” (Acts 6:2).  The leadership of the church understood a racial divide would damage the mission of the church.  The Apostles understood that disharmony was a sign of disobedience to Christ’s call to love one another.  The Apostles said, “2 It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word. 5 This proposal pleased the whole group” (Acts 6:2-5).  A specific plan was developed with responsibility for that plan to be completed by the church so that the focus of the church on preaching the word of God did not suffer while harmony was being restored.  Scripture says the plan pleased all, suggesting restoration of harmony was beginning.

          What did the church do next?  Scripture says, “They [the church] chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism” (Acts 6:5b).  This is one of those passages in Scripture that we read and might be inclined to say, “Oh, that’s nice that the writer of the Book of Acts included the names of the people chosen to address the issues with food distribution.”  But if we look a little deeper at the list of names, we discover those chosen by the church to resolve the lack of food distribution to the Greek widows were all Greek.  Stephen - Greek origin meaning “crown” or “garland.”  Procorus - Greek origin meaning "leader of the dance."  Nicanor - Greek origin meaning “people of victory.” Timon - Greek origin meaning "reward, honor.”  Parmenas - Greek meaning "stable; firm."  Nicolas - Greek origin also meaning “the victory of the people."

          The men selected by the church, all Greek, were charged with equitable food distribution to the Hellenistic (Greek) and Hebraic (Hebrew) widows.  The willingness of the church to make the Greeks, who had been marginalized, the overseers of the food distribution showed racial harmony requires observable mutual trust.  The supernatural church had returned to its origins and demonstrated that it could trust its own members to correct abuse within the church lovingly and without fear of retaliation. 

          What was the result of harmony restored? Scripture says, “The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly” (Acts. 6:7a).  The church that had struggled with its own conflict gathered strength once the disharmony had been publicly acknowledged and dealt with by the church prayerfully and graciously.

          So, what does this story teach us today.  I think there are four things we want to take away from this story.

          First, to be a Christian, to claim Christ, is to also claim you have been born again in a supernatural way because the Holy Spirit of Christ now lives within you.  To be born again, you must first die to your old life.  Your physical birth origin has been replaced by your spiritual birth origin. Your identity and destiny are the same as one believer to another.  You and I, having been created supernaturally, now have countless brothers and sisters in Christ.  We should celebrate this new birth every day because having Christ in us makes us supernaturally different from those of the world.  Thank God we are saved!

          Second, to be a Christian, to claim Christ, is to also claim that you will follow Jesus.  One of the things Jesus said is that you and I should live our lives as part of the ekklēsia, ek-klay-see'-ah, ἐκκλησία, or church.  Why?  Because the church is the visible body of Jesus Christ today.  Now that is an exciting thought - that together our actions present Jesus to those who do not know Him.  And that is a frightening thought that - together our actions present Jesus to those who do not know Him.  This is what Jesus meant when He said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this [by the way you love one another within the church] everyone [those in the church and outside the church] will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34b-35).  We must act in such a way as to love one another.  And we cannot do that unless we are part of the visible active church.  We cannot live out the Christian life at home, sequestered from everyone else.  We must interact with the church in some way so that the church can be seen for what it is, a supernatural, God created organism.

          The third thing we can take away from Scripture today is that there will be failures in loving one another as Jesus loves us.  But here is the thing.  When disharmony arose in the early church, no one left their faith or the church and no one canceled another person.  I read this post the other day, “McDonald’s can mess your order up 100 times and you still keep going back…One thing goes wrong at church, and you quit!”  Things will go wrong in church and there will be conflicts.  But it is those moments of conflict that help us to learn and change and become more like Christ.  We must not quit.

          Finally, maintaining harmony, today the story was about racial harmony, was and is essential to the Christian witness.  Disharmony in the church must be identified, publicly acknowledged, addressed by leadership, require involvement of the church, and result in specific actions that empower and make those marginalized central to the restoration of trust and harmony.  God has shown that to us.  And what is the result when we act like Jesus and restore harmony to His church?  The number of disciples will grow rapidly.

          So, let’s be supernatural as believers and as a church.  Let us love one another so that Jesus will be seen properly and be a source of encouragement to those in the church and to those who do not know Him. If there is a conflict, be willing to point it out so it can be dealt with and that we can grow through it. Don’t ever quit church – you will become smaller if you do and the image of Christ in this world will become harder for others to see.  Follow Jesus faithfully as you participate fully in His church.  Amen and Amen.