We are privileged to be able to make available a number of messages by one of the leaders of a past generation.
If we are to remain steadfast in a day when everything is shifting and the ancient landmarks are being removed, our feet need to be firmly planted upon the unshakeable foundation of “the Word of God which liveth and abideth forever.”
The first Christian church, or assembly, newly-formed by the Spirit and Spirit-filled, is the God- given model for every assembly that gathers unto the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. God’s ways for one assembly are His ways for every assembly.
“Ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
“This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof (of whom) we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:32).
The Book of Acts links closely to the gospels, being a supplement to the Gospel of Luke. It links the account of what “Jesus began both to do and to teach until the day in which He was taken up” (Acts 1:1, 2) with what He continues to do and to teach by the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, through His witnesses – Christians. The controlling guidance and authority of Christ is everywhere apparent in the words, deeds, and experiences of the apostles and churches of the saints. Here we have the establishment of local churches according to God’s principles, together with a delineation of the individual and assembly life of the Christian.
During His public ministry, the Lord had been quarrying the material out of which He formed the first local church. Before His resurrection His own were, consistent with Judaism, mixed up with unconverted Israelites who little by little turned from Him until Judas betrayed Him. In resurrection He manifested Himself primarily to His own. He commanded that these “should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith He, ye have heard of Me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:4, 5).
Before the ascension of the Lord, other thoughts than the formation of the Church, either in its local or universal aspect, occupied the minds of the disciples. They asked him, “Lord wilt Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” How significant the answer! “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power, but ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you and Ye Shall Be Witnesses Unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:7, 8). How beautiful the language of appropriating faith when, the day of Pentecost having come, Peter stands up and says “We All Are Witnesses” (Acts 2:32). They were witnesses in a world that had cast out their Lord, called by Him to carry on His work according to His will while waiting His return. Blessed are all who witness, who watch, and who wait!
“We All Are Witnesses.” Pentecost found them “all with one accord in one place.” Here they became “endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and, thus fitted, they began the witnessing for Christ peculiar to this Church dispensation. What a heavenly beginning for the first local assembly! Not one absent person, not one grumbling, not a self-opinionated one, not an empty professor among them; none but those who were filled with the Holy Ghost.
Witnesses are required to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. This first assembly, fresh from the hand of God, expressed the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as to what an assembly ought to be. It is the pattern for every assembly throughout the dispensation. They were gathered by the express command of the Lord; the Father shed forth the Holy Ghost, and each one was not only baptized into the one body in the Holy Spirit, but was also Spirit-filled, so that their words and acts (their witnessing) were all done according to the mind of God.
In the account of the rearing of the tabernacle in Exodus chapter 40, we have the expression, “As the Lord commanded Moses,” repeated seven times. And the moment everything was in its commanded place, the “Glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex 40:35) and immediately God began to speak to Moses, “out of the tabernacle of the congregation” (Lev 1:1). Though the Word of God for that dispensation was not yet completed, the tabernacle was complete in every respect. The same things are true concerning this first assembly. It was not formed by the will of man but by the will of God. And though the Word of God for this present dispensation had not yet been fully revealed, in fact it had scarcely begun to be revealed, yet, as with the tabernacle, this assembly in its composition and its activities as recorded in this second chapter of Acts was a perfect expression of the will of God as to what an assembly should be composed of and should do for a testimony throughout the present Church dispensation. All the workings of a God-gathered, Spirit-controlled assembly are found in principle here. Only as an assembly is fashioned after this pattern can it truthfully say, “We are His witnesses.”
They witnessed by preaching the gospel, by baptism, by adding the baptized believers to the assembly, by continuing steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine, by fellowship, by the breaking of bread, and by prayers.
In these seven things the assembly at Jerusalem, fresh from the hand of God – the model for all churches – could say, “We are His witnesses.” There is room in such an assembly for the whole Word of God. Leave out or corrupt any one of these and you have not room for the whole Word. Moreover, beneath these seven things that constitute godly witnessing, which of course is outward in its character, there dwell the great fundamental inward truths concerning Christ and His bride, the Church. Only as we see beneath the outward and discern in an assembly an expression of the heavenly, will we be able to grasp the importance of maintaining inviolate God’s assembly order as given in the Acts of the Apostles.