Between teacher Humberto’s comments in Bible class, as he covered Acts 4, and my notes, here are five points on what makes for a strong church.
#1. It preaches Jesus, Acts 4.18-20.
No message can transform lives but Jesus. No message can save eternally but that of the Cross of Christ. The issue between the Sanhedrin and the apostles was speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus. The Name made everything happen. The Name made men walk, united warring factions, caused new birth, gave hope to the hopeless. There was no talk of politics, of social change, of financial gain, of mission strategies or church resources. Jesus was the sum of their message. The strong church stays on message.
#2. It values fellowship, Acts 4.23
The first thing that Peter and John did after being released was to go and find their fellow saints. “When they were released, Peter and John went to their fellow believers and reported everything the high priests and the elders had said to them.” The text literally says, “to their own [people].” The Jewish leaders no longer represented their own. They sought out those who shared their faith, their “common salvation” Jude 3. They were drawn to that community of faithful children who hold up Jesus as their banner. Strength comes not in numbers, but in the meeting together of God’s people. That makes for a strong church.
#3. It prays for the right thing, Acts 4.24ff
Note what the church did not pray for: relief from suffering, freedom from persecution. It prayed “with one mind” (the fellowship in view again) that they might “speak your message with great courage.” Peter and John showed courage before the Sanhedrin, Acts 4.13. But perhaps they didn’t want to be like Elijah, who boldly faced down the hundreds of prophets of Baal only to turn and run at the queen’s threats. Courage is not only a virtue, but an answer to prayer, Acts 4.31. The strong church knows what to pray for.
#4. It reads and applies Scripture, Acts 4.25-26
The prayer included Scripture. (That’s a no-no today!) It took an Old Testament passage and applied it appropriately to their situation. It noted that the peoples plotted futile or vain things, plans that would come to naught. By this truth, Scripture bolstered their courage. They saw in the Bible that opposition could not stop the gospel. A strong church is steeped in Scripture and applies it judiciously, accurately. (See 2 Timothy 2.15.)
#5. It fulfills its mission, regardless, Acts 4.31
The whole story of the book of Acts is the answer of God to this prayer for courage. Stephen in Acts 7 is but one fine example. But an answer came immediately. They “began to speak the word of God courageously,” not just in their meeting (not much courage needed there), but in the temple courts — after being released miraculously from the public jail. “We must obey God rather than people,” Peter and the apostles cried, Acts 5.29. The strong church is not cowed, but carries the gospel forward, always, no matter what.
These same qualities carry through the entire book of Acts and throughout the New Testament. If we want a strong church today, here is where we need focus. The church strong in God’s Spirit will please and glorify him.