Were about to enter the hazy area in examinations of this type where we cannot see far enough ahead into all the information needed to identify particulars because some of what we require is not yet in sight and revealed in this type of chronological study. So in this look at where and how the words church or assembly are used in the NT, we are about to find that not everything we need may be within easy reach using our stated goal of moving through the passages in order. There will be things we need to know that we havent yet come upon. So at this point I must counsel patience; and all that we require will eventually be brought to light.
With that in mind, continuing with our search through the NT and noting the usage of the word church, the next occurrence is found in Acts 12: 1 – 2.
“Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. So when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover. Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.”
In this record of the second persecution of the Christians, we find Herod Agrippa I, while posturing for political advantage before the Jews, killing one apostle and seeking to do the same to others. James is the first victim, and due to the popular reception, Peter is next in line. This serves to indicate that James was well known and of consequence to those who had supplied the names to Herod, or Herod likely would have sought a higher profile member of the band of Jesus chosen ones. You may recall that Peter, James and John accompanied Jesus to many of the recorded miracles and events. Suffice to say that these three men, as with the other twelve, were known to the public as members of the inner circle that had been with Jesus (as is noted in the gospels). As Paul at one point said, “these things were not done in a closet.” The apostles all made good targets.
The passage is also interesting to our study on other levels. It is useful to note that the assembly was continuously offering up prayers on Peters behalf. You know that if they were gathered collectively that it would be rather hard to hide several thousand people doing these things, and such a large number couldnt just meet in a house or on a street corner, and during a persecution they would be easy to find. Yet nothing is mentioned about how these prayers by the church were accomplished; nothing is said of there being full assemblies, half assemblies, satellite assemblies, “mini-churches,” or home churches within Jerusalem. You see we never read of there ever being any more than one church in Jerusalem. So how is it that these prayers were offered? To keep with the scriptures, the record just states that the church prayed — and here we must then necessarily conclude that to mean those individuals who made up the assembly of purpose prayed; and that is all that is meant in the statement: “constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.” It is not a concern of location. It is not a concern of numbers. It is only a concern for affecting a good end to Peters imprisonment. The only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn is that the members of the assembly, also here referred to as “the church,” and not referring necessarily to meeting in mass, or in some regulated effort – that however they managed it, did with singleness of purpose pray to have a favorable end to things. How this was accomplished whether singly, by groups, or through the whole, is neither mentioned, explained, nor commented on, and is therefore of little importance.
In the narrative it does state that some of these Christians, but clearly not all of those that made up the church in Jerusalem, had gathered together at the home of John Marks mother to offer prayers. So, it is evident that Christians can meet together to pray and that they can do so by request, or with a singleness of purpose they certainly can pray individually.
The next occurrence in order is found in Acts 13: 1 – 5. “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant.”
Here the duty of sending out prophets, evangelists or teachers is explained somewhat. Notice that the church mentioned is in Antioch and not Jerusalem. While there was no shortage of qualified men in Antioch, certain ones (in this case Barnabas, Paul and John) were to be sent by Gods command to particular duty areas. Here as elsewhere no duty is ever mentioned for these prophets and teachers besides the teaching itself or (in other places mentioned, as we have seen) the delivering of relief for the saints to the elders of particular churches.
In our last stop for this session, in Acts 14: 23 you will find the following: “So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
It is now obvious that these elders are not just older people, and without mentioning any qualifications whatsoever, we are introduced to them as they had already been appointed within each church. Notice that the elders are appointed in “every church” and not mentioned here in any wider sense of influence or authority. Notice that it is not “an elder” but “elders” that are appointed in every church. Further, to be appointed to any position implies that there must then be qualifications for that position; and if there are qualifications, with qualification and election, there must also then be an office to be appointed to.
If you are a student of the NT you likely know that the qualifications of the office of the elder (or overseer) are found in the first letter to Timothy and in the letter to Titus, and other qualifications are mentioned in part in several other books (including Acts). If you are unfamiliar with the offices within the church or with their makeup, what we have just read and commented on should be sufficient to warrant your spending some time studying these things. Well continue with our search through the scriptures in the next installment.