And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
-- Acts 6:7
Pain is part of life, and usually not the good part. But the good part of pain is it proves you are alive, identifies a problem, and with the right solution can lead to a better, stronger, body.
The church is the body of Christ, and like any other body, it often experiences pain. Even in infancy, the church had already experienced the pain of persecution from the Jewish authorities, the pain of corruption from dishonest members, and now the pain of dissension between members.
All of the first Christians were Jews, but they were two kinds of Jews, "Hellenists" and "Hebrews," prone to be prejudiced against one another. The "Hellenists" spoke Greek and Latin and came from cultures outside of Israel. The "Hebrews" spoke Hebrew and Aramaic and came from Judea and Galilee. The Lord had brought them together, now something was trying to tear them apart.
The first church was not communist but it was a commune, by necessity. Apparently, the "Hebrew" Christians, since they were playing on their home field, were not properly sharing the ball, or rather the food supply, with the "Hellenist" Christians. A complaint was lodged, with a hint of cultural racism implied, and the painful problem was put at the Apostles' feet.
It was not a theological problem, but churches seldom split over theological problems. It was not an authoritarian problem, for the Apostles were clearly in charge and no one was trying to usurp them, yet, for it would take a while for Christians to learn how to fight over who is in charge. This was a growing problem, or the problem of the sudden and rapid growth of the church. Call it growing pains, if you will.
God's goal in this crisis was to fully and simply organize His church. The two New Testament offices come clearly into view for the first time, and this model serves as the Biblical standard for church administration until Jesus Christ comes again.
First, "the twelve," or the Apostles, transitioned themselves into the Pastors (Shepherds), or Elders (Presbyters), or Overseers (Bishops) of the church. The job description they gave themselves serves as the standard for all subsequent servant leaders of Christ's church: "We will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word." Out of the abundance of time spent in prayer and Bible study, Pastors preach the word, provide biblical guidance and counsel, and minister grace to the members of the church. If a Pastor is not spending the vast majority of his time in these endeavors, he, or the church responsible, is wasting his time.
The second office that originates from the growing pains of the early church is the position of Deacon. The title actually appears in verb form in the text, "serve." Deacons are not to be leaders, but leading servants of the church, providing special care to the hungry, or hurting, or otherwise physically needy members of the church.
When they stick to their job description, Deacons are problem solvers, as we see in this text. When they don't, they are problem makers, as they are in most Southern Baptist churches. One historically SBC institution, Wake Forest University, even has for its mascot the "Demon Deacon." Sadly, I have met him in former churches. At least Deacons who usurp the Biblical authority of Pastors and Elders don't have to worry about growing pains, for their churches are stagnant and dying all across the land.
It is amazing what happens when a church does God's will, God's way, according to God's word. "The word of God continued to increase, and the number of disciples multiple greatly." Other problems and pains would arise in the early church, as they occur in every church.
By the way, God's business extends beyond church life. It also covers your personal life, your sexuality, your marriage and family, your money, your work ethic, what to do with your free time, for everything in a Christian's life falls under the Lordship of Christ. So let us commit ourselves to this early church principle, to doing God's will, God's way, according to God's word. Then, may all our pains be only growing pains.
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected]