Editor’s note: This series comes from a sermon given at a conference on discipleship for Chinese house church leaders. It was shared by a house church pastor who leads an urban church of young professionals and university students.
This sermon has been translated and edited from its original version.
Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese house church pastors writing and thinking critically about issues related to the spread of Christianity in their nation. They are committed to preaching a grace-centered gospel, developing resources for the church, and loving China’s urban centers.
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.’ And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
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Discipleship Which Does Not Cause Peril to the Church
Many years ago, I read a book about discipleship. In it, the author proposed a strategy of multiplying disciples, indicating that you evangelize and save a soul in a year and teach that person to share the gospel and disciple others. In the second year, you and your disciple both evangelize to save one more person, thus there are two people to disciple two others. In the third year, four people will repeat this process. As a result, year by year, the gospel can be shared throughout the whole world in less than a hundred years, and everyone will become a disciple of the Lord.
Isn’t this a wonderful strategy, brothers and sisters? I think this is a provocative training strategy. Some people even say that multi-level marketing companies have adopted this strategy.
However, this method is doomed to fail, because it promotes the strategy itself more than putting trust in God and has unrealistic expectations of human nature. It also ignores the central position of the church in God’s redemptive plan and sees discipleship itself as more important than the church. If discipleship is not considered from the view of the church, it is destined to be distorted and will lead to failure.
Today I present a gospel-centered discipleship, the intention of which is to avoid practicing a distorted and unbiblical discipleship, which may eventually cause peril to the church. The view of the church is understanding how the Bible talks about the church. Discipleship refers to the mutual relationships and building up of Christians. Of course, through discipleship, we also hope to see growth in the depth and number of the church. Your view of the church will affect your choice of discipleship model and determine how your church will grow.
Four Aspects of the Church from Acts
I cannot give you a comprehensive view of the church here, but I will present four aspects of the church based on the second chapter of the Book of Acts and explore how discipleship is related to these four aspects of the church.
My message today is based on verses 1 to 13 of this chapter – the church where the Holy Spirit is moving. The Lord Jesus Christ once told the disciples that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit come upon them, and they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. From the verses we just read, we see that the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples, and they are filled with the Holy Spirit. They witness the mighty works of God as the Spirit gives them utterance, and Peter stands up to preach the gospel of Christ.
1. The Church Must Be Empowered by the Holy Spirit
Theologians generally believe that the church was born on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came. This is not only the beginning of the history of the church, it also indicates that the Holy Spirit is now with the church as the Comforter and carries out the salvation of Christ to all those who hear the truth. The Lord Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit is coming to bear witness to him, and he also sends the apostles to be his witnesses. Therefore, in order to bear witness to Christ, the disciples and the Holy Spirit must be in union. If the mission of the church is to bear witness to Christ, and the preservation of the church relies on bearing witness to Christ, then the church must be empowered by the Holy Spirit; otherwise it cannot testify the Lord Christ.
Why? Only God can testify about himself. 1 John 5:7-9 says that these are the testimony of the Holy Spirit and the testimony of God concerning his Son Jesus. We evangelize people so they either hear or see the gospel, but the Holy Spirit testifies in a person’s heart regarding Jesus Christ as the Savior. Therefore, the coming of the Holy Spirit is to empower the church to bear witness and to equip us with spiritual gifts so that the church can fulfill the mission entrusted to us by Christ. From this perspective, the church must be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Apart from him, the church can do nothing. I also believe that without the Holy Spirit, the church does not exist; if it does, it must be a false one.
2. The Church Must Preach Jesus Christ
When the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter stands up to testify about the Lord. Verses 14-36 of Acts 2 record Peter’s message, which is the first sermon of the church. In this sermon, Peter quotes scripture, claiming those words refer to the Lord Christ. In verses 17-21, he first quotes the passage of Joel’s prophecy, “In the last days it shall be, God declared, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” Then in verse 20, “The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. It shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Peter says in this passage that God’s people would prophesy, see visions, and dream dreams.
If you are God’s people, have you seen visions? Have you had dreams? Of course we must realize the passage means that the Holy Spirit empowers God’s people to understand and proclaim his Word, because visions, dreams, and prophecies are the words spoken by the prophets and the apostles, so that the people in Israel could be saved at the coming of the Messiah. The Israelites knew that the last days were the days of the coming of the Messiah and the outpouring of Holy Spirit on the Messianic people. When Peter heard the Jews say that they were filled by the Holy Spirit, he was in fact telling them that the Messiah has come. Following this, he says in verses 22-24 that our Lord Jesus is the coming Messiah. The Lord Jesus Christ is confirmed and attested by God. Although he was killed by the [Jews], God raised him up.
The resurrection of Christ from the dead was a new teaching to the people of Israel. So, Peter quotes Psalm 16 to illustrate that David prophesied long ago that Christ was raised from the dead. In verse 31 he says, “He foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.” Peter tells us explicitly that the passage of Psalm 16 refers to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. His soul was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. The passage does not refer to David himself; rather David was prophesying that Christ would rise from the dead, because David was dead and his grave was still here, but the tomb of the Lord Jesus Christ is empty.
Finally, Peter says in verses 32-36 that they all are witnesses to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, witnessing that Jesus Christ is the Christ prophesied by scripture. By quoting the passage from Psalm 110, Peter confirms that the ascension of Christ is also prophesied by scripture. Now the Lord Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father, and the Father has made him Christ. In short, we see when the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples, they rise up to testify about the Lord. Preaching is the primary means of witnessing for the Lord. From Peter’s sermon, we see that preaching should be biblical exposition and centered on Christ. The function of a church is to preach Jesus Christ. If a church does not do that, it is without a doubt a false one.
3. A Church Administers the Sacraments
In verses 37 and 42, we read that three thousand people repent because of Peter’s sermon. They are baptized and join the church. And it is here where we see a sacrament performed. The Reformers said that one of the hallmarks of the true church is to administer the sacraments according to the Bible, because a very important attribute of the sacraments is to prove the effect of the gospel of redemption. It indicates that the sacraments are not abstract; the gospel is not abstract. The gospel is to be realized in the church – through the sacraments, we can see how the gospel is able to save people. If the sacraments do not highlight the gospel and demonstrate believers’ repentance, we should conclude that the sacraments do not conform to the Bible. Therefore, the sacraments must reveal people’s belief and obedience to the gospel, and present Christ’s cleansing of human sins and giving them eternal life. When the church baptizes people according to the Bible, she is preserving the purity of the gospel while maintaining the purity of the church. The church can only baptize those who truly repent and believe in the gospel, otherwise it undermines the gospel.
4. The Church Is Local
Read Acts 2:43-47. Starting in verse 41, it says, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believe were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Here we see a specific local church, in which Christians are committed together, and it becomes the center of their faith and lives. As this passage says, they devote themselves to the apostles’ teachings and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer. This passage mainly illustrates church life for Christians. Even though they eat in their homes, they praise God and pray together. They have intimate fellowship. Therefore, the church is definitely not a place where you leave right after Sunday service. The church should be a place where we come to have fellowship, love and build up one another.
Brothers and sisters, based on the brief introduction of these four aspects of church, we conclude: first, the church must be empowered by the Holy Spirit; second, the church must preach Jesus Christ; third, the church must administer the sacraments; fourth, the church must be localized.
Translation provided by Jane and the China Partnership team.
How does your view of the church change the way you approach discipleship?
This pastor says a church must preach Jesus; be empowered by the Holy Spirit; administer the sacraments; and be local . How does the presence of these elements impact discipleship?