A. W. Tozer wrote “The center of attraction in a true church is the Lord Jesus Christ. As for fellowship, let the Holy Spirit define it for us: ‘And they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers'” -Acts 2.42
Some would argue (and I think rightly so) that WE, that is, those who follow Jesus Christ, who believe in Him as Lord and Savior are “the church” and that being true more still: “By this all people will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another.” -Jesus in John 13.35
That is, some would argue it is not those four things Luke mentions in Acts nor any of the other “evidence” of works, etc., that mark true Christians and a “true” Christian assembly (church = assembly of called-out ones) but rather it is (Greek- agape) love. Love, period!
Most of us know people can have loads of information and no genuine, authentic relationship whether with God or others. In fact many of us can name those who by their doctrine eventually trashed their faith in God entirely – understood and have seen it in my lifetime. I’ve often thought it important to mention the devil knows and quotes Scripture -and is still the devil. The idea that no demon/s ever attended Christian gatherings nor whispered nonsense and outright lies into people’s minds is in my view, not only naive but according to Jesus in the Gospels, flat wrong.
At core I would agree with other’s views as I stated in the third paragraph above- but not entirely. Jesus immediately after teaching what we often call “The Beatitudes” continues with this (Luke 6):
“31 Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. 32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
How we think, speak, act, treat both other professing Christians as well as agnostics, atheists and those of other faiths is of clear importance throughout the Word of God. Neither you nor I can simply wish away all this (see Jesus’ comments on our treatment of ‘the least of these’ in Matthew chapter 25!). What Jesus teaches as well as (yes) the teachings of the apostles constitutes doctrine. So… doesn’t matter?
The ultimate point of Bible doctrine is that it gives us the details on how to love God supremely and others as our self. That’s why doctrine is important.
Note- Jesus isn’t merely teaching us to love one another as believers in Christ, is He? Nor was Paul, John, James and the other human authors of Scripture. Though His love in and extended through us to one another in the Church universal and local churches is indeed a mark of true discipleship have you considered what else He emphasizes here?
“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
Perpetual “I could care less!” sinners, those who do not follow the Lord nor ultimately give a rip how they live or act before God and others: “love them”. Not tacit agreement but love! The love Jesus is calling us to live out as His disciples goes beyond those who agree with you or me. Can we not admit that as individual professing Christ-followers and at times perhaps nearly entire local churches we are far from loving our enemies?
We DO expect “return on investment” or we take not getting it as a loophole, even a principle of stewardship of whether we must love people by our actions. Please think on that for a moment!
So much for reflecting our Father Who is kind to ungrateful and outright evil people. Our mercy is in need of fertilizing because it is in this that working “the works of God” yields fruit of the sort the Spirit of God desires to work in and through us that others might know Him.
So do I agree with Tozer’s quote above? At core I do, yet there’s more.
The four things Luke mentions about the early church in Acts brings me right back to early Jesus Movement and right-here-and-now comments about the relative importance of doctrine. That is, we said (and say) doctrine itself (the teachings) of the Lord and His apostles (often, Paul in particular) aren’t something to care much about because love IS the deal, not doctrine.
You’re reading doctrine right here and now. Quoting Jesus at all is largely quoting His teaching and that’s doctrine. The Bible including the Gospels are stories, narratives from which we derive teachings to faithfully live out in our daily relationships with Jesus and others. What divides us from one another and often one local church or denomination from another is indeed the varied interpretation of doctrine- and yet the point of Jesus’s and His followers’ doctrine/s is love. I find some teachers and speakers divorce narrative from clear and practical teachings. It’s a bit like saying we don’t need to think about clothing in a blizzard. This world needs to see followers of Jesus Christ the Living Word live out loving one another (including our “enemies”). Relational love for and toward God and others in His love is why doctrine is not only important but essential.
“They were continually and faithfully devoting themselves to the instruction of the apostles, and to fellowship, to eating meals together and to prayers.” -Amplified
They did not merely hang out, pray and eat together – and sometimes this separates the early and fruitful church from our gatherings today. I don’t care if you’re an old rebellious Jesus freak or a young rebellious hipster Christian – or perhaps a sectarian who thinks they have “the deeper truth and higher light from the Spirit” beyond most other confessing Christians… there is something missing when we say “I have the Holy Spirit, I don’t need anyone to teach me” full stop (which is a misappropriation of John’s teaching (!) in his first letter to the churches).
Of course our deepest need is to hear from God the Holy Spirit and not merely from flawed, imperfect, sinful humans. It is also a fact the Spirit does indeed speak through we flawed, imperfect, sinful humans. The NEED is for the Spirit to give us the teaching/s God knows we need. He has, whether or not you study and seek to apply the Book of Truth or not.
What you’re saying (teaching) is that we all have the spiritual gift of teaching (which the Spirit gives -some-) and as long as we love (How??? By our own personal definition and choice… because like all other Christians we are ALWAYS led by and walking in the Holy Spirit, right?!!) yada yada. Humility this ain’t.
Such attitudes of fellowship remind me of the old train roundhouses… with ME at the center. Jesus and the very teachings and life of Paul and the other apostles echo Jesus’ doctrine of loving – even enemies.
Church, how steadfast are we? That’s the term used for the early church’s involvement with teachings give by the apostles. We have some growing up, some maturing, some dying to self and some essential information to not only learn but appropriate if we are truly loving our neighbor “as ourselves”.
We can argue the Bible is completely narratives and nothing more or compartmentalize doctrines from stories- but there is an intertwining that few scholars would debate with any solid evidence.
God help us move down this good and sorely needed spiritual road in 2021 and beyond!
As always, thanks for stopping by. -Glenn