The Church The Holy Spirit Quickened
January 24th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM
THE CHURCH THE HOLY SPIRIT QUICKENED
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-24-82 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Church The Holy Spirit Quickened, awakened, empowered. In Acts 2:41-42:
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there was added unto them about three thousand souls.
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and in the fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.
“In ‘the’ prayers,” there is an emphatic article in front of the word, “in the prayers.”
This is the second in the series on ecclesiology, in the “Great Doctrines of the Bible.” Last time I spoke here the message was entitled The Church Jesus Built. He said, in Matthew 16:18, “On this rock I will build My church.” Christ did it Himself. The church is the work of His gracious and omnipotent hands. And the church is before Him and the world, up to the first chapter of Acts. And in the second chapter of Acts, in the day of Pentecost, that church is empowered, it is quickened, it is made alive and vibrant [Acts 2:1-42].
I have listed here twenty-seven characteristic features of the church before Pentecost, the church that Jesus built:
One: Christian believers before Pentecost had the gospel.
Two: they were converted.
Three: they were baptized.
Four: they had Christ as their head.
Five: they were instructed in church truths.
Six: they were called to obey our Lord.
Seven: they were ordained.
Eight: they were commissioned.
Nine: they were organized for their needs.
Ten: they had a missionary program.
Eleven: they had a teaching program.
Twelve: they had a healing program.
Thirteen: they were promised a continuing and permanent congregation.
Fourteen: they had church discipline.
Fifteen: they had divine authority.
Sixteen: they had the essentials of church life.
Seventeen: they had a true democracy.
Eighteen: they had qualified pastors.
Nineteen: they had the Lord’s Supper.
Twenty: they had the Holy Spirit.
Twenty-one: they had divine power to do Christ’s work.
Twenty-two: they sang in the midst of the church, according to Hebrews 2:12.
Twenty-three: they had prayer meetings.
Twenty-four: they had business meetings.
Twenty-five: they had a membership roll.
Twenty-six: they were united and added unto.
And twenty-seven: Christ was their Cornerstone
—all of that before the second chapter of the Book of Acts.
Christ built the church. It was His work [Matthew 16:18]. And the church was there, constructed by the Lord, when the day of Pentecost came [Acts 2:1]. It was the same kind of a thing as the creation of Adam. “The Lord God,” the second chapter of Genesis says, “formed him out of the dust of the ground” [Genesis 2:7]. And he lay there inert before the Lord—all of his organs in place, fully formed, fully fashioned. Then the Scripture says, “And the Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living soul” [Genesis 2:7]. That’s Pentecost. Christ formed the church [Matthew 16:18]; and at Pentecost the Holy Spirit breathed life and quickening power into it [Acts 2:1-40].
You have another brilliant example of that in the thirty-seventh chapter of Ezekiel. The prophet sees a valley filled with dry bones, and he is commanded of God to prophesy to them—to preach to them. And when he prophesies and preaches, the bones come together in skeletal form. Then as he continues to prophesy, they are covered with sinews and muscles [Ezekiel 37:1-8]. Then the Lord God says to him, “Call to the breath of the Lord.” And he called to the breath of the Lord, and the breath of the Lord entered into them, and they arose, a living, great army for God [Ezekiel 37:9-10]. That’s the church. Christ formed it, and organized it, and built it [Matthew 16:18]. And at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit of God inbreathed it, empowered it, quickened it, awakened it; and [it] became a vibrant and living life [Acts 2:1-42].
In the passage that we just read out of the second chapter of the Book of Acts, there is that description of that living church—that quickened church [Acts 2:42]. As in the twenty-first chapter of the Book of the Revelation, John sees the church as a perfect cube; the length and the height and the breadth of it are equaled. It’s called foursquare—the “city foursquare” [Revelation 21:16]. So this description of the church that was quickened by the Holy Spirit of God [Acts 2:1-41], there are four essential characteristics of that God-empowered, Christ-honored, and Spirit-filled congregation: they are the doctrine; they are the fellowship; they are the breaking of bread; and they are the prayers [Acts 2:42]. Those are the four full-orbed, four-sided characteristics of the church quickened by the Holy Spirit of God. We look at them.
“And they continued steadfastly in the didachē.” The word for “to teach” is didaskō, and the word for “teaching” is didachē—what is taught—translated here, “doctrine.” “And they continued steadfastly in the doctrine, in the teaching of the apostles” [Acts 2:42]. There is an unbroken succession in the revelation of the truth of God: these apostles and that first generation who received from their hands that deposit of truth, then that generation taught the next, and that generation the next, until finally the teaching, the didachē, the doctrinal truth of God has come down to us. And we are praying that we shall hand that deposit of truth to these who succeed us, and they will continue its succession unbroken until the Lord shall come again. “They continued in the Spirit, and in the doctrine, and in the teaching, and in the dedication of the apostles” [Acts 2:42], this, I say, is an unbroken succession through the centuries. It is a real fellowship of the people of the Lord in the truth of God; the centuries make no difference in it.
On the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah spake with Jesus about the great doctrine of His atoning death [Luke 9:30-31]. They were divided by centuries in time, but it was an unbroken succession in the truth. In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, there is listed the heroes of the faith [Hebrews 11:1-40]. The twelfth chapter, the first verse—and there ought not to be a heading there, that’s a man-made division—after the author of Hebrews has called the roll call of the heroes of faith, then he says, “Wherefore seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses . . . let us run the race that is set before us” [Hebrews 12:1]. We are in a great, unbroken succession of those who have witnessed to the truth of God. I feel it every time I stand in this sacred place. There were mighty men of God who have stood also behind this very pulpit desk, in this very pulpit, in this sacred place. And we have received from their hands the truth of Almighty God. And we pray the Lord will find us faithful in handing that truth to these who follow after.
It is that truth, that deposit of the faith, that is the heart and dynamic center of the assembly of God’s people. “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, the didachē” [Acts 2:42], the apostles never wearied of telling it, recounting it; and the listeners never tired of hearing it. Somebody could say, “But didn’t it get dull, and dreary, and dry, and dusty, and monotonous?” No, only if you’re a spectator and the great truth of God never becomes a vibrant living part of your life.
There was a dear, young woman who belonged to this church, and her young husband did not belong. And she was so anxious for him to come here to be with us. She spoke with me about it. So I visited her husband, and I pressed upon him his coming into the church to be with his wife. As I pressed the appeal, he finally said to me, “Would you like to know why I don’t want to join your church?” Well, that was my first mistake—I said, “Yes, why?” Well he said, “I’ll tell you honestly, if it won’t hurt you. The reason I don’t join the church is, I don’t like to hear you preach.” Well, in the kindest and most generous way I could reply, I thanked him for his candid observation. Then out of curiosity I said, “I’d just like to know why you don’t like to hear me preach?” Seemed to me everybody would like to hear me preach. “Why don’t you like to hear me preach?”
“Well,” he said, “I’ll tell you the truth. I have been down there several times with my wife, and every time I go, you preach the Bible. Never heard you preach anything else, you just preach the Bible.” Well I said, “That’s right. What do you want me to preach?” I asked. Well, he said, “When I go to church, I’d like for the minister to enlarge his field of interest, and to preach on the political scene, and our economic dilemmas, and current events, and the latest, finest literature. That’s what I’d like. But I’d get tired of listening to you preach the Bible.” I never won him. He never joined the church, because I never quit preaching the Bible; haven’t yet. But I turned that over in my mind. My brother, my sister, honestly reply to me in your heart, when you listen to the news on television, isn’t that what they’re talking about, the news of the day? When you buy a magazine, Newsweek, Time, United States News and World Report, isn’t that what they’re talking about, the economic life of the people, the current events, the state of the nation, the political scene? When you look at your daily newspaper and you see the headlines, and then you read the editorials, isn’t that a discussion of the events of the day? Why would you want to come to church and hear all of that rehashed? There’s not a man in the State Department but that knows more about the inside working of the foreign policy of America than I could ever know. There’s not a corporate head of a great bank that doesn’t know more about the economic situation of our people than I could ever know. It seems to me that once in a while, a man who lives in this present world would like to know what God has to say. Does God say anything? If He does, “Preacher, for God’s sake, tell us what God says!” And it seems to me that is the assignment of the preacher: to stand in the pulpit and to open the Word of the living Lord, and to tell us what will save our souls from hell, and what will bless our lives in grace and power. That’s what he’s speaking of: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ didachē, in the teaching of the truth of the blessed Lord” [Acts 2:42].
Will you see again this four-square, full-orbed outpouring of the Spirit of God and its effect upon that church? “They continued steadfastly in the koinōnia,” translated here “fellowship” [Acts 2:42]. In the eleventh chapter of the book—in the tenth chapter of the Book of 1 Corinthians, it is translated “communion,” the communion that we have when we break bread and drink the cup together; the communion, the koinōnia, the fellowship of the Lord; our togetherness in Him [1 Corinthians 10:16]. It is the eternal purpose of God that His people be together. It has been that way from the beginning of the human race. In the sixty-eighth Psalm it says, “The solitary God hath placed in families” [Psalm 68:6], all of us in some kind of a family—may be disordered and disorganized and destroyed, but we were born in some kind of a family group. That is the purpose of God from the beginning of the creation: that we be together.
And of course, how much more so that we be together in the church, in the family of God?
You will notice we say “brother and sister” ’round here,
It’s because we’re a family and these folks are so near;
When one has a heartache, we all share the tears,
And rejoice in each victory in this family so dear.
From the door of an orphanage to the house of the King,
No longer an outcast, a new song I can sing;
From rags unto riches, from the weak to the strong,
I’m not worthy to be here, but Praise God! I belong!
I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God—
I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by the Blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod,
For I’m part of the family, the family of God
[“Family of God,” William J. Gaither]
I’m so glad.
The preacher was surrounded one time by a bunch of unbelievers. So one of them said to the preacher, they said, “Preacher, do you believe we can go to heaven without joining the church?” And the preacher immediately replied, “Why, yes.” They liked that. So they patted him on the back, and commended him for being a “broad-minded preacher,” “Why, sure you can go to heaven without joining the church.” Then the preacher said to them, “May I ask you a question, and you answer just as quickly?” And they said, “Yeah, preacher, what is it?” He said, “Why would you want to go to heaven like that? Why? In heaven we’re going to be together, and with our Lord. Why wouldn’t you want to be with us here? Why would you say, ‘I’m going to heaven to be with God’s people,’ but scorn and disdain to be with them here? Why, my friend, the sweetest, dearest privilege in the world is to belong to the family of God, to the assembly, to the koinōnia of the Lord’s people.” How precious it is.
There are many man-made organizations; there are thousands of them, literally. They are civic, they are philanthropic, they are social, there are all kinds of organizations; but there’s just one that Jesus built, that Jesus made. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25]. And we are added to the church by the Spirit of God: 1 Corinthians 12:13, “By one Spirit are we all baptized into the body of Christ,” into the family of the Lord. And why wouldn’t I count it the highest privilege in the world to belong to that family of God?
In this world we face a floodtide of secularism and materialism. This assembly in this vast city is kind of like an island of God’s mercy and grace. It’s sort of like a colony of heaven. And we gather here with our children, and with our teenagers, and with our young marrieds, and with our men and women in the prime of their lives, and finally down to old age, and to death.
This last week, and especially yesterday, I stood by the bedside of several of our members. They’re not going to get up. They’re not going to live. They’ll be over there real soon. And I’m so glad they belong to us, and to Him; and that dark, cold, sullen river of death called the Jordan just separates for the moment, but not for the forever. The tribe of Gad and Manasseh on that side of the Jordan were no less a part of Israel on this side of the Jordan [Numbers 32:1-42]. Some of us there, some of us here, but we all belong to the family of God. And it’s a comfort to me when I see our people come down to old age and death. And I’ve been here so long, that practically all of the people that I knew when I came here are on the other side, practically all of them. Every leader in the church, every one of them is over there. It comforts my heart to know we’re still one in the faith, we are one in the Lord. Death does not separate us from Christ or from one another. We are in the family of God, the koinōnia, the assembly of God’s people [1 Thessalonians 4:13-18].
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ didachē, and in the koinōnia, in the fellowship, and in the breaking of bread” [Acts 2:42]. Isn’t that an unusual thing, “And in the breaking of bread”? From the best that I can understand the Scriptures, it seems to me that the first original Christian community observed that breaking of bread, which is in the New Testament a term for the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-30; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29]. Wherever you see that “breaking bread,” it refers to the Lord’s Supper. It says here in verse 46: “They continued daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house,” daily breaking bread from house to house, “they did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart” [Acts 2:46]. Apparently, it seems to me, every evening meal was closed with the Lord’s Supper. They broke bread, and they shared the fruit of the vine, the red crimson of the grape, together.
Well, when you start thinking about that, one of the four tremendous characteristics of that Christ-built and Spirit-quickened church, when you begin thinking about it, it startles you! Sweet people, what is that broken bread? [Acts 2:42, 46]. That is His torn and mangled body [1 Corinthians 10:16]. What is that crimson cup? That is His life poured out on the ground [1 Corinthians 10:16]. What is this breaking of bread? That is the agony and the suffering of our Lord’s atoning death on the cross [1 Corinthians 11:26]. And it is called, the “Eucharist,” thanking God, then breaking bread; thanking God, then drinking of the cup. It was called, the “Eucharist,” from a word used in its description: eucharisteō means “to give thanks,” eucharistia means “thanksgiving.”
And the Lord took bread and eucharisteō…
He gave thanks and broke it…
And He took the cup—crushed, crimson— and He eucharisteō…
He gave thanks: and they drank of it.
Can you imagine a faith and religion that is eucharistic in death and agony? No wonder they shook the very foundations of the Roman Empire, these who are rejoicing in the sufferings and the hardships and the trials of life.
Do you notice these people? Verse 41: “They that gladly received his word were baptized” [Acts 2:41]; 46, “Breaking bread from house to house with gladness and simplicity, singleness of heart” [Acts 2:46]. That’s not all. When I turn to the fifth chapter of the Book of Acts, there I read, “And they rejoiced, they rejoiced because they were counted worthy to suffer for His name” [Acts 5:41]. They had been beaten; and bloody and beaten they were rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name. Eucharistic Christianity: praising God in blood, and suffering, and agony, and death. And as though that were not enough, in the twelfth chapter of the Book of 2 Corinthians, Paul writes, “There was given me a thorn in the flesh,” a physical ailment, “and I besought the Lord: God, take it away from me” [2 Corinthians 12:7-8]. Was he blind? Was he crippled? A thorn in the flesh, “And the Lord said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness [2 Corinthians 12:9]. Most gladly”—and there’s that word again:
Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities—
my illnesses, my weaknesses—
that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
[2 Corinthians 12:9-10]
Eucharistic Christianity: praising God for the trials, and the torments, and the hurts, and the tears, the afflictions, and the sicknesses, and the frustrations, and the disappointments in life. Lord, Lord, how do you do that? How do you do that? “In every thing giving thanks to God” [1 Thessalonians 5:18].
“Thank You, Lord, that I have been sick.” I have to learn to pray that. “Thank You Lord, that I have been crushed. God help me. Thank You, Lord that I know what it is to be ground in the dust of the earth.” I learn more about God in weakness, in infirmity, in disappointment, in heartache, than I could ever know about God in my own strength or success or achievement. Eucharistic Christianity: breaking bread, drinking of the crimson cup, with thanksgiving. It’s unusual, isn’t it? No wonder it changed the world.
And the last one: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ didachē, in the doctrine of the faith; in the koinōnia, in the fellowship of God’s family; in the breaking of bread,” eucharistic Christianity, “and in the prayers, in the prayers” [Acts 2:42]. I can easily tell from the way that is written, “in the prayers,” that it refers to a stated, public service of worship and intercession; just as well as the closet in private appeal to God.
We had a visitor here last week. You know, I invite the visitors to come and have a little repast for you, a little something for you. And I get to meet you and talk to you. Well, last week one of them said, “I’m a Baptist, and have been a Baptist all of my life.” Then he said, “I cannot tell you how surprised I was to come to your church today and to see your people kneel in prayer. I have never seen it before.” Now I am not finding fault or castigating or criticizing any of my fellow Baptist churches, but I do think that that’s one of the saddest commentaries that can ever be made by us: “I have never seen a Baptist congregation kneel in prayer before, never.”
It has always seemed to me that when I talk to God—I who am but dust and ashes—that my place is down on my face before Him, on my knees before the great high and mighty God. And one of the things that characterize that Spirit-quickened, awakened church was they met together in stated, public prayer [Acts 2:42]. “My house,” said the prophet Isaiah, speaking for the Lord, “My house shall be called an house of prayer” [Isaiah 56:7]. Holy convocations of Israel gathered before the door of the tabernacle. That’s what we ought to do—coming to God’s house to call upon His name, to open our hearts God-ward and Christ-ward and heavenward. And Lord, fill our souls with Thy grace and mercy.
Then, closet prayer, with the door shut, private prayer; where nobody hears but God. “And they continued steadfastly… in praying” [Acts 2:42]. Oh dear, how I need that!
As many of you know, I went to seminary at our mother seminary school, Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. My Hebrew teacher was John R. Sampey; he was a great, old man. When I was there, he was president also of the school. They had a different way then. The president at that time and in those generations was one of the faculty members; he was “one among peers,” they referred to it. So my Hebrew teacher—John R. Sampey was my professor—my professor of Hebrew was president of the school. And he was one of the most interesting men that you could ever know in your life; a character. Everybody called him “Tiglath” because of his great admiration for Tiglath-pileser, the tremendous king of Assyria, ancient Assyria. Well anyway, he came back to the seminary one time, on fire, revived; it was remarkable. He was just aflame. He got religion. What had happened was he’d been to Missouri to hold a revival meeting with one of the graduates of the seminary, and when he came back, why, he described the revival. It must have been marvelous. And how it came to pass, that was more marvelous to me than the revival itself. What happened over there was this: the young pastor said to his wife, “I’m going to resign the church, and I’m going to quit the ministry, and I’m going into secular work. I’m not going to be a preacher any longer.”
I can understand that. There’s not a preacher in this world that I know of, that hasn’t had his moments of infinite discouragement and heartache. I remember one time, walking up and down in front of the little church that I pastored years ago, and I said to myself, “I’m not going to preach any longer. And I’m certainly not going to be a pastor. I’m going to medical school, and I’m going to be a doctor as my mother wanted me to be.” Her father was a doctor, a physician, and she wanted me to be a doctor and [was] so disappointed when I said I was going to be a preacher. “I’m going to quit the ministry, and I’m going to medical school, and I’m going to be a doctor,” just crushed, just discouraged; I know exactly how he felt.
He said to his wife, “I’m resigning the church and I’m quitting the ministry, and I’m going into the secular world.” She said to him, “Why, why, husband, that’s all right, it’s all right. I just have one request to make, and that is this: for a period of time,” and she set it, “would you get up an hour earlier each morning and pray? And that’s all, an hour earlier?” Well, out of deference to his young wife, the young pastor said, “I will.”
So each morning he got up to pray for an hour. He had never prayed for an hour at one time in his life. Five minutes sounded long, and ten minutes was an eternity; he just ran out of anything to pray about. But he promised his wife, and he stayed with it. So as the mornings came and went, and he arose that extra hour, he began to pray for his deacons by name, one at a time; all of his deacons he prayed for, calling the name before the Lord. Then he began to pray for his Sunday school teachers, and the superintendents, and called them by name before the Lord. Then he began to pray for the sick, and the bereaved, and the distressed, and the heartbroken in his congregation. And then he began to pray for the lost in the community.
Old Tiglath-pileser, my Hebrew teacher, said, “There came a great revival in the young man’s heart and in his life. And out of him it spilled over into the church.” And he said, “I shared in it this last week. God visited us. Heaven breathed upon us.” That’s God’s will for us. “And they continued steadfastly in the prayers” [Acts 2:42], praying for one another, praying for ourselves, praying for these that belong to us, praying for the work of our hands.
Every time I am given a new Bible, I have a word that I write in it. When I am given a new Bible, this is what I write in it, on the fly leaf up here at the front:
He stands best who kneels most.
He stands strongest who kneels weakest.
And he stands longest who kneels lowest.
“Not by might, nor by power,” nor by human genius, “but by My Spirit, saith the Lord” [Zechariah 4:6]. Amen.
Now may we stand together?
Our Lord, when we read of the quickening, powerful, moving, living effect of the Spirit of God upon that church, Master, may we standing in succession find our own hearts and our own assembly, our koinōnia, quickened in that divine and loving fellowship. Master, may it be our commitment to the truth, to live and to die in it, for it. Preach it: the whole counsel of God, that the Spirit of the Lord bear it on wings, truth to our hearts. May we grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus. O God, make this koinōnia the sweet dear fellowship God would have it be; loving Thee, and loving each other.
While we pray, just for this moment, nobody leave. In just a moment I’ll give you freedom to leave, but stay now. And if you move, move toward the altar, toward God. While we pray and while we wait, a family you to put your life with us in the church, would you decide it now in your heart? A couple you, or just one somebody you, “Pastor, today we have decided for God and here we come, here we stand.” To give your heart in trust to Jesus, or to come to be baptized in obedience to His command [Matthew 28:19-20], and His own example [Matthew 3:13-17], or to put your life with us in this dear koinōnia, this dear fellowship and communion, come. Down that stairway in the balcony, down this aisle on the lower floor, “Pastor, we have decided for God and here we stand.”
And thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give us. In Thy precious name, amen. While we sing, welcome. Come, come.