In the book of Matthew, chapter 16 and verse 18, Jesus tells Peter and the other disciples, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Then, in Acts, chapter 1, verse 5, Jesus declares, "For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost..."
The first two chapters of Acts tells of the birth of the new testament church. There were about 120 people gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem (Acts 1:15). And, for clarification, this group included women, even the mother of Jesus (Acts 1:14). The first four verses of chapter 2 describe this scenario:
1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Notice they were ALL in one place, ALL in one accord, ALL filled with the Holy Ghost, and they ALL spoke in tongues! The point being, the people were unified. Apparently, no one was arguing whether the carpet in the sanctuary should be red or blue, or whether they should have traditional or contemporary music in their worship, etc. The bible says they continued with one accord in prayer and supplication (Acts 1:12-14) They had one thing on their minds and they prayerfully waited for the promise to be fulfilled (Acts 1: 4-5)! The church today would be an unstoppable force to reckon with if the body of Christ was not so torn and divided within.
As a brief side note, what a beautiful thought that Mary, the precious mother of Jesus, was filled with the Holy Ghost and spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave the utterance! I may approach the issue of speaking in tongues in a future article. But for now, my focus is the overall characteristics of a new testament church.
To understand the overall function, role, and operation of the church - the body of Christ - we must first have an understanding of who the Holy Ghost is, what He does, and His relevance historically and currently. The reason and importance of having this understanding is because, according to the book of Acts, the church was born by, through, and with Holy Ghost fire baptism. It is the only means by which the church can function and operate effectively. Quite simply, the Holy Ghost empowers believers to be an effective witness of Jesus Christ, fulfill the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20), and minister to the widows, orphans, and prisoners, as well as the sick, the elderly, and the poor (Matthew 25:31-46). Furthermore, the church has a responsibility to nurture and tend to the spiritual needs of people as well, for the Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom (John 18:36, Ephesians 6:10-18).
According to scripture, the Holy Ghost is the comforter, the guide, the revealer, the power of God, the anointing of God, and more. In scripture, He is represented and/or symbolized as the third person of the Godhead, the fire of God, the wind (or breath) of God, and a dove, among other descriptions.
As a member of the Holy, triune Godhead, the Holy Ghost plays a number of roles in the lives of believers - both collectively as the body of Christ, and individually. Most notably, we understand that the Holy Ghost is the one who brings conviction, opening our eyes and hearts to sin and the need of the Savior (John 16:7-11). The Holy Ghost produces spiritual fruit in our lives, helping us to live a pleasing life before God (Galatians 5). And, the Holy Ghost imparts spiritual gifts to believers for the purpose of edifying the body of Christ, glorifying the Father, and ministering to both the sinner and the saint (1st Corinthians 12:1-11).
It's no wonder, then, why Jesus said, "Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you." (Acts 1:8) Jesus also said, "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." (Mark 16:17-18)
THAT is the church Jesus was talking about when he said, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
So, where is THAT church today??
The blueprint of what a true new testament church should look like is found in the book of Acts. You see, the apostles were well trained by Jesus, and they were full of His Word. STILL, He told them to stay in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:47-49). Jesus knew they would need that "power from on high" before He released them to go forth and fulfill the great commission. Once they were baptized in the Holy Ghost, they began to witness and preach the Word of God effectively with power, and with signs, miracles and wonders following!
If the disciples and believers of that day needed the Holy Ghost baptism, how much more do we need it today??
To be a true, new testament church, we have the need of that same power from on high. Sadly, however, many sincere evangelical Christians dismiss, avoid, and disobey this command of Jesus to His church. Many nowadays even actively preach against it, even in some "Pentecostal" circles.
It is here that some would argue, "But I got the Holy Spirit when I got saved." Actually, some DO receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost when they repent and accept Christ. I have personally witnessed this. Jesus saves them and then immediately baptizes them with the Holy Ghost. It's an awesome, beautiful thing to witness.
However, it doesn't always happen that way. Even in the scriptures we find where people were Christians - they were believers - but had not yet received the baptism of the Holy Ghost. There were many who believed on Christ, followed Him, and were water baptized long before the Holy Ghost came. A good, clear account of this is found in Acts 19:1-6...
1 And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, 2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. 3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. 4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.
So yes, some do receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost when they "get saved." But it is also possible to be a Christian without ever having been baptized or filled with the Holy Ghost. How? Why? Because, quite simply, there is a difference in being born of the Spirit and being filled with the Spirit.
Perhaps, here would be a good place to point out one particular erroneous doctrine. There are some who believe and teach that a person isn't a Christian or isn't "saved" unless or until he/she is baptized with the Holy Ghost and speaks in tongues. I must emphatically disagree. This simply isn't true, and this "doctrine" can be found nowhere in scripture. again, there is a difference in being born of the Spirit and being filled with the Spirit. I will leave it at that for now.
But make no mistake, the early church went out into the "highways and hedges" evangelizing with an undeniable power and anointing, resulting in a great harvest of souls won to Christ.
When Paul, Silvanus, and Timotheus wrote to the church of the Thessalonians, they said, "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost." (1st Thessalonians 1:5-6)
Paul, writing to the Corinthian church declared, "And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." (1st Corinthians 2:4-5)
The book of Acts is a record of the early church in action and, as mentioned earlier, is a blueprint for the new testament church.
Here are just a few examples from the book of Acts of the early church ministering under the anointing of the Holy Ghost, evidenced with supernatural manifestations:
The first few verses give the account of the 120 in the upper room filled with the Holy Ghost. In other tongues they spoke of "the wonderful works of God." (Vs. 11)
Peter preached under the anointing of the Holy Ghost, and 3,000 souls were added to the church that day. (Vs. 14-40)
Many signs and wonders were done by the apostles. (Vs. 43)
A healing miracle was wrought when Peter and John ministered to the lame man at the gate of the temple. As the people marveled, Peter began to preach.
About 5,000 more were added to the church as a result of the miracle and the message.
Many signs and wonders wrought among the people. Believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes of men and women.
There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one. (Vs. 16)
7 And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith. 8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.
Philip, full of the Holy Ghost, preached in Samaria. The sick were healed, miracles took place, and demons were cast out. The people "gave heed" to the words of Philip "and there was great joy in that city."
Peter, full of the Holy Ghost, raises a dead woman back to life. As a result, many believed in the Lord.
Again, these are but only a few examples.
But with all the scriptural evidence presented here, again I ask, where is this church today? Where is the church that is filled with Holy Ghost fire, who preaches the whole, uncompromised gospel with power and authority? Where is that church who unashamedly proclaims the name of Jesus, the blood of Jesus and the finished work of the cross? Where is that church of whom signs, miracles and wonders follow? Where is that church who will still stand against sin while standing for righteousness and holiness?
It appears the scriptures are being fulfilled regarding the church in the end times: "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." (2nd Timothy 3:1-7, emphasis mine)
The good news is, however, there does remain a church. When Jesus said He would build His church, He meant it. He knew there would remain a few faithful. These few are what the Bible refers to as the remnant church. Perhaps, I will elaborate more in a future article about the remnant of which the bible speaks.
But, for now, suffice it to say that the body of Christ needs a fresh baptism of the Holy Ghost!