When Is The Church Strong
Some brethren do not know the difference between size and strength. They see a congregation, or the church, swell a little, and they think it is growing, when in reality it may be just having gland trouble! Or, maybe it has suffered with the sweets on the menu, while avoiding the things that would cause it to grow spiritually.
When did the apostles consider the church strong, and growing? When will the Lord accept a numerical increase as evidence of spiritual growth? Certainly not when "all records are broken" at the morning assembly, but only one-third (more or less) return for the evening assembly. Neither is the church growing when people flock to see some celebrity, who may or may not be a member of the church (the Lord knoweth).
Let us see what made the church of the first century grow, and then see if the same things will cause the church of the 20th century to do likewise:
1. Acts 2:41-47-The Lord added 3000 to the church in one day, and continued to add those who were convicted by fearless preaching that caused people to be "pricked in their heart." (v.37). When they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine", they were growing spiritually and numerically.
2. Acts 4:4-"Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand." This was the result when the confirmed word was declared in such a way as to convince people they were sinners, and that Jesus Christ was the Savior.
3. Acts 5:14-"And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women." This happened after the church had been cleansed of two hypocrites, and the apostles confirmed the word with miracles. The confirmed word should be no less powerful today, as these events are retold by faithful and able men.
4. Acts 6:7-"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." This happened when men were willing and able to devote their time to "prayer, and to the ministry of the word" did so, and others were left to serve tables. And there is no command, example, or inference here that indicates the apostles spearheaded a fund-raising campaign to start a "widowage" in Jerusalem. Maybe they hadn't read Jas. 1:27 yet!
5. Acts 9:31-"Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied." When the church rests from persecution, is edified (by itself), fears God, and is comforted by the Comforter, it will grow "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might."
6. Acts 11:21-"And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord." A "scattering" is good for the growth of the church, when those who are scattered go everywhere "preaching the word." But when we go forth preaching camps, kitchens, and commandments of men, the membership may swell, but the church will be weakened.
7. Acts 14:1-" ...that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed." When the apostles "so spake" in the synagogues, they didn't endorse the law of Moses, Jewish ordinances, and the like. Truth was not compromised, even on enemy territory. Some among us would get fewer invitations to appear at some gatherings, if they weren't afraid of being "put out of the synagogue"!
8. Acts 16:5-"And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily." The increase was due to the delivered decrees ordained by the Jerusalem apostles and elders, along with churches being "established in the faith." To establish a thing means more than to just start it. Some preachers don't mind starting a thing as long as they don't have to establish it. They don't mind going into the "backwoods" for a few days, if it isn't so far back in the woods that they can't get publicity and coverage from some paper or publication!
9. Acts 17:4-"And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few." See comments on No. 7.
10. Acts 18:8-". . many of the Corinthians hearing, believed, and were baptized." This happened when Paul had judgment enough not to fool his time away with people who didn't want the truth, (v.6).
11. Acts 19:20-"So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed." Paul spake boldly, disputed, and persuaded. When some could stand it no longer, he separated the disciples, and continued his disputation in the school of one Tyrannus. Also, the books setting forth "curious arts" were burned, (v.19). Some jump on the school idea here, and start advocating that such (or their idea of such) is the best way to make the church grow stronger. The schools of Tyrannus was so private that it belonged to ONE man. . ."one Tyrannus." Neither would it do Tyrannus any good to try putting a muffler on Paul's mouth, for he would know the Jews couldn't do it in the synagogue.
The Lord expects us to be strong, but let us not forget that God's strength is "made perfect in weakness", (2 Cor. 12:9,10). What man considers strength, the Lord may consider weakness. And the methods that we consider simple weak, and "old-fashioned", may be just the things that God wants us to employ that we might be strong, (1 Cor. 1:26-29). We may have to eat the dust of those who think they are "on the march", but God forbid that we be swelled with numbers and appear beautiful outward, while within we are "full of extortion and excess . . . dead men's bones and of all uncleanness," (Mt. 23:25--27).