The Jerusalem church is a stellar example of success for God’s kingdom.* They continued to grow and continued to grow and then they faced persecution and were blown apart. Then they continued to grow and continued to grow. But this doesn’t mean they were problem free. After all, there were people in those churches too, just like there are people in churches today. They had humongous internal problems that threatened to rip them apart, but they dealt with them aggressively and overcame. In this post, I want to share with you the three major internal problems they faced. We’ll examine how they handled each one in later posts.
The 3 Kinds of Internal Problems Churches Face
Problem #1: Sin Problems
“Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” says the old slogan and bumper sticker. The same was true in Jerusalem. There was a blotch on the unity in heart and soul that Jerusalem maintained. While in Acts 4:32-37, brethren were selling property and laying the proceeds at the apostles’ feet to care for each other, in Acts 5:1-14, Ananias and Sapphira decided to dupe the brethren. They sold some property for a certain amount (for illustration purposes we’ll say 50 gold coins). And they kept back part of it (let’s say 10 gold coins). But they claimed the amount they gave to the apostles was the entire sales price (thus, they claimed they sold it for 40 gold coins). They lied. Plain and simple. They wanted to look good. They wanted to look good like Barnabas, so they lied.
Sin was in the camp. Like Achan of old, they had brought wickedness among God’s people. The problem is not that Christians sin. As I John 1:8 says, we all do. The problem is if we enable sin by not dealing with it in a godly way, the local congregation can be destroyed. As Paul said in I Corinthians 5:6, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.”
Problem #2: People Problems
Whenever people from different backgrounds get together, there are bound to be people problems. It may come due to cultural issues, political issues, personal issues, or boundary issues. But there will be problems. While the church is a safe haven for people, we must not think it is safe because it is problem free. Rather, it is safe because we will learn how to deal with those problems.
Jerusalem was no different. In Acts 6:1-7, the Hellenistic widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. Because the church had grown, this was not being taken care of well. The problem was along ethnic and racial lines. The native Hebrews were being cared for and the Hellenistic Jewish widows, those from the Diaspora who had traveled in to Jerusalem for Pentecost and stayed, were being overlooked despite all the unity of heart. Here is a problem that definitely threatened to divide the church. Yet, they dealt with it quickly and aggressively and instead of dividing, the church multiplied.
Problem #3: Doctrinal Problems
The local congregation needs to uphold the truth of God (1 Timothy 3:15), that is the only way men and women can be set free by Jesus Christ (John 8:32). Yet, because Christianity is about growth, doctrinal problems will always arise. And that is exactly what happened in Jerusalem. In Acts 15:4-35, the apostles discovered because of Paul’s report that some men from Judea were teaching that Gentiles had to become Jews in order to be Christians. They had to be circumcised or they couldn’t serve God. Of course, we know from Galatians that isn’t true. But Galatians hadn’t been written yet.
If anything will divide a church it is arguments over doctrine. But Jerusalem dealt with this problem aggressively. Instead of dividing, they grew and through their influence helped other congregations grow.
I really only have two points for this post. 1) Even Jerusalem had problems. 2) Jerusalem continued to grow because they dealt with those problems aggressively. As Barney Fife was wont to say they nipped it in the bud.
Does your congregation have problems? Don’t despair. All congregations do. Stick around as we look at how Jerusalem dealt with these problems.
Before we get there, what kind of advice would you offer to congregations having problems and to people within them? Scroll down to add a comment. For my RSS and e-mail subscribers click the following link to add your input: Post a comment.
*This is part 15 in my series on the Jerusalem church. For an index of the series, click here. As I said above, I’ll continue this series soon by looking at how Jerusalem dealt aggressively with their sin problem.