Every church has a culture—a functioning set of values and identity.
Hopefully, this culture reflects what the church says it believes and teaches. But that is not always the case. Too many times, the culture of a church becomes one of divisiveness, pride, or worldliness (although no one is likely to acknowledge those).
As Baptists, we of course believe that the Bible is our final authority for faith and practice. But does the Bible speak to such matters as the culture of a church?
It does. And it does in one of the earliest descriptions of the first-century church in the book of Acts. In the same passage that tells us of the first moment of explosive growth in the church, we catch a glimpse into what the culture of this church was like.
- A preaching culture—The amazing explosion of growth that took place in the Jerusalem church on the day of Pentecost can only be attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. But He used Peter boldly standing and preaching the gospel as the tool to convict the lost. Preaching must be the engine that pulls the train in the ministry of a New Testament Baptist church.
But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words:—Acts 2:14
- A soul-conscious culture—Although Peter is the one who preached at Pentecost, it is obvious that all the disciples must have been dealing with people on a personal basis. A church focused on reaching the lost with the gospel not only will bear more fruit than a church that is inwardly focused, but it is also a more pleasant place to be and to grow in Christ.
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.—Acts 2:41
- A discipling culture—Even in this early explosion of growth, the church at Jerusalem did not neglect new Christians. The fact that these three thousand people continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine means that someone taught them the apostles doctrine. A healthy church has an environment that works like a greenhouse for new Christians.
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine…—Acts 2:42
- A fellowshipping culture—Christian fellowship is a powerful source of encouragement and is one of the great gifts God gives us through local church relationships.
And they continued stedfastly in…fellowship…—Acts 2:42
- A worshipping culture—One of the most worshipful times at Lancaster Baptist Church is when we partake of the Lord’s Table. Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it (Ephesians 5:25), and He is the one who should have preeminence in the church (Colossians 1:18). To say it another way, church should be about Jesus, not about us.
And they continued…in breaking of bread…—Acts 2:42
- A praying culture—I don’t think prayers in the early church were confined to pre-scheduled moments on an order of service to create transitions. They were heartfelt, corporate prayers—as they should be today.
And they continued…in prayers.—Acts 2:42
- A holy culture—This was a church that feared God. The signs and wonders performed by these early Christians brought an awe of God in the church. This was a church that recognized His holiness and had a deep reverence for Him. Holiness in the church is still vital today, for there is no fear of God where there is no holiness.
And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.—Acts 2:43
- A sacrificial culture—Giving is such an important part of a healthy church. We may not practice giving the same way that first-century church did, but we should have the same spirit of generosity. Sacrificial giving allows us to start ministries, send missionaries, and help those in need.
And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.—Acts 2:44–45
- A unified culture—The work of the ministry is too important to attempt it without the work of the Holy Spirit. Discord and division repel God’s power, but unity and love invite His work.
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,—Acts 2:46
- A Praising culture—This was not a church enamored with its own success. It was a church praising God for what He was doing in their midst. The moment we usurp the goodness of God to elevate ourselves—our leadership, vision, organization, or anything else—is the moment we lose His favor.
Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.—Acts 2:47
Interestingly, we might read these ten descriptions and assume this church was practically perfect. It wasn’t close. In fact, just four chapters later in Acts 6, we read of significant problems that arose related to its growth. (Incidentally, we see in the apostles’ response in Acts 6 that this church also had an approachable culture!) But while it wasn’t a perfect church, it was a healthy church.
Even so today, a healthy church culture does not mean a church without problems. But it does point to a church that is focused on Christ and has centered its energy around reaching the lost, discipling new converts, encouraging each other, and all while worshiping God.