From there Stott states with conviction that the church is no afterthought with God. “It is at the very center of the eternal purpose of God.” He reminds us that the church in the West is not presently growing. He also, like Packer, refers to the stuntedness of the church. Using Acts 2:42-47, he then sets out four essentials which he says are the parts of God’s vision for his church. They are:
A learning church – The first thing Luke said in Acts 2 was that the church devoted itself to the apostles’ teachings. We cannot bypass teaching sound doctrine, as well as what is in accord with sound doctrine, and expect God to bless us. Anti-intellectualism plagues the broader evangelical church today. Some world leaders are saying that the church “is a mile wide and an inch deep.” Not knowing what we believe and not being able to give a reason to those who ask why we believe what we believe is incompatible with biblical Christianity. What we believe does in fact matter greatly. Truth matters!
A caring church – “They devoted themselves… to the fellowship.” They had all things in common and shared with one another according to their needs (Act 2:44-45). Here, Stott particularly positions small group ministry in the life of the church. There was a general pastoral model for a caring church in the early church.
A worshiping church – “They devoted themselves to the breaking of the bread.” The early church experienced both a joyful and reverent worship. First of all, the church is to pay attention to the biblical soundness of our worship; and then under that umbrella we can then think of each other’s preferences. The church, though being one body, is a diversified people who need each other, even in worship. Stott wrote, “When I attend some church services, I almost think I have come to a funeral by mistake… At the same time the early church’s worship was never irreverent… Some church services today are flippant.”
An evangelizing church – To be preoccupied with itself is a danger for the churches to beware of. The early church was committed to missions (Acts 2:47). Christ added to the church such as were saved. The two go together, and trying to make that merely a reference to the mystical body of Christ and by-pass the local church was not the model of the early church. Converts to Christ were added daily; and as Stott says, they related both to the apostles and their teaching and to one another. They loved each other, which is the basic ingredient of a loving and caring church.
I would encourage each pastor, elder, deacon, and others who teach and lead in the church to read Stott’s book, but only with the warning that it might change the way you think about some things. Stott does not give out mixed signals. For example, Jesus defines Christians as salt and light, implying that Christians are to be radically different in the way we think and live in contrast to non-Christians. Jesus made it perfectly clear in places such as the Sermon on the Mount and the parables that Christians are to be different. One way we function as salt and light is to take our Christianity into the marketplace, or as Stott says, “permeate secular culture for Christ in our daily work.” You do not have to be a professional minister or missionary to do that. This is where the process of making kingdom disciples reminds us that no matter what we do, we are to do all to God’s glory. Stott asks, “Why don’t we Christians have a more wholesome effect on society?…Who’s to blame?…Where is the light?” Those rhetorical questions set the stage for Stott to remind us that “we must accept the role which Jesus has assigned to us.”
I agree with him that the church is in need of, and hopefully even looking for, a new freshness. Stott says that while he is in the ninth decade of his life, “I often find myself looking into the future and longing that God will raise up a new generation of Timothys who are called to be different from the prevailing culture.”
Unlike some appear to be doing today by ignoring or speaking badly of the church, I think of the need to offer counsel to the Bride. All is not well for the wedding or consummation where the church is concerned; and as counsel is offered, we are aware of the need to deal with the Bride’s role in the overall design of God. It is to make kingdom disciples. As I apply this to our own church, the PCA, I believe we are facing great challenges and opportunities that we must address collectively. We are a connectional church, though sometimes, even as one of the organizers in 1973, I tend to think that the PCA is a Presbyterian denomination in theory but in a parachurch shroud in practice. I believe with all my heart that God has given us an opportunity to make a difference by being kingdom minded people. I believe with a little tweaking, by being sound in doctrine, committed to Christ by developing a Christlike character, by demonstrating the marks of the church set forth in Acts 2:42-47 and the historic Reformed marks of the church, learning how to downplay our American independency and experience a real body life, and realizing that as we are discipled by the church to be kingdom disciples, God sends us into the world with the mandate to claim all of life for his glory.
The PCA has a great opportunity to make a difference for Christ and his kingdom but only if we practice our theory. As is true of the kingdom, the church is not about us. Packer is right. We must not center on man but rather on God. We must come together with a working connectionalism that enables us to be all that God would have us to be. We must not look to parachurch ministries to relieve us of our assignment to make kingdom disciples and prepare God’s people to move into the world under the banner of Christ, seeking to do all and claim all to the glory of God. The ball is now in our court, and our future will reveal whether or not we have been and done what God intended for us.