In addition to these four features mentioned in Acts 2:42 being the marks of a healthy church, they are also means of grace. By this term, we mean that Jesus is active in each of them. Luke had indicated at the commencement of his account that Jesus was continuing to work among his people from heaven. He had worked on the Day of Pentecost by bringing all these converts into the church. And he continued to work on their behalf while they gathered together as the church.
Jesus is active in the teaching ministry of the church. When these believers gathered together, they heard one or more of the apostles preaching to them. Yet behind the scenes, Jesus was functioning as the Prophet of his church. Throughout their time of teaching, he was leading his servants as to what to say, and he would have something to say to each person that was gathered there. Sometimes, what he has to say is covered in the general teaching that was given, and the individuals may not have noticed anything particular. At other times, a listener could sense the address was so personal and so accurate that he or she concluded that the preacher had some private information about the situation. He did not, of course. What was happening was that Jesus was speaking to the person specifically. This does not mean that we should look out for specific messages. Normally, we should pay attention to the regular message because Jesus always speaks through it. In addition, we should pay attention to any specific message that we sense in a sermon.
Jesus is active in the fellowship of the church. Sometimes he prompts some of his people to share temporal provisions with other believers. At other times he leads disciples to ask particular questions to a fellow Christian in order to identify something that is wrong. Or he may lead them to quote encouraging promises to another believer without them being aware of the individual’s needs.
Jesus is also active in the Lord’s Supper. He is not absent from the occasion, although he is not physically in the room. He comes to meet with his people, to strengthen them spiritually with graces from heaven. There may not be a connection, but I wonder why churches which do not have frequent communion also have problems with lack of assurance. It is the case that failure to have a means of grace deprives us of occasions for receiving from Jesus.
Finally, Jesus is active during times of prayer. Like the conductor of an orchestra, he points to one member and gets him or her to pray about a particular thing. Jesus should be in control of the vocal and silent prayers of the church. Prayer that receives answers comes from the heavenly Conductor. We speak about individuals leading in prayer, which is the case when words are spoken. But we should pray to be led by Jesus, whether our prayers are vocal or silent. If we are not praying in the secret of our hearts during a prayer meeting, it means that the Conductor does not think we are in a fit state to contribute to the harmony of the occasion.
Sometimes we search for a definition of a Christian. Often the definition concerns his private Christian life or his involvement with the world. Seldom does a definition focus on how he relates to the church. Yet I think it is legitimate to say that a true Christian is a person who wants to meet with other Christians in order to learn, in order to share, in order to remember their Master, and in order to pray. Luke describes the church life in Jerusalem long ago. Does he describe ours today?