Audio Worship 3/3/2024 "The True Church" Acts 2.41-47

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1627

March 3, 2024

Acts 2.41-47      Click here for audio worship.

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)


“The True Church”


41So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.



  • Marks of the Church


Essential #5 is about the church! The true Church is composed of all persons who through saving faith in Jesus Christ and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit are united together in the body of Christ. The Church finds her visible yet imperfect, expression in local congregations where the Word of God is preached in its purity and the sacraments are administered in their integrity, where scriptural discipline is practiced, and where loving fellowship is maintained. For her perfecting she awaits the return of her Lord.


We are the body of Christ, those who have faith in Jesus and are being sanctified by the Spirit. The church is not perfect, but there are significant marks that make up the true church. We are not perfect, but we await perfection when Christ returns.

I want to take a look to the areas the early church focused in Acts 2. This brief passage points to some of the things the church does to this day, over two thousand years later. We are picking up in the middle of the chapter at verse 41 and what we see first are those who received the good news of the gospel were baptized. They did what one does after a conversion to faith, get sprinkled or dunked in the waters of baptism. Baptism, as you well know, is one of our two sacraments along with the Lord’s Supper. We still practice baptism just as they did in Acts 2. Verse 42 gives us four marks of the church: devoted to the apostles’ teaching, intentional fellowship, breaking bread together, and prayer. We do the same today with our study of the Bible, the teachings of Reformers, commentaries, teachers and preachers who have been educated to that end of teaching orthodox doctrine. Verse 42 then speaks of fellowship. Koinonia is the Greek term with which you might be familiar. We commune with one another and with God in a shared gathering for meals and conversation and support and like minded theology and biblical interpretation. We have two fellowship opportunities coming up this month with a family night gathering and Easter breakfast. But there is also the fellowship we share pre and post worship. We also fellowship in text messages, emails, letters, cards, visits, all a part of our Christian fellowship just as the early church had their particular forms of fellowship.

Next is breaking bread. This, I believe, is a direct reference to the Lord’s Supper. Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to them. These are the words received when we share in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. We break bread together to this day as the church. The fourth mark is prayer. The early church prayed. And so do we!

Acts 2 is one text among many that describe the life of the church in its beginning and how those marks of the church are still incorporated into the life of the church today. Our activities in the true church of Jesus Christ are not just random practices we made up along the way, nor are they simply traditions that have no basis in Scripture, but they are biblically based and practiced in the most faithful way we understand them to reflect what God desires for His Church.


  • Where the Word of God is Preached


In this essential of faith the first mark of the church is where the Word of God is preached. I’m sure this seems rather obvious to us, but if we look around to a lot of progressive churches these days, the Word might barely get a mention. Paul’s charge in 2 Timothy is important to this essential.

2 Timothy 4.1-4, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

For the time is coming and is here now that people will not endure sound teaching. Paul spoke of this in his time and the same lack of truth in some preaching has been around ever since then. This passage seems even more applicable to us as we see people who will twist and distort God’s Word to suit their itching ears and justify their ungodly passions.



  • Where the Sacraments are Administered


The second essential is about the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We call these the holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace. One of the key passages for baptism is in Matthew 28.19-20, 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Baptism is a part of the Great Commission of the church. A form of baptism and its meaning goes back as far as passing through the Red Sea, in the sense that passing through the waters is a sign of salvation. The meaning of baptism is given through Jesus’ own baptism, through the book of Acts, and deepened through Paul’s teachings in the book of Romans, as in Romans 6.4, We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Baptism seals us in the Holy Spirit and signifies rebirth, new life, forgiveness of sins, and yielding our lives to God.

The other sacrament is the Lord’s Supper, sometimes called Communion, or the Greek term Eucharist which means thanksgiving, and as in Acts 2, the breaking of bread. One of the significant passages for this sacrament is 1 Corinthians 11.23-29, 23For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 27Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

The setting for the Lord’s Supper was the Jewish Passover meal. Jesus transforms it into the sacrament we practice today. With that history it is first the remembrance of Jesus and what He has done for us in His broken body on the cross and shed blood offered for the forgiveness of sin. But it also carries with it a long history of Exodus and remembrance and has become the sign and seal of the covenant of grace where the Holy Spirit is present nurturing the church through the Word and through the Lord’s Supper.



  • Where Scriptural Discipline is Practiced


Church discipline. Let’s start with one of the texts from Scripture. Matthew 18.15-17, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Also Galatians 6.1, Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”

Each person who joins a particular church in the EPC is asked this question: “Do you submit yourself to the government and discipline of the EPC and to the spiritual oversight of the Church Session?” Church discipline is necessary for the good of the whole church. It guards the peace, unity, and purity of the body of Christ. When someone comes under discipline, it is not first and foremost an attempt to excommunicate them from membership, but to do all possible to restore them to fellowship. Matthew’s gospel gives a format of confronting one on one to begin, then a few others to join in, then the church. There are three areas in our Book of Order that define offenses: Heresy, Contempt, and Immorality. We don’t have time to go into details on those three but they all deal with biblical standards for conduct.

What I like about Galatians 6.1 is that those who are in charge of church discipline are told to keep watch lest we be tempted as well. No one is above the law so church leaders are to keep watch on their own conduct. Too bad our government and society does not hold to that standard in many cases.


  • Where Loving Fellowship is Maintained


The last mark in the essential of faith is fellowship. I want to read this whole section from Hebrews because I think it sets up our condition in Christ that leads to loving fellowship.

Hebrews 10.19-25 “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Since we, as God’s people, have Jesus our High Priest, assurance of faith, hearts sprinkled clean, bodies washed with pure water...we together in fellowship have a common confession of hope – Jesus Christ. Verse 24 speaks to the kind of fellowship we share, stirring one another to love and good works. We are not to neglect gathering together, especially in worship, but also in fellowship so that we might encourage one another. We often joke about sharing meals together, that more people show up when there is food involved! But that is true in any given situation. In the home, the kitchen is often a busy room and one where fellowship is shared followed by the table. On the back deck, people gather around the grill and table. This holds true for the church. We enjoy fellowship around the table. Shared food and conversation is encouraging and in our world we are in constant need of encouragement. One of our goals as the church is to maintain this loving fellowship for the good of our spiritual life and the good of being connected in the fellowship of Jesus Christ.


The hope of any church is to flourish in three of these areas, Word, Sacrament, and Fellowship. We hope that church discipline is not an on-going issue, but it certainly needs to be taken seriously when necessary. We might say that if everyone is participating deeply in the Word preached, the sacraments administered, and the loving fellowship maintained, that there is less need for actions of discipline. I would hope so! But I want to add one note on discipline. One of the draws for me to the EPC, when we first began thinking about departing the other denomination, was the actual practice of church discipline. I had been on commissions in the past to look into discipline cases, primarily with ministers who had charges against them, and usually nothing was done. But before we came into the EPC I was witness to a case of discipline that was a very gracious process that led to a minister being removed from his church. I knew then that the EPC was a denomination that took seriously the purity of the church and preserving the integrity of ministry.

These four markers are important to our understanding of what it means to be the church. Let us strive to continue thriving in these areas of who we are and what we are called to be. Amen.