How many times have you heard the term “New Testament Church?” I would imagine, like me, you have heard it numerous times, but what exactly do you picture in your mind when you hear that term? Acts gives us a history of the formation of the New Testament Church which includes numerous examples of the “sign gifts” being utilized. I believe that when most people talk about a “New Testament Church” they are referring to a church that still recognizes the “sign gifts” being in general usage today.
This is not quite what I think of when I hear someone say “New Testament Church.’ Part of our reading assignment for today is Acts 5. The first 11 verses tell us about Ananias and Sapphira and this is what I think of when I hear the term “New Testament Church.” You need to go to the end of chapter 4 for some background in the structure of this early church. Verse 32 of chapter 4 tells us that this congregation was of one heart and soul, with not one of them claiming that anything belonging to him was his own. All things were common property to all of them. The church was experiencing abundant grace and there was not a needy person among them. Anyone who owned houses or land would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sale and lay them at the feet of the apostles, and they would be distributed to each, as any had need.
Now, that brings us to Ananias and Sapphira. They had sold a piece of property, but Ananias decided to hold a portion of it back, with his wife’s full knowledge, and he took the remainder of the proceeds and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter called him up short, questioned why Satan had filled his heart to lie to the Holy Spirit in holding back part of the price of the land. Upon hearing this, Ananias fell down, breathed his last, and great fear came upon all who heard of it (I can imagine). The young men then pick him up, take him out and bury him (deacons?).
Three hours later, Sapphira comes in not knowing what has transpired. Peter asks her if the property sold for such and such a price and she confirms that it did. And Peter immediately calls her on this deceit. He then points out the men at the door who have returned from burying her husband and tells her that they will carry her out as well. She then falls at his feet and dies and the young men find her dead, carry her out and bury her next to her husband. And a great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.
So, the next time you hear someone talking about the “New Testament Church” I hope it gives you pause. And remember that you need to be careful what you wish for!