The Word, the gospel, creates not just people individually, but a people, collectively. The gospel isn’t just individual and cosmic; it is also deeply corporate.
There’s a reason why teachers are drawn to Acts 2 when the topic of biblical community comes up. Whether we’re talking about Sunday school, small groups, missional communities, or just a gathering of people with spiritual intent, what we see in Acts 2:42–47 becomes the hope of what our fellowships could and should look like. The deepest hope of many Christian leaders is that our people would engage one another at this level, knowing that God never intended us to grow our faith in isolation but rather within a community of faith called “the church.”
With their individual gifts, resources, and levels of faith, these early believers built one another up into maturity. They encouraged one another, blessed one another, rebuked one another, disciplined one another, outdid one another in showing honor, taught one another, and trained one another in the gospel. All over the ancient world, churches were planted in an eerily similar way: “Repeatedly in Acts, the growth of the Church is attributed to the fact that ‘the word of God spread’ and ‘prevailed’ (Acts 6:7; 13:49; 19:20).” So like Israel before it, the Church became the picture of what life should look like when a group of people submit with gladness to how God designed the universe to work. By carefully watching what happens in Acts 2 and beyond, we see it’s really not all that different from what God was already talking about in Genesis 12. He had stayed with His plan to reconcile all things to Himself individually and cosmically through His Son—and through a people.
In Acts 2, the Word of God formed a people yet again.
This awesome reality—the fact that God spoke the Church into existence—would later lead the Reformers to call the Church “the Creature of the Word.” What they meant was that the Church is not a human invention or institution; it was birthed from God’s Word. God spoke and created the universe. God spoke to Abraham and created Israel; and in the same way, God created the Church through the proclaimed gospel of the revealed Word, Jesus Christ.
Martin Luther spoke and wrote passionately about this truth, instilling in those who heard him an understanding that the Church did not form the gospel but was formed (and must be continually formed) by the gospel. He wrote:
The church was born by the word of promise through faith, and by this same word is nourished and preserved. That is to say, it is the promises of God that make the church and not the church that makes the promise of God. For the Word of God is incomparably superior to the church, and in this Word the church, being a Creature, has nothing to decree, ordain, or make, but only to be decreed, ordained, and made. For who begets his own parent?
Without the Word of God, we don’t have a covenant community of faith. The gospel precedes the Church, informs the life of the Church, and sustains the growth of the Church. Michael Horton helps us understand how the Word gives birth not only to us but also to the Church, when he writes:
The new birth, as part of the new creation, is effected in the church (i.e., through its ministry of the Word), but not by the church. The individual does not give birth to him or herself, nor does the community give birth to itself; both are born from above (John 3:3–5). The origin and source of the church’s existence is neither the autonomous self nor the autonomous church: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Where there is God’s Word and Spirit, there is faith, and where there is faith there is a church.
The Word of God went out in Holy Spirit power, granting the gift of faith in the hearts of men to believe in the grace offered in Jesus. When that gift of faith was extended, men were saved and the Church was formed.