Did you ever wonder what a true, “Christian” church should be like? We seem to have lots of different ideas today on “how to do church.” (By the way, I really hate that phrase but it seems to be used a lot.) As usual, I don’t want to seek out the opinions of man, but would rather look to the Bible for my answer to this particular question. There are many passages in various books of the New Testament that teach us about how the church should operate and I don’t think most of it was cultural or only for a certain time period. I think that they were given for all of the body of Christ, for the entire church age, to help keep us on track. If you look ahead, to the book of Revelation, you will see what seven local churches got commended for and what they were rebuked for. I truly believe, that following the examples and instruction given to us in God’s Word, will bring the commendation of the Lord, but straying from that will bring His rebuke. So let’s look at our earliest example of “the church” of Jesus Christ.
At the end of chapter 2 (starting in verse 42) in the book of Acts, we get a good look at this first body of believers. Remember, this was immediately after a huge harvest of souls. Three thousand believers were added to this church in Jerusalem after Peter preached the gospel, accompanied by signs and wonders. The author of the book, Dr Luke, then goes on to tell us what these believers did.
In verse 42 we are told that they devoted themselves to four things; the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer. The words “devoted themselves” (NIV, ESV), are translated “continued steadfastly” in the KJV and NKJV Let’s take these one at a time.
1. The apostles’ teaching: A good question then, is what did they teach? Well, each in their own way, inspired by the Holy Spirit, taught the gospel (good news) of salvation by grace, through faith, by the completed work and shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. They could do this because they were handpicked by Jesus for this calling. By inspiration of the Spirit, they were able to show how the Old Testament scriptures foretold the coming of Messiah and pointed solely to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of those prophecies. We find this as we read the rest of the book of Acts. This, along with the letters directed to the churches, became the New Testament Scriptures.
2. Fellowship: The Greek word for fellowship is koinonia. The construction literally is translated “fellow participant.” These believers were participating with each other in their Christian lives. That demonstrates to us that Christianity is not a solitary experience but must be shared with others. The next two points, I believe, give us some of the ways they experienced that fellowship
3. Breaking of Bread: This was an expression of eating together, but it may also have meant sharing of communion, which Jesus had instituted on His last night with the disciples. The act of eating together in this culture was huge. It represented a close bond with the person or persons you shared that meal with. That is why the Pharisees were so upset at Jesus, who would eat meals with anyone, including “tax collectors and sinners.” To them, it meant that he was one of them (Mt 9:10-13), which was abhorrent to a devout Jew. This shows how important the sharing of meals was in this culture.
4. Prayer: Now prayer would not be a new thing for these early Jewish believers. In following the law, they would most likely pray often. How they prayed though, surely changed. Jesus had given the disciples a model for prayer so that they would not speak out the vain repetitions that they were used to (See Mt 6:5-13), but in a meaningful, relational way with their Heavenly Father. In the rest of the New Testament, we can see how the apostles had constant and intimate prayer lives.
It is interesting that one more thing is mentioned about what these early believers did. Look at verses 44 and 45. It says that the believers were together and had everything in common, even to the point that they would sell their possessions and goods, giving to those who had need.
Now this practice, I believe, has been misinterpreted and led to some people believing that Christians should sell all their worldly possessions and live in communes. In fact during the Jesus People movement of the 1960’s and 70’s, many young Christians did just that. Though well intentioned, most of these turned out to be, well, let’s be generous and say, problematic.
If you look closely at what the early believers really did, it was quite different. First of all, they did not all live together. Verse 46 shows us that they were together in the temple courts. It then says that they broke bread together in their homes. When it talks about selling their goods, it was voluntary and the money was not distributed evenly to everyone, it was given to those who had need. It certainly does show a willingness to give sacrificially to the needy among the believers; however, we do not see this practice continued for a long period of time, like we do the other four practices. It may be that the first believers were anticipating the soon return of Jesus and so were not very materially oriented.
Either way, we can see what the early church thought was important and it gives us a wonderful picture of what should be important in the “Body of Christ” today. I don’t think that it is an accident that the first practice mentioned is the study of the Word of God. If we do not have one single basis for doctrine, we will certainly go astray. We see that clearly by what is happening in many so called evangelical churches today. If the Bible does not contain infallible, absolute truth, what should we base our beliefs in? We can make up any type of religion we want and call it Christianity. No, we need to follow the lead of the early church and continue steadfastly in the study of God’s Word.
It is also essential for us as Christians, to maintain the practices of fellowship. Breaking bread together has such an impact on our relationships. It is hard to not get along with folks that you share meals with. Remember that Jesus said that they (the world), would know that we are His disciples by our love one for another. (Jn 13:34) I believe that this also included communion. The Lord’s Supper brings us together to remember the sacrifice the Lord made for each one of us and together we proclaim His death until He comes. (1Co 11:2)
Now, whether or not Luke was speaking of individual prayer or corporate prayer, we need to be involved with both. Praying together will help bring us together, because we put aside our own will and seek the Lord’s will in prayer. That is why Jesus, in teaching the disciples how to pray, included, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” The chief objective of prayer is get our will aligned with His will, not the other way around.
Notice also in verses 46 and 47, that they were glad, had sincere hearts, and praised God. The result was that the Lord added daily to their number. You see, the Body of Christ, when following this pattern will result in fruits of evangelism. People are naturally attracted to others who have joy and sincerity in their lives.
We seem to want to make this idea of what “church” should be very complicated. I would very humbly like to suggest that it is not. We have a beautiful model of the effective church. I say, “Let’s follow that.”
Game plan: Read the scripture references listed above. Ask the Lord to reveal to you where you fit into this picture and if you are not currently in fellowship with other Bible believing Christians, seek one out immediately and get involved.
May God bless you as you continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ