The Dynamic Life of the Church
Hallmarks of a Healthy Church
Illust: A small town had three churches: Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist. All three had a serious problem with squirrels in the church. Each church in its own fashion had a meeting to deal with the problem.
The Presbyterians decided that it was predestined that squirrels be in the church and that they would just have to live with them.
The Methodists decided they should deal with the squirrels lovingly in the style of Charles Wesley. They humanely trapped them and released them in a park at the edge of town. Within 3 days, they were all back in the church.
The Baptists had the best solution. They voted the squirrels in as members. Now they only see them at Christmas and Easter. Contributed by: Rick Pendleton
Just what should life in the church look like? Well Acts 2:42-47 tells us about the first century church and perhaps gives us food for thought as we sort out what life in our church should look like. READ
A. The Big Picture of Life in the Early Church 42
Verse 42 is a summary of the faith and practice that characterized the early church. We have here a statement of foundational matters.
The early church was consumed with a desire to mature in faith.
That this is a broad brush picture is seen by the verbs – they were continually devoting themselves. In fact this is the key to the whole verse.
The grammar sets it out almost as if we are being given a look at what happened - on this date 50 years ago(periphrastic imperfects - they were in the past making commitments that have present results…). Luke is saying that no matter on what date you checked out the church it was characterized by an intense and practical commitment to some lofty ideals.
The term (“continually devoting”) is a powerful term (proj toward + karteroj strong). Common meaning is then “to stay by or persist”; thus the basic concept of adhering to constantly. So Simon the Sorcerer “followed Peter everywhere” (Acts 8:13); and one of Cornelies soldiers was a “devout” man (Acts 10:7); or Paul admonishes believers to “devote” themselves to prayer (Col 4:2).
Bottom line: these characteristics were a strong suit in the early church. It is a powerful picture – continual motion toward strengthening these items. This meant time and patience and tenacity. In fact the verb without the preposition (karterew) is used only once in the NT – Heb 11:27, By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. So Moses preserved during the 40 years in exile before returning to Egypt. He never wavered!
These items, then, were the answers to the question, “what do we want to be known for?” There were undoubtedly many other notions they could have emphasized, some very worthy some not. I can think of relevance, or traditions, or self- worth, or individualism, or patriotism. But they would not be deterred.
Just what were these things?
It is difficult to determine the best way to approach v 42. Are the four terms…
- 4 separate aspects of life in the church (4 articles)?
- 3 aspects (teaching; fellowship with breaking bread further describing fellowship; and prayer)?
- 2 aspects (teaching and fellowship with breaking bread and prayer further describing fellowship)?
- My preference = 2 aspects (but stated in two sets of two – only 2 connectives kai) but with 4 distinct facets. Hence: Doctrine composed of apostolic teaching and Christological teaching; and Community composed of fellowship and prayers. So…
The early church was committed to both doctrine and community
These are the two overarching emphases of the early church. Any video showing the church of the first century would reveal these two bedrock and essential core values.
Both of these pairs capture both doctrine and community, stated however in different ways. The first is…
- Broad teaching that is expressed in or connected to fellowship.
- The teaching envisioned here is the commonly received body of truth taught by the apostles. It was orally received at this time and later written down in the form of the New Testament. The assumption is that the church members gave personal attention to the actual instruction by the apostles
- Converts are to be taught so that they might grow in faith. This becomes evident as Acts unfolds and very clear as the epistles to the churches are sent.
- Please note that this was an authoritative teaching. It was from those who were credentialed by Jesus himself – the apostles. There word was Christ’s word (Eph 3:2-5).
- The content of the teaching must have been the commands and teachings of Christ and the specific revelations given to them by Christ himself. This is evident in passages like Acts 5:28; 13:12. The apostles started with the teachings of Christ. Can you imagine the stories they could have told if they had chosen to adopt teaching styles that are so prevalent today!
- For us the content must be limited to the revealed Word. In fact, that is the only way to be authoritative – and authoritative we must be!
- The fellowship envisioned here is common spiritual relationship with others that is expressed in tangible ways. It is the well known word, koinwnia which means to share or have in common as in a partnership. So the disciples had a “common” purse (John 12:6); or believers who commonly possess Christ (1 John 1:3,7). It does not refer to social relationships. In fact, because it means an absolute union in a common thing, genuine fellowship cuts across language, cultural, economic, or racial barriers.
- So, true fellowship is based on more than common interests or vocations. It is a product of spiritual oneness in Christ.
- So, true fellowship will result in tangible acts of community. Vs 42 played itself out in v 44, 45.
- So, true fellowship can not be manipulated. In a day when “community” is in vogue in the post modern world, there is real danger that it becomes as pseudo as modernity and the lack of genuine community. “How ya doin, bro” over a drink is as apt to be pseudo fellowship as cookies and punch in the “fellowship” hall.
- Important: teaching and fellowship are not in isolation of one another. Where orthodox teaching existed, genuine fellowship existed. I contend that genuine fellowship is an expression of apostolic doctrine.
- Christology that is expressed in or connected to prayers
- The breaking of bread envisions a more narrow doctrinal teaching. Undoubtedly this phrase does allude to the sharing of ordinary meals among believers. They regularly had others over for coffee or dinner! This in itself is a happy insight into the community life of the first church family.
- Clearly, however, Luke is not merely saying that the church was committed to eating together! The phrase undoubtedly refers to observing the communion service together. The practice developed into combining an ordinary meal with the symbolic ceremony called the Lord’s Supper (cf Acts 27:35 Jewish practice). The rebuke because people were making gluttons of themselves at this ceremony (1Cor 11:17-22) probably led to the Lord’s Supper being observed separately. This is the main thrust of “breaking of bread” in v 42.
- Illust: I realized when I had to leave the church service with our fussy toddler that I'd miss Communion. I asked my eight-year-old son to get me when it began. A little later, my son appeared in the church nursery and announced: "Mom! They're serving the drinks now." Marita Haavisto, Maple Ridge, B.C. (from Reader Contributions, 1999)
- Clearly, that is not what the communion service is about. Watch this. In one ceremony the doctrine of Christ is unpacked in a remarkable way. We see his passion, his substitutionary sacrifice, his perfect obedience to the Father, his propitiating the Fathers wrath, his forgiving of sin, the establishing of the new covenant, his wrath upon sinners, his holy character, his compassion for his people, and his personal return to the earth. And that’s just what I jotted down quickly! My friends that is doctrine.
- Yet this doctrine is couched in this community or “communion” service. A sweet joyous memorial gathering of redeemed people. No wonder then that the breaking of bread is paired with “the prayers”
The prayers (note the article and the plural) envisions seasons of prayer by the corporate church.
It is certainly appropriate to speak of individual believers devoting themselves to prayer. Undoubtedly they did so privately Oh, how we need to learn more of the discipline of prayer. So many of God’s people never pray. I readily confess my lack.
But “the prayers” more than likely refer to either the Christians participation in the daily prayers at the synagogue of which they were still participants (Acts 3:1) or to periodic times when the collective church got together for prayer. Of course there are instances of this throughout the book of Acts (12:1-11; 13:1-3).
Here is what happened. The staggering truth of Christ, especially his cross, buckled the church’s knees to prayer. And here is the remarkable thing – it was collectively as one body, not just individually. The learned of and remembered Christ together; they prayed to Christ together.
Prayer is both the thermometer and the thermostat of the local church; for the “spiritual temperature” either goes up or down, depending on how God’s people pray. (Source unknown)
B. A Snapshot of Life of the Early Church 43-47
If v 42 is the big picture, verses 43-47 is a close-up snap-shot of life in the first church. Here we see how some of the broad terms of vs 42 actually played out. The section is not all inclusive – everything the church did is not mentioned. It did do other things such as sending out missionaries, exercising discipline, or baptizing people. Who knows, they may have also organized concerts or sponsored an Upward league! They are just not mentioned. So we must be careful about viewing this description as a prescription for all NT churches in all eras.
But we do have a glimpse at what life was like for this infant church committed to doctrine and community. We mention briefly five activities of the church.
- The church enjoyed an ongoing “awesome” reputation in the community 43. V 47 confirms this as well (favor with all the people). This is the net result of the whole package of v 42.
The church members were committed to one another – loyalty. They shared life’s experiences and life’s possessions with one another 44-45. They were “together” and they “shared”. Those with genuine needs had a built in resource network! It was called the church. These are tangible ways “community” was played out.
The church met together regularly (“day by day”) for worship and communion by mutual consent 46.
Gatherings for social occasions were a special source of joy and encouragement for the church 47. The church maintained its focus on praising God no matter what the setting.
The church engaged in gospel declaration – evangelism 47. Luke properly gets at this from the divine standpoint. God is the author of salvation – it all depends on Him. So Luke says, “the Lord added those who were being saved.” Of course, what he doesn’t say, but obviously assumes is that people get saved by hearing the gospel, and believers share the gospel.
Illust: A college man walked into a photography studio with a framed picture of his girlfriend. He wanted the picture duplicated. This involved removing it from the frame. In doing this, the studio owner noticed the inscription on the back of the photograph:
“My dearest Tom, I love you with all my heart. I love you more and more each day. I will love you forever and ever. I am yours for all eternity.”
It was signed "Helen,” and it contained a P.S.: “If we ever break up, I want this picture back.”
Surely our devotion to doctrine and community will be of a higher caliber! May it be more like…
Illust: Adventurer Robert Pelton was confronted with the price of commitment while in Afghanistan. "When I was being shelled on a front line north of Kabul, I asked a 23-year-old Taliban fighter, ’Why don’t we dig trenches to escape the bombardment?’
"He looked at me and asked, ’If you didn’t come here to die, why are you here?’" Contributed by: Alan Wilkerson
Our devotion to doctrine and community may not cost us our life. But how would we answer when asked “why are we here?”
© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2017. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.
Posted on Sun, April 9, 2017
by Joe Flatt filed under