Thursday, August 18, 2016

The First Church

I'm pretty sure that Acts 2:42-47 does not serve as a mandate for how to "do church" these days, but it isn't a bad model. I don't see it as a command, but it is commendable. Especially when you look at the core of it.
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common. (Acts 2:42-44)
Let's examine those pieces, because I think that the principles are good for then and now.

It says, first, that they were "continually devoting" themselves. I sure wish I could see that in our churches today, or, rather, among believers today. "Continually devoting." The adverb is "continually" and the action is "devoting". In the Greek, however, these are one word. The word is προσκαρτερέω -- proskartereō -- and is literally "to adhere to, to be steadfastly attentive to, to give unremitting care to a thing, to continue all the time in a place, to persevere." It is translated as "continually devoting" because one or the other term was not sufficient to get the strength of the devotion across. This is a diligent attention, a serious commitment to remain.

To what were they so devoted? The text lists four things: 1) the apostles' teaching, 2) fellowship, 3) the breaking of bread, and 4) prayer. Now, mind you, there are likely lots of things to which we could be devoted. Look around; you'll find them everywhere. There is politics and homeschooling and social justice and environmental issues. There are even Christian things like missions and outreach. I think, in fact, the early church failed at that part, although God was adding to their numbers daily (Acts 2:47). So these four must be important.

So, where do we find "the apostles' teaching" today? Well, it's very clearly provided, kept, and translated in the Word of God. The New Testament is a large collection of "the apostles' teaching", and the New Testament is clear that a lot of what they taught was from the Old Testament. In other words, if you'd like to mimic the devotion of the early church, start with a serious commitment to read, learn, study, and follow Scripture. I have to be honest. I cannot imagine what the church would look like today if they had this one, serious, continuous commitment of following the teachings of Scripture. Instead, today's Christians barely know what's in their Bibles and most feel like today's "TL/DR" -- too long/didn't read.

Fellowship isn't hard to figure. But let's be careful; it is not found in church attendance. It is found in church involvement. It is found in being a part of a church -- attending, connecting, ministering, involving yourself in it. Now, let's be fair. It doesn't take any special Greek training or cultural examination to see this, right? So why is it that a growing number of Christians are inclined to either attend church without involvement or skip it altogether?

The "breaking of bread", immersed as it is in the center of all these religiously-oriented things, is likely a devotion to the Lord's Supper as opposed to sitting down to a meal together. (That is found down in Acts 2:46.) While we often tend toward Communion as a dry, lifeless thing that we simply walk through quietly and almost without attention, these Christians were continually devoted to it.

Then there is prayer. They were devoted to prayer. They were committed to praying. They didn't have to be told "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17). It was just part of their devotion, part of their commitment, a primary focus. They didn't mouth it. They were continually devoted to it. They were eager to adore God, to confess sin, to thank God for His gifts and grace, to ask for what they desired of Him. This was important and they pursued it diligently.

The results are also given. They shared a sense of awe which, despite today's more tepid use, included both a feeling of reverential respect and a sense of fear or dread. You know, "God is so good ... and, oh my, God is so BIG." There were wonderful things happening. And they were serious about taking care of each other.

Maybe the text does not provide a standard instruction for how we're supposed to "do church", but I think it is an outstanding model. I think, in fact, that a group of believers that operated with that continual devotion to those things would prove to be a miraculous church, a church where God was at work, a church where things would be really happening for the Lord. I think that kind of church would be a problem for the world that is so quick to dismiss church people as hypocrites and fools.

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