What’s the purpose of the church? What’s it all about? Is it just for people who have nothing better to do on a Sunday morning? Is it just a cosy religious club? Is it a gathering of those who like singing hymns?
In Acts 2: 42-47 we have a wonderful description of the church as it should be: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching
The early Christians understood just how important the teaching of the Bible is. The didn’t just read it or listen to it. They were devoted to it.
The Psalmist shows a similar attitude in Psalm 119: “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long ….. I hate double-minded people, but I love your law … All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross …. therefore I love your statutes. … Because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold …. See how I love your precepts; preserve my life, LORD, in accordance with your love … I hate and detest falsehood but I love your law … Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble …. I obey your statutes, for I love them greatly. (verses 97, 113, 119, 127, 159, 163, 165, 167)
How much do you love God’s word?
How often do you read it?
If you’ve been a believer for many years, have you ever read the whole Bible through?
If you don’t read it regularly, you don’t know what you’re missing.
The Bible is God’s Word. It is the message of eternal salvation. It is the written account of God’s dealings with humanity centring on Jesus. If God took the trouble to provide it for us, using 40 writers over a period of 1500 years, and has preserved it for us for over 2000 years, why aren’t we devoted to it?
If it is a written message from someone who loves us eternally and infinitely, why don’t we regard it as precious?
The church is about being devoted to the Bible’s teaching.
They were devoted to the fellowship
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need” (verse 44-45).
Fellowship doesn’t just mean a cup of tea at the back of church! It is far deeper than that. It isn’t just a group of people meeting for a study group or a discussion.
It is a gathering of people who are really committed to each other in Christian love. It is a group of people who care for each other. We may not work this out in the same way as the early church –selling our goods and giving all we can to the poor. But to care for one another in financial terms is an excellent indication of real caring. I have seen it happen: churchmembers privately (without my involvement or detailed knowledge) ensuring that a fellow member who is in real financial need is given help – not just advice but money. That is real fellowship.
The church is also a gathering of people who encourage each other. That includes sharing positive news, taking an interest in how people really feel, offering to pray for them, seeing if there is any practical help that can be given.
The church is also a gathering of people who advise one another. That includes sharing experience, wisdom and relevant teaching from Scripture.
This is just a brief outline of what fellowship means, and the early church was devoted to it.
They were devoted to breaking of bread
“They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (verse 47). This may not always have included Communion but I suspect it frequently did. When they ate bread and drank wine they probably didn’t just “say grace” as we do, but they ate and drank in remembrance of Jesus.
Clearly Communion began in the context of the Passover meal. Jesus took some of the Matzah biscuits they were eating throughout the meal and he took the third of four glasses of wine they always had at Passover and he gave them profound new meaning.
The early church had fellowship meals or agape meals (“love feasts”) and would include Communion. I was brought up in churches where Communion was not as important as it would be for me now. It is a wonderful “means of grace” (way of receiving God’s strength). Unlike our Catholic friends, I don’t believe there is any change in the bread and wine. But I do believe that when we take communion in faith there is a supernatural change in us. We are built up in our most holy faith.
The early church were devoted to breaking bread together. They would have had relaxed times of enjoying one another’s company (an important part of fellowship) and they would have vividly recalled the presence of Jesus with them in sharing bread and wine.
They were devoted to prayer
This included “praising God” (verse 47) and worshiping God, adoring him and thanking him are very important aspects of prayer. But it also includes praying earnestly about every aspect of the church, for the world, for individuals in need etc.
The early church were devoted to prayer. Corporate and individual prayer is of incalculable value ad importance for the church. But most churches don’t really pray outside the brief intercessions in their Sunday services. Then they wonder why they don’t grow, why new people don’t come to faith and Christians stay immature. I believe any church can grow if it starts to pray together, say for an hour a week.
But on an individual level, how often do you pray and for how long? The old saying is true: “Seven days without prayer make one weak.”
And do you give thanks? When churches begin to pray, they often forget to be really thankful for answered prayer. In fact, they don’t even remember what they prayed for! So write down what you prayed for at one meeting then check the list at the next meeting to see what answers to prayer you have experienced.
The early church were devoted to the Bible’s teaching, to caring fellowship, to breaking bread together and to prayer.
Little wonder: “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (verse 47).
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction