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Acts

Early Church

Acts  2:42-47

There are, in general, two views about the doctrines of the church. One view holds that the doctrine changes as men come up with new and brilliant insights. For example, many churches now hold that homosexuality is not a sin, but instead something which is a virtue. This view might be called the evolutionary view, meaning that doctrine evolves (i.e., changes) with time and insight as well as culture. This is the view of the Roman Catholic church, and most liberal Protestant denominations.

The alternate view might be called the developmental view. In this view, doctrine changes because the original doctrine must now be applied to a new situation. This is generally the view of the conservative wing of the church. As a trivial example of this, consider anesthetics. Should a Christian decline to suffer pain, which is (of course) ordained by God?

The two views are difficult to distinguish at times, for they often arrive at the same conclusion. Nevertheless they are different. I hold to the developmental view. In the early church no such conflict was considered possible; one held tightly to "the Apostle's teaching." This is the root of the early church's method of living: they stuck to the teaching handed to the Apostles by our Lord. This, in my view, means that the evolutionary view is wrong, for it denies the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

So, that said, let's look at the early church:

(Acts 2:42-47 NIV) They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. {43} Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. {44} All the believers were together and had everything in common. {45} Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. {46} 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, {47} praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Teaching

One of the reasons I favor the developmental view is just this: our Lord used it. Over and over again, as he lays out his claim to be the Holy One of God, he quotes the Old Testament. But we can see some other things here which distinguish the teaching in the early church - and which just might be missing today:

·         Note that they did this every day. Once a week was six times too few.

·         Nor, we may infer, did they think this a trivial work. Paul studied for three years in Damascus before setting out on his missionary work.[1]

·         Teaching was compared to building the church - and the Apostle's teaching was considered the foundation laid upon the cornerstone of Jesus Christ.[2]

·         We also know that the early Christians adopted and endorsed the instructional methods of the Old Testament - in particular, that such teaching was to begin in infancy.[3]

·         This teaching needed to be strong teaching - for from the earliest days Satan attacked it with false teaching.[4]

Fellowship

It often comes as a surprise to new Christians that there is such an emphasis laid on fellowship. But consider: wasn't Jesus the original party animal? Didn't he turn water to wine for a wedding party?[5] The Pharisees sought to condemn him for only two things: blasphemy (for claiming to be the Son of God) and that he partied too much with the wrong people.

The New American Standard gives us a better idea of what was happening here. It explicitly translates the idea that the went "house to house." Fellowship was something like a floating party! Why did the Apostles put such emphasis on this?

·         First, the church is often seen as an organism - something which is alive in itself. You need to be together to be one thing.

·         The fellowship was "mixed." That is, they ate their regular meals with each other - but they also celebrated the Lord's Supper in these homes. So the church would then have primacy not only in spiritual matters, but in matters of practical fellowship.

·         There is this aspect too: if you are eating together, it's tough to carry a grudge. Such fellowship helps in the healing of the wounds.

·         Perhaps the greatest benefit is this. Suppose someone is in need, in poverty. If there is no fellowship, that one must beg for help. Picture it as writing a request proposal to the Department of Benevolence. But in fellowship such matters can be dealt with quickly, and with more hands. The person in need does not need to be made a second class Christian.

·         Such needs are not restricted to financial ones - there are the spiritual ones too. We are to weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.[6]

Breaking of Bread

This lesson is too short to throw in any great amount on the subject of the Lord's Supper. Our Lord's example is all too clear for this; he instituted it. We do recognize some things about it, however, that may shed some light on the early church:

·         It was done frequently - no less than weekly[7], and some passages suggest daily.

·         It was evidently combined with the fellowship; and in so doing sometimes was abused.[8]

We are commanded not to neglect it; the early church made it the core of their fellowship and worship.

Prayer

Prayer, too, seems such an obvious contribution. Our Lord spent much time on teaching the disciples to pray. But I would point out two things which might have been missed:

·         This is group prayer. We are commanded to pray alone; there is a time for public prayer. But this prayer is practiced in public in a group setting - if you will, it is a first century prayer circle.

·         This is such an important part of the lives of the Apostles at least, that they appoint deacons to distribute the food.[9] Recall that feeding the hungry is strictly enjoined upon the Christian - but prayer overrides this call and the church as a whole appoints those who will specialize in this task.

Awe

Do you remember Jesus cleansing the Temple? There is a sense, an emotion, we can derive from that. It is the idea that some things are holy; they are sacred and are to be regarded and treated with awe. When man encounters the truly holy, the natural reaction is one of awe - for example, at the resurrection of the young man in Luke 7:12-16.

There should be a sense of awe in handling sacred things - a sense which has largely been driven out of our cynical society. We'd be nervous about carrying a jar of nitroglycerine; how much more should we be in awe of the Holy Spirit?

Awe is also most necessary to gain and keep a living relationship with God:

·         If you are to have a relationship with God, you must begin by knowing who He is. That alone will produce awe.

·         You must also set an example for others, so that the unlearned will understand by action what you know by knowledge.

·         It is, at the last, a facet of righteousness. There are things on this earth that need to be treated with awe; it is right to do so, whether anyone else knows about it or not.

This sense of awe was reinforced by signs and wonders - i.e., the miraculous. There are those today who say this cannot happen; I still believe in the power of prayer. But consider: what kinds of signs and wonders were they? For the most part, they are miracles of healing. If the church today were to devote herself to the care of the unfortunate, what great things we might see!

Christian Communism

It is well said that Christianity is often at odds with wealth. Indeed, the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head.[10] But we can see in this passage the overall view of the early church's ideas on the use of wealth by the Christian:

·         It is clear from the first that those who gave to relieve the poverty of others did so as an act of love - love not for the beneficiaries, but as an act of love towards God.[11]

·         Also, it is clear that God deals with us by our own yardstick. If we are generous to the poor, he will be generous towards us.[12] God rewards the generous.[13]

·         We often say, "what goes around, comes around." Did you know that this is a Biblical principle? Indeed, Paul goes so far as to make this explicit![14]

·         We are to give according to our ability to give.[15]

·         This is so important an issue that teachers are commanded to teach this principle explicitly.[16]

This great sharing is the sign of a great common cause. One is reminded of the words of the Declaration of Independence. At the very end, the signers "mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." That is the temper of the early church.

Praise

Have you ever noticed how often the Psalmist instructs us to praise God? It is the natural reaction of the redeemed. On the return of the 72 Jesus praises God - for he had seen Satan fall like lightning from heaven.[17] Look at verses 46-47: see that this praise is a daily occurrence. Christianity is not the religion of gloom. It is the religion of rejoicing. We often confuse this (see Nehemiah 8:8-12 for a similar instance).

Results

We are told two things about this church:

·         It increased in numbers by God's grace.

·         It had the favor of all the people.

Perhaps this is our problem. We are so busy trying to evangelize, prioritize, and otherwise ourselves that we have forgotten to be the church. If your picture of your local church doesn't look like this one, perhaps you should consider changing the picture! "Oh Lord, reform thy world - beginning with me."


[1] Galatians 1:6-18

[2] Ephesians 2:19-22

[3] 2 Timothy 3:14-15 (which is interesting in light of verse 16)

[4] 1 John 2:18-22

[5] John 2:1-11

[6] Romans 12:15 (KJV)

[7] Acts 20:7

[8] 1 Corinthians 11:20-23

[9] Acts 6:1-4

[10] Luke 9:58

[11] 1 John 3:16-18

[12] 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

[13] Proverbs 11:24-25

[14] 2 Corinthians 8:10-15

[15] Acts 11:29-30

[16] 1 Timothy 6:18-19

[17] Luke 10:21

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