Summary: We all have our standards for what should happen as a church. What were the standards of the first church? How did they live them out?
A man once joined a monastery in which he had to take a vow of silence. Each year he was summonsed before the Abbot and allowed to speak two words. After the first year, the man said, “Bed hard.” The second year, he said, “Food bad.” Upon the third year, the man said, “I quit.” The Abbot replied, “I’m not surprised. You’ve done nothing but complain since you got here.”
Every church family has its own set of standards for which new people learn to adjust. Although we do our best to ensure our standards are based on what we find in scripture, there’s always a few extra “rules” to abide by. The fourth row on the left is where the descendants of Joe Smith sit. This person expects a hug while that person prefers a brief handshake. Those things are fun to chuckle about as long as we keep them secondary to the essentials of the gospel. So let’s look at how the first church went about doing church. (Read Acts 2:42-47)
As you can see the church was devoted to four foundational items, listed at the beginning of the passage, then described in more depth through the rest of the paragraph. These items that need to be present in every church today include the Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.
I think it’s important that we identify what is an apostle as it seems the word has come to mean a number of different things depending on where you worship. The simplest definition of apostle is simply “one who is sent out.” I maintain that the people we call missionaries today fall into this category of apostle, being sent out from a group of believers to take the gospel message to those who’ve never heard it before. When we look at the context here though, there is a more specific definition in use here- the 12 chosen to follow Jesus (Judas Iscariot was replaced by Matthias through casting lots) and later Paul. Each of these men met the following qualifications that allowed them to hold the office of Apostle.
1. They should have seen the Lord, and been able to testify of him and of his resurrection from personal knowledge.
2. They must have been immediately called to that office by Christ.
3. They were found to be infallibly inspired, and thus secured against all error and mistake in their public teaching, whether by word or by writing.
4. They had the ability to perform miracles, giving authenticity to their words.
So what were the Apostles’ teaching to which the people devoted themselves? As we look at their writings in scripture, we find that their teachings focused on two things: proof that Jesus is the Messiah for whom the Jews were watching and the life lessons that Jesus had passed on to the Apostles during the three years they spent together before Jesus returned to heaven.
The people were also devoted to fellowship. Simply put, they hung out. Notice the variety of places in which they hung out- both the temple courts and each other’s homes. It wasn’t always easy, in fact, the fish symbol we often see on the back of Christians’ cars came out of a time of persecution. The Greek word for fish is icthus, which the Christians used as an acronym to identify Jesus- I=Iesous (Greek for Jesus), CH=Christos (Christ), TH=God, U=Uios (Son), S=Soteria (Savior). If you were a Christian during this period of persecution, you would draw an arc in the sand as you were talking with someone whom you weren’t sure about. If they completed the fish symbol drawing, you would then know they were safe to discuss faith. Another aspect of this fellowship was that they took care of each other. The passage tells us that there were none in need because should a need arise, other Christians made sure to take care of it.
They were also devoted to the breaking of bread. I believe there are two aspects to this. First, I believe this means the people gathered together to share a meal. Yes, friends, carry-in dinners originated in scripture. Everyone contributed according to their ability and everyone ate together as equals. There’s also a deeper meaning to the idea of breaking bread. When Jesus met with the Apostles the night He was arrested, He broke bread and instructed them to do the same as they remember the sacrifice He was about to give. After He resurrected, Jesus walked with a couple disciples along the road to Emmaus, disappearing after He broke bread for them, opening their eyes to the fact they’d been in the presence of their risen Savior. Later in Acts, the church is described as meeting together on Sunday and breaking bread. It makes sense that they would do this, it was the one way that Jesus asked to be remembered.