Summary: The first church as described in Acts 2:42 and following is held up as an example for the church today to emulate.
The First Church
It is the expressed goal of those of us in the restoration movement to restore the church as it was in the first century. In terms of doctrine I feel we have, for the most part, reached that goal. But have we restored the spirit of the first century church? That is another question entirely. In the New Testament we see a variety of pictures of the church. We see immorality in Corinth, division in Ephesus, lethargy in Laodicea, and so on. Surely these are not the examples we should emulate. Which New Testament church example should we try to restore?
If we are going to truly restore the church as it was in the beginning, we need to go ALL THE WAY BACK to the beginning of the church. We need to look at the FIRST CHURCH. Where do we find that church? We find it in Acts 2:42-47 in the exciting days following Pentecost when the church began.
In this passage we will see three aspects to the church. We will see the public worship of the church, the spiritual life of the Christians and the effect the church had on the community.
I. Public Worship
In Texas history we have the “old 300.” This refers to that group of people that comprised Stephen F. Austin’s first settlement in Texas. These people in Jerusalem were the “old 3000.” They were the first ones baptized following Peter’s sermon. They were all brand new Christians and they were excited! Vs. 42 tells us that they were continuously devoted. Their dedication and commitment to the church were constant and intense. This phrase gave me a lot of trouble when I first read it because it seems to imply that the activities mentioned were continuous. However, I now understand it to mean that their devotion was continuous. The phrase refers not so much to the frequency of the events as it does to the intensity and consistency of their devotion.
So to what were they continuously devoted?
A. To the apostles’ teaching.
They were all newborn babes . . . new Christians . . . and they wanted to know more about this new life they were living. They did what Peter later admonished others to do in I Pet. 2:2, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation.” They knew the only way they were going to grow is if they fed on the word EVERY DAY and the primary source of the Word of God at this point was the apostles. They did not want to miss one word that fell from the lips of these great men of God.
They were new Christians. They had very little knowledge of this new religion. They had an intense desire to follow the admonition of Peter as he would write years later in II Pet. 3:18, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” They understood that they MUST grow if they were to remain faithful to the Lord. They wanted to “understand what the will of the Lord is” as Paul encouraged the Ephesian brethren to do in Eph. 5:17. (Illustration: little boy that fell out of bed. When asked why, he answered, "I stayed to close to where I got in.")
B. To fellowship. The word “fellowship” means, to have in common.
They understood that their relationship with God through Jesus Christ was not an isolated relationship but through their common relationship with Him, they were automatically in a relationship with one another. They completely understood what John was talking about in I John 1:3, “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
In the New Testament, the word fellowship is frequently associated with a contribution. In II Cor. 9, Paul is admonishing the Corinthian brethren to be cheerful givers. In vs. 13 he says, “they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others.” The word “contribution” in this verse is the same word that is translated “fellowship” in Acts 2:42.
C. To the breaking of bread.
The phrase “breaking of bread” is used in two ways in the New Testament. It can refer to the Lord’s Supper or Communion, but it can also refer to a common meal. Its meaning must be determined by the context in which it is used. In Acts 2:46 it will refer to the common meal. Here in verse 42 it refers to communion.
These new Christians saw communion as the central and most important part of their worship to God. Later in Acts 20:7 we read, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread . . .” The clear implication in this passage is that the principal reason for the brethren to gather was to break bread or have communion. In that same passage we are told that Paul preached until midnight . . . and you thought I was long winded. But the main reason they gathered was not to hear Paul preach but to share the Lord’s Supper.