In order to suggest some antidotes for the poison being spread in some of the Churches around us – and some of these were mentioned in the last issue – I thought it wise to draw attention once again to what the healthy Church should look like.
Even the early Church was not perfect, as we find from reading the Book of Acts and Paul’s letters, so there is not much point in slavishly trying to emulate everything they did. There is no Scriptural call for every Church to put all their belongings into a common distribution place, or to meet in the temple daily, for example.
In some parts of the world, at some time, those actions would very likely be appropriate.
But there are five major emphases that the new Church showed in Jerusalem that, I believe, every Christian Church, everywhere should have all the time. These are stressed in Acts 2:42 and Revelation 2:4.
‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.’ [Acts 2:42]
‘Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.‘ [Rev 2:4]
We do not have apostles today, despite the false teachings of some would-be Church leaders.
Therefore, the first point is that, since the doctrine taught by the apostles was satisfactory and complete enough for the salvation and edification of those early Church believers, it ought to be sufficient for all Christians today.
They did not need the accretions of tradition and neither do we. They did not need new revelations, new pronouncements by some Church leader, or new doctrines such as prayer to Mary and the saints, and neither do we.
Everything we need is there, now in black and white, faithfully translated into all major world languages.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. What was that teaching? It was that which is clearly and plainly laid out for us in the recorded sermons of Peter and the letters of Paul.
The plain and simple teaching was the content of the gospel – there was a lot of emphasis on the amazing fact that the saving work of Christ on the cross, and His incredible resurrection, was the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies.
The healthy Church today will centre ALL of its teaching on the teaching of the apostles – in other words, the proclamation of the gospel and its implications for living. Anything else is deficient.
The word ‘fellowship’ means ‘joint participation’ or ‘sharing something in common.’ In other places it is used of a common sharing of the Holy Spirit, of Christ’s sufferings and in general ministry.
No ‘one-man bands’ or dictators here!
The most common expression of fellowship in the NT is that of giving. [See Romans 12:13].
Since financial giving was important to prevent poverty, this practice was also advocated by Paul when he took a collection for the famine-stricken Jerusalem Christians.
Most of the money contributed was given by Christians living hundreds of kilometres away! This is a great example of what we relatively rich Christians in Australia should be doing for our persecution and poverty-stricken brethren overseas.
Some gave everything they possessed, some [Ananias and Sapphira] faked it to their detriment. Not everyone sold up everything and neither should we who have families to support.
But the point is we should be willing to do so. We must be willing to ‘renounce’ all of our possessions. [Luke 14:33]
Breaking of Bread
Often the ‘breaking of bread’ refers to Communion, and nowhere is the Catholic Mass, celebrated by a priest, even remotely suggested in the NT.
This simple ordinance of remembering the Lord’s death, till He comes again, has been an important part of the Church’s activity since Jesus instituted it on the eve of His death.
Any Christian group which ignores the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper is neglecting an important part of their witness. So too, I believe, are those groups who only have communion once a quarter or even less often.
This is especially so since Jesus actually told His disciples to remember Him this way, in the symbols of the bread and the wine.
The breaking of bread can also refer to common meals which were shared by the early Church. The sharing of a meal and hospitality between Christians is an important part of fellowship.
I believe that today this would not necessarily have to involve an impressive ‘bun fight’, but is more likely a simple meal between several people in someone’s home shared in His name.
The literal Greek is ‘the prayers’, plural. This suggests many different prayers on all subjects, rather than just a rote prayer such as the Lord’s prayer repeated by all.
It also suggests that the praying was done by many people, not just the leaders of the group. The concept of the priesthood of all believers seems to be alive and well in the early Church as it should be today. All can pray, not always aloud or in public, but we are to continue in praying as the early Church did.
Since Jesus had taught them how to pray it would be logical to believe this provided the basis for all their praying, as it should for us too.
The importance of love in all of these things will be dealt with next time.