I just talked a couple days ago about how we can’t blindly follow the example of the 1st generation church, and now it seems like I’m going to contradict myself. I hope I don’t, and that you don’t think that I am. But today we’re going to look at this passage and use it to note five marks of a healthy church.
Does this contradict what I said before? I don’t think so. I think the key is this: If something from Acts is repeated in the epistles, then it’s a safe bet that what we’re looking at is the norm for modern churches and Christians. Let’s list them.
First we see that they were “devoted to the apostles’ teaching.” This means that what the apostles--the ones who'd lived and ministered with Jesus while he was on earth—taught was the source of their information about Christ. This oral teaching was passed from church to church until it was collected and written down starting around thirty years after the ascension of Christ. This was the equivalent to Bible reading. Paul repeated this precept in 2 Thes. 2:15: “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”
Second they were also devoted to fellowshipping with each other. No believer is meant to be on his own, and we’re there to encourage each other and challenge each other, just like the author of Hebrews tells us: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching..”
Third they regularly participated in the “breaking of bread,” in other words the Lord’s Supper. This is an act of communion with both our Lord and with each other. You’ll never experience what the Christian life has to offer without it. If you really need it, here are Paul’s writings on the subject.
Fourth we see that they committed themselves to prayer. Personal prayer-time is important, but we also gain spiritual strength from praying with and for each other. Paul told us to “keep on praying for all the Lord's people.”
Next we see that they had the right attitude towards their possessions. The Lord instituted property rights for society in his 8th Commandment, and one of the jobs of government is to protect those rights. Your neighbor doesn't have the right to walk up to your house and start hauling stuff away. But in our personal lives, we need to see our possessions as on loan from our Father. As mentioned before, I don't think that the "voluntary communism" we see here is the universal norm for all believers at all times. The norm--the final word we have on our possessions--is from Paul in his Epistle: "Be generous and willing to share." When there was extraordinary need, this passage demonstrates that they were willing to give up anything necessary to help their siblings.
And finally we see that public worship, both in small groups and in larger settings, was considered vital to the health of the Body of Christ. Of course the entire book of Psalms is filled with admonitions to worship the Lord with other believers.
On a side note, you might be wondering about the subject of miracles, which this passage also mentions. Perhaps later we’ll get to it, but for the moment let me point out that it was the apostles who performed miracles, not the rank and file members. Do I believe that God performs miracles today? Absolutely. Does he perform miracles in the same way (through apostles) that he did in those days? No.
So what was the result of doing things God’s way? You know my favorite saying, don’t you? If you’re not familiar with the devotional, then maybe not. If you're familiar with what I’ve written before, then you know what’s coming: No one in the history of humanity ever did things God’s way and ended up regretting it. As they did things God’s way, God grew their church. He didn’t do it apart from their efforts. Vs. 47 is not an excuse to just sit back and let him do all the work. As we do what we’re supposed to do, he'll do what only he can do. Wonderful how that works, huh?
Lord Jesus, I praise and thank you, because verse 47 is being fulfilled today. Every day you are adding to your Body. So what can I do?