The First Church
“They were continually devoting themselves”
If we want to have what God gave the world through Jesus, then
we need to become what Christians became in the first century. We want the
church we are members of today to be as the good local churches were in the
first century in every pertinent detail. We want to worship God as they did,
to serve one another as they did, to organize as they did and to glorify and
honor God as they did.
The New Testament is completely adequate to inform us what we need to do to accomplish this because it is a complete picture of these important items. Let us look at a good example of a church of Christ in the first century by looking at Luke's description of the very first congregation of Christians. Remember, this church was established and taught under the direct guidance of the inspired apostles, who led it by the authority of Christ. What, then, were the characteristics of the Jerusalem church? (Acts 2:41-47).
They Studied the Word of God
These Christians were devoted to the apostles' “doctrine” or “teaching” (Acts 2:42).. It was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians. 2:20). This means that the teachings given by God through the apostles was the instrument through which this early church was built. We need to follow this example today.
To the apostles were given “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:18,19; cf. 18:18,19). You simply cannot enter without these keys! They were promised the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit - (John 14:26; 16:12-15). They were to teach everything that Christ had commanded them about how to become Christians (Acts 11:14) and how to live as Christians - (Matthew 28:19,20). When they did this, they spoke with Christ's authority, not their own - (Galatians 1:11,12). Churches can truthfully claim to be “of Christ” (Romans 16:16) only if their faith and practice were governed by the definitive teaching of Christ's apostles.
The brethren in Jerusalem not only continued in the “apostles' doctrine,” they did so “continually” or “steadfastly”. They were serious students and learners of God's word. Any church today claiming to belong to Christ will have to be a group of people among whom the Bible is emphasized and taught faithfully and thoughtfully.
Identity today as a church belonging to Christ depends not on an unbroken historical “lineage” traceable all the way back to Pentecost. It depends on a church's present adherence to the “apostles' doctrine.”
They Had Fellowship
“Fellowship” is a sharing or joint participation. Christians have fellowship with Christ and with one another in Christ - (1 John 1:1-4). The fellowship enjoyed by the Jerusalem Christians (Acts 2:42) was not the kind of activity that takes place in modern church “fellowship halls.” Instead, it involved the spiritual relationship Christians enjoyed and the activities of a spiritual nature they participated in together. Nowhere does the New Testament apply the word “fellowship” to social activities. Christians may have friendships and share social activities together, and such is good. It is just not how the Bible uses the term fellowship. It encourages friendships among the people of God, but it reserves the term “fellowship” to spiritual things. For example, while singing the song ”She'll be coming around the mountain” around the campfire may be nice, it is not fellowship. But singing “Our God, He Is Alive” is fellowship, as the Bible uses the term.
They Worshiped God
In this particular verse, the “breaking of bread” is most likely a reference to the Lord's Supper. (Cf. Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 10:16). “Prayers” also characterized the worship. The Jerusalem church worshiped and served God in “fear” (v.43), which means they did so reverently, with respect and awe. Those who today advocate the rejection of “traditional” worship services in favor of more informal, unstructured, spontaneous worship need to be careful they do not go to the opposite extreme. While there are many religious rituals traditionally practices today that have their origins with man instead of God and therefore deserve to be scrapped, it is also true that there must be some order in our worship (1 Corinthians 14:40).
Reverence is a matter of the heart but almost always is accompanied by outward actions that are appropriate to a reverent state of mind. Who was the most reverent of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:10-14)?
They Were Generous
Personal sacrifices were made to meet the benevolent needs of some members (Acts 2:44,45). This generosity did not mean that private property was abolished (Acts 5:1-4) or even that distinctions between rich and poor disappeared (1 Timothy 6:17-19). It did mean that “the have's” gave generously to the needs of the “have not's”. (James 2:14-17. It also meant that one did not look down on another for having, or for not having, an abundance of this world's goods.
They Were Hospitable
“So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.” There is much to be said for good old hospitality (Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; Hebrews 13:2; 3 John 5-8. )
They Were Both Glad and Sincere
Standing faithfully for God's truth ought not to mean we live with a sour disposition. (1 Peter 1:8; Jude 1:24). In Christ, we are told to rejoice as we remember our rich blessings in Christ with confidence (Philippians 4:4).
They Had Favor With All the People
Later changed when false rumors were spread about the faithful. Christians are to live so that no charge of evil made against them is true (1 Peter 4:15,16). Living righteously contributes to an honorable reputation - (Romans 12:17) .
They Told Others About Jesus
Evangelism in the Jerusalem church was not an occasional, sporadic event - it was a “daily” activity (Acts 2:47). Even when later the members of the congregation at Jerusalem were scattered because of persecution, they “went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
Conclusion How can these characteristics be acquired by the church in a given locality today? One thing certainly is needed: a recognition of their importance. Then we, as individual members of the body, need to each do our parts (Ephesians 4:16)
This article is based on an outline by Gary Henry
Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 21.12; December 2014