Chapter 6: Our first glimpse of the early church
42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
46 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, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
Meet the very first church
Some people think the ‘church’ is a boring religious club, or an old building, or just an organisation. Seen as being out of touch, out of date, and irrelevant, they think the sooner it closes down, the better. These early Christians might agree! Happily, although some churches are like that, it is not true of others. These early Christians were certainly different! The changed lives of those who put their trust in Jesus Christ amazed everyone, including themselves.
This first church in history, run by responsible Christian leaders,1 is a pattern for all churches today. The church is people: converted and changed people; people enthusiastic about their new relationship with God. Jesus Christ is their foundation and cornerstone.2 They want get to know Him better, to live to please Him, and to help others. These men and women have turned from wrongdoing and asked Jesus Christ to save them. He has done that. He died on the cross to take their judgement for that wrongdoing. He lives today and, through the Holy Spirit, gives them a new inner joy and enthusiasm for living. That will continue when they soon face cruel opposition, merciless persecution, imprisonment and death. Have they committed horrible crimes? No! They simply have taken the Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord, Saviour, Master, Friend and King. They now live to please and serve Him!
How to get God’s help to carry on as a Christian
Without Christ in their lives, they could not live like that, nor even want to! So God has given four helps for them to make progress, while enjoying their new peace and satisfaction found in knowing Jesus. What are those four helps?
God’s first help: God’s word, or the Bible, or the apostles’ doctrine
Christians are newly born-again ‘babes’ needing the milk of God’s word.3 The whole Bible, namely the Old and New Testaments, is God’s inspired, faultless and complete word, called here ‘the apostles’ doctrine’.4 The Bible is a Holy Spirit inspired library of sixty-six books, all accurate and trustworthy. Anyone seeking truth should read it each day.5 The Old Testament’s thirty-nine books begin with creation. They trace God’s dealings with people, and their responses, until Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem about two thousand years ago. The New Testament’s twenty-seven books cover the birth, life, miracles, teaching, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension to Heaven of Jesus. They describe the events before Jesus returns in glory to end this world and bring in a perfect New Heaven and Earth.6 They focus on how sinners can be forgiven and receive eternal life. Read the Bible carefully and ask God to help you and bless you through it. Mark’s gospel is one good starting point.7
God’s second help: sharing, or fellowship with other believers
The second help is fellowship. This word literally means ‘sharing’. The new believers share together their time, blessings, problems, prayers, and efforts to help others to come to know their Saviour. Their new unity, often with people unknown or hardly known before, makes them into a family. They are open, honest, caring and generous. They love to meet together. Because regular Christian fellowship still helps many today we are warned not to forsake it.8 In becoming children of God by receiving Christ9
God’s third help: Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Table or the breaking of bread
The third activity, ‘the breaking of bread’, takes on real meaning to anyone coming to know Christ. Also known as ‘Holy Communion’, ‘The Lord’s Table’ or ‘The Lord’s Supper’ it is a simple remembrance, recorded in the Bible, that in dying on the cross, Jesus’ body was broken for us and His blood was shed12 for our sins. This simple remembrance shows that the Jewish Passover was fulfilled in the death on the cross of Jesus Christ, our ‘Passover lamb’.13 Every Lord’s Day (Sunday) believers across the world remember this and share fellowship with others. This act of remembrance is to be kept until Christ comes again in glory and power. It looks forward to that great climactic event as well as looking back to the cross where the Saviour died in our place.14
God’s fourth help: Prayer
Prayer always helps Christians. It is never out of date and crosses all boundaries. These new converts discover the reality of personal prayer and meet to pray and share together and with God. Paul urged the Philippians, ‘Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus’.15 Prayer is talking to God and letting your requests be made known to Him. Supplication is humbly asking specific things from God, for others and for yourself with a sense of unworthiness and to honour Him. Thanksgiving pleases God as He listens to His thankful children. Praying with fellow-believers in Christ is a wonderful discovery to make!
Awesome! Then see what happened next!
‘Then fear came upon every soul’16 Meanwhile God continues to give ‘many wonders and signs’ through His apostles. Everyone can see that these men act with His authority and power as His chosen channels.17 The Holy Spirit will complete the New Testament and therefore His written word, the Bible, through these apostles.18 As well as the awe and the apostles’ wonders and miraculous signs, God is at work in each new Christian.
He is changing them deeply as individuals, and together they form a unique group of people. Such is the positive impact of their new lives, and their shared message of eternal life through personal faith in Christ, that ‘the Lord added to the church daily [my emphasis] those who were being saved’.
Although persecution will come, those who are near to them now see what is happening and are convinced. So what do onlookers see in these people who have recently received Christ?
First, an unplanned and joyful togetherness leads to selfless sharing of what they have with each other.19 Next, they sacrificially sell their own ‘possessions and goods’ to give to people in ‘need’.20 They are continually motivated for this by their daily Christian meetings ‘in the temple’. Hospitality with ‘gladness and simplicity of heart’ provides food and fellowship to all in their homes.21 Their ongoing ‘praising God’ for how His wonderful gospel has changed them is probably the springboard for everything else they do. Is it any wonder that such a magnetic and gracious change in them causes them to enjoy ‘having favour with all the people’?22
Questions on Chapter 6
Our First Glimpse of the Early Church—Acts 2:42–47
A. Why is it important that Christians read, study and hear God’s word (the apostles’ teaching)? Why is the Bible such a help to Christians?
Acts 2:42, 2 Timothy 2:15, 2 Timothy 3:16, Psalm 119:105
B. Discuss the other three ways in which God helps the believers in the early church, and why these three helps are so important to Christians and to churches today.
Hebrews 10:25, 1 Corinthians 11:27–28, Philippians 4:6–7
C. ‘Then fear [awe] came upon every soul’ says Acts 2:43. How is this awesome experience expressed in the way the new Christians live as seen in Acts 2:44–47? Even though we live in different times today, how can the principles on which they lived be followed by Christians in today’s world?
- Paul’s greeting the church in Philippians 1:1 gives a clear potted view of the New Testament church structure. There were saints in Christ Jesus (= ‘ordinary’ Christians), overseers (also called elders or bishops simply meaning overseers) and deacons (or servants to whom were delegated special areas of practical responsibility in the church.) For church leaders’ qualifications—whether called elders or bishops or overseers—see 1 Timothy 3:1–7, Titus 1:5–9. ↩
- Ephesians 2:20, 1 Peter 2:4–7 ↩
- 1 Peter 2:2 ↩
- For a brief but clear explanation of this see chapter 6 of Part Two of The Bible Panorama, published by DayOne. Like Jesus, the apostles accepted, believed and taught that all the Old Testament is the foundational part of God’s written word. The New Testament forms the second part, in which Jesus’ authoritative teaching is recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s gospels. The apostles were given God’s authority to complete His word in the New Testament. See John 16:12–15, Luke 24:13–49, 2 Peter 1:12–21, 2 Timothy 2:14–15 and Ephesians 2:20. Peter shows that Paul’s writings are on a par with the other Scriptures. 2 Peter 3:15–16. God-given special signs and wonders demonstrate the apostles’ authority as His chosen channels through whom God reveals the rest of His message and word in the New Testament. 2 Corinthians 12:12. ↩
- Acts 17:11 ↩
- Revelation 21:1 ↩
- DayOne’s book MarkTime , complete with 4 CDs, is a good help to study Mark’s gospel. Go to http://marktime.info ↩
- Hebrews 10:24–25 ↩
- John 1:12, Colossians 2:6 ↩
- 1 john 3:1, Philemon 1:3 ↩
- Galatians 3:28 ↩
- 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 ↩
- 1 Corinthians 5:7 ↩
- 1 Corinthians 11:26 ↩
- Philippians 4:6-7 ↩
- Other translations of this phrase are: Everyone was filled with awe! (NIV); And awe came upon every soul (ESV); Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe! (NASB). ↩
- 2 Corinthians 12:12 ↩
- John 16:12–15 ↩
- Acts 2:44 ↩
- Acts 2:45 ↩
- Acts 2:46 ↩
- Acts 2:47 ↩