Friday, June 13, 2014

The Early Church

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Act 2:41-47)
The result of Peter’s sermon, the result of the work of the Holy Spirit. Three thousand were baptized. There wasn’t any instruction beyond the sermon before they were baptized. They weren’t changing religions. There didn’t need to be any instruction. By being baptized they were continuing to worship the same God they had always worshiped. Only now they came to understand that this God had revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ.
This is also why the new believers could continue to worship in the Temple with good conscience. They would assemble there to pray as they had always done, realizing that the sacrifices had been made complete in Jesus Christ. But then they gathered in the homes for more.
Everyone always fixates on how the early believers had everything in common. Of course they did. They realized that they owned nothing to begin with but were only stewards of that which God had given them and they used what they  had to accomplish the task that God had put before them. But there is more here than all that. You see how the spiritual life of the early congregation was shaped. The people devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles. That is they came to hear what the apostles were preaching and saying. They were committing it to memory. The desire to learn consumed them. And the fellowship! We think of this too often as something that happens after church. The small talk we make at coffee, which has its own importance. I love that stuff. But the real fellowship was in the gathering to hear and learn together, to pray and worship together. This is what brought them together and made them one, and the climax was the breaking of bread. It wasn’t a loaf of pumpernickel. This is the Lord’s Supper. It was a euphemism for Holy Communion, hearkening back to the words of institution, “he took bread and broke it.” As an aside, neither did breaking bread have anything to do with tearing or fracturing. That may or may not have occurred. But to break was a Hebraism that meant to distribute. For instance, Joseph is said to have broke grain when he was distributing the grain to the Egyptians. That’s the way the Hebrew literally reads there. This means a pastor doesn’t actually break the bread during the words of institution, even if he chooses to do hold it up and fracture it into pieces. But the pastor breaks the bread as he gives it to you at the rail. That is where the breaking that Christ did is done during the service. After the breaking of the bread they devoted themselves to prayers. The disciples, we will see had set times for prayer.
This was the devotional life of the early church, it centered in worship and communion. The prayers led up to this, and followed from this. Their devotional life wasn’t something separate from worship together, but  was intimately connected to it. No one would think that they could be a Christian on their own, or that worshiping together  was some sort of optional thing and they could just as well stay at home and pray at the kitchen table. Sure, if there was something preventing you from going to church, this was the best and it would be fine. But it was a poor substitute for worshipping together, even with those you might not get along with very well. And three thousand sinners gathered together were bound to have their personality  clashes, as we will also see shortly. We dare not utopianize the early church. But if you were Christian this is what you did.

Now, I very much doubt that every Christian made it to the breaking of bread every day. Later we will see a focus hone in on the first day of the week, Sunday, because that is the day that the Lord rose from the dead. This is something the early church felt should be celebrated weekly. Even then, it would be impossible for all of them to make it every Sunday. Work, sickness, etc. would get in the way. Then again, Christian slaves would get up in the wee hours of the morning to worship at 5 AM and make it back before their masters woke. These days, 10 AM is too early, but church has to be over by 11 so we can make it to Sunday brunch… No, that is the problem. Worship has come to be thought of as a chore. Maybe because we always treat it as law, or it has often been treated that way. Something you are supposed to do, or have to do. It’s odd though. The Sabbath that we as Christians intentionally break every week by not worshiping on Saturday. Well, it never actually required worship. The synagogue that Jesus attended every Sabbath as was his custom, was just that, his custom. There was no command for it in the OT. It came out of the desire of Exiles to hold on to the faith. They realized in exile that if they were going to remain faithful they needed come together and worship in some manner as a community, and be refreshed by God’s word together. And that was what it was about. Being refreshed in God’s word. Coming together to encourage on another, and build each other up. And it is the same thing that is going on with the early church at the end chapter 2 in Acts. There is no command. There didn’t need to be. The people saw the importance of worship together, straight way. And because of that, the Lord added to their number every day. 

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