“… About three thousand in all … joined with the other believers in regular attendance at the apostles’ teaching sessions and at the breaking of bread services and prayer meetings” (Acts 2:41, 42, LB).
The early Christians were looked upon as a fellowship or a community, rather than a church. Church is a misleading word today, referring to a building for many people and of a fellowship of worshiping people.
Community, according to the Oxford dictionary, is “a body of persons having a community life … a state, town, school, convent, profession, or bee-hive!” Many church fellowships today are rather like bee-hives, with the members continually stinging one another and sometimes the ministers having too many theological “bees in the bonnet.”
p 56 If the younger generation is to be integrated into the Christian community, which we call the church, then we must return to the four-fold secret of the day of Pentecost when three thousand were added to the church in one day.
Verses 41 to 47 of Acts 2 reveal how they entered the fellowship, exercised their fellowship and expressed their fellowship. Or to put it another way, they had a basis for fellowship, an expression of this fellowship and a secret for maintaining the fellowship.
Let us look at this four-fold secret in detail; it can be summed up in four words: authority, fraternity, ceremony and liturgy.
I. AUTHORITY—“regular attendance at the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42).
We are living in days when authority is at a low ebb everywhere. Educational methods are beginning to turn full circle. “Free discipline” (a contradiction in terms!), when every child was allowed to “do his own thing,” has now been seen as causing insecurity. Children and young people expect and like a certain amount of discipline in school and in the home. It makes them more secure and mature.
Anarchy has spread into the churches and as Spurgeon once put it when describing a certain sect, “None of us knows anything and we all teach each other.” God’s “frozen people” need unfreezing, but sometimes they can become too unfrozen and like the period of the Judges, “… every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6). “Obey them that have the rule over you,” wrote Paul, and he urged that “faithful men” should be entrusted with the important task of “teaching others also.” One of the gifts of the ascended Lord to the church is pastors and teachers.
p 57 II. FRATERNITY—“They joined with the other believers” (v. 42).
“Faithful to the brotherhood” is another modern translation of the word “fellowship” in the Authorized or King James Version. In the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles the word brother or brethren is used 147 times. Peter’s injunction to believers was, “Love the brotherhood.” He placed that instruction before “fear God.” There was obviously a great sense of fraternity in the early church. Like the people of God in Malachi’s day, “… they that feared the Lord spake often one to another” (Mal. 3:16).
Friendship can be found in clubs and pubs, but New Testament fellowship is something entirely different from friendship, valuable and enjoyable as that may be. The word fellowship is the same Greek word that is used in the New Testament for the communion service or Lord’s Supper. The “fellowship meal” is where Christian fellowship is realized at its deepest level.
III. CEREMONY—“the breaking of bread services” (v. 42).
Today the sacraments are not central enough in many churches, which is to the detriment of worship and the spiritual life of members. Sometimes there are household communion services and baptisms, instead of them being within the context of the worshiping church. Both sacraments are “acted creeds” and should not be celebrated in isolation or as an appendage to ordinary worship. When the early Christians met on the first day of the week it was to break bread. Prior to that they had broken bread daily. After that they celebrated communion weekly, and beyond that Scripture does not go. Why is it then that some denominations do p 58 not hold communion services at all, and others once every quarter? It is no wonder church members have become lax in attendance.
IV. LITURGY—“and in prayer” (v. 42).
The Greek text has “and in the prayers,” as if there was a set liturgical form of prayer already in existence. For some today prayers that are read are “gabbled through”; for others “free” or extempore prayer is making the Almighty, “all-matey.” And so it is difficult to please everyone. Perhaps a compromise is needed: some prayers could be read, and some extemporized. It has been said that if we prepare to speak to man (sermon notes), then we should the more prepare to speak to God, and many ministers who would not read prayers from a book do find it helpful to write out “headline” thoughts for their prayers so that when they lead their congregations in public prayer they do not become repetitive week after week.
Does the church therefore need revival and renewal? Yes, indeed! We need an awakening similar to the eighteenth century and other revivals of history. On the other hand we also need to walk the old paths and get back to the secrets of the early church when three thousand were added to their number in one day, and each day fresh soldiers joined their ranks.
Hayden, E. W. (1978). All-Occasion Sermon Outlines (pp. 55–58). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.