Imagine for a moment that you’ve never stepped foot inside a church building before in your life. You’ve never opened up a Bible, never heard a sermon preached. Maybe you’ve never even heard the name of Jesus spoken before.
But then one day someone gives you a Bible, and you begin to read it. Cover to cover. You read about the beginning of all things in Genesis, and discover a God that is larger than life. You read about Noah’s flood, and discover a God who demands righteousness and punishes sin. You read about Moses and the Exodus, and discover a God who will rescue His people from the bondage that enslaves them. You read about King David, and discover a God who loves us despite our glaring imperfections. You read about Jesus, and discover a God who would send His Son to die, so we could live eternally with Him. You read the New Testament, and discover a God who wants to spread the message of His Kingdom to the ends of the earth, that none might perish.
Now imagine after reading about this God, you stepped foot inside a church building for the first time. What would you expect? Any expectations that you enter with would have been born solely out of what you’ve read in God’s Word. Your expectations would not be tainted by centuries of church rituals and tradition. There would be no influence of past observations and experiences. No expectations based on what you’ve been taught since you were a child. Just the teachings of the Word of God.
I’ve written in the past about our common modern day church experience, but my aim here is not to observe and critique our church experiences of the past. It’s to begin to consider what the gathered Church might look like if we stripped away any preconceived ideas of what we believe the Church is supposed to be.
If we look to the Book of Acts, where the New Testament Church begins, we see that the Church is built around four defining features: the Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)
Let’s take a closer look into the first three of these four features, to learn more about how they impacted the daily lives of the first century believers, and how they should impact our lives today.
The Apostles’ Teaching
Teaching has always been a central focus of Christian gatherings. Early Church gatherings provided an opportunity for believers to receive instruction from the apostles’ teaching, as they submitted themselves to the authority of the Scriptures. In Acts 20, we even see an example of Paul preaching from early evening until daybreak, probably a timeframe of 10 to 12 hours! While this was a special occasion, we see that the Apostle Paul believed the teaching of the Word of God was so important that he filled an entire night with it. The same should be true today. While a good sermon lasting 60 minutes isn’t necessarily any better than a sermon lasting 20 minutes, we should always hunger for more teaching and preaching of God’s Word.
As we continue on in Acts 2, we read the following:
“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.” (Acts 2: 44-45)
Here we see that the early believers didn’t view the Church as a place where they gathered together on Sunday morning, they viewed themselves as the embodiment of the Church. As a fellowship of believers, they would live as one community sharing everything they owned. We see further example of this in Acts 4:
“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common … There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:32, 34-35)
This is where we seem to miss the mark most often today. Most likely, this is a result of the focus we’ve placed on Sunday morning in our culture. We’ve made Sunday morning the central focus of our Christian lives, while we live out our own lives Monday through Saturday. But what if we placed a greater focus on gathering together in groups throughout the week, living our lives together as the early Church did? Sunday morning still has an important role to play – its role simply needs to be refocused.
The Breaking of Bread
In Acts 20:7, we read a curious statement indicating that the early believers were gathering together not for the apostles’ teaching, or for prayer, but for the purpose of breaking bread together. Sometimes this meant sharing a meal together, and other times it meant partaking in the Lord’s Supper. But what is apparent is not only did they break bread every time they gathered together, they considered this to be a foundational practice.
As we continue to read further into Acts 2, we learn more about this practice of the early Church:
“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.” (Acts 2:46)
Here we read that the early believers would break bread together daily and attend the temple together. But while the early believers did meet together often at the temple in Jerusalem, the primary meeting place for the Church in the New Testament is in people’s homes. They would go from home to home, breaking bread and teaching the Word.
So ask yourself a question: Is that something you’ve ever done? Today, is it enough to simply observe communion once a month, or does the Bible call for the Lord’s Supper to be more than that? You be the judge.
In the end, Christianity is not simply about our individual relationship with God. It’s about a community of believers living out their lives together in obedience to the teachings of the Scriptures and in spreading the message of the Gospel. When we look back at Acts 2:42, the verse states that “they devoted themselves” – it wasn’t an individual thing, it was something they did together.
When we begin to live like this, I believe a funny thing will begin to happen: Others will take notice and want to be a part. And what better way to teach the world what it means to follow Jesus, than by following His directions for how to live our lives.