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Is Acts 2:42 A Pattern For The Church?

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Many people in the history of the church have looked to Acts 2:42 (to the end of the chapter) as a pattern for the church but none of them saw deep enough to see what “pattern” might actually be there. People read this passage and think that their duty as Christians is to devote themselves to:

1. The apostles teaching

2. Fellowship

3. Breaking of bread

4. Prayer

They say that these four things must be done by the church and that these should be the main purposes of the assembly. Some in my heritage of churches of Christ have actually attempted to model their worship services after this supposed “pattern” thinking that it would make their worship services Scriptural. Trying to take Luke’s description of the first Christians and develop it into a pattern for the church is a big mistake if viewed through the eyes of legalism.

Should we take this description of the first Christians and try to emulate it?

In a way, I think so. But not in the way you think.

First of all, “teaching” and “fellowship” are not two different things in this narrative as we have often thought. It should be “they dedicated themselves to the Apostles teaching and fellowship” (as it is in the English Standard Version and others). It is saying that they dedicated themselves to the Apostles teaching AND the Apostle’s fellowship. This means that they followed the Apostles in a similar way to how the Apostles had followed Jesus in His ministry. They were under His guidance and these new Christians were under the Apostles guidance and spent much time with them living the life that Jesus had taught them all to live.

Secondly, the debate about the meaning of breaking of bread is really quite unnecessary. Many claim it refers to the Lord’s Supper and others think it refers to a fellowship meal. In the early church their was so little difference between these two that no variance in terms would be needed. The Lord’s Supper was done in the context of a fellowship meal, so no distinction need be made. The “breaking of bread” and the Lord’s Supper are one and the same.

Lastly, the “prayers” should not be translated “prayer” as it is in many translations. The Greek is clearly plural. The reason the “prayer” translation is often used is because some Christians have a tough time figuring out what “the prayers” were. I think I can answer that and I will below.

The verses to the end of the chapter describe in more detail the things stated in v.42. It works like this:

Apostles teaching & fellowship

– Great signs and wonders done through the Apostles

– They were together and had all things in common

– They sold their possessions and gave to any who had need.

Breaking of bread

– Met in homes to break bread (possibly daily)

Prayers

– Met in the temple courts daily

Some may be confused by me relating their meeting in the temple courts with “the prayers” but you shouldn’t be if you continue reading into Acts 3. Where are Peter and John going? To the 3 o’clock prayer service at the temple. Yes, these were “the prayers” they were continually dedicated to. This is the only meaning of “the prayers” that makes any sense in the narrative. Reading the ESV in this passage can clear a lot of this up.

So in what way does this narrative contain a pattern for the church?

It does this by showing the fellowship that we are supposed to have outside of the rigid religious system that we have trapped ourselves in. Fellowship is supposed to be the foundation of the church and how church is done. The teaching was done in the context of fellowship. The breaking of bread was done in the context of fellowship. Even the things they did as a matter of being Jewish (the prayers and even synagogue attendance) were done in the context of fellowship. We (as Gentile Christians) have no need or opportunity to participate is some of these practice (the temple was destroyed and we are not under the Law of Moses and never were), but we do have the same need for fellowship that they had. You see, fellowship is the true pattern of the church and everything we do should flow from it

They had free fellowship with one another, teaching one another in the context of life. Breaking bread with one another, praising God, and giving thanks for all the Father had given to them. We should be doing the same.

 

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In What Sense Is Baptism “For The Forgiveness Of Sins”

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We in the churches of Christ have always been clear that we believe that baptism is “for the forgiveness of sins”. In this article, I will not challenge that idea because I find it to be both logical and biblically sound. We have been right to insist on this meaning for baptism but another question must be asked that I fear never is: In what sense is baptism for the forgiveness of sins?
You may be wondering “is there more than one sense?” I submit to your thinking the idea that there are at least three ways that baptism could be for the forgiveness of sins and in this article I want to look at those three ways and come to, what I believe is the biblical sense in which baptism is for the forgiveness of sins.
The first way that baptism could be for the forgiveness of sins is that baptism could be the way we earn the forgiveness of sins. For example, if I say “I go to work for a paycheck” I am saying that I go to work to earn a paycheck. My employer does not give me a paycheck as a gift; I work for it. This makes complete sense when talking about employment, but should raise a few eyebrows if this meaning of “for” was applied to baptism. We should know that we do not earn the forgiveness of sins by being baptized (or by doing anything else either). We cannot earn the forgiveness of sins. Because we cannot earn it by any good behavior, Jesus died for us.

One of our church songs expresses it well:

He paid a debt He did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay, I needed someone to wash my sins away.

We do not earn the forgiveness of sins, our sins are forgiven by the blood of Christ. Because of this, this first meaning cannot be the sense in which baptism is “for the forgiveness of sins”.

The second sense in which baptism could be for the forgiveness of sins is the sense of procurement. We could receive the forgiveness of sins at baptism. This idea has long been taught in churches of Christ but I find reason to question it. If asked, many of our preachers would say that this idea of baptism comes from Alexander Campbell (I assume if you are reading this I don‘t need to tell you who Alexander Campbell was). but this is not what Alexander Campbell had in mind when communicating his belief on baptism. Actually, he said the opposite:

“The influence which baptism may have upon our spiritual relations is, therefore, not because of any merit in the act as our own; not as a procuring cause, but merely as an instrumental and concurring cause, by which we “put on Christ,” and are united to him formally as well as in heart, entering into covenant with him, and uniting ourselves to him in his death, burial, and resurrection. (Christian Baptism: It’s Antecedents and Consequences)

Did you notice what he said: not for procurement. This means that Campbell’s baptismal theology is NOT that you receive the forgiveness of sins at baptism. People only thought that this is what he meant by insisting on baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Many thought that his teaching was a kind of “water salvation” but this is not what he was trying to communicate.

You may be thinking “So what? We don’t follow Campbell we follow the Bible”. You are right, we don’t follow a man but Scripture. So how does Scripture say a person receives salvation? The answer is: by grace, through faith. Paul is clear on this in the books of Romans and Galatians and I will take no time here to prove it. The mental gymnastics that it takes to rob Paul’s letters of this meaning is too complicated for me to even try to tackle. (This would be an excellent time to read these books again)

The third sense (and the one I believe to be biblical) is the experiential sense. For example, if I say “I go to the amusement park for fun” I do not go to earn fun (how much fun would that be?) and I do not go to receive fun (As if fun could be received?) I go to experience fun.

Another example may be helpful. “I go to a ceremony for graduation” I earn (merit) my graduation through years of school work and successfully passing my classes. I receive (procure) my graduation when a school official with the proper authority deems that I have met the requirements for graduation and approves my graduation. I experience graduation at the ceremony when it is made “official”.  I can leave the ceremony in full assurance that I have graduated.

Baptism works the same way. The forgiveness of sins was paid for (earned/merited) by Christ’s death on the cross. I could not pay for it. The forgiveness of sins was received by God’s grace, through faith. At this moment I had no way of knowing that I was saved. I didn’t see the spiritual things that occurred at Christ’s death (nor did I see the physical because they happened nearly 2000 years ago). I also didn’t see God give me His grace through faith. Without an experience of salvation, I would not truly know that I was saved and would have to rely on my own knowledge of Scripture to determine it. Luckily, God gave us a ceremony that tells us the truth about the way we really are. I experienced the forgiveness of sins at baptism and walked away from the baptistery in full knowledge that I had received it. Thank God!!!

It is not only biblical but also important that baptism works this way. If baptism was how you earned your salvation than you could say you had paid for it and would be able to boast in yourself but the Lord wants us to boast of what He has done. If baptism was how we received salvation than we couldn’t thank God for His wonderful grace, we would have to thank baptism for being the vessel by which we received it (many have fallen into this very trap). We would also be trusting in our baptismal theology to give us salvation which is just another way of trying to earn it.

Since baptism is how we experience the forgiveness of sins we can rejoice in the knowledge that we are saved by God’s grace and our sins were paid for by Christ’s death. This experience is a way in which God communicates to us what has been done on our behalf. In this way it is an “appeal to God for a clear conscience” (1Pet 3) We walk away from it with our consciences clear !!! In this way it is “being buried with Christ through baptism into death so that we might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4) We have a new life (by being forgiven of our sins by grace) but come to the experience of it at baptism.

It helps me to think of it this way:

My salvation was:

Earned: By Christ’s death on the cross.

Received: By God’s grace (through faith)

Experienced: At baptism

I think if we would come to see this issue in this way we would be able to better communicate with fellow Christians who disagree and to find some common ground with other traditions. We would also be able to speak more biblically about the role of baptism as it relates to faith, grace, and justification. I know that I have not answered every question regarding baptism in this article (I haven’t even scratched the surface) but, hopefully, I have given you something to think about as we all seek to follow Christ more faithfully.

 

 

 

Written by freeinchrist

January 26, 2009 at 5:08 pm