Free In Christ

Finding Freedom in the Churches of Christ

From The Archives: Is Acts 2:42 A Pattern For The Church?

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[This post if from January 29, 2009.  I think it is very relevant to the things we have been discussing on this blog.  I still very much believe that fellowship is the pattern of the Church and our local assemblies are not the point]

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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Written by freeinchrist

March 20, 2010 at 8:00 am

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