One of the first Bible passages from which I ever preached – and one that I have returned to again and again through the years – is Acts 2:42 …
“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
It has long seemed to me that here, in this one sentence, the Lord has given us a kind of blueprint for the church. Of course, there are many other things that can (and must!) be said about the church (see, for instance, Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, and also the 9marks.org website). But it seems to me that any church would do quite well by ordering its activities and priorities around the four bullet points in Acts 2:42!
The early church at Jerusalem was perhaps the most dynamic church in history. Read the next few verses after Acts 2:42 … and you’ll find a marvelous description of miracles, generosity, community, joy, praise, respect in the community, and evangelistic growth. What church in its right mind wouldn’t want to be like the Jerusalem fellowship?
But how did they get there? Well, the primary reason for the strength and dynamism of the Jerusalem church was the unusually powerful working of the Holy Spirit in those early days. By blessing them with what we would call revival, God was getting the new covenant community off on a very strong foot indeed! Let’s pray for revival in our midst, too! But let’s also notice that, under the immense blessing of the Holy Spirit, there were also some very practical commitments that enabled the church at Jerusalem to be as strong as it was – “the apostles’ teaching … fellowship … the breaking of bread and … prayer.” And it’s no accident that Luke (and the Holy Spirit through him) chose to tell us of these primary commitments … and to stack them end to end in a list, so that we would notice and remember them all the more easily!
God wants us to have these priorities as well! And it has been my conviction for all these years that, really, everything we do in our local churches ought to fall under one of these four categories. There are many things that a church can be involved in. But, if the activities we plan and the priorities we make do not fit with the blueprint of Acts 2:42, it seems to me that we are spinning our wheels at best, and becoming utterly distracted at worst.
The church is a spiritual body – not a social club, an affinity group, or a political or social action team. And yet churches can easily degenerate into the latter categories, or (more often) into a hybrid of the two. But we must remain focused! And it is not difficult to do, really. The Lord has given us a very simple blueprint which, if followed, will lead to spiritual health and growth in our churches as well. And I say we commit to this simplistic model of church, stripping away all the extraneous distractions. Trim the fat, in other words … so as to be a simple, focused, purposeful, spiritual body of believers.
Stay with me for the next four weeks, and we’ll unpack just what we should be doing. And, by the end, may it be said of us: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”