July 20, 2013

Acts 2:42 - Modeling The Early Church

Pastoring is a huge endeavor, especially when you are new to it. I liken it to being a new parent. When your first child arrives, so does the responsibility to care for them. Now, usually you receive a little help in the first few days. We were blessed that my mother-in-law came and helped us for a week. But then, she left and everything was down to us.

As an analytical kind of guy, I quickly figured out the principles of caring for a baby. The key skills necessary are to quickly and efficiently get food into the top end and diligently keep the other end as clean as possible. Oh, there are a few other details, but when they're brand new, those are the big two.

Five and a half years ago, I took over the pastorship of New Life Church in Dodgeville, WI. This was my first pastorate and I had about twenty souls looking intently at me for spiritual nurturing. I understand that having multiple children can be challenging enough, but now I had twenty spiritual charges to feed and clean and raise in the Lord.

The wonderful thing about the Lord is that he does not leave us floundering in our time of need. Before I had preached my first sermon, he had already given me a guide to running an apostolic church. We had striven to be helpful to the founding pastor, so we knew how to conduct a service through their wonderful examples, but a church is not just a series of services, any more than a baby is just a series of feedings.

I needed principles of church operation and the Lord provided. The Lord had caused a distilled analysis of the actions of an apostolic church body to be written in his word and he pointed me at it.

And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

Acts 2:42

This is an amazing scripture for a number of reasons. The first reason is that it describes the operation of the early apostolic church. This is how the church operated when full of the Holy Ghost. This is pure church, conducted exactly the way that the Spirit guided it. The Devil, through worldly influence, hadn't affected it yet. There weren't even any human problems at this point, such as the Grecian widows murmuring or Ananias and Sapphira lying about money.

The second reason that it is amazing, is that it can be viewed as four principles of being an apostolic church. In the same way that caring for new babies can be distilled down to two principles, apostolic church can be expressed in four principles. And this is how I understood that the Lord intended me to receive this scripture.

I do not believe that the principles are listed in degree of importance. If that was the case, then either apostolic doctrine or prayer is the least important part of operating a church congregation. Rather, I believe them all to be equally important. The amount that each principle is applied and the manner that it is applied is left to the discretion of the pastor, as they know best the needs of their assigned congregation.

The important thing with these principles is that they should be applied continuously and steadfastly. The Greek word behind steadfastly is proskartereo and it means "to be steadfastly attentive unto, to give unremitting care to a thing" and "to persevere and not to faint". These principles are not a fad or a new technique to be tried and discarded when tired of, but to be bedrock behavior for the church going forward.

Let's examine each of these principles and see how the early church practiced each of them.

Apostolic Doctrine

Doctrine is teaching, so apostolic doctrine is simply the teaching of the apostles. This is important for the church because the Lord intended it to be this way. Jesus personally selected the core disciples, knowing that eleven of them were going to be the founders of his church. Like any founder of a modern organization, he carefully selected and diligently trained his leadership team.

Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,

Luke 24:45

Further, he gave them supernatural understanding of the scriptures. He did this with the specific understanding that they would be teaching the future members of the church. To use a modern business analogy, he had trained the trainers.

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

John 17:20

After Jesus had prayed for his disciples, that final night in the Garden of Gethsemane, he immediately prayed for those who would believe on him through their word, that is, their teaching. He desired that the world would receive the apostle's teaching. This is why he had spent three and a half years with them. They, with the others of the one hundred and twenty that would be gathered for prayer in that upper room fifty one days after that prayer, were going to be the only source of salvation instruction for the new dispensation.

Jesus conducted his entire earthly ministry under the dispensation of the Law. Yet everything he did was to prepare for the dispensation of grace. Everything that he taught was in the form of principles. Everything that the apostles taught was the fulfillment of those principles. They taught physical actions that people should take to draw near to God and seek his salvation.

The classic example of this is that Jesus taught Nicodemus the principle of salvation, in that he needed to be born again of water and of spirit. Peter solidified that during his sermon on the day of the founding of the church, when he taught that salvation involved baptism in Jesus' name and receiving the Holy Ghost.


The Greek word translated fellowship, koinonia, is also translated as communion in a number of places. The dictionary helps us understand that communion can mean an "intimate fellowship or rapport". This is the kind of fellowship that the church is supposed to have.

The church is a family. Any time the church comes together, it is like a family gathering. I understand that every family has some eccentric relatives, but you generally love them anyway, just because they're family. It's the same in the church.

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

Colossians 3:13

We are to forbear our brothers and sisters. Forbear is a delightful Olde English word that is occasionally explained to mean "put up with". I think that's a little rough. I would prefer to describe it as working diligently to be at peace with someone and as we like to say, fellowshipping the differences.

There are some who say that you should never talk about politics or religion. While it's hard not to talk about religion in the church, the general principle of avoiding contentious subjects in your conversations with your church family holds.

Breaking Of Bread

There is something special about eating with someone. It can bring two people closer together. I make a point of rotating through the men of my congregation to take them for breakfast periodically. The coming together over food and with a cup of coffee helps to forge a bond of fellowship that lasts beyond just that morning.

Not all fellowship involves the breaking of bread, but all breaking of bread is fellowship. Eating together brings a closeness and a sharing that often doesn't happen under other circumstances. And it is a wise pastor that encourages these opportunities.

At our church, we love any excuse to fellowship. One of our more popular service ideas is the fifth Wednesday service. Any time there is a fifth Wednesday in a calendar month, we hold a fellowship evening centered around food. There are generally four such fifth Wednesdays a year. We will usually pick a theme based around a particular cuisine. In the past we have held a number of chili fests, ice-cream socials and evenings centered on Mexican or Italian foods. No matter the cuisine, the evenings are very popular. We find that guests are very willing to visit when there is food advertised.

Other fellowship events include our summer Sunday School department picnic in one of the local parks and we always have a Christmas party in addition to the Christmas service. Again, these are easy to invite people to as there is no preaching during the fellowship events and it makes for a fun and comfortable environment for visitors.


Prayer at its simplest is a conversation with God. It's verbal fellowship with the Lord. We communicate with him. We share our feelings, our concerns, our dreams and our needs. The Lord loves our company. And he cares about our situations and needs.

And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.

1 John 5:14-15

We can pray for many reasons. The Lord is comfortable with any subject that we wish to talk about. James gives us a number of different topics that we can take to the Lord in prayer.

Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

James 5:13

In times of trouble or joy, it is always appropriate to take that emotion to the Lord. And make no mistake, singing the psalms is a form of prayer. It is communication to God of the joy in your life using the words that he has already provided.

Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

James 5:14-16

While praying for needs or forgiveness of sins is always appropriate, the majority of prayer seems to be for healing. James addresses this wonderfully and with his characteristic practicality. The elders of the church are the church leaders. In our day, the church leaders generally go by the title of pastor. The pastor will anoint you with oil and pray for you and call over you the name of the Lord Jesus. The powerful thing about this pastoral prayer is that the scripture teaches us that it brings both healing and forgiveness of sins.

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:16

One final point to make about prayer is that we are not to be reticent about it. The writer of Hebrews explains that we have a high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, who understands our situations because he has also lived a life robed in flesh. And because of this understanding, we may be bold in our approach to his throne. The Lord is quick to provide mercy and grace to those who seek it.

Tags: Favorite Scriptures Church Writings Apostolic Perspectives