Acts-The church Re-discovered
Last week I spoke about my introduction to the church as a young believer and how I discovered the meaning of ekklesia in comparison to kirche. Jesus tells us “I will build my church” (Matt 16:18); this ekklesia was the gathering of the saints around the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It seems clear that this is what Jesus was talking about when he promised to build his church. This is the church that is so amazingly described in the Book of Acts; this group of growing disciples become a powerful movement with a mission. Within 300 years or so, Christianity became the ruling religion of the Roman Empire after the conversion of Emperor Constantine. It was during this time that there was a shift in terminology regarding the church. The Germaine word, “Kirche” was introduced and all too quickly, religious church people began to try and control the ekklesia in the kirches that they were building. The NT writers never use the word church to describe a building, but 100% of the time to reveal the ekklesia or gathering of the saints around Jesus.
These subtle differences between the two meanings behind these words describing the church are important to understand.
- Are we movement or simply a meeting?
- Are we making a measurable difference in our local community or simply serving ourselves?
- Are we organized around a mission or an antiquated ministry model?
- Are we ecclesia or kirche?
It is my desire and prayer that we can re-discover the true nature of the church and put that into practice here at Courts of Praise. Last week Jay shared a prophetic word about re-boot or re-set in the context of Courts of Praise. This is a timely word for us. We just experienced our 50th Anniversary and remembered all the good that God has done for and through us. As well, we must consider what the next season of life will look like here at Courts of Praise. We are in a season of renewal and re-formation. This is a good thing. There is something very exciting about the re-discovery of one’s first love with Jesus.
Last week we looked at Acts Chapters 1 & 2and the beginning of the ekklesia. These passages of Scripture are so inspiring to us, just as a new born baby. We will carry on this morning looking at Acts 2:42.
The Ekklesia - Acts 2:41 - 47
The word church is used 20 times in the Book of Acts (NIV). The gathering of the saints begins in Acts 1 and carries on throughout the book. In Acts 2:41-47 we see the beautiful beginnings of the ekklesia. Three thousand souls are added to the Bride of Christ and in Acts 2:42, Luke records the ekklesia gathering together - “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” The ekklesia is said to have devoted, continued steadfastly, and persevered as a group. We find the same attitude in Acts 1:14 as they waited for the Day of Pentecost - They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. This is the kind of commitment the early believers engaged in - wholeheartedness.
As I consider Acts 2:42 I am reminded of “old school carpenters” who would always use their first board as their template. I believe Luke does the same with regards to identifying important principles that the ekklesia experienced. Dr. Luke records four aspects of this prototype ekklesia. We are told the people were devoted to:
1. The apostle’s teaching.
The early apostles were laymen, in other words, there were not skilled or polished in spiritual knowledge in comparison to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. So what did their teaching look like? l believe that the apostle’s teaching was more of an informal instruction and storytelling of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The apostolic leaders of the ekklesia were laying a foundation for the doctrine of the church. In other words, people needed to know the story of Jesus concretely and then the more formal doctrines of faith could be added, i.e. the New Testament Scripture. Some people think of doctrine as something religious or legalistic. However doctrine is simply the result of being taught. We all have rules or principles that we follow whether spiritual or practical. The apostle’s teaching would be what we call Judeo - Christian beliefs. And there teaching was foundational to the establishment of the early ekklesia.
Acts 4:13 - When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
2. The Fellowship.
This fellowship was an experience with the Spirit of God and the People of God; the Greek word is “koinonia” which reveals a “super – natural” friendship fuelled by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle John highlights fellowship in 1 John 1:3-4 and tells us “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard (this is the apostle’s teaching), so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.”
However, “the fellowship” was more than personal friendship but that of becoming a part of the community of believers. Fellowship within the ekklesia was a partnering with the movement. Fellowship within the ekklesia was a sharing of one’s resources, in other words, contributing to the needs of the ekklesia. This was not a self-serving attitude but a participation in the growing numbers of saints being added to the ekklesia. Acts 2:44-45 - All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
3. The Breaking of Bread.
In this context the “breaking of bread” would refer to having a meal together and celebrating the life of Christ. They would remember together – communion – the person and works of Jesus. We see this in Acts 2:46 - Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts… The same language is used in Luke 22:19; Acts 20:7; 27:35; 1 Cor 10:16, Jude 12, where the believers met in people’s homes to engage in the apostles teaching and to fellowship and prayer.
4. To Prayer.
The last thing Dr. Luke highlights is prayer. Acts 1:14 states, “They all joined together constantly in prayer.” After Pentecost the early church continued in their devotion to prayer. As this movement began to push forward in Jesus’ plan they encountered resistance. In these cases the ekklesia prayed…
In Acts, prayer indicates dependence on God, hope in the future, and desire for the advancement of God’s work (Acts 1:24; 12:5; 14:23). Act 4:31 - After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Prayer is a theme one of the themes in the Acts of the Apostles. Too busy to pray was seen as a betrayal of the call to commitment to Christ... Commitment is foundationally based on conversation - one's prayer life…
I am sure the early church encountered many challenges just as we do today. It is in those moments that we must allow the Spirit to intercede on our behalf. Rom 8 :26 - In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.
These four pillars form a framework from which the ekklesia was established. While we can’t recreate the Day of Pentecost we can seek to put into practice these principles. We can re-new our passion to share the stories of Jesus life, death and resurrection; people love to hear a good story. We can be re-formed in our devotion and commitment to God and each other. We must not “give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebr 10:25). We are the ekklesia as we continue in our fellowship with one another and partner together in the gospel for the glory of God. We do so by being transformed daily, through the Spirit of God and Word of God. Spiritual results require spiritual “work”.