Becoming A New Testament Church: Acts 2:42
“42) They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts‬ ‭2‬:‭42‬
There it is in one verse! We have the prescription of what it takes to be a New Testament Church. But before saying, “Amen” and closing your Bible, let’s take a deeper dive into the evolution of the early church.
At the inception of the church, the believers embraced five essential activities. They continually devoted themselves to: 1) the apostles teaching, 2) fellowship, 3) the breaking of bread, and 4) prayer. It can be assumed from Acts 1:8 that 5) they also spontaneously witnessed and preached the gospel to unbelievers. They focused on both “in-reach” and “out-reach.” These were the two basic functions of the early church.
It is easy to loose balance between “in-reach” and “out-reach.” When this happens, the church usually becomes introverted. It gets so absorbed with inner activity that it becomes a sub-culture movement and closes its eyes to the needs of the world around it.
The New Testament stresses that every believer needs to be plugged into a local church. (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14, and Ephesians 4) This is where a sense of community develops, a support network is formed, solid doctrine is taught, corporate worship is lifted up, spiritual gifts are exercised, the ordinances are observed and leadership is developed. The church is the primary place for disciple making. Every believer needs to be plugged into a local church to maximize spiritual growth and development.
Yet Jesus has a mission for His church. They were to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. (Matthew 5:13-16) They were to carry the gospel from Jerusalem where the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, to all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. (Acts 1:8) Jesus never intended for His church to remain as a holy huddle in Jerusalem.
To remedy this tendency, God allowed persecution to disperse the believers and launched the phenomenon of planting local churches even in predominantly Gentiles regions. (See Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-5) These churches became autonomous, self governing and had the freedom to develop their own personality within accepted theological and moral boundaries. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7) They embraced the basic dynamics of Acts 2:42, but developed their own identity and community life.
These New Testament churches embraced the same gospel message, had recognized leadership, developed basic organization and structure, shared defined doctrine, and ascribed to moral holiness; but they remained flexible with methodology. They retained the identity of being a living organism rather than a static organization. They were not “cookie cutter” churches. They did not strive to be “the same.” They had freedom to develop their own church personality.
This phenomenon allowed the church to adapt to local culture but continue as salt and light in the world. The tendency of the western church in missions is to export western church traditions, form, function and architecture rather than the pure gospel. A western church in Asia, India or the jungles of South America is cumbersome and awkward. It is anti-cultural.
In many places people are not rejecting the gospel, rather they are resisting being westernized. This is a serious problem. World evangelization is very different from trying to westernize the world under the banner of Christianity. I maintain that the early church got it right.
They embraced a common gospel message, insisted on sound biblical doctrine and held to a high and holy moral code, but they granted the freedom to contextualize church format and structure to the local culture. Thus the Gentile Church in Antioch was different from its Jewish counterpart in Jerusalem. This tension led to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. It was decided to grant freedom and flexibility to Gentile churches.
This whole discussion grows out from the early chapters of the book of Acts. It begs the questions; “What does a Christian church look like?” “How is it to be organized?” “Does it have to embrace certain building architecture?” “What should be included on the weekly activity calendar?” “Is Sunday the only day prescribed for corporate worship?” “What is the purpose and mission of the local church?” I think you’re getting the idea. The quest to be a New Testament church is not an easy task.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global