... continued from yesterday
Fellowship is a second key element of healthy church life, and it is also a mechanism for discipleship. The early Christians met together often, and not only to worship. They may initially have expected Jesus to return rather quickly--we remember that they didn't really leave Jerusalem on the mission until someone got killed (and even then, the disciples didn't leave). They may have gathered at the temple in part expecting Jesus to return there.
Nevertheless, they modeled the fact that God's people are a fellowshipping people. People tend to hang out with other people who have the same values and way of looking at the world. Since God must be the ultimate value for a believer, who provides the ultimate lens for looking at the world, something is wrong if Christians do not enjoy hanging out with one another. It's not that we should behave like some cult that never speaks to anyone else--Jesus certainly didn't model that approach either. It's that we should have more in common with other believers, where it counts the most, than we do with individuals who do not share our faith.
They ate together, "breaking bread." Acts does not explicitly connect the fellowship of the early church with the last supper in Luke 22, communion. But Paul, writing earlier than Luke, seems to assume that the Corinthians ate "the Lord's supper" whenever they came together (1 Cor. 11:20). From his description, this supper was not a small 10-15 minute ceremony at the end of a worship service but an entire meal. It is at least reasonable, then, to assume that the regular breaking of bread Acts mentions quickly became associated with Jesus' final meal with his disciples. Each meal remembered that they would eat with Jesus one day when he returned and set up his kingdom on earth.
These were "love feasts," as Jude 12 seems to call them, something like the pitch-in dinners churches often have today. The earliest Christians seem to have eaten together often, perhaps even more than once a week on the Lord's Day, Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead (cf. Rev. 1:10). They "ate together with glad and sincere hearts." They no doubt prayed. They probably shared their needs with one another.
They broke bread together in homes. This was a completely appropriate place to meet because believers had become a family, brothers and sisters now. And where else would be easier to cook food and eat? "Table fellowship" was a major sign of intimacy in Israel at the time, and we remember that Jesus' opponents criticized him for eating with the wrong people (e.g, Luke 19:7).
A third element Acts mentions is prayer. The earliest Christians prayed together. We would like to think that they prayed alone as individuals as well, but this is not the kind of prayer that Acts highlights. The prayer that the New Testament talks about by far is corporate prayer, prayer that the community of faith did together. They prayed together when they were in each others homes and they prayed when they gathered together at the temple.
1 Corinthians 14 pictures a rather charismatic service in Christian homes. Perhaps they started with the meal. Then after supper, perhaps they had a time of prayer and prophecy, as the Lord led. From 1 Corinthians 11, we know that women prayed and prophesied just as the men did (cf. 1 Cor. 11:5), which fits with what Peter says will happen in Acts 2:17. This would also be a natural time for teaching.
We see in Acts that they also gathered at the temple, a fourth element in this early description of the church. Nothing about Acts suggests they met there to rail against the temple or indict its sinfulness. Stephen will have some words against the temple leaders soon enough, and it gets him stoned. There is no evidence in Acts that the disciples said such things when they visited the temple.
The tone is rather one of worship, similar to the way Christians today go to church to worship. In fact, Acts 21:24 indicates that the Jerusalem Christians even offered sacrifices at the temple. In hindsight, we know that the temple was destined to be destroyed and never rebuilt. We know that Jesus was a full replacement for the temple sacrifices (cf. Heb. 10:8-9). It arguably took them much longer to realize these things, and one of the reasons the New Testament is so clear on these points is possibly because the gospels also had the benefit of hindsight.
The principle is perhaps that the earliest Christians went to the place where God's name was, the temple (cf. Deut. 12:5). Since Jesus is the reality to which the temple pointed, this is now "where two or three gather" (Matt. 18:20). This can certainly be in a home, but there is something about a location that is set aside, sacred space, that helps our human minds focus on worship.