Luke has gone into some detail recording the events surrounding the gift of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. He now gives us a thumbnail sketch of life in the first Christian church, the church that evolved following the conversion of some 3,000 people on the day of Pentecost.
v42. The early converts placed themselves under the authoritative teaching of the Lord conveyed through the apostles. This "apostolic" teaching was finally recorded in the New Testament and so a congregation today, which submits to the New Testament, submits to the apostolic faith. Community in the early church was expressed in a number of ways. First, they fellowshiped together; they were a community of friends. Second, they shared in "the breaking of bread." This is most likely the Lord's Supper, but it could just be a fellowship meal shared by the congregation. Often, the disciples shared a meal with Jesus after he took bread, broke it and blessed it. If it is the Lord's Supper, then the "breaking" is referring to Jesus' body broken for us. Third, they devoted themselves to "prayer." We know that the members of the early church attended public worship at the temple and joined in prayer during their house meetings.
v43. Peter had quoted Joel's prophecy which spoke of the dawning of the kingdom of God heralded by "signs on the earth beneath." Jesus performed such signs, and the apostles were empowered to maintain continuity between the ministry of Jesus and that of the apostolic community. For Israel, such signs fulfilled prophecy and so proclaimed the coming kingdom. Fellow Jews, who witnessed these amazing events, were filled with awe.
v44-45. The dynamic unity of the Spirit experienced by these early believers ("the believers were together" = fellowship/community) most likely enhanced a sense of the early return of Christ and so prompted a reaction to private property. They "had everything in common", in the sense that they viewed their possessions as the property of all. As a result, they sold their assets and divided them according to individual needs. Yet, it does seem that they kept their homes and businesses (eg. fishing boats), and so they probably only sold surplus assets which they then held in common. This communal life-style faded over time, eg. 4:32-5:11.
v46-47. The believers gathered regularly in the temple for public worship, meeting in Solomon's colonnade on the east side of the outer court. As such, they functioned as a haburah, a Jewish sect, a feature of which was the communal meal. For the meal, they met "by households." Again, we are unsure if this meal was the Lord's Supper, or just a fellowship meal, but it is probably best to assume it was the Master's meal. The community was enriched with a sense of rejoicing and generosity (better than "sincere") and enjoyed popular good-will. They were focused in their praise of God and they grew in numbers daily. The "Lord added to their number" in the sense that God accepted those who believed in Christ - He added to the remnant those whom He intended to save. For this reason, the Christian community happily welcomed new converts into its ranks.
"An is is not an ought"; "a description is not a prescription." We have to be careful how we handle narratives in the Bible. Just because someone did something at a particular point in time doesn't mean we have to follow suit for the rest of eternity. None-the-less, our passage for study gives us an insight into the life of the early church following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and so it serves as a model for a Spirit-filled church today.
i] The church was built on a foundation of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus. The believers "accepted his (Peter's) message", the message of the gospel. They were a people who experienced "the forgiveness of sins" and who "received the gift of the Holy Spirit."
ii] The church was built-up through the authoritative teaching of the apostles. The exposition of Biblical truth is central to the business of church.
iii] The church emphasized fellowship. The love feast was a fellowship meal which probably included the Lord's Supper. It was an expression of Eastern culture where eating together is a reflection of community.
iv] The church was a caring community. It is interesting that the Imperfect tense is used in describing how the church "used to sell" and "used to give", indicating the established practice of the Jerusalem church following Pentecost. Although such a communal structure is beyond most of us, practical care toward each other is certainly within our grasp.
v] The church was a joyous community respected by the wider society. There is nothing more attractive to an outsider than a friendly, happy, welcoming church.
vi] The church was a praying community. They devoted themselves to prayer. They sought the will of God and prayerfully relied on it. Let our church be a church at prayer.
Consider the six qualities listed above and compare them with your own Christian community.