The Early Days
As we learned last time, the Church Age began on the Jewish Day of Pentecost following the crucifixion and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ. On that day, the third person of the Trinity -- the Holy Spirit -- began to reside with man in a brand new way. Peter preached his first sermon, thousands became Christians, and the Church was born!
Stop a minute and picture the scene. Here we have twelve men -- normal, everyday sort of guys except they'd had an extraordinary teacher. One minute they're gathered with a few friends observing a Jewish holiday -- the next thing they know Peter is preaching and they're baptizing 3000 people! Things were moving a bit quickly. It doesn't specifically say in scripture, but you can't help but think the apostles must have been a little overwhelmed. What were they to do now? They didn't know how to start a church, much less how to lead three thousand new believers. (Why, they weren't even called "Christians" yet and already they had a church bigger by far than most congregations in the United States today!) These men had spent the last three years being disciples -- that is, "learners" or "followers". Now graduation day had snuck up on them and they suddenly found themselves apostles -- "messengers" or "authorized representatives". The time for following had passed and they were quickly realizing it was time to get on with the job of leading.
As we continue our study in the final verses of Acts chapter 2, the scene moves on from the Day of Pentecost to the days which immediately followed. Beginning in verse 42 we are given a glimpse of the daily goings-on of the Jerusalem church during her days of infancy.
Teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. This passage highlights the corporate activities the apostles used to build the foundation of the Christian church. Let's consider them one by one, taking time to note how we can benefit from their example.
No, the apostles didn't have the handbook on "how to start a church". Not knowing, they simply continued on with the basic principles they had learned from Jesus himself -- and the church flourished.
Peterson's The Message reads "Everyone around was in awe -- all those wonders and signs done through the apostles!" What?!? Weren't these men, these apostles, just ordinary men from Galilee? What were they doing that could inspire "awe" in those around them? The dictionary defines a wonder as "an event inexplicable by the laws of nature; a miracle." [Note 2] The word sign is said to be "something that suggests the presence or existence of a fact, condition, or quality." [Note 3] According to this verse, God enabled the apostles to perform miracles, "inexplicable events". Why? In order to confirm the truth of what they were saying; that is, to indicate "the presence or existence of a fact".
The apostles were given the ability to perform miracles for a reason. At this point in time the New Testament scriptures were not yet written. Whereas today we have the completed Bible to serve as our guide, these first Christians had to rely solely upon the teaching of the disciples-turned-apostles. Unfortunately, there were also plenty of false teachers around. How were the people to know what was true teaching and what wasn't? God verified the truth of the apostles' teaching through the miracles He performed through them. Is this to say that "That was then, this is now" and that miracles do not occur today? Not at all. It's simply to say that the apparently large number of miracles referred to here was for a specific purpose; it was not the "norm" of their day -- nor is it of ours. Be wary of those people today who claim to be miracle workers but who more closely resemble a carnival side show. Remember, Jesus himself refused to perform miracles just for the sake of impressing people (see Matthew 12:38-40). The purpose of a miracle in the New Testament was always, always as a sign -- to verify the truth. Steer clear of those who suggest "miracles" should be a part of the everyday Christian experience. It's simply not true.
Continuing on in verse 44, we are given a picture of the New Testament church in action.
Unfortunately, some have taken this passage of scripture and mistakenly pointed to it as Biblical support for "political communism" or "political socialism" -- a serious error in interpretation. How can we know this? Because we can clearly see from other passages in the New Testament that members of the early church, in fact, continued to own personal property on an individual basis. For example, John 19:27 plainly indicates that John maintained an individual household separate from the other disciples. Also, the account of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 makes it clear that what the early Christians owned remained their own personal property. This potential for misunderstanding raises an important point:
To avoid error, it is essential to always remember a crucially important principle of Biblical interpretation: Proper study of the scriptures always interprets specific passages in light of the given context and with consideration to the teaching of scripture as a whole. What's that mean? It means when you are trying to figure out what a particular passage of scripture means, first, try to understand how the passage fits into the larger section of which it is a part. Ask yourself, "What were the circumstances under which the statement was made?", or "What was happening at the time of the particular event?", or "What was the overall subject being discussed when the specific comment was made?". Asking these kinds of questions will help you understand the context of the passage. Second, remember that God is consistent; scripture doesn't teach something in one passage and then turn around and contradict it in another passage. Ask yourself, "How does my interpretation of this particular passage line up with what the Bible teaches in other passages?". If it seems inconsistent, than odds are there's something lacking in your interpretation. Dig deeper and pray for insight and discernment from God. Failure to apply this sound principle of Biblical interpretation has led many to false conclusions and even heretical teaching.
No -- the early Christians were not socialists. Rather, what we see in Acts 2 is love in action – specific actions meeting specific needs. Most likely, many of these new believers were not permanent residents of Jerusalem (see verses 5-11). Some may have maintained residences in Jerusalem while others may have just been in town for the celebration of Pentecost. In any event, many probably had ended up staying in Jerusalem longer than they'd originally planned and, as a result, required material assistance. Those who were able sold what they needed to in order to provide for the needs of the poor.
This is where the rubber meets the road – and frankly where many of us probably struggle the most. This cuts to the chase. Are we really willing to put our money/time/efforts where our mouth is? Jesus said where our treasure is shows where our heart really is (Matthew 6:21). As Christians, we are to actively seek out opportunities to give of ourselves.
When our lesson began, we saw twelve apostles overwhelmed by the task before them of leading the newly-born church of Jesus Christ. The task was immense -- far beyond anything they had ever imagined. But they didn't turn and run. Instead, they accepted the responsibility given to them, dug in their heels, and went to work. And God was with them. With Jesus' instructions fresh in their minds and the Holy Spirit in their hearts they built the foundation of the church that would stand the test of the centuries. And the result?
Next Lesson: A Sign and A Sermon