21st Century Discipleship Resources

Teaching Extra 09 - Part of the family


The example of the early church

An opening reading: Acts 2:42-47

A. Why the church?

1. We cannot exist on our own. This is true of our human experience from the moment we are born. We need people in order to exist. Without them we would not be fed, clothed or educated. More than that, we could not become ourselves, since it is in relation to others that we discover our own identity. The same is true of being Christians - we need other people to help us find Christ in the first place, and once we have done so, to grow in our knowledge of God through him.

2. God has provided us with a family and a community to which to belong. In it we can discover a new identity in Christ and can receive the spiritual nourishment all of us need. In it too we can learn to give help and encouragement to others. In Acts

2:42 it says that the first Christians devoted themselves to life within the church.

B. Core activities of the church

The reading with which we began helps us to identify the core activities in which the church engages. We read that the first Christians devoted themselves to:

  1. the apostles' teaching The apostles were those whom Christ had appointed and authorised as witnesses to himself and to his teaching. The teaching of Christ and the apostles is what makes up the main bulk of our New Testament. When we study it, we have access to the apostles' teaching. This is why learning and study are an important part of the church's life together. We fulfil this through personal Bible reading, preaching and teaching, and small groups such as house groups.

  2. the fellowship Sharing fellowship together is one of the great means of stimulus and encouragement for Christians. Essentially it is about the development of friendships and of loving and supportive relationships with others. Belonging to a warm and welcoming family is a wonderful thing. It can also extend (as with the first Christians) to sharing possessions in order to meet each other's needs.

  3. the breaking of bread This phrase means that the Christians ate together regularly (never a bad idea!). But it also refers to the Christian practice of communion (sometimes also called 'the Lord's Supper'), when the believers would remember what Christ had done for them in his death and resurrection by sharing bread and wine. Jesus himself taught his disciples to remember him in this way (see Matthew 26:17-30). The first Christians developed this practice as an important part of their worship together (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The bread and wine represent the body and blood of Christ who became a human being of flesh and blood for our sakes and gave himself in sacrifice on the cross for our salvation.

  4. prayer This was a crucial activity for the first Christians. It is clear from other parts of Acts that such prayer was spontaneous - it was integral to every aspect of daily life. It is probable that the first Christians also observed set times of prayer as part of their discipline of worship. The New Testament does not go into detail about the worship services of the first Christians, but it is clear that music and singing played a part, and that people were encouraged to contribute their own prayers and messages from God in a remarkably open way (Ephesians 5:19-20, 1 Corinthians 14:26-32).

These activities will always remain the core of what the church is called to do and be. In Acts 2:47 it says that 'the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved'. When a church is living out the life of God, then God brings to it people who can become a part of it.

C. What about me?

1. Every Christian needs a family and a community to belong to and should devote themselves to belonging and participating. This means making friends, becoming part of a small group for prayer and Bible study wherever possible, as well as sharing in larger gatherings. The local Christian community fulfils these needs. In the next session we shall touch on 'membership' of the local church.

2. As with all areas of life, relationships are not always plain sailing - sometimes we have to bear with people with whom we would not naturally get on. It is also particularly important in the church to break down the kinds of barriers that people often erect between each other - barriers of age, race, class or gender. According to the apostle Paul, 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus' (Galatians 3:28). In a Christian community, these differences should cease to be factors which control or divide us. We have discovered something greater that unites us, and that is Christ.

3. As we learn to belong, so we learn to contribute - to use our gifts for the common good: 'Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others'

(1 Peter 4:10). It may take us some time to realise what our gifts are, but usually we can work them out by asking ourselves what we enjoy doing and what we happen to be good at. Other Christians can help us to recognise our gifts - it's often easier for other people to spot them!