God’s Prescription for Assembly Practice – Acts 2:41-427 min read
“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added [unto them] about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
Acts is the second volume of Luke’s two-part treatise to Theophilus on the beginnings of Christianity. The first book, the gospel, spoke of Christ’s ministry and the foundation of the faith; now as we come to acts we see the apostolic ministry and the function of the faith. It is a book filled with evangelism and gospel efforts. It is a book filled with wonderful stories of conversion. But we would certainly be at a loss if we didn’t realize this one point: from the very beginning, God set the assembly to be the context of it all. Here in Acts 2, with Pentecost being the background, we see the first real glimpse into assembly life in the early church. Of course, it is still a pattern not fully developed at this point, but it brings to us the foundations on which the fuller revelation would build.
Candidates for Membership – Who Is the Assembly For?
There are three main spheres of obedience that God demands in the life of an individual: salvation, baptism, and fellowship in an assembly. Where there is salvation, there should be baptism in the near future. Where there is baptism, there should be assembly fellowship in the near future. Because of Scripture’s emphasis on these things, it should be obvious that all are essential in the life of one who claims the name Christian. It is important that we realize, too, that verse 41 presents a very logical progression that can’t and shouldn’t be improved upon. Notice that salvation is dependent upon simply “receiving his word,” that is, the gospel message. It is not dependent upon baptism; however, baptism is certainly dependent upon salvation. The same goes for being “added” to fellowship with God’s people in assembly capacity. Salvation and baptism do not come after some sort of church observance; but true membership in an assembly has salvation and baptism as prerequisites. This should be a great encouragement for us, because it implies that part in the very house of God is not only for the spiritual elite, if there existed such a concept. The assembly is a place of growth. It is a place of support. It is a place of learning. It is a place of combined worship. We should be thankful that God offers these things to each one of us. But this then begs the question, “Where does my desire lie?” Every one of the 3,000 saved at Pentecost was ready to associate with God’s people and God’s pattern, and in that day such could have cost many their lives. Let us be thankful that God invites us to His assembly; how will we respond to such an invitation?
Manner of Obedience
“They continued steadfastly.” These are the words used to describe fresh believers and their response to what God called them to. So convicted were they of the truth of God, that they saw it as demanding full attention. It is no wonder that they thought this way, since these were the same who “gladly received his word.” Some translations say “They persevered…,” while some say “They devoted themselves…,” with others saying “They gave constant attention…” In all of these the point should be quite clear: these Christians gave their all to the assembly, because they had a holy conviction that this was where God called them. We may know in our minds that God has called us, but does this kind of devotion accompany that knowledge? Or has Christianity and assembly life simply become a compartment that we give attention to at certain times of the day and of the week? Surely this passage should be a rebuke to us if so: these believers had nowhere near the revelation we have concerning the local church, and yet they by simple faith dubbed it worthy of full attention. How should any less be expected of us when we have God’s complete pattern for His assembly? How, then, do we continue? Do we continue arbitrarily? Half-heatedly? When convenient? Or do the things of God command our full attention in every circumstance, convenient or not?
The Four Pillars of the Assembly
We have seen briefly something of the membership of the assembly as well as devotion to the assembly. But the question still remains, what should the members expect to be devoted to when they “sign on” as it were to being part of that assembly? Here we have four great pillars that make up the fundamentals of assembly life, and these are what we are called to continue faithfully in.
The first of these is apostolic teaching, the body of which we have in the New Testament – “the faith once for all delivered unto the saints.” It is only logical that this appears first, since there can be no unity in fellowship, no reason for the breaking of bread, and no intelligence in prayer unless doctrine is the foundation. What is doctrine exactly? It is simply teaching. Devotion to the apostles’ doctrine is faithfulness to the teaching of Scripture. Those who gladly receive God’s message as to their salvation should be more than willing to gladly receive it as to what they must uphold as believers, and this is exactly what we see with the Jerusalem Christians. What about 21st century Christians? Where do we get our cues? From postmodern evangelicalism? From a denominational creed? Or from God’s Word? An assembly by God’s definition is one in which Scripture is given highest authority. Are we happy with the simplicity of the teaching of the apostles?
Secondly, where there is unity in doctrine there can be unity in function, that is, fellowship. In reality this is already expressed in the fact that “They (plural) continued.” Fellowship is a word that denotes commonality and participation; where there is first of all oneness in purpose, fellowship brings oneness in fulfilling that purpose. Ecclesiastes 4:9 says “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.” How true of an assembly! But the question still remains, “What kind of reward will be mine with the amount I fellowship with my assembly?” Are its meetings our priority? Are its people our joy? Is its growth in our prayers? “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” If this is not true in an assembly, it is not true anywhere.
Thirdly, we have the breaking of bread as a main assembly function; it is another name for the Lord’s Supper. What was its purpose? The Lord gave us the purpose when He instituted it: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” What was its frequency? Acts 20:7 says “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them…” Obviously it was every Sunday that the Lord’s Supper took place. How precious that God would give us in an assembly the capacity to break bread with God’s people and remember the Lord we all love. What a privilege to begin our week with a solemn reminder of the Lord Whose authority we must own daily. And how appropriate that God would make His Son the joy and focus of each assembly He forms.
Finally, we see prayers. We have seen the doctrinal aspect of the assembly in the apostles’ teaching. We have seen the practical aspect of the assembly in fellowship. And we have seen the assembly’s devotional aspect in the Lord’s Supper. Now we find what seasons them all: prayer. God values a unified people with a sensitivity and desire toward His purposes; such is seen primarily in prayer. This kind of spirit is seen in Acts 12, “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.” The same is seen in Acts 14, “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.” An assembly without prayer is an assembly without power. Let us then not think of a prayer meeting as a side event, but the foundation of all assembly function. Will we make it a point to be there?
With all of these things, let us give them their proper place. Doctrine has been substituted for pragmatism. Fellowship has been made non-essential by mega and video “churches.” The Lord’s Supper has been made occasional. Prayer has become old fashioned. This is the attitude of Christendom, but the Biblical assembly will hold each of these things worth being devoted to. What attitude will we settle for?