Acts 2:41-42 – So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
I believe, and I preach, that Acts 2:41-42 is a description of everything that the church of Jesus Christ is about: conversion, baptism, commitment to the Scriptures (Apostles’ doctrine), to prayer, to the fellowship, and to prayer.
But it seems to me that in North America we believe God has only given us the Bible, prayer, baptism and the Lord’s Supper and that we substitute fellowship for meetings.
There are not many believers in our church who do not take the Lord’s Supper very seriously. And they should. I am glad that they do. It is important. It is one of the four crucial marks of the church, and the arm of the church I was raised in treated it far too flippantly. Probably, if we regarded the Table the way that we ought, we would be observing it far more than once a month, but we’ll go there another time.
In our church we open with prayer, we pray before the offering is received, we have a pastoral prayer, a closing prayer and a benediction. There are a few Bible studies that take place every week and they all have a time pf prayer. There are weekly prayer meetings, a monthly prayer and fasting day and a prayer chain for emergencies.
In our church the Scriptures are read in church. And of course, our church, and every other evangelical church in the world, will read the Scriptures and have preaching based on the Scriptures at one or more points in their worship services. We read texts of Scripture before we sing. We pray pieces of Scripture in the pastoral prayer. The messages preached are exegeses of portions of Scripture. The Bible is read in all committee and Board meetings. It is read before we pray together. It is read as part of the Lord’s Table. We get into the Scriptures, we pray and we observe the Lord’s Supper. We preach the Gospel and baptize those who profess faith in Christ.
We fellowship together too. We meet together. We eat together a couple times a year. But I am not convinced that we get very deep with each other. There are exceptions to this of course and that is a real joy to know and observe. But it is said of the first church that they were devoted to the fellowship. Does that simply mean that they were committed to attending every function that the church sponsored or held? God has given church functions to attend. But He has also given the crucially important element of deep, honest, open fellowship as well, and we ignore it at our peril. I think for the most part we, the western evangelical church, do ignore it and we are at peril. He has given us each other. The New Testament gives a picture of a local church as a group of people who love each other, sacrifice for each other, help each other grow in the faith, pick one another up when they fall. One of the chief marks of our being conformed to the world is the rugged individualism that marks us as believers. We seem to think that the commandments to wrestle and put on armour and resist the devil are directed at individuals. What utter nonsense. Just picture a lone soldier with his helmet and breastplate and sword and shield and shoes (Ephesians 6:10-18) properly adorned, going into battle all by himself. He’ll be dead in a matter of minutes. And that is what happens to many believers every day at work, at school and perhaps even in the churches they work in. The strongest text, in my opinion, regarding the importance of commitment to the fellowship is Hebrews 3:12-13
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
There you go. The way to make sure that you do not get a heart that is evil and unbelieving is to exhort one another daily. One cannot help but wonder if the reason the evangelical church is so much like the culture it finds itself in is because of the absence of this one thing. Who will you talk to today who will be a help to keep you from falling into evil and unbelief? Perhaps this is one reason why the Scriptures tell us to marry in the faith.
I generally believe that evangelical churches tend to over-schedule themselves. We seem to think that we are not being obedient to our calling if there is not something going on in our church buildings seven days a week. Beating Christians to death through attendance at functions is not fellowship. But neither is only seeing and conversing with other believers once a week. Real Christian fellowship can occur outside the circle of formal church functions. In fact, it must, if it is going to be a real church committed to the fellowship. I am always thrilled to hear about how much interaction there is between certain people in our church in the run of a week. But we, and I suspect most, churches could be doing real fellowship much better. The early church was devoted to it. We must be too.