The Church at Jerusalem - A Church with a Programme
A. Naismith, Falkirk
The church, the body of Christ, Eph. 1. 23, is not an aggregate of local churches, but is composed of individual believers whom God has taken out from among the nations as a people for His name. This company is called the ecclesia, an assembly of those called out and set apart for God. For worship and service God has constituted these believers as His priests, 1.Pet. 2. 5, 9, and among them He has endowed many with gifts for the edification of His church and appointed some as elders or bishops for the oversight and pastoral care of local churches.
The early Christians were characterized by the recognition of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God., Acts 2. 36, submission to the discipline of God the Father, 5. 1-11, and obedience to the leadership of the Holy Spirit of God,
Frequent reference is made to local church gatherings, particularly in the book of Acts and in Paul's first letter to the saints at Corinth. Those were occasions for the ministry of the Word of truth, called in Acts 2.42 "the apostles' doctrine", for spiritual fellowship and mutual enjoyment of the divine presence and blessing, for the celebration of the Lord's supper - often called the breaking of bread - and for prayer and intercession at the throne of grace. Thus in the early church there were ministry meetings, fellowship meetings and prayer meetings; and on the first day of each week they partook of the Lord's supper, breaking bread in remembrance of an absent yet living Lord. When occasion demanded, a conference might be arranged at which believers would confer together on some important doctrine or practice, as for example in Acts 15. When God called from a local church His appointed servants, equipped and eager to fulfil their Lord's commission to make disciples of all nations, a meeting valedictory in character, 13. 3; 14. 26, afforded that assembly an opportunity to express their fellowship and identification with God's chosen messengers in their venture of faith. Later, when those whom the saints in that local church had commended to the grace of God returned, a missionary report meeting was arranged, 14. 27, at which the Lord's servants rehearsed all that the Lord had done for them, with them and through them.
The steadfastness of the early Christians in regular attendance at the meetings of the local church is commended several times in Acts. In his book "New Testament Times" Merril C. Tenney writes, "The cohesiveness of the new group was established by constant instruction in the principles of the new faith and by a common worship". Later, when those whom the Lord had saved from among the Hebrew believers showed irregularity in attending the gatherings of believers, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews strictly enjoined them not to forsake the assembling of themselves together, as some were habitually doing, Heb. 10. 25.
Four salutary activities marked the practice of those early Christians in the church at Jerusalem. They earnestly listened to, learnt, assimilated and acted upon the teaching of the apostles; they enjoyed and cultivated the fellowship of saints; they regularly remembered their Lord Jesus in the breaking of bread, as He had appointed; and they met together at the appointed time for prayer and intercession, Acts 2. 42. That was the programme and pattern of worship followed by the saints in that first young assembly in Jerusalem.
Before committing themselves to this course, those believers were buried with Christ "by baptism into death", and raised again to "walk in newness of life", Rom. 6. 4. This act of baptism for those young believers denoted four steps of faith. They indicated their acceptance of the free gift of righteousness from God obtained for them by "the obedience of one" Man, Christ Jesus; they reckoned themselves to have been crucified with Christ and symbolically buried with Him in the grave; they confessed that, in resurrection with Christ, they were planted in God's garden to bear fruit for Him; and they were pressing on, in pursuit of purity and holiness, to the goal of everlasting life.
The apostles' doctrine was as authoritative for them as were the Scriptures that they then possessed, with their wonderful history, precepts and prophecies; the Person, teaching and work of Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate Son of God, were seen as the guide to the faith and conduct of all believers. The apostles' doctrine, preserved for us in the New Testament, is essential to Christian progress.
The fellowship that bound believers together in a spiritual partnership was experienced and expressed in the recognition of unity of mind and spirit as all one in Christ Jesus, and it was based on a common faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. Though this was essentially a spiritual unity, it had also a social aspect, for we read of those early disciples distributing their worldly possessions to brethren who were in need and "breaking bread from house to house", Acts 2. 46. It had also an operational aspect as is indicated in the expression used by Paul, the "fellowship of the gospel". In this context, the apostle refers to Titus and Philemon as his partners.
There can be no doubt that the "breaking of bread" in Acts 2. 42 refers to the remembrance of the Lord in obedience to His command in the "sweet feast of love divine" which Paul calls the Lord's supper. There would be no purpose in the record that "they continued steadfastly ... in breaking of bread" if the expression merely signified an ordinary meal. The record in Acts 20. 6, 7 makes it clear that the disciples met every Lord's Day for this purpose. In doing this, the eating of the loaf and drinking of the cup serve as a memorial of the Lord and as a proclamation of His death.
The expression, "the prayers", as the proper translation reads, paraphrased by Wuest as "the gathering where prayers to God were offered", most certainly connotes the prayer meetings of the saints. Thus the local church at Jerusalem has left an exemplary programme of worship and fellowship, which is maintained throughout the world by saints who follow the New Testament pattern.