One of the foundational principles of the church, as far as identifying what we do as the church, comes from Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” This simple statement indicates that the early church focused its attention on four elements: God’s Word, each other, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. In that devotion, the early church revealed the new life that Jesus brought and that they had received through the faith in Jesus.
How did they demonstrate their devotion to these elements? The next few verses (Acts 2:43-47) describe the life of the early church in Jerusalem, telling us that they shared their possessions with each other and spent time together, both in the temple courts and in their homes. These verses tell us that their times of worshiping God and serving others were obvious to the people around them and rewarded by God; Acts 2:47 says, “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
From their example we ought to understand better both Jesus’ purpose and our purpose as his followers. Throughout the current sermon series following John’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry, I have consistently called back to Jesus’ identity and purpose found in John 1:4, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” Jesus brought new life that was intended to draw people to God; so we, the church, Jesus’ followers who have received that new life share it so that others might also find, receive, and live that new life.
Simply, new life is shared life. As individuals accepted the message that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who died on the cross to forgive our sins and who rose again to give us new life with God, both now and into eternity, they received that new life and began living that new life. As they lived their new life, they grew closer to others who put their faith in Jesus, demonstrating God’s love for us in their actions towards their new brothers and sisters in Christ. As they lived their new life together, others on the outside witnessed their love for each other, and as others were drawn to that new life by the “light” of Jesus, the early church told them the message they themselves had heard, believed, and accepted. As God shared new life through Jesus, the church shares new life through Jesus, and God makes the church grow.
So when we consider “church growth,” our focus must be on sharing the new life we have in Jesus. Devotion to the Word of God keeps us grounded in the truth of what that new life is, how that new life was provided, and how that new life is lived. Devotion to the Lord’s Supper reminds us each week of the new life God provided through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, of our purpose to proclaim the Good News about that love and sacrifice, and of our participation in that sacrifice when we received that new life in our own personal death, burial, and resurrection in baptism. Devotion to prayer keeps us going to the One who provides that new life, thanking God for what he has provided and seeking constant refreshing. Devotion to each other demonstrates God’s love for us as we love others, showing that new life is shared life.
With all of that in mind, we must not restrict sharing that new life to the time we spend in our building. Yes, the early church met in the temple courts, but they met in their homes as well. Yes, the early church was devoted to traditional times of worship and prayer, but they also met every day and shared in everyday circumstances.
The new life the early church received from Jesus changed everything about their lives. It couldn’t be restricted to a specific time or place. It couldn’t be couldn’t be contained within them or among them. It had to be shared – it has to be shared.