I was about to move on to the next topic when I realized I’d never addressed the description of Christian community found in Acts 2. Immediately after Peter’s sermon and the baptism of 3,000, we read,
(Acts 2:42-47) They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
If you think about it, this section seems to be in the wrong place. I mean, Peter has just announced the coming of the prophesied Holy Spirit and promised it to all who repent and are baptized. You’d naturally expect a description of people prophesying in fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy quoted by Peter earlier in the chapter.
Or you’d expect a description of how they’d repented by leaving a life of sin and adopting of life of morality.
Or you’d expect them to organize a church with specific officers and acts of worship (well, you would if you grew up in the Churches of Christ!)
And we’d expect them to quit their synagogues and temple worship, right? But they didn’t.
In fact, the converts were God-fearing Jews. They weren’t bad people. They didn’t have wicked lives to repent of. Rather, they’d been schooled in the Law of Moses all their lives and were in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and Pentecost. If by “repent” Peter meant “turn from your lives of sin,” well, they’d already done that because they were good Jews in town to offer sacrifices for their sins.
And so, it doesn’t really fit — not the way we’ve always been taught. But, of course, Luke thought it fit quite nicely. It’s worth pondering why.
First, “repent” means not only leaving sin but committing to certain kind of life — a life of, for example, offering financial support for brothers and sister in Christ in need, learning the story of Jesus from the apostles, and fellowshipping in one another’s homes. In other words, “repent” is not just leaving an old life behind, it’s also adopting an entirely new lifestyle. It’s not just getting rid of sin; it’s filling your life with the things of Jesus.
Second, the Jews who’d been converted were already God fearers and already part of the family of Abraham. They were kinsmen. But Luke shows how being a Christian creates a stronger, more loving community than merely being a part of the same nation, ethnicity, or even the same earthly family. In fact, the kind of table fellowship Luke describes was typical of family. Just as it true today, families eat together. They became family, not is some theoretical, theological sense. They ate together and supported one another just as families according to the flesh do.
Third, this passage describes the work of the Holy Spirit. We sometimes focus unduly on the spectacular elements of the Spirit’s work described in Acts, but this kind of fellowship is surely the Spirit’s work.
(Rom 5:5) And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Fourth, there was something powerful about meeting in homes over a meal. “Breaking of bread” may be a reference to the Lord’s Supper, but I think it’s more likely a reference to the love feast, at which the Lord’s Supper was celebrated.
We later read that Christians who were disciplined by being disfellowshipped were not to even eat with their brothers, the idea being that the loss of table fellowship would be so unbearable a Christian would soon repent of his sin rather than eat apart from his church family.
In Revelation, Jesus’ invitation to us is that he’ll join us for a common meal —
(Rev 3:20) Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
Clearly, the early church placed great stock in eating together! In fact, Everett Ferguson in Early Christians Speak, says that many credit the rapid growth of the early church to their table fellowship — as the love feast created a community of intense love where food was shared with those in need and all were molded into a single family.
Amazingly enough, the early church practiced the love feast despite the absence of a day off for Sunday. They had to bring their food from across town, walking on foot in the dark, as work for most continued until sunset.
Hospitality was an important aspect of early church life.
(1 Pet 4:8-9) Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
And so I think we’ve managed to lose something ineffable but essential in our increasing preference for restaurants over the chaos of buffet tables and children feasting on limitless desserts with room to run.
I grew up in a pretty typical Church of Christ, and my fondest memories are of covered-dish dinners on the grounds — playing with friends and sampling foods from many different homes.
An alternative, which is a good one, I think, is to eat together as part of our small groups. In a large church this may a better solution than dinner on the grounds (or in the fellowship hall), as it gives an opportunity to truly get to know one another better (and requires less work to put together).
But even in a huge church, I think we need to find the time to eat together on a regular basis. You just don’t really know someone until you’ve tasted their banana pudding or three-bean casserole — and helped a new member who’ve never even met with her kids. I mean, food just has a way of bringing people together.
Now, as previously noted, we cannot let the social element of the church become the center of church. Rather, the common meal, the love feast, must grow out of our lives of mutual service. Therefore, you can’t go to a restaurant, because a restaurant has nothing to do with serving others. Rather, one of beauties of the covered dish meal is that each family has to work — to cook, to set up, to break down, to help with the kids.
Don’t hire a janitor or a cooking crew. Rather, think of the covered dish as a modern version of foot washing — a way to serve both symbolically and in reality. Bring more than your fair share if you can afford it, and don’t look askance as those who don’t bring anything.
Look for ways to serve others. Maybe the older members babysit the kids of the younger members.
Oh, and be sure the men do their fair share.