How We Do It
This morning I want us to consider: what should a church do?
Churches do all kinds of things. Churches worship, pray and serve. Church have bible studies and dinners together. Some churches have fancy coffee houses. Some have lots of committees and meetings. Some have bingo nights.
I heard of a church that started a dry-cleaning service in hopes of attracting people. (I know, that’s what I thought, too.)
I’ve also seen churches have carnivals, chili-cook offs and impressive theatrical productions. Last year when churches had to stop gathering because of COVID, churches were challenged with the question “what are we about if we can’t gather?” Can a church be church if it doesn’t meet?
Sometimes when we speak of church we mean a building or a Sunday morning worship service. We go to the church. We speak of church as a noun. If this building disappeared would there still be a church called American Fork Presbyterian Church?
Perhaps we should speak of church as a verb, something we do. When we worship we are doing church. When we feed the hungry or serve the poor we are doing church. When we come together for a prayer time we are doing church. When we help another person in our church family we are doing church. Because Christ’s church is an active, ministering body that lives for him.
The book of Acts is the story of the beginning of the church. Acts 2:42-47 gives us a picture of the first community of believers. It is a succinct but very telling window into the earliest church. It shows us how the very first Christians did church, and there are some things we can learn from this, and that need to guide every church still today.
Let’s pay careful attention and walk through this passage verse by verse.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. – Acts 2:42
First, we learn that they were a devoted church. The word used in the New Testament for “devoted” is a strong word that means “obstinate persistence.” It refers to something that is ongoing. We are usually devoted to what we love most. And it says the believers devoted themselves to four things:
1. The apostle’s teaching. The apostles had seen and been with Jesus, They knew the story and the facts. They taught the community the story and the implications of Jesus’s words and deeds. The first believers fed themselves with this teaching because good teaching keeps us straight about what we are and what we are to be about as followers of Jesus.
2. Fellowship. The biblical word for “fellowship” means more than just having potlucks and having some refreshment after church. It refers to sharing life together. It has the sense of intimacy and mutual acceptance of one another. It is being with one another and talking about our lives, supporting and ministering to one another.
3. The breaking of bread. This might refer to The Lord’s Supper. It might refer to common meals together. It might refer to both. When the first Christians shared the bread and cup of Communion it was after they had shared a meal. We aren’t exactly sure, but it is a good bet that The Lord’s Supper was a part of this. Jesus told his disciples to do this, and we still devote ourselves to the breaking of bread today when we share Communion.
4. Prayer. Literally the phrase is “to the prayers.” There were set times of prayer in the Temple that people went to. Remember the first Christians were largely Jewish. Their practice had always been to go to the Temple in Jerusalem. There were also times people prayed on their own. Prayer is basic to Christian life. It is not a luxury or side-dish. It is part of a devoted life in Christ.
These are the four things that Acts tells us the first believers devoted themselves to, with bulldog-persistence. It shaped their entire church lives.
First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, California has a house for college students at the University of California campus called the “2:42” House. The name comes from this verse in Acts. Now that you know this verse you probably can guess what they try to do and how they want to live in this intentional Christian community house.
Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. – Acts 2:43
Wonders and signs are not only part of the Gospels with Jesus, but they continue throughout the story in Acts. Through the apostles there are healings and direct interventions from God. Here is something we read a little later in Acts:
“The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people…more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.” – Acts 5:12-16
I would love to see that. Do wonders and signs happen today? Some say they were only for that time and those things don’t happen anymore. But I believe the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ can break into the order of this universe and still show mighty works that would astound. It is not everyday stuff, but there are still stories of God working wonders today.
Our scientific, rational worldview often places limitations on what is possible. This morning we won’t go into why we don’t see more wonders and signs. I do know an openness and expectation with faith opens the way for God to break into our lives and do remarkable things.
The God of the Bible is still God. The purpose of the miracles of the Bible were not for some religious show, but to witness to God’s presence and power. God was doing mighty works through those first apostles. When God moves it is always for the purpose of allowing people to come to faith in God.
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. – Acts 2:44-45
We get a remarkable picture of a people who lived with one another, shared with one another, and were deeply self-giving as they did life together. In the passage from Acts 4 that we read together it says they were “one in heart and mind” and “they shared everything they had.”
They testified to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and God’s grace was powerfully at work in them so that there were no needy persons. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is connected to there being no need persons among them. Why? Because if Jesus is risen none of us can be the same. And one tangible sign that God’s grace is real in a church is that people are cared for.
God’s grace was powerfully at work in them making them a giving people.
God’s grace was powerfully at work in them making them wildly generous.
God’s grace was powerfully at work in them so that they were self-sacrificing for the good of others.
God’s grace transforms hearts.
Remember when the old tax collector Zacchaeus came to Christ? He gave half of his possessions to the poor and paid back those he had cheated. He knew his salvation in Christ demanded a response with his wealth. God’s grace powerfully worked in him.
Followers of Jesus Christ know that he is Lord of our stuff, too.
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, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. - Acts 2:46, 47
It says they met together every day. The phrase literally means “devoted themselves with one mind.” It is the same word for “devoted” as is used in v. 42. With dogged persistence they met together. They entered one another’s homes, shared meals and did it with “glad and sincere hearts. The word for “sincere” has the sense of “generosity” and “open-heartedness.” The people of this community were real with one another. They were not trying to put on a show but were sincere.
And they were praising God. Praise turns us away from preoccupation with ourselves and turns us toward God. They were a God-centered people.
And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. – Acts 2:47
Through all of this people were coming to Christ. God was using the church to bring people to a knowledge of his grace, love, and forgiveness. They didn’t take credit for those who were joining them. It was the Lord who did this. He was adding to their numbers.
What we find in Acts 2 is a snapshot of the first Christian community, and it was a vibrant one!
We have to be careful about idealizing this. There are Christians who say we have to go back and look exactly like this. They say this was the “pure”, problem-free church. Well, as for a pure church in just a couple of chapters we will see that problems arise. The letters in the New Testament which followed not too long after this show churches that had all the problems we still find today.
Another reason we have to be careful about idealizing this is that there are real differences between first century Palestine and 21st century United States. We don’t have to carbon-copy Acts 2, but we certainly need to let this shape the way we do church. And what we find is a people who are together living their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what a church is and does.
There is no individual Christianity. To be a disciple of Christ puts us in a community of faith with other believers. In Romans Paul writes, “…so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” The Christian life is not a life of separation or keeping distance. It is belonging to one another. In Acts 2 those believers didn’t separate and keep to themselves. They came together.
One of the best things happening in your life are those who are worshipping with you right now. There are prayers to be given and received. There are meals to be shared. There are Scriptures, teaching and thoughts of faith to be talked about. There is care to be given. Sure, we can come to worship and then leave ASAP. Or we can be intentional about being in relationship with those in our church.
There is beauty just in what we do every Sunday when we come here to worship. Kathleen Norris, an author and Presbyterian Christian, wrote how when we experience really hard times in our lives and when it is all we can do just to breathe it is so important to be in worship on Sunday. Because here we are with the family of faith who can keep faith for us when ours is lagging, and who will pull us along.
Some Sundays we come like wrung out dish rags. But others are here to pick us up and help us along. And it is not limited to Sundays.
Christian fellowship is not built on convenience as in “we’ll get together when I need it.” Rather, Christian fellowship is built on the conviction that I need it for the health of my faith. I need people to walk this journey of faith with me. I need people to support me, and I need others whom I can support.
Church allows us to receive but the family of faith is also a place where we give ourselves for others. Church requires doing life in a way that is more than just what is convenient for us because church is more than just about us. Healthy, working, vibrant churches are also places where you have to look to the needs of others. Good churches are places of love, generosity and self-sacrifice and that sometimes requires giving more than receiving.
There is a Vietnamese saying, “In hell the people have chopsticks but they are long so that they cannot reach their mouths. In heaven the chopsticks are the same length, but in heaven the people feed one another.”
I have known people who have left churches because they were in it for what they could get, not for what they could give. And when they didn’t get what was good for them, they no longer were interested. They wanted to feed themselves, but not anyone else. Essential to being an Acts 2 church is asking “who can I love?” and “what needs can I meet and do it in the name of Jesus?”
The church came to be because of the Holy Spirit. It operated in the power of God's Spirit. Its life of feeding themselves on the apostle’s teaching,
…praying, sharing life together, doing mighty things in the name of the Lord,
…practicing deep generosity
…and meeting the needs of others were not accomplishments of extraordinary folk.
They were signs of the Spirit within a group of people who had encountered Jesus Christ. They were united in their purpose and identity, which wasn’t any particular project or issue, but was found in Christ Jesus.
There are all kinds of communities. There are groups organized around social events, political agendas, civic issues, hobbies. But the church is centered around and gets its life from the Lord Jesus Christ. Those first believers gathered because Jesus had come alive and he had given them a mission.
When we aim for Jesus our church becomes what God wants us to become.
Acts 2:47 says “and they had favor with all the people.” It reads like this in The Message version of the Bible, “People in general liked what they saw.”
Some years back at Mount Olympus Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City where I was pastor a woman actually said that to me. She and her husband had been coming for a few Sundays. I greeted them and introduced myself. They said they had just moved here and were looking for a church and this is exactly what she said, “We like what we see.”
I spread my feathers like a peacock. They joined our church - and this is the truth - after a couple of weeks we never saw them again. I have no idea what happened. This is probably the wrong story to tell at the end of a sermon like this.
Nevertheless, maybe they just didn’t get how we do church. I hope people like what they see about this church. I hope this for every church.
Church isn’t just a place. Church isn’t just an event. Church is a people inhabited by the risen Lord Jesus Christ,
…under the influence of the Holy Spirit,
…sharing their lives,
…giving praise to the living God,
…and doing it together.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, pour out your Holy Spirit upon us. Give us a fresh filling so that we will be devoted to our growth and practice of the faith.
So that we will be a people who witness to Jesus by the way we do this life of Jesus together.
We stand open to receive your power, your blessing, and your life. May American Fork Presbyterian Church join others churches in being a witness for your name so that people will come to know you by the way we live. Amen.
 Romans 12:5  The Cloister Walk, p.102  See Rich Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, p.150  Dr. Matt Skinner, Commentary on Acts 2:42-47,http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=52