If you have moved around in Christian circles and attended more evangelical churches, you might have heard the term “An Acts Church.” The first thought of what this phrase means is that the church actually acts and doesn’t just sit around collecting money. To a degree you are right, but that is such a simplified explanation that the heart of the phrase gets totally lost. So let us explore what An Acts Church really is.
The book of Acts is the first official history book of the New Testament. It follows the birth of the Christian church and the growing pains it experienced. Over the next several hundreds of years the church grew and spread over many continents. As a result of the new cultures and getting further and further in time from the original Apostles that set the foundations using scripture, it developed into something different than what you would find in a study of the early church. I’m not saying it was entirely good or entirely bad. Many of the changes were done because of cultural influences and some traditions were developed due to political climates. But over time as with anything else, some Bible scholars began to notice that the church of today was losing the heart and intent of the original church. The traditions could change, the times could change, but the heart and purpose never should. Studies intensified and forums buzzed about what the original or early church looked like and how far away we had strayed from it. The end result was termed the “Acts Church”.
The very first sermon of the early church was not in a church. It was delivered from a balcony during the week of Pentecost (the Feast of Weeks) by Peter (the brash and bold “rock”). At that time there was an undetermined number of people who would have been the “founders” of this church. We know that there just enough to fit into a room above a house. But after that first sermon in which the miracle of everyone hearing the same words coming out of Peter’s mouth in their native tongues (because Jews had poured into the Jerusalem from all over the Roman Empire at this time), approximately 3000 joined the church in one day. Wow! That is a growth spurt.
Let us remind ourselves that it was just 40 days before that Jesus ascended into heaven that the first sermon occurred. There was no church constitution, no committees (thank goodness), no traditions (except the current Jewish ones), and no official church holidays (except for the current Jewish ones). The only things they had to go on were the teachings of Jesus which was fresh in their hearts and minds. The heart of Christianity was fresh and foremost in all their minds. According to Acts 2:42–47 the first “services” and “traditions” were described:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 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. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (NIV)
“Devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” shows that they gathered and listened to the leaders teaching and preaching. With so many new believers that had either never heard of Jesus or didn’t have the complete and full picture of it all, teaching them what He had taught the Apostles was one of the most important things that had to be done. How else could uncorrupted teachings be handed down for future leaders and teachers? Getting together and listening to teaching and sermons is still carried on today. The one thing you could probably wonder is whether the teachings are still the same.
They also devoted themselves to “fellowship”. Currently, most churches only think of getting together and eating during a fellowship. But the word fellowship was used to denote friendship and companionship. The early church got together and got to know one another. They were not strangers who nodded as they walked by and continued on their lives. They knew each other. That is one of the differences that can be noted in comparing the Acts church to the contemporary churches at large.
“Breaking of bread” was the early way of describing communion or the Lord’s Supper. It was a time to remember the ultimate sacrifice Christ made for man. The communion that you experience is not done the same way as it was in the early church. Not to say that the way we do it now is wrong because let us remind ourselves that it is the heart of the act and not the actual act itself. The original breaking of bread involved a full meal and might have been reminiscent of the Passover meal that Jesus took that last night with the Apostles. We know that because Paul states in 1 Corinthians 11:17–34 that many were abusing the Lord’s Supper by getting drunk and eating too much and not sharing appropriately. Over the centuries the supper changed and began to take more symbolic meaning based on the words Jesus used when addressing the Apostles regarding the comparison He made between the wine and His blood and the bread and His body. Soon the supper only had those components. Not saying that this was bad. Some could argue how far the symbolism was taken, but having only those components still kept the heart of the “meal”.
They devoted themselves to “prayer”. They did not forsake the communication with God. It was stressed and continued in this “new” religion (though not considered a new religion at this point in time).
When you get to the part where “All the believers were together and had everything in common”, many begin to disagree to the meaning and start to part ways. The original Greek that the book was written in describes this more as the believers spending time together regularly and sharing whatever was needed at the time. Some took these words to mean that they formed communes and owned nothing of their own. This is not necessarily true based on deep studies of the original Greek. It means they shared and no one was in need as the next verse explicitly states. If selling their possessions helped a needy believer, they did it. Possessions were not evil but they meant nothing in the face of a true need. I hate to admit that here is where the church has also parted ways over the years. Either it tried to form the communes or it totally ignored it and left it up to the state. There would be no need or at least a hugely diminished need for the welfare system of the church still practiced the heart of these words. These were reiterated in Acts 4:32–37 where it is noted that the believers did not look at their possessions as theirs. Not necessarily belonging to the church, but to God.
The original church began meeting daily instead of once or twice a week that we practice today. Remember that it is the heart of the act. From these words we also see that they continued to meet in the Temple. Please remember that the first “members” of the Christian church were all Jews. They did not consider themselves a new religion. They considered themselves still Jews. They kept the Jewish practices. They did not forsake them. They just believed the law fulfilled. Meeting daily in the temple was already a practice for them. Meeting to listen to the Apostles’ teaching would be nothing new added. The regular meeting for the church changed over the years (and this is not necessarily bad) to meeting usually once a week on Sunday. This came about when more and more Gentiles (non-Jews) began to embrace the religion as the years went by. They were not used to Jewish practices and began to slowly change how the church as a whole operated. About this time also because of the huge Gentile influence it was no longer regarded as a Jewish sect and lost the protection of that umbrella.
The point of this section of scripture was to show that they loved, cared, shared, and learned. That is the heart of it all.
As time went on, the church grew each day. That caused some growing pains in how to minister to everyone and their needs. I always say that if you want difficulty, get a human involved. Well, that is what happened in Acts 6. With so many new believers some started to fall in the cracks and the needs were not being met specifically for some of the widows. The Apostles were approached about this problem. If they had taken this problem and addressed it personally, they never would have had time to teach and preach and travel to train others. True leaders don’t do everything personally. All successful leaders (religious and secular) will tell you that. So to follow the pattern of good leadership, they delegated. They told the members to choose 7 men who met very specific criteria and have them take care of meeting the basic needs of the church. So the deacons were born. They were not created to run the church. They were not created to dictate to the pastor. They were created to serve.
The remainder of Acts goes through the history of evangelism.
But what is an Acts Church?
· They met regularly
· They learned
· They prayed
· They fellowshipped
· They held communion
· They sacrificed for others’ needs
· They loved
The basic actions might be different due to culture and time periods, but the hearts should be the same. That is where the church of today has changed. When I say “church”, I mean the Christian church as a whole which includes all the various denominations that it covers. There are individual churches out there following the early patterns. An Acts church loves people where they are and they look at the church as a family and not a country club or business. They are there for each other and know their purpose.