J. A. Bengel, the great Pietist commentator on the Bible, concluded his comments on Acts this way: "Thou hast, O church, thy form [pattern]. It is thine to preserve it, and guard thy trust" (Bengel 1860:1:925). We must do this by examining Luke's portrait of a Spirit-filled community.
The outpouring of the Spirit produced not just momentary enthusiasm but four continuing commitments: to learn, to care, to fellowship and to worship. The apostles' teaching probably included an account of Jesus' life and ministry, his ethical and practical teachings, warnings about persecution and false teaching, and the christocentric Old Testament hermeneutic. But at its center was the gospel message. And so today, to devote oneself to the apostles' teaching means evangelism as well as edification (4:2; 5:42; 15:35).
The apostles' fellowship and breaking of bread was a sharing of possessions to meet needs and of lives in common meals (2:44-46). What an inviting way of life for our day, when "loneliness drives people into one place, but that does not mean that they are together, really" (Ogilvie 1983:74).
Finally, Luke portrays prayer as integral to the church's life (compare 4:24; 6:4; 12:5; 13:3; 20:36). It is the essential link between Jesus and his people as they carry out his kingdom work under his guidance and by his strength (4:29-30; 6:6; 8:15; 14:23; 28:8). The reputation of the vital, growing Korean church as a praying church shows that the maxim is indeed true: "the vitality of the church was a measure of the reality of their prayers" (Williams 1985:39).
The conviction of sin that followed Peter's Spirit-filled preaching (2:37) was not momentary panic but a continuing uneasiness among those who had not yet received the word. The many wonders and miraculous signs done by God through the apostles served only to intensify this conviction. Whether the "signs and wonders" element be taken as normative for today (Wimber 1986:21) or as simply the authentication of a fresh stage of revelation (Stott 1974:13), clearly Luke is certain that the church's presence will have an impact on society.
In expression of their Spirit-inspired togetherness, the believers pooled their resources. Individuals voluntarily sold property and goods, contributed the proceeds to a fund from which any Christian (and possibly non-Christians as well) could receive help, as he or she might have need. What a standard for today's church! Indeed, "what we do or do not do with our material possessions is an indicator of the Spirit's presence or absence" (Krodel 1986:95).
The community lived out its commitment to the apostles' teaching by gathering each day in the temple courts to hear instruction. They probably met in Solomon's colonnade, at the eastern end of the court of the Gentiles (5:12; compare 5:20-21, 42, and Jesus' practice--Lk 20:1; 21:37). In the temple they also fulfilled their commitment to prayer as they engaged in corporate worship.
Daily the community broke bread together in homes--sharing a meal, beginning it with the bread and ending it with the cup of the Lord's Supper (Lk 22:19-20; 24:35; Acts 20:7, 11). With constant intimacy, exultant joy and transparency of relationship they enjoyed the graces of Messiah's salvation in a true anticipation of his banquet in the kingdom (Lk 22:30; compare Acts 16:34). It was a gracious witness to the people (laos), "Israel as the elect nation to whom the message of salvation is initially directed" (Longenecker 1981:291).
Today growing churches manifest the same "metachurch" pattern: celebration, joining in large gatherings for worship and instruction, and cell group, meeting in home groups for fellowship and nurture.
Every day the Lord Jesus by his Spirit saved some, incorporating them into their number. God's plan is for churches to grow. The challenge for us is, "Will we meet the Scriptural conditions for growth: a dedication to be a learning, caring, fellowshipping, worshipping church?" Will we meet the one essential condition? "As empowering follows petition, so evangelism and Christian unity or community follow Pentecost. The empowering, moreover, is repeatable. So pray!" (Talbert 1984:17).
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