The Community of Believers

HideShow resource information
  • Created by: anoelle64
  • Created on: 14-01-18 18:59

The community of believers

The New Testament community of believers

Acts 2:42-47 - read and understand this set text

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who 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.

1 of 21

The New Testament community of believers

  • The Act of the Apostles is the earliest account we have of the spread of C during 1st century CE
  • General consensus that Acts was written by Luke, author of the third Gospel, probably before 70 CE, no more than some forty years after the crucifixion of Jesus
  • The life of the early Christian community is characterised mainly by its enthusiasm under the guidance of the Holy Spirit
  • From the beginning, however, it demonstrates elements of an organised structure, reflected in its practices, communal life, worship and discipline
  • These are described in Acts 2:42-47
  • We are told that the early Christians 'devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers', and that 'they all had things in common'
2 of 21

'They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching

'They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship'

  • The apostles' teaching (Greek, didache) was preached in the early church in what the NT scholar C.H. Dodd and others have termed the kerygma, which means 'a proclamation'.
  • The aim of the kerygma was to proclaimm the key facts of the gospel
  • It followed a particular pattern:
  • The OT prophecies have been fulfilled; the Messiah has come
  • This has happened through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus
  • He was born in the house of David, and died to save humankind
  • He was burried, but resurrected on the third day, according to the Scriptures
  • He ascended to Heaven and sits on the right hand of God
  • He will come again to be humankind's Judge and Saviour
  • Therefore, all are called to repent and be baptised in his name
3 of 21

'They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching

  • This was the teaching the early C community was 'devoted' to - was united in its belief that J = Messiah, that had been raised from the dead, that he now sits on the right hand of God and that it is through him that people's sins are forgiven
  • Acceptance of this teaching, and of baptism, led the believers to a 'fellowship', 
  • A special relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and with each other, expressed in partaking of communion, holding fast to the apostolic doctrines and following a particular way of life
4 of 21

'... To the breaking of bread'

Can signify two things:

  • The breaking of the bread at the Lord's Supper, the sacrament that J himself established at his memorial rite
  • The dividing of the loaves at a communal meal
  • In apolistic times, such meals were held regularly in some Jewish communities (e.g. the Essene Community)

The meaning of this phrase is determined by its context

  • Acts 2:42, which is used in the context of worship, it probably refers to the memorial of Jesus' death
  • Acts 2:46, it probably refers to an early church practice that may well have been a means of providing sustenance for the poorer members of the church

Both practices demonstrated that unity of the early Christian community; the first because it was a sacrament reflecting the members' communion which each other and with God; and the second because it allowed them to deepen their relationship with each other through charitable acts

5 of 21

'... To the prayers'

  • Jewish men in Jerusalem went to the Temple to pray at least 3 times a day
  • The apostles and their followers still adhered to this custom
  • Acts 3:11 and Acts 5:12 record that they met 'in Solomon's portico', which was a roofed colonnade forming part of the Court of the Gentiles, so called because Gentiles were allowed to enter it
  • However...
  • The early Christians met also to pray in private homes, there may have been several reasons for this:
  • The Pentecost experience had been so intense that it compelled them to seek constant fellowship with God and with each other
  • The practice brought them into contact with pious Jews who would then be introduced to Jesus as Messiah
  • They were aware that prayer was the main source of their strength as a community

The word 'prayers' includes praise, adoration, thanksgiving, petition, confession and giving God glory

6 of 21

'They had all things in common'

  • Acts 2:45 states that all those who believed 'would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need'
  • This however, does not mean that the early Christian community taught some kind of religious communism, where 'all things in common' meant a redistribution of wealth
  • Nowhere in Acts is there any suggestion of class warfare or confiscation of property
  • The communal life is not compulsory for all Christians, because we read elsewhere in Acts that some believers owned property (e.g. in 12:12, the disciples meet in a house that belonged to Mary, Mark's mother)
  • What Luke is testifying to is the voluntary, loving, and selfless disposition of the early Christians
  • The HS acting in their lives caused them to care for their less fortunate colleagues
  • Not everyone received a distribution of what was laid at the apostles' feet
  • The proceeds were distributed 'as any had need'
  • There was no general redistribution of wealth
  • Nowhere else in the NT is there mention of a similar community to the one at Jerusalem
  • The experiment seems to have been restricted to the earliest years of Christianity and may have been a failure
7 of 21

The New Testament community of believers as a mode

The New Testament community of believers as a model for the contemporary church

  • The contemporary Christian church is the 'body of Christ' on earth
  • It exists to worship God, to administer the sacraments (rites that confer grace) and to evangelise the world
  • It is a sign and instrument of the kingdom of God
8 of 21

Religious teaching

Religious teaching

  • Over the centuries, the church has split into many denominations
  • The eastern Orthodox and western Roman Catholic churches separated in 1054
  • The 16th century Reformation saw the Protestant Lutherans leave the Catholic Church
  • There was further fragmentation when Protestants divided into Baptists (who reject infant baptism), Congregationalists (whose individual congregations are autonomous), Presbyterians (who are governed by assemblies of church elders); and others
  • All contemporary Christian denominations, however, claim that they too, like the early Christian community, adhere closely to the teaching of the apostles
  • Despite their many differences, they all share the basic belief that Jesus was the Messiah;
  • that he performed God's work on earth, preaching, teaching and healing the sick;
  • that he was crucified and buried, and then raised from the dead;
  • that he ascended to the Father and that it is through him that people's sins are forgiven
9 of 21

Worship, sacraments and fellowship

Worship, sacraments and fellowship

  • The church not only administers the sacraments, it is itself a sacrament
  • A 'sacrament' is a visible sign of God's grace
  • Christians believe that through the church people make contact with the risen Jesus, who exists today in the members of his church
  • Thus, the church is a sign of the presence of the risen Christ
  • Its role is to make present Jesus' mediation and the gifts of the HS so that Christians might live perfectly in one family as the children of God
  • It does this primarily through public worship and the administration of the sacraments
  • In the RCC and many Orthodox churches there are seven sacraments (baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, ordination, and matrimony)
  • Protestants only recognise 2 of these (baptism and the Eucharist)
  • Or in some Lutheran churches, 3 (baptism, confession and the Eucharist)
  • Partaking in the sacraments of the church, accepting its doctrines and following an appropriate way of life lead believers into a 'fellowship', a special relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and with each other
10 of 21

Worship, sacraments and fellowship

  • The sharing of possessions is not compulsory in modern Christian communities, but some denominations have religious orders made up of monks or nuns who live, work and pray together and hold everything in common
  • Others practice tithing, where members agree to give one tenth of their income towards the church's work
  • All denominations do what they can to assist the sick and the poor
11 of 21

Mission, service and outreach

  • The Christian church is not only a sign of God's grace, it is an instrument of God's grace as well
  • It works for peace, charity, fair trade, gender equality, overseas mission, etc., to bring about the justice and mercy that God intends for all creation
  • It is the agent of God's mission to the world
  • It responds to natural disasters - famine, epidemics, earthquakes and man-made crises such as wars and acts of terrorism... giving tangible support to the survivors
  • Committed to helping refugees to resttle and rebuild their lives
  • Has programmes for health and child development in poor, third world countries
  • It seeks to give vulnerable communities access to basic necessities such as clean water, and empowers them to realise their economic potential by teaching simple agricultural methods and making small loans
  • It maintains several initiatives to foster peace in dangerous conflict zones
  • And attempts to establish harmony between hostile communities
  • Attempts to get the world-wide church to respond as one on global peace and justice issues have been more successful than those aimed at developing a common approach to faith and order
12 of 21

Mission, service and outreach

  • The global church has had more success in speaking with one voice on peace and justice issues than in reconciling doctrinal differences
  • Acts 2:46 reads: 'And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved'
  • This clearly demonstrates that although the commission for all believers (Matthew 28:18 - 20) was to 'baptise all nations', that is, evangelise, it is also evident that the lifestyle of the NT community of believers was in itself a form of 'outreach' and many believed because of their actions and not just the message they brought
13 of 21

Whether the main role of the church is to provide

Whether the main role of the church is to provide religious teaching

  • Christian church is sometimes criticised for being more concerned with its teaching - its dogma and doctrines - than it is with people
  • The church has always been concerned with the correct interpretation of Scripture, and the fact that different people have interpreted Scripture in different ways has led to its fragmentation, much to the bewilderment of ordinary Christians
  • In Jesus' teaching, the commandment to love people comes second to the commandment to love God
  • Love for people is simply a way for Christians to show their love to God who loved them enough to give them his Son as their Saviour
  • This means accepting the chuch's doctrine abouve the saving work of Jesus achieved through his life, death and resurrection
  • In other words, it is the doctrine that gives rise to the love for people
  • The church's main role is to provide the doctrine
14 of 21

Whether the main role of the church is to provide

  • Thus the church is accused of loving people only with a view to making them Christians
  • Moreover, some of its traditional teaching (e.g. on ordination of women, birth control, marriage of divorced or gay people, etc.) seems to be insensitive
  • An opposing argument is that the church has always sought to help those in need
  • It takes as its example Jesus' great emphasis on caring for the weak, the poor, the suffering, the marginalised, the vulnerable
  • Contemporary Christianity puts love for people into practice through encouraging fair trade, charity work, the pursuit of peace, care for the environment, etc
  • Churches of different denominations often find ways of working together on humanitarian projects and lobbying on behalf of the underprivileged
  • For many Christians, this is far more important than doctrine, and follows the key teaching of Jesus not simply about refraining from activities that hurt another but for positive action that benefits another
  • True Christian love (agape) is unselfish and unconditional and is not directed at making converts
15 of 21

Whether the main role of the church is to provide

  • However, it does all depend, in one sense, upon what one means by religious teaching
  • The Christian Gospel is pro-active and an inherent imperative within the the teachings of Jesus and Paul is to act in a Christian manner
  • As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:17-18, 'therefore I urge you to imitate me... Timothy, my son whom I love ... will remind you of my way life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church'
  • There is a strong argument, therefore, to sugget that the teachings of the Christian church are essential
  • but only in so far as they deliver a message that is life-changing and impacts upon the poor and needy and those who suffer in both spiritual and physical terms

Conclusion...

  • One possible solution could be that providing religious teaching is very important but only in the sense that this religious teaching needs to be listened to and acted upon
  • Religious teaching that is delivered and has no viable impact upon the lives of others is no business of the church
16 of 21

The extent to which contemporary Christian churche

The extent to which contemporary Christian churches should follow the New Testament model

  • In some respects, the NT church provides an excellent model for contemporary Christian churches
  • The early Christian community in Jerusalem had several strengths
  • It was apparently united in belief, practices, worship and communal life
  • It operated under the divine guidance of the HS
  • Its apostles, particularly Peter, spoke with authority, were able to perform miracles and gave strong leadership
  • Its life was founded on prayer. It was mission orientated - its goal was to persuade followers of the Jewish religion to be baptised and to accept Jesus as the promised Messiah
  • It was effectively administered, and made immediate arrangements to settle disagreements
  • It was joyful, enthusiastic and effective, and obviously appealed to outsiders
  • In other respects, h owever, the model is somewhat flawed
17 of 21

The extent to which contemporary Christian churche

The extent to which contemporary Christian churches should follow the New Testament model

  • The NT church also had several weaknesses
  • The story of the early Christian community in Jerusalem records evidence of disobedience, love of money, lying to the HS, favouritism and jealousy
  • Its leadership was inconsistent, fluctuating between the theocratic and sometimes autocratic, with occasional elements of democratic participation
  • Moreover, it does not appear initialy to have made any attempt to convert anyone outside the Jewish community
  • When that eventually happened, mostly through Paul's mission, it led to the first threat of a split within Christianity between Gentiles and Jews
  • There was a period of bitter argument between Paul and Judaizers
  • There is an argument, therefore, that to see the NT model as a 'Golden Age' of Christianity is possibly to glorify matters
  • What seems to be important is that in looking at the NT model of the early church, it is not seen as the perfect and complete example
18 of 21

The extent to which contemporary Christian churche

The extent to which contemporary Christian churches should follow the New Testament model

  • Lessons are to be learned from the mistakes and confusions experienced by the early church as depicted in the NT
  • The incidents of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 and the debate in Acts 15 between the Council of Jerusalem and Paul are classic examples
  • Indeed, if it were just Acts, then maybe we could be forgiven for seeing the NT model of the early church as an ideal, despite these problems
  • However, the fact is that the letters of Paul are full of his frustrations with the early chuch as it spread
  • For example, the church in Corinth was far from perfect:
  • Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:15, 'some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you'. Again in 1 Corinthians 3:1, 'I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly'.
  • As the letter develops, Paul refers to 'arrogant' members, 'sexual immorality', 'boasting', 'lawsuits', and a general lack of discipline
19 of 21

The extent to which contemporary Christian churche

The extent to which contemporary Christian churches should follow the New Testament model

  • This inspired Paul to write some of his greatest words concerning 'love' in 1 Corinthians 13
  • There is equally a strong polemic against the legalistic interpretation of Christianity by church in Rome in his letter to the Romans which N.T. Wright refers to as 'neither a systematic theology nor a summary of Paul's lifework, but it is by common consent his masterpiece'

Conclusion...

  • In conclusion, although there is much to admire about the NT model of the early church, there is obviously also much to learn from mistake made
  • One could conclude that to put such a model on a pedestal would be unwise
  • Indeed, is there anywhere in the NT that implies that there is an actual model of the early church?
20 of 21

Quotes!!

  • They devotegbd themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42)
  • '... the kerygma consists of the announcement of certain historical event in a setting which displays the significance of those events. The events in question are those of the appearance of Jesus in history - His ministry, sufferings and death and His subsequent manifestation of Himself to His followers as risen from the dead ...- and the emergence of the Church as a society distinguished by the power and activity of the Holy Spirit...' C.H. Dodd
  • 'There is no real religious experience that does not express itself in charity' C.H. Dodd
  • 'They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer... all the believers were together and they had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need... they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts... and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved' (Acts 2:42-47)
21 of 21

Comments

No comments have yet been made

Similar Religious Studies resources:

See all Religious Studies resources »See all Christianity resources »