“They continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine, and in the fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.”
The Jerusalem Church clung tightly to four vital things. These are so important that to lose them would be a catastrophe. So they held on with steady diligence.
Firstly, they held onto the Apostles’ doctrine, which means teaching. This was vital because the Apostles’ teaching was not their own. The Apostles learned from Christ, and they faithfully passed on what they received to the early believers.
Sometimes we get this mixed up. A man in the pulpit may think that God gave him this preaching vocation in order to share the feelings or imaginations of his heart. That is not true teaching. People may be all too willing to follow such teaching, even though it is a far cry from the foundation of the Apostles laid down by Jesus Christ.
The opposite error is when a man faithfully teaches the Word of Christ, yet people do not want to listen. There is no steadfast clinging to the truth for them, because something else is more important.
The great glory of the teaching ministry today is the same as that of the Apostles. When we hear faithful teaching, we hear Christ speak. The book of Acts is not so much about what the Apostles did, but what Christ was doing for His Church. When an Apostle spoke the Gospel, Christ spoke through him. The same is true today.
Therefore, a preacher’s words are not simply information or teaching about principles of Christian behavior. More than that, Christ pours out His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. He freely gives these gifts into your ears. That is how important it is to hold tightly to the teaching of the Word.
The Spirit give us wisdom to discern true teaching, and cling to it more firmly.
Secondly, the believers in Jerusalem continued in the fellowship. This word “fellowship” has a different meaning today. When Christians get together and chat, or when we gather around a pot-luck, we often say that we are having fellowship. Perhaps the word can mean this in a very wide sense, but it is not the meaning in the Scriptures.
The fellowship is the koinonia, the communion or sharing of holy things we hold in common. These include the Word and Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. To be in fellowship means to stay in the pure teaching and practice, rather than fall away or join a group that teaches error.
Upholding the fellowship also means to share the same faith and love toward our Lord and one another. We are joined as the family of faith, brothers of our Lord Jesus Christ, even more closely than an earthly family.
To we treat this family with disdain, as if we do not care about one another, is shameful. Sometimes we do that. To avoid our meeting together as a congregation is to act as if we are not one Body in Christ. To not be moved to compassion toward one another is to act coldly.
But our example is Christ, who acted as our true Brother by defending us from death. He cared for us and did not count the cost when He went up to Calvary. Since He took all of our sins together in that one place, then we are all united by a common redemption. One Man’s Blood was shed for us. One Man has joined us together in the salvation He has created by His death.
Therefore let us act as His Body.
Thirdly, the Jerusalem church held steadfastly to the Breaking of Bread. Although the phrase can sometimes mean sharing any meal, it indicates the Lord’s Supper. This is the ultimate example on earth of our communion together. We are nowhere else so closely joined as when we share this Altar. As His Body is one, so we are one. His Blood, shed for all our sins, testifies of the unity we have.
But let us not pretend at unity. The Supper is not a magic glue to make us one when in reality we are not. In Acts two, the Sacrament is alongside and follows from both the fellowship and the teaching of the Apostles. There is no Holy Communion without our communion together in Christ and in His Word.
So our unity at the Sacrament of this Altar must not be fake. If we find divisions in what we believe, we must repent where we are wrong, or else admit that we have broken the fellowship.
This is one reason we have Closed Communion. Where there is not agreement in doctrine, we should not pretend that we have unity. This was the practice of the church, even so early as here, right after the first Pentecost.
The Spirit give us His grace to have true unity in Christ and His Word, and express that unity together at this Altar.
Fourthly, the early church held steadfastly to the prayers. Note that little word, “the”. This does not simply mean that the Christians prayed, although that is very important. More than that, they were joined in specific prayers. We are not only talking about the act of prayer, but about all worship practices. The early believers carried on much of the worship of the Temple and synagogues, including the Psalms and Readings. They also had the new treasures of holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and the Divine Service that was naturally created around it.
They did not, as is so common today, make up worship forms on the fly. They had set prayers, THE prayers, that they followed. They were not pursuing creative worship or spontaneous expressions of heartfelt emotions.
Rather than try to satisfy emotions or itching ears that want new things, we are to be setting out a banquet of the richest food, which is the holy Word and the Sacraments. These things are so wonderful because they give out the immeasurable grace of Christ. The benefits of His Blood and death come to us in this Divine Service. Everything is to center around what He has done for us.
With reverence and holy fear, we should approach this Altar. With trembling wonder, we should use God’s words that He has given us to confess His mighty truths.
For here in our midst comes the holy One, Christ Jesus our Lord. What words are fitting for use in His presence? Only the holy words that have been passed down from the Apostles, and from centuries of church fathers that followed their example. Like the Apostles, we follow the prayers set down for us.
Christ, through His Apostles, set the pattern for us. This is how He takes care of His Church. By His Spirit, we cling tightly to the teaching of His Word, which is His voice. We keep the fellowship by steadfast faithfulness to His teaching, and to one another. He feeds us His most holy Body and Blood at this Altar. And He comes among us in this Divine Service to feed His flock, and to hear the prayers of His brothers and sisters as we cry out to Him in our need.
This is the way the Church should be. By the grace of God, let us also continue in these things steadfastly, because in them is Christ and our salvation. May we repent where we go astray, as we too often do. And He is gracious to forgive.
In His merciful Name. Amen.
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