This isn’t an event per se and so it breaks the rule for this series, but before I comment on the next events, we have to notice a bit about the kind of life that pervades the early church. (I will talk about the two events that are mentioned in the next post.)
You can check the story out here: Acts 2:42-47.
The first truth with which we must contend is a truth about content. This text lists four devotions: apostles teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers. Do these represent four event types or four things that happened at every event or neither of those options? I grew up in a church culture that looked to these four things as the defining markers not only of a church but more particularly of a church event. If nothing else happened on Sunday morning, it was expected that these four things did happen. Other things like singing and announcements may happen, but it was these four elements that were required and if they happened, then it was by definition a church service regardless of anything else that may or may not have happened. I have a lot of sympathy for this view, and if nothing else it creates a balance on Sunday mornings between four vital practices.
While that view has served a lot of churches very well, I am no longer sure that this interpretation is required of the text. Perhaps these four realities are essential not for each event but for the rhythm of the life of the church overall. If the other reading insists that all these practices be mixed together like a casserole, the alternative view would suggest that a four course meal was equally healthy. In this model we might have some events that are focused on teaching and others on prayer and fellowship. Some might focus on the community meal with little teaching and a lot of prayer. Other community meals might bubble over in fellowship with only a bit of prayer.
This difference matters for at least two reasons. The first is that we want to honestly respond to the meaning of the text. If this text (as I now read it) is giving us examples of the kind of life led by these early Christians rather than giving us a list of the four things every church event must have, then we should admit that so that we are able to read the text honestly for what it says rather than assume a patternism that isn’t there.
The second is that at some point we must begin to actually plan an event. When we do so, there are fundamental decisions to be made. Can we plan an event focused just on fellowship? Can we call an event a Christian event that is not centered on the meal? If these elements are examples and not blueprints, then we are freed to plan a comprehensive and complementary collection of events that in different ways address these values.
I am convinced that these devotions are exemplary of a wide variety of events and should not be interpreted as essential to all events. The key reason for this conviction is the examples that are given. There is no indication of a single central event that attempted to cover all of these bases. On the contrary, the implication is that in a multitude of overlapping ways, these four values are expressed.
Fellowship is expressed in the sharing of possessions and mutual support. Surely some of that happened at organized events. Maybe even a first century potluck supper. (Paul has to deal with some problem potlucks in his letters to the Corinthian churches.) But clearly what is most directly described here is not a program or an event but a lifestyle embodied by a community so intimately connected that needs could be known and shared.
These four are the marks of the church not because they can be checked off a programming list, but because they are the natural life expression of the church.
It does seem that these core values did find expression in at least two regular events, and having indulged in this excursus I will turn to those two events in the next post.
on the walk