March 26, 2020

Acts 2:42-47  

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Americans seem to be less connected than ever. Thanks to social media we appear to be connected. Facebook and snapchat give the veneer of social connectedness. Ironically, however, our almost constant access via social media has actually worked toward an increasing sense of alienation. It is a counterfeit fellowship. It is isolation masquerading as and then replacing genuine connection.

The current crisis has required the great majority of churches to connect on Sundays through live-streaming or pre-recorded “worship services.” I am not protesting that of course. It is the choice we have made in order to guard each other’s health and to honor the civil authorities. But we have found that “virtual gatherings” are not worthy substitutes for actually being together on the Lord’s Day.

In his book Coming Apart, Charles Murray found that the difference between the average poor person’s happiness and the average upper-middle class person’s happiness could be explained most easily by what he calls “high social trust” – basically, lots of close relationships. Interestingly, when you add faithful religious observance, you’ve bridged the happiness gap between the poor and upper middle class almost entirely. Fellowship matters, perhaps, more than we even know.

J.I. Packer has written:

"We should not…think of fellowship with other Christians as a spiritual luxury, an optional addition to the exercises of private devotion. We should recognize rather that such fellowship is a spiritual necessity; for God has made us in such a way that our fellowship with himself is fed by our fellowship with fellow Christians, and requires to be so fed constantly for its own deepening and enrichment."

What is described at the end of Acts chapter 2 is a fellowship. It is a uniquely Christian reality. Indeed, the two words (Hebrew in the O.T. and Greek in the N.T.) used in the Bible most often to describe the people of God literally mean gathering. The church is a communion of believers united to one another through Christ. The saving power of the Lord Jesus, his Word, his people, and his priorities lie at the heart of the church’s fellowship.

What Luke records in Acts chapter 2 is the remarkable conversion of thousands (Jews primarily) who had traveled to Jerusalem for Pentecost. A megachurch was born through one sermon. It was a unique moment in redemptive history. It also presented an immediate challenge. Indeed, it could have ended disastrously. Thousands of men, women, and children who now found themselves devoted to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship were far away from their homes without necessary income and food and shelter. What Luke goes on to describe is the extraordinary mobilization of the fellowship to meet those needs suddenly present.

Don’t you find yourself – when you read Luke’s description of that first church – thinking, “If only I was part of a church like that!” We often times have romantic ideas about the way we think the church’s fellowship ought to be. We imagine that somewhere there exists a church that does everything or nearly everything right. A church where the pastor is always “on.” A church where the people are always loving. A church where only my favorite songs are sung. A church where my needs are always attended to with great sensitivity.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer addresses this in his little book on Christian community. He points out that churches have been torn apart by what he calls our “wish dream” of a Christian community which just does not exist on this side of glory. He writes that if we are to be healthy contributors to the fellowship then we have to go through a kind of disillusionment. That is, we have to get realistic about ourselves and each other. He writes:

“By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world…Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial…He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly.”[1]

This fellowship will often be challenging given the fact that we are all still works in progress struggling against our own sin. We will disappoint one another. We will fail from time to time. Some of those failures will be significant. And yet this has always been the case with the church. Nevertheless, it has pleased God to make the fellowship of his people a means by which he draws unbelievers to himself and forms them according to the image of his Son.

Luke concludes his brief description of the church in Jerusalem by pointing to the fruit of their fellowship:

“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (2:46-47).

Even a fellowship as flawed as that very first church surely was, nevertheless was a means by which God daily drew sinners to himself. Let this be a comfort to us. The current crisis may well prove to be a gift from God to his church to learn better not only how to love one another but how to shine for his glory.

[1] D. Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 27