Rediscovering ‘Old Fashioned’ Church
By Fin Sheridan
‘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 favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.’
This description of life in the Early Church is regularly revisited by pastors, church leaders and Christians as they seek to be faithful to the biblical concept of church. Ask “what should a church be/do/function like?” and people will point to these verses. Perhaps, the key to a healthy church growth is not a new thing, but an old fashioned model.
As much as this passage is a list, a description, it can also be broken down into ‘cause’ and ‘effect’. As X happened, Y was produced. This isn’t a formula to be used or a recipe to be followed but there is a pattern to be noticed.
“Perhaps, the key to a healthy church growth is not a new thing, but an old fashioned model.”
Firstly, what did the church do? Well, they devoted themselves to teaching, to spending time together, to communion and to prayer. Those were their practices; the very basics. There’s an organic attraction there, isn’t there? Nothing too complex, fancy or dramatic: meet, teach, break bread and pray. We have some more details about what this looked like: ‘they were together and had all things in common’. They attended the temple together as well as breaking bread in their homes.
And what did this simple approach produce? Well, the effects were, and are, remarkable. The supernatural power of God was moving through them with ‘signs and wonders being done through the apostles’. They were marked by selfless generosity, ‘selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.’ Perhaps, most significantly, others were impacted. ‘Awe came upon every soul’, they enjoyed the ‘favour of all the people’ and ultimately ‘the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.’
Eugene Peterson calls the church “a colony of heaven in a country of death.” Kevin DeYoung calls it “an outpost of the Kingdom of God surrounded by the kingdom of darkness.” The countercultural way that the Early Church lived and operated had a noticeable and undeniable effect on the surrounding communities. All of us, from pastors to church members, have a chance to live like this and perhaps see again, what these ordinary unschooled men who had been with Jesus saw.