30 June 2020
A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 2:42-47. c). It was a worshipping church.
*They devoted themselves… to the breaking of bread and to prayer* (42). That is, their fellowship was expressed not only in caring for each other, but in corporate worship too. Moreover, the definite article in both expressions (literally, ‘the breaking of the bread and the prayers’) suggests a reference to the Lord’s Supper on the one hand (although almost certainly at that early stage as part of a larger meal) and prayer services or meetings (rather than private prayer) on the other. There are two aspects of the early church’s worship which exemplify its balance.
First, it was both formal and informal, for it took place both *in the temple courts and in their homes* (46), which is an interesting combination. It is perhaps surprising that they continued for a while in the temple, but they did. They did not immediately abandon what might be called the institutional church. I do not believe that they still participated in the sacrifices of the temple, for already they had begun to grasp that these had been fulfilled in the sacrifice of Christ, but they do seem to have attended the prayer services of the temple (cf. 3:1), unless as has been suggested, they went up to the temple to preach, rather than to pray. At the same time, they supplemented the temple services with more informal and spontaneous meetings (including the breaking of bread) in their homes. Perhaps we, who get understandably impatient with the inherited structures of the church, can learn a lesson from them. For myself, I believe that the Holy Spirit’s way with the institutional church, which we long to see reformed according to the gospel, is more the way of patient reform than impatient rejection. And certainly it is always healthy when the more formal and dignified services of the local church are complemented with the informality and exuberance of home meetings. There is no need to polarize between the structured and the unstructured, the traditional and the spontaneous. The church needs both.
The second example of the balance of the early church’s worship is that it was both joyful and reverent. There can be no doubt of their joy, for they are described as having *glad and sincere hearts* (46), which literally means ‘in exultation [agalliasis] and sincerity of heart’. The NEB unites the two words by translating ‘with unaffected joy’. Since God had sent his Son into the world, and had now sent them his Spirit, they had plenty of reason to be joyful. Besides, ‘the fruit of the Spirit is…joy’ (Gal.5:22), and sometimes a more uninhibited joy than is customary (or even acceptable) within the staid traditions of the historic churches. Yet every worship service should be a joyful celebration of the mighty acts of God through Jesus Christ. It is right in public worship to be dignified; it is unforgivable to be dull. At the same time, their joy was never irreverent. If joy in God is an authentic work of the Spirit, so is the fear of God. *Everyone was filled with awe* (43), which seems to include the Christians as well as the non-Christians. God had visited their city. He was in their midst and they knew it. They bowed down before him in humility and wonder. It is a mistake, therefore, to imagine that in public worship reverence and rejoicing are mutually exclusive. The combination of joy and awe, as of formality and informality, is a healthy balance in worship.
Tomorrow: Acts 2:42-47. d). It was an evangelistic church.
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|