The Lost Discipline of the Love Feast – Part 1
Scripture never leaves us guessing, it always provides an answer or points us in the right direction regarding our life with Christ. For example, if you want to know how to pray, Jesus lays it out for us in Matthew 6 in a passage affectionately known as the Lord’s prayer (Matt. 6:5-15). Or, if you want to know what life is like in the Kingdom of God, Jesus gives us example after example in His Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).
And if you want to know what It looks like when a group of ordinary believers, like you and me, are infused with the Holy Spirit and become the church (ekklēsía),¹ all you have to do is look at the book of Acts, especially Acts 2:42-47, to discover exactly what this group of Believers devoted themselves to that allowed them to have the results they did (Acts 2:47). Remember, the book of Acts is more than a history book, giving us a detailed account of how the Holy Spirit moved in their lives back then, but not today. Instead, the book of Acts is our template, our blueprint— it’s our instruction manual on how God designed His church and how He wants it to function.
So, let’s look at what the early church devoted itself to and see if we can glean some truth for us today.
“Who Are Those Guys?” – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
When the church was miraculously born (you can read about it in Acts 2:1-4), Peter stood and preached a 297-word sermon to many skeptical observers, and over 3,000 of them gave their lives to Christ and were baptized that very day (Acts 2:41). It was something only God could have done— signs and wonders, confrontational preaching, the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and true repentance and faith (Acts 2:36-40).
But now what? The 120 in the upper room had grown over 25-fold in the space of a few hours, and the disciples had a logistical problem on their hands. After all, the knowledge of the new converts about Christ and this new concept of church was limited to what Peter had just told them. So the Lord set up His discipleship program that is unsurpassed to this day and still serves as our model, if we would stop trying to reinvent the wheel and follow the Lord’s leading. Let me explain.
First, let’s look at the results. With no formal training, no paid staff, no buildings, programs, or worship bands, without any Christian books, movies, or music, and with no Christian sub-culture, traditions, or history, lost people were added to His church daily. That’s every day! And the public attitude and perception of these strange Christ-followers was far more positive than it is in our own communities today. Read it for yourself.
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people (both saved and lost, Jew and Gentile). And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved – Acts 2:46-47.
We haven’t seen God move like this in a long time, if ever. And for them, it was an everyday occurrence, something they grew to expect. Every day there were new believers. In every worship service, there were new stories to tell about God delivering someone from the bondage of sin and delivering them into the kingdom of light (Col. 1:13). Can you imagine what those times together as the infant church must have been like?
What Made Them Who They Were
Next, let’s look at who they were. No, we’re not talking about their race, heritage, education, financial status, or all the things that define us today. We want to look at what made them different, how they became a people “whom the world was not worthy” (Heb. 11). And the one word that comes to mind when you read the account of their lives is this: committed. Yes, they were committed to the core, single-focused on only one thing: Christ and His kingdom. Just like the church… er, today. Right?
Everything about their lives oozed a commitment to something greater than themselves, and their actions spoke decibels louder than their words. We see, almost immediately after their conversion, they “had all things in common, (to what degree) and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:44-45). How could they freely do this? “It’s easy,” they would reply, “when you have encountered the living Lord Jesus as we have.”
These men and women were driven by a love and commitment to a person, Jesus Christ, that overpowered their fear, even of death. When the government ordered them not to speak of Jesus under the threat of imprisonment and death, they simply prayed for God to give them more boldness to do just the opposite (Acts 4:29). And once again, God responded in a way that confirmed their faith (Acts 4:31), just like He does when we come together to pray the same things. Uh, well, hopefully.
The Focus of Their Devotion
Finally, let’s look at how these ordinary people from different backgrounds and dialects became the fearless, Spirit-filled church we see in the first few chapters of Acts. What made them into the people they became? And how did uneducated fishermen and farmers “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) in such a short amount of time when we seem to be on the losing side of the cancel culture wars and have churches on every other street corner across the land? What did they have that we don’t? Or what were they committed to that we don’t take seriously? Let’s look at the last question in closing.
In Acts 2:42, we see the God-designed plan He gave His church to mature believers from spiritual zygotes to men and women of God as quickly as possible. And His discipleship program comprises four simple things and a commitment to stay focused on them.
And they (what) continued steadfastly in (1) the apostles’ doctrine and (2) fellowship, in (3) the breaking of bread, and in (4) prayers – Acts 2:42.
Now, let’s define some of these words to make sure we understand the depth of what the church was doing back then that produced the results we envy today.
And they (what) continued steadfastly (proskarteréō – to endure, to remain, to persevere in some activity or cause to the point of devotion) in (1) the apostles’ doctrine and (2) fellowship (koinōnía – participation, communion, community, sharing in an intimate association or group), in (3) the breaking of bread, and in (4) prayers – Acts 2:42.
A few of these terms are simple to define. Others take a little digging. For example, we would interpret the apostles’ doctrine as teaching from the Bible or preaching a sermon from the word of God. And prayers, those may be public or private prayers, probably both.
Fellowship is a little more difficult. The word koinōnía means more than a pot-luck dinner on the ground after church, where we talk about NASCAR or the upcoming Super Bowl. The fellowship the early church experienced was a common commitment to a single goal: Christ and His Kingdom. They were in partnership with each other; they lived in a family, communal style, where everyone was more concerned about each other than themselves. They were united as one, which is exactly what Jesus prayed they would become (John 17:21), and they had a shared life with one another. There were no independent contractors or free agents in the crowd. They were, to quote the famed phrase, “All for one and one for all.” This is what fellowship meant to the early church.
And then we come to the phrase “the breaking of bread.” Often this is written off as simply meaning the church celebrated the Lord’s Supper as part of their worship service. But in this context, the meaning is a common, communal meal. We see Luke using the same phrase in Acts 2:46 to describe just that, a common meal taken together in the homes of other believers. There is no mention of the Lord’s Supper.
And remember, these early Christians were devoted to these four practices. Devoted. They “continued steadfastly” in them, without wavering. Don’t let the impact of that word pass you by. They were committed to these four activities and realized that in them, teaching, fellowship, communal meals, and prayer, God would meld them together as one and give them the strength to be His light in an ever-darkening world.
But we, for some reason (that I will share with you later), have decided that fellowship can be achieved without a common or communal meal. The early church simply got that one wrong. We agree with the importance of preaching, Bible study (apostles’ doctrine), and prayer. And we, to a lesser degree, agree that fellowship is good and profitable, but not as important as Bible study and prayer. But when it comes to sharing a meal as part of our time together as His church, well… that seems to have fallen out of vogue, and we would rather not, except on special occasions.
Think that one through. God gave His church four practices they were devoted to and would not deviate from. Four practices that became the pillars of their time together. It was the foundation upon which they built their church services. Preaching and prayer helped them grow as individual believers. And fellowship allowed them as individual believers to grow together as one into the body of Christ. But what about sharing a common meal? That was God’s way of fostering fellowship in the body of Christ so much that He included it in the four practices, even listing it before prayer.
And it seems foolish for us today to expect the same boldness, intimacy, and results they had in the book of Acts by not following the same game plan God gave us to ensure our success in building His Kingdom. Maybe we know better? Or maybe we are more sophisticated and have it all figured out, more than they did back then? I think not.
Next time we will look even deeper into the importance of the “love feast”² or common meal the church celebrated as part of their worship service and see if we can learn more about God’s plan to build His church from His Word, and not have to rely on what we think is right or feel comfortable with.
It should be a wild ride.
1. Zodhiates, S. (2000). In The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). AMG Publishers.
2. Jude 1:12