COVID-19, and the various actions taken in response to it, have resulted in exiles the world over. As Christians, we have been exiled from the joyous devotions of Church life. I do not wish here to address the question of whether or not these measures have been proper, either from a perspective of justice or of degree. Plenty have already done so. I simply wish to express these longings and perhaps give hope to those fellow souls in exile. This too shall pass, saints of God.
What is it that we have been exiled from? What are these longings that have arisen in our hearts? It is none other than the heart of Church life as expressed in the book of Acts.
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.Acts 2:42
What does it mean to devote yourself to something? The word devote (Gr. proskarteréō) means, according to The New Analytical Greek Lexicon [p. 353], “to persist in adherence to a thing; to be intently engaged in; attend constantly to.” To be devoted to a thing is to be engaged in it regularly. It is this regular engagement to Church life that has greatly been disrupted. Our routine, if I may use that word without downplaying its subject, has been rerouted by a lengthy detour. But therein is hope, for it is but a detour, not a dead end.
The Apostles’ Teaching
The historical significance of the apostles’ teaching is of great importance. The text does not merely say they devoted themselves to the teaching, but to the apostles’ teaching, noting the authority of the teaching. After all, it was the apostles who were taught by Christ, witnessed His resurrection, and were commissioned as authoritative witnesses (Acts 1; Jn. 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:13-14). The apostles’ teaching centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the Scriptures (as the book of Acts testifies). In short, the Church devoted themselves to the word of God.
Undoubtedly, the Church continues to devote herself to the Scriptures while in exile, albeit individually; but the beauty of Acts 2:42 is that these devotions are communal. They are engaged in as a body, not as a limb. While this has slightly been mitigated through virtual portals, it’s just not the same, is it? This brings us to the next part.
It is interesting that Luke says they devoted themselves to “the fellowship” (definite article is in the Greek). Now, many translations don’t translate the definite article, which is certainly fine, as Greek often uses the definite article when the English does not require it (ex. the use of
personal pronouns). However, I believe the definite article points to the fact that the term “fellowship” has particular reference to the formal gathering of Christ’s Church as a local body of believers. That is, it is in-house fellowship – believers gathering together to worship God and serve one another. This, of course, is understood by the context, even without the definite article.
The fellowship that we experience on a regular, devoted basis is rooted in the objective fellowship that we have in the Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14), oriented around our “common faith” (Tit. 1:4; Jude 3). While social media has allowed us to maintain some semblance of fellowship, nothing beats in-person, face-to-face fellowship.
The Breaking of Bread
To my knowledge, what seems to be the only place that the breaking of bread cannot refer to the Lord’s Supper is Acts 27:35, where Paul takes bread, blesses it, and breaks it, not among believers, but among unbelievers. While the language is certainly the same, the context is different. Further, the fact that the definite article precedes “breaking of bread” in our text seems to suggest something more formal and sacramental. For these reasons I take “the breaking of bread” to refer to the Lord’s Supper, and not a common meal (which would easily fall within the preceding element, fellowship).
As we participate together in the Lord’s Supper we participate in the grace of Christ and proclaim the blessed gospel of which it is a symbol. It is at this point that we especially feel the effects of our exile, for the ordinances of the Church are not a private, but a communal, activity.
We come now to the final element of Church life in our text – prayer. As is the case with the previous elements we have observed, the definite article is here present (some translations don’t incorporate the definite article, but it is present in the Greek). Many commentators believe the definite article makes reference to a set of particular or established prayers. There were, after all, set prayers used by the Jews, especially in the Temple (Bock 2007). Further, the Church may have used what we commonly refer to as “the Lord’s Prayer” (Lk. 11:1-‐4) as a set prayer (which the Church continues to do today).
Devotion to prayer has always been a central characteristic of God’s people. In prayer we demonstrate our reliance upon God for all things, we give thanks to God for all things, and we bring our requests before Him, trusting Him to answer according to His good and sovereign will. Prayer is especially something that should be on our hearts and minds and lips these days — prayer that our leaders will have wisdom, prayer for those who are sick, prayer for repentance as people are confronted with judgment after death, prayer that this will all be over soon.
In conclusion, this text reminds us of the heart of Church life. It informs us of the early Church’s central commitments — their devotions — in their lives together, and in so doing, instructs us to do likewise. Let us gaze — fix our eyes — together with hopeful hearts and look forward to the days when we will again partake in these joyous devotions.