An Apostolic Fellowship

With zeal 3,000 new believers turned towards their new opportunity to live out their faith. The first Christians hungered for the apostles’ teaching, prayed with tenacity, and worshipped wholeheartedly. They were not passive or neutral about it. They “continued steadfastly” in their commitment to God and to the apostolic fellowship. They had a passionate commitment.

Luke describes the believers’ zeal with a Greek word that is fairly rare in the New Testament. The word communicates an intense, consistent dedication. It means to persist in adhering to something, to be intently engaged, or to attend constantly. A verb in the imperfect tense, it signifies continuous action: ‘They kept on continuing steadfastly” in day-to-day commitment. These believers possessed wholehearted devotion.

Luke used this powerful word several other times. The 120 disciples who gathered in the upper room “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication” (Acts 1:14). The first church members were “continuing daily with one accord in the temple” (Acts 2:46). After the congregation grew into a so-called ‘megachurch,’ the apostles declared their intention to “give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4)

As a result of Peter’s preaching, many present on the Day of Pentecost declared themselves to a whole new way of life. The Amplified Bible translates verse 42 as: “And they steadfastly persevered, devotion themselves constantly to the instruction and fellowship of the apostles.”

Believers’ lives were marked by:

      • The apostles’ doctrine
      • Fellowship
      • The breaking of bread
      • Prayers

There was a priority of doctrine …

First, the new congregation dedicated itself to the apostles’ doctrine. Daily reading and teaching built strong foundations in believers’ lives. The sought the Word of God for guidance and did not think it was optional as many do today. They found answers to their questions in the Scriptures. They did not rely only on their experiences as many do today. All 3,120 members studied the ways of God. No wonder they preached the Gospel of the Kingdom with clarity in the whole world, beginning in Jerusalem, and gave reasons for the hope that was within them. 

One commentary states: “This work went on continuously, and all these people not only attended the meetings faithfully but also earnestly adhered to what was taught.” In other words, they applied what they were taught to their daily lives and lived it out in practical and realistic ways.

To enjoy the same experience today, Christians must believe that the Bible is God’s inspired Word. It not only contains God’s Word; it is God’s Word. The very words and phrases of the Bible are inspired by God.

2 Timothy 3:14-17 “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

The word “inspired” means God-breathed. The Lord breathed out by His Spirit and gave specific, written revelation of Himself. This sacred writing is the only objective, authoritative revelation God has given and is the absolute truth of God.

John 17:17 “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your Word is truth.”

Man’s search for truth starts at the Word of God. Objective, absolute truth is found only in God’s written Word. Man cannot begin with his own experience, interpret it to make sense to him, then search the Scripture for support of his interpretation – finding a “proof text” to back up his subjective experience. Instead he must interpret his experience in light of the Word. This pattern works for studies in philosophy, psychology, and theology.

More and more people in western culture do not believe absolute truth exists. They think every individual has the luxury of defining truth for themselves. That would be true if God had not revealed truth in the Bible.

Principles found in the Bible build maturity and stability into Christi’s disciples. They stand on the unchangeable Word of God and do not live by impulse and feelings. They have the only authoritative source of truth and principles for faith and morals.

Any church that accomplishes great things in the Kingdom of God must have a firm foundation in the Scriptures. Member must know the ways of God, the mind of God, and the eternal purpose of God. They must center ministries around biblical priorities — like the first church — and not around man’s charisma. 

Acts 8:35 “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.”

Acts 17:2 “And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures…”

Acts 18:24, 28 “Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures … for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.”

Paul gave the Bereans a very high complement.

Acts 17:11 “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

We have begun looking at Acts 2:42 and the practice of the early church where apostolic fellowship was of prime importance.

Acts 2:42 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (doctrine, and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

The word doctrine in Greek is didache. It refers to teaching, instruction, or the subjects taught. In the Great Commission, the Lord gave the Church a mandate to teach. He instructed the apostles to make disciples, “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Luke refers to doctrine three other times. The Jewish Sanhedrin condemned the apostles, telling them,. “Look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine” (Acts 5:28). On the island of Cyprus, Paul preached the Gospel to the Roman proconsul who was “astonished at the teaching (doctrine) of the Lord” (Acts 13:12). The Greek philosophers in Athens requested of Paul, “May we know what this new doctrine is of which your speak” (Acts 17:19).

The ministry of the apostles and the lives of the disciples revolved around the preaching and teaching of the Word. Note the following: 

Acts 4:4 “But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.”

Acts 4:31 “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”

Acts 6:4 “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

Acts 6:7 “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”

Acts 8:4 “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.”

Acts 12:24 “But the word of God increased and multiplied.”

Acts 13:44 “The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.”

Acts 13:49 “And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.”

Acts 15:35 “But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.”

Acts 18:11 “And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.”

Acts 19:10 “This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”

Acts 19:20 “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.”

Acts 20:32 “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

One requirement of every elder (leader) is that he be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). Paul exhorted Timothy:

2 Timothy 2:2 “… and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.”

Handing down good doctrine from generation to generation keeps the Church strong. Psalm, chapter 119, stresses over and over how vital good teaching is to believers’ lives

Verse 1 “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!”

Verse 9 “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.”

Verse 11 “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

Verse 105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Verse 130 “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.”

Verse 165 “Great peace have those who love your law (doctrine; Word); nothing can make them stumble.”

Christians who enjoy the moving of the Spirit must also develop a love for teaching from the Word of God. The Word makes believers grow. I have been in gatherings considered outstanding because :the Spirit moved and we didn’t have time for the preaching.” The Church needs to return to the New Testament pattern of gatherings centered on the Word. 

A New Testament Church, an apostolic fellowship, is well-taught. It offers ongoing, systematic teaching of the Bible. Everyone who comes into the house of the Lord, the Church, should learn basic doctrine. In other words, know what they believe and why they believe it. Members as well as new believers need to know what the Church believes and why it does what it does. They must understand the household of faith. Hearing the Scriptures taught, believers grow strong in faith (Romans 10:17).

Many people today read the Bible only to meet emotional needs in a personal crisis. They do not read it to discover truth and understand its doctrine. They read it superficially when they could gain strength from its depth of wisdom. They need to do more than just read, they must study to show themselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15).

Winds of false doctrine will blow Christians off course if they do not have a good background and solid foundation in the Word of God. Their faith and commitment to the Word of God sustain them in their day of battling with personal issues and doubts. People who stand for nothing will fall for anything. They are susceptible to being deceive by this evil generation.

Leaders must renew their emphasis on the Word of God. Do not just read it devotionally but study it to learn the ways of God. His plan for your life and His plan for the Lord’s people. A church that is not well taught and giving itself to the apostles’ doctrine will not endure the test of time. 

The Doctrine of Christ

The apostles’ doctrine emphasized the centrality of Jesus Christ. The doctrine of Christ is the first, last, and central of all truths. He is the Truth. Leaders today must continually point to Jesus and lift Him up. Lost souls must be directed to come to Him, and believers must be admonished to abide in Him. Jesus is not a hope. He is the only hope for this world, so he must remain the central  point of all teaching.

Acts 5:28 “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

Acts 5:42 “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.”

Acts 9:20 “For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’”

Acts 15:35 “But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.”

The Bible gives the pattern for balanced Christian living. Local churches fed a diet of basic truths and foundational doctrines and so the people were settled and grounded in God’s Word. When this is true, they are less susceptible to being controlled by feelings or led astray by curiosities. To make it faithfully to the end, they need balance.

Colossians 1:22-23 “He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”

The Bible says doctrine is like the dew of heaven (Deuteronomy 32:2), yet so often church leaders and church members get carried away with so many other things some of which are not biblical in the least. It seems that Jesus is no longer enough but we need Jesus + angels, or Jesus + the third heaven teaching, Jesus + talking to dead saints, and on the list could go. I have simply found that I can (and do) fill my life with Jesus and little else. He is enough to occupy both my personal time in the Word and prayer as well as in my teaching ministry. He was THE central doctrine and focus of the early church and should still be today.

Critics object to an emphasis on doctrine claiming:

1> It is divisive. Critics say doctrine divides the church into denominations/ Really doctrine existed before the Church began. God originated it. The Church did not. Doctrine is not divisive; people are. The way people use doctrine causes conflict in the Body of Christ. 

2> It is irrelevant. Some say, “What you believe does not matter; what matters is who you believe in.” Jesus said, “False Christs … will arise” so when people say they believe in God or in Jesus, which Jesus do they believe in? Where do they get their information about God? Knowing God personally requires knowing truth — doctrine — about God and thus accepting the beliefs of the early Church as written in the Bible.

3> Being right in doctrine is not acceptable to God is you are wrong in spirit, yet being right in spirit while wrong in doctrine is acceptable. The world is filled with people who are sincere — sincerely wrong! Why not determine to be right in spirit and doctrine?

4> Doctrine is dry, dull, dead, useless. Doctrine is not as exciting as dancing and shouting. It does not draw big crowds like miracles and loud music. But only doctrine builds genuine strength and sustains growth.

Here is a true saying: If you have the Word with the Spirit, you will dry up. If you have the Spirit without the Word, you will blow up. If you have the Spirit and the Word you will grow up.

Healthy churches with life and power always have a combination and balance of the Spirit and the Word, true to the New Testament pattern. 

The Bible identifies four sources of doctrine:

1> The doctrine of God. This doctrine is refreshing and the foundation for growth. “May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass,

and like showers upon the herb” (Deuteronomy 32;2)

2> The doctrine of Christ. Jesus was accepted as a Rabbi in His day. He was a Master Teacher. He spoke with authority and clarity. “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribe” (Matthew 7:28-29).

3> The doctrine of the apostles. The apostles’ doctrine guided the New Testament church. They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42).

4> the doctrine of devils (demons). Doctrine can be empowered by evil spirits speaking through evil men. Not all teaching comes from the mind of God. “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons …” (1 Timothy 4:1) Believers know the doctrine of demons by discernment and by examining it in the light of Scripture. 

The apostles’ doctrine included six foundational elementary principles of Christ, according to the book of Hebrews:

“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:1-2)

These six doctrines actually involve the following there pairs of truths:

      • Repentance and faith
      • Baptisms and the laying on of hands
      • Resurrection and eternal judgment

The Jerusalem church experiences all six foundations truths in a measure:

1> Salvation by repentance and faith – Acts 2:38; 16:30-31

2> Water baptism by immersion – Acts 2:38-39; 10:44-46; 10:2-6

3> Laying on of hands and prophecy – Acts 13:3

5> Resurrection of the dead (Acts 9:36-40)

6> The judgement of God – Acts 5:3-6; 13:10-11

Initially, the laying on of hands related primarily to receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit; however, later, the laying on of hands was used in a variety of contexts. The doctrine of resurrection and eternal judgement have a future fulfillment, but they also cover the new convert’s present experience of turning from death to life.

To see the dynamics of the first New Testament church restored, Christians today need to understand and experience the foundational doctrines of Christ. Bible doctrine should be studied because:

      • It gives substance to believer’s faith confession
      • It stabilizes Christians in times of testing
      • It enables the saints to handle the Bible correctly
      • It equips the believers to detect and confront error
      • It makes Christians confident in their walk
      • It calms their fears and cancels their superstitions
      • It gives saints objective beliefs that form the foundation of their every day Christian lives

With elementary doctrines understood and experienced, Christians can “go on to perfection” or maturity. 

As soon as the saints in Jerusalem entered covenant relationship with Jesus, they began associating with each other often and regularly. Believers need fellowship with their brothers and sisters. They are not like marbles in a bag — gathered in one place but not bonded together. Rather, they are like pieces of a beautiful puzzle that fit together just right.

Acts 2:42 links fellowship with the apostles’ doctrine. The verse could be translated as: “The apostles’ fellowship that is a result of the apostles’ doctrine.” The Beck New Testament translates the first part of the verse as: “They were loyal to what the apostles taught in their fellowship.” The Living Bible renders it: “They joined with the other believers in regular attendance at the apostles’ teaching.”

Christians enjoyed two dimensions of fellowship:

1> Fellowship with God

2> Fellowship with each other

The basis of Christians’ fellowship with each other is their fellowship wth the Lord. Believers are to have ongoing communion with Him. Being saved cannot be reduced to mental assent to a doctrinal creed; it involves personal relationship and fellowship with Jesus Christ Himself.

1 Corinthians 1:9 “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

2 Corinthians 13:14 “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

1 John 1:3 “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

The Greek word for fellowship is koinonia. It means association, community, joint participation, intimacy, joint contribution, or a collection. It refers to using something in common.

True koinonia involves:

      • All believers
      • Dynamics that bind the church together
      • Unconditional love and acceptance
      • True honesty with humility
      • Restoring fallen and stumbling believers
      • Wise confession and cleansing
      • Heartfelt encouragement and availability
      • Open houses and a spirit of hospitality

On the other hand, the Bible forbids Christians to fellowship with:

      • The world – Ephesians 5:11
      • Satanic spirits and cults – 1 Corinthians 10:20
      • Unrighteousness – 2 Corinthians 10:20
      • False religion – 2 Peter 2; Jude 4
      • False doctrine – Galatians 1:7-10; 2 John 9-11)

We are talking about apostolic fellowship. And a simple phrase in the New Testament leads to an understanding of how Christians are to relate together in true fellowship. That phrase is one another, the Greek word alleles. Verses that contain this phrase speak of believers lives together and how they are to treat one another.

The basis of their relating to one another is the relationship they have with God. As a result of being born agin they have received the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23b). This gift of ‘eternal life’ is defined in John 17:3 which states: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” As a result of this intimacy with the Lord and our heavenly Father we can then have fellowship with one another. We can then share the most precious things together.

1 John 1:7 “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

Christians are to fellowship with one another in the following ways:

    • “Have peace with one another” (Mark 9:50) In this way we will be the salt of the earth.
    • “Be kindly affectionate to one another” (Romans 12:10) We are to love one another as members of one family.
    • “Giving preference to one another” (Romans 12:10). We are to prefer others in specific acts of service.
    • “Be of the same mind towards one another” (Romans 12:16). We are to be unified in values and goals. (See: Romans 15:5)
    • “Receive one another” (Romans 15:7). Fully accept one another.

 

    • “Admonish one another” (Romans 15:14). Caution one another, reminding each other of the dangers that might lie ahead.
    • “Greet one another” (Romans 16:16). Embrace one another in a full-hearted welcome. (See: 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Peter 5:14).
    • “Wait for one another” (1 Corinthians 11:33). We aren’t to selfishly move ahead of one another.

 

    • “Have the same care for one another” (1 Corinthians 12:25) Treat every member with the same concern and affection.

 

    • “Serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). We are now free to dedicate ourselves to one another, being a blessing, serving in practical ways. (See: 1 Peter 4:10).

Koinonia may also have reference to the collection and distribution of gifts (Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 9:13; Hebrews 13:16). 

 

    • “Bearing with one another” (Ephesians 4:2). We are to bear with one another’s weaknesses,. Standing strong in our devotion to one another no matter how offended we might get. (See: Colossians 3:13)
    • “Be kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32). Be gracious and easy going with one another.
    • “Tenderhearted, forgiving one another” (Ephesians 4:32). We Must be filled with compassion for one another, graciously forgiving one another from our hearts. (See: Colossians 3:13).
    • “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19). Bring the presence of the Lord into the center of our fellowship.
    • “Submitting to one another” (Ephesians 5:21). Respect one another and respond to one another with a word of encouragement in times of crisis and discouragement. (See: 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13; 10:25).
    • “Edify one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Always build each other up and not tear down; be a blessing and not a curse.
    • “Consider one another in order to stir up love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). Positively provoke one another to press forward in the will of God.
    • “Confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16). Be open and honest with one another.
    • “Pray for one another” (James 5:16). Stand in the gap for one another in the presence of the Lord.
    • “Having compassion for one another” (1 Peter 3:8). Be sympathetic for one another, identifying with each other at the point of need.
    • “Be hospitable to one another” (1 Peter 4:9). Have a sincere desire to host one another in our homes. 

These are summed up in 1 Peter 3:8 “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”