Teaching and fellowship are the two “wings” that give lift to a church’s vitality. In a “teaching” church with a weak sense of fellowship, an unspiritual intellect can abound. In a church strong in fellowship but lacking in teaching, there is little fuel for the drive toward maturity and spiritual depth. Both “wings” are needed for forward progress.
This is where the church finds herself in Acts 2:42. “They were devoting themselves to the apostles‘ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (New English Translation). I argued in the last post that the devotion of the church is in the sphere of teaching and fellowship, with “breaking of bread” and “prayer” examples of fellowship.
My personal translation of the verse reads: “And they were persisting in the teaching of the apostles and in the fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers.”
What is the essence of the fellowship to which the author refers?
- This “fellowship” was probably well-known to the early church. It wasn’t just any fellowship; it was “the” fellowship (not “a” fellowship, or a generic fellowship that would be suggested by the lack of the definite article). It was a known commodity. Thus, the breaking of bread and prayer were the most distinctive examples of fellowship; they epitomize fellowship for the Jerusalem church. This distinctiveness is also supported by this verse being the only occurrence of “fellowship” (Greek koinonia) in the Acts.
- “Fellowship” is something active. It is not a feeling or a sense, i.e. the mere ambiance of a community. It’s what the church does. The author (probably Luke) emphasizes its practical nature by declaring that the church “persists” in this activity.
- “Fellowship” emphasizes sharing or participation. The Greek lexicon Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich puts forward four definitions of “fellowship” (koinonia): (1) close association involving mutual interests and sharing; (2) attitude of good will that manifests an interest in a close relationship; (3) abstract term for concrete idea (“sign of fellowship”, “proof of brotherly unity,” even “gift,” “contribution”; (4) participation, sharing. I take definition 4 to be the most applicable here. It is the definition that comes closest to the active sense of the verb (“persists” or “devotes”). So, whatever “the breaking of the bread” and “the prayers” refer to, there should be understood that sense of sharing or participating in something in common.
Does the figure of “teaching” and “fellowship” as two wings needed for flight resonate with you? Is your church more of a “teaching” church, or a “fellowship” church?
We’ll next take a look at figuring out what Luke means by “the breaking of the bread”.