Tag Archives: teaching

Teaching and Fellowship: “Wings” That Give “Lift” to a Church’s Vitality

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?

  1. 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.
  2. “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.
  3. “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”.

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A Lifestyle More Than a Liturgy

Is it proper to speak of a corporate group having a “lifestyle”?  I suppose it is only odd if there is not a common “life” that members of the group possess.  But the church does share a common life given by God through Christ and the Spirit.  So let me propose “lifestyle” as an appropriate term for the church’s life together.

Following on the heels of Pentecost, in Acts 2:42, we see the church in action: “They were devoting themselves to the apostles‘ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (New English Translation).

I grew up in a tradition that labeled this verse a “charter of the church”, the fundamental components of the congregational gathering.  Yet, it is more a lifestyle than a liturgy that we see illustrated.  (It is what John Mark Hicks has called “practicing the kingdom of God”.)  In the time frame of this verse, the church is not yet a distinct social institution.  She is self-consciously a group of followers of Jesus still operative within first-century Jewish religious life.  They meet in homes for fellowship, but they also meet for worship in the temple in Jerusalem.  A definitive format for a worship service is not the immediate point of the passage.

So what are the essential attributes of this way of life for the church?  A closer look at the verse can help us:

And they were persisting in the teaching of the apostles and in the fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers [personal translation].

This verse contains two sets of two prepositional phrases with noun clauses, each set joined by “and”.  I don’t think it’s a list of four activities that can be independently isolated.  What is more likely is that the last two items (“the breaking of the bread” and “the prayers”) are the most prominent examples of “the fellowship”.  Thus, at the most general level, the believers were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship.

Let’s examine the first activity: the apostles’ teaching. Continue reading A Lifestyle More Than a Liturgy