Thus we have the description of the early church in Jerusalem, a truly dynamic group that saw its numbers nearly double over a period of a few weeks, and eventually reach into the tens of thousands (cf. Acts 21:20). But how? Why do we not see the Gospel having the same attraction today as it did then?
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, according as any man had need. And day by day, continuing stedfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved (Acts 2:42-47).
Perhaps a good part of the difference may be found within the group in Jerusalem itself. Notice verse 42: they devoted themselves to the doctrines of the Apostles, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. We see here four avenues of the Christian path that are quite essential for growth: studying God's Word, associating with the saints, the Lord's Supper and/or hospitality with other saints, and communication with God.
Verse 46 provides more insight: they continued daily in the Temple, together and with one accord, and they also "broke bread" from house to house. They are also known for "praising God". But look here in verse 47: they had favor with all the people. Why was that?
Because the teachings of the Gospel were socially acceptable? Hardly; such teachings led to Jesus' recent crucifixion, and their promotion led the Apostles to be thrown before the Sanhedrin, and many other Christians into trouble with the authorities later (Acts 7-8:2). We have no reason to believe that the order from the life of Jesus in John 9:22: any who professes Jesus to be the Christ would be put out of the synagogue and essentially ostracized from the Jewish nation. It wasn't because of social acceptability.
Because the teachings of the Gospel were easy for Jews? Again, hardly; Jesus demanded much more of them than did the Law (Matthew 5:20-48). Jesus demanded true adherence to the principles that God set down, not mere lip observance as so many Jews were wont to give. Commandments demanding such persons to "take up their cross and follow Him" and to "lose their lives for Him" (cf. Matthew 16:24-25) would be as challenging for them as anyone else. It was not because the teachings were easy.
The Gospel was not socially acceptable, nor was it any easier for Jews of the first century than anyone else. Why, then, did the church grow? How did it have favor with all the people? The answer, in reality, is reflected within the passage itself: the community which they developed. They were always together. They were sharing meals with simplicity and gladness of heart. They were in the Temple, learning of God and proclaiming what He had done. They were selling what they had so that all would have their needs met. And everyone around them saw such things and saw that it was something special, something worth one's participation.
As can be understood from 1 John 4:7-11, Christians, above all things, must be a peculiar people on account of their love for each other and for all men.
And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2).We often talk about the "distinctives" of the faith, and when such a conversation takes place, various doctrinal matters get brought up. While we should certainly teach the truth, note how Paul says that without love, it simply doesn't matter. We can teach "the truth" day and night, but if we don't manifest love to each other and to those without, we won't get anywhere.
Love is to be the distinctive mark of the Christian and also the church, as seen in Acts 2. They loved each other in the faith, and they manifested that love by studying the truth of God together, associating with each other, breaking bread together, and praying together. And when other Jews saw this in the Temple, they were at least somewhat interested in the concept.
In a world where there are many who are interested in Jesus but not in "church", the best form of evangelism is a community of Christians truly serving God-- not just according to the external observances that are quantifiable, but also in heart and soul, and most especially in love. When a group of Christians have the love for the Lord, each other, and those without that they ought to have, there you will find a dynamic and growing church!
The fate of Jerusalem and Ephesus are before us: what shall we choose?
Ethan R. Longhenry