They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship,
to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42, NASV)
Borrowing from Brother Lawrence, I have been using the language of “practicing the kingdom of God” in recent years. I don’t mean that as an alternative to or a substitute for Brother Lawrence’s “practicing the presence of God,” but as a specific way of talking about a communal discipleship which is a mode of living in the world for the sake of the world. I might even think of it as a subcategory of practicing the presence of God or as an expansion of the idea itself. I am open to thinking about it either way or both, or perhaps another relation. Whatever….
Acts 2:42, I believe, is one way of describing what it means to practice the kingdom of God as a community. Indeed, the story of the church in Acts describes how the disciples, at least in part, practiced the kingdom of God. Acts 2:42 is a summary which contains elements which are a consistent part of the story throughout Luke’s narrative. The disciples were constantly devoted to their practice–communal habits which embodied the kingdom of God in the world.
Kingdom language is present throughout Acts–from beginning (Acts 1:3) to end (Acts 28:31). Philip preached the good news of the kingdom (Acts 8:12) and Paul continually proclaimed the kingdom of God (Acts 20:25) in his ministry. Just as Jesus in Luke (4:41-43), so the church in Acts, they proclaimed the good news of the kingdom in word (teaching, prayer, praise, etc.) and deed(table, ministry, miracle, etc.).
Actually, each element in Acts 2:42 reaches back into the Gospel of Luke and projects foward into the rest of Acts. Acts 2:42 becomes a practical “hinge” between Luke’s two narratives. Just as the church continued to teach and do what Jesus did concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:1), each of the particulars in Acts 2:42 were part of his ministry–teaching, community (fellowship), breaking bread and prayer. The church continues what Jesus began.
Luke’s summary assumes that readers have a way of identifying the meaning of the particulars–they are known not only by the rest of Acts, but also through the previous narrative in Luke as well as the present experience of the community to which he is writing. What the apostles taught is found both in the teaching of Jesus himself and in the preaching of the apostles in Acts. The nature of the “fellowship” in this context is shared resources (property, money and food), and this continues throughout the rest of the narrative as well as in the minstry of Jesus. “Breaking bread” occurs three other times in Acts (2:46; 20:7,11; and 27:35) and always involves a meal (“food”)–indeed, every occurence of “breaking bread” in Luke also involved a meal (9:13; 22:19; 24:30). Breaking bread is a meal (perhaps more on that in another post or two). The prayers were a common feature of Jesus’ ministry as well as the Lukan church in Acts.
Theologically, James A. Harding called these practices “means of grace.” I think there is merit in that description which reminds us that to practice the kingdom of God is to open our lives to the inbreaking of God’s kingdom as he acts through appointed means. God comes through the teaching of his church; he comes through the fellowship of his people; he comes through the breaking of bread; and he comes through the prayers. Consequently, these are not merely obedient acts on the part of God’s people as it they are simple prescriptions (laws) in the kingdom of God, but they are modes of divine action. They are the means through which God comes to his people in order to transform and by which his kingdom breaks into the world.
Exegetically, I would suggest that (1) teaching and (2) fellowship are broad categories. Fellowship, then, is illustrated or partly itemized by (a) breaking bread and (b) prayer. Technically, note that there is no “and” (kai) between “fellowship” and “breaking bread” in the text. The absence of the conjunction probably indicates that breaking bread and prayer are subcategories of “fellowship.” Otherwise we would have a successive “(1) and (2) and (3) and (4)” rather than the “(1) and (2), (a) and (b).”
If this is the case, then fellowship–as a broad idea–includes not only eating together at meals and prayers, but also sharing material resources with each other. Fellowship broadly conceived–meals, prayers, sharing resources–is teased out in 2:43-47. There are both lexical and thematic connections between Acts 2:42 and Acts 2:43-47. Their koinonia (fellowship) is experienced through having everything in koina (common), by breaking bread in their homes, and by praising God at both temple and home.
Luke’s description in Acts 2:42 is not primarily about assembly (though it applies to it), but about a discipled lifestyle. It is a communal way of living in the world by which God himself is present and dynamically transforming his people into the fullness of his kingdom. The people of God learn of him and live in community with each other which includes sharing their resources with the poor, sharing their food together and praying together.
Understood in this way, Acts 2:42 is a summary of communal spiritual formation, a mode of communal sanctification. These are the communal habits by which the people of God are formed and shaped into the image of Jesus–to be like the Jesus who ministered in the Gospel of Luke, that is, to be the body of Christ in the world. Through these communal habits they embody the life, ministry and mission of Jesus as Luke pictured him in his Gospel.