There are a few things that are directive that we know are about about the Kingdom of God. The Lord has been really speaking to me about one of them recently: community. The smaller the church, the more serious it seems they are about having fellowship at the center of what they do and who they are.
To be clear, as Pentecostals, we believe that the ministry of Jesus Christ exist for:
I will confess that I am much stronger on the evangelism and worship than I am on community and compassion. I am more wired for revival and evangelism than I am to discuss fellowship and dialog. It is not I am against those even if they do make me uncomfortable.
The fact remains that God has called believers to community. It is not something that many people want or even like but there is many things in life that God calls us to that are not comfortable. The life in the Kingdom is not a life of comfort. Being in relationship with broken people is one of the last things I like about being part of “the way.”
The question is will we follow the move of Holy Spirit no matter what?
Community is needed!
The word that we use for it today was for the first century Christians the word Koinonia. This means things like fellowship, association, community, and participation. It is used at least 17 times in the New Testament and it almost always makes a reference to either community or fellowship.
We see it as early as the second capter of Acts, the very opening of the age of the Church:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)
In this verse, the commitment to fellowship was just as important to the early believer as was doctrine and prayer. I find it interesting that community (breaking of bread) and fellowship was as critical as doctrine and intercession in the opening generation of Apostolic Christianity.
because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now… (Phil. 1:5)
Paul considered having community as a partnership in the gospel. What is a partnership? It is “an arrangement where parties, known as partners, agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests.” Therefore, having community in a local assembly is a cooperation to advance the Kingdom of God in and through the that Assembly.
I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. (Philemon 1:6)
In a letter to a friend telling him to forgive a servant, Paul spoke about a partnership in the faith that was effective in deepening understanding. There is a depth of revelation you can only get in the place of prayer but there is also some understand you can only get in community. Some of the good things we share in the Kingdom come out of fellowship, not intercession.
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:16)
The writer of Hebrews (believed to be Paul) encouraged the Jews to not forget to do good and to be people who share with other believers. This was a common practice in the first century. The breaking of bread of more than communion. It was the sharing of common materials. Community meant whatever one had was free to be anyone in fellowship with them.
We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)
John wrote to the believers that if they had community with each other, they were having fellowship with the Lord. This is in line with the teachings of Jesus and Paul. Fellowship with the brethren was fellowship with the Lord.
Apostolic Model of Community
What did Community look like in the Book of Acts? After all, if we want to have a model, Acts is the place we need to look. If it is biblical, there is a strong chance it will be found there.
As mentioned, it seems that community and the breaking of bread was important to the early believers as doctrine and prayer. In fact, something could be said for the people staying as one accord in the upper room for days at a time waiting for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Book of Acts started with a people with a common vision: Holy Ghost revival.
Ananias and Sapphira is an interesting story but something that we miss is that they had to be part of a deeply close community for them to be willing to even consider making any level of commitment. We tend to forget, in those days, the church was not the size of your local megachurch!
Another thing that really should jump out at us is Acts 5:42,
Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
This is not the Jehovah Witness of the first century here. They were not knocking, proselytizing and running. They were actually breaking bread with neighbors, getting to know them, sharing life with them, praying for them and experiencing the journey together. The Church was exploding by personal evangelism.
Then, you have the letters to the Churches. They were never meant to be books of the Bible. There were just letters to groups of believers that Paul was in in relationship with. They were him trying to tell the saints some guidance and tell them how he was so they could share in his sufferings.
One thing is clear: the early church did not have the luxury of modern American megachurches. We can hide behind personality and marketing to not develop authentic relationships with believers. Peter, John, and Paul did not have that same ability due to the hand dealt to them in the generation they lived.