This article is part of our weekly series, “The Book of Acts and the Church Today.” You can see all articles in the series here.
As we read the book of Acts, Luke occasionally summarizes the early church’s development (cf. Acts 2:47; 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30, 31). These progress reports “present an ideal for the Christian community which it must always strive for, return to, and discover anew, if it is to have the unity of the spirit and purpose essential for an effective witness.” Acts 2:42–47 summarizes vital characteristics of faithful Christianity and its consequences for the broader community.
Characteristics of Faithful Christianity
Faithful Christians Gather for Worship
The first church services had several components. First, the believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). They truly wanted to know and trust God. And they realized that faith and maturity come by hearing sermons (Rom. 10:17; cf. 2 Tim. 3:16–17). So, whenever possible, they gathered to hear God reveal himself and his holy will. Second, the believers “devoted themselves to … the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Together, they adored God, confessed their sins, and sought his help. Third, the believers celebrated the sacraments. Baptism (Acts 2:41) marked the start of their Christian life. The Lord’s Supper—“breaking bread” (Acts 2:42)—energized them to continue. Through the tangible means of water, bread, and wine God acts in gracious power. Sacraments are central—not supplemental—to discipleship. Finally, the believers praised God (Acts 2:47). God made us to be worshippers and, in regeneration, gives us new hearts to praise him for his grace. Loyal Christians never want to miss an opportunity to worship.
Faithful Christians Live as Family
The early believers “devoted themselves to … the fellowship” (Acts 2:42). Koinonia describes deep intimacy, the kind found in thriving marriages and in believers’ union with the triune God (1 John 1:3). True Christian fellowship is much more than sharing time. It’s sharing ourselves by being open and inviting others to truly know us (2 Cor. 6:13). We can risk vulnerability because our identity is in our koinonia with the God who loves us despite our failures. We’re secure in him. And we truly believe that God’s children are our closest, eternal companions.
The first Christians also “had all things in common.” They voluntarily “sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:44, 45; cf. Acts 5:4; 1 Cor. 16:1–2). Grace-energized living is characterized by sacrificial giving. Christians can actually enjoy giving because, through generosity, the giver and receiver are united in a bond of loving interdependency.
This glimpse into the practices of the early church is supplemented by a report on the results of faithful spirituality.
Consequences of Faithful Christianity
The church enjoyed “favor with all the people” (Acts 2:47). Outsiders saw that believers were happy because of the gospel. “They ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). Their lives weren’t always easy—they cried (Acts 20:31) and were afraid (Acts 9:26). But the gospel is truly good news! Jesus has satisfied the requirements of the law and welcomes new children into God’s family.
Outsiders also saw believers caring for their own. Despite widespread poverty, no church member “lacked a thing” (Acts 4:34). Followers of Jesus—drawn from a mismatch of people—form a loving family. They “were of one heart and one soul” (Acts 2:32). And the world noticed.
“Awe came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43). God’s powerful work in the church unsettled everyone who knew about it. And that’s good! “Fear is the appropriate response when God’s presence and power are revealed in the midst of frail human beings.” It’s when the church drifts from her mission that she no longer evokes godly fear. And churches don’t have to become liberal to drift. Congregations can feel very churchy but, due to lukewarmness, not inspire awe (Rev. 3:16). Churchiness cannot replicate the powerful evidence of God in those who genuinely fear him.
The Lord added to their number (Acts 2:47). Some people decry the importance of numerical church growth as if all that matters is ministry faithfulness. But the Spirit intentionally tracks numbers, obviously—numbers represent people. At first there were 120 disciples. Soon 3,000 were added. Later, “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). In time, “believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:14). Reformer John Calvin said, when “the Church is rather diminished than increased, that is to be imputed to our slothfulness.” We can’t grow the church, but with God’s help we can practice the spiritual disciplines that God can use to grow his family.
The only perfect church is in heaven. Don’t panic if your congregation doesn’t yet fully meet God’s standard. But don’t lose the desire for the fruit of faithfulness: a good reputation in your community, the fear of God, and church growth. Toward that end, follow the first Christians by “diligently attend[ing] the assembly of God’s people” and living out the implications of what they called “the communion of the saints.” The truly “influential Church is the company of loyal souls” who gather for worship and live as a community. They “manifest in their individual lives and corporate capacity” the strength, beauty, glory, and compassion of Christ.”
 Cited in Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007),155.
 Dennis Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption, 82.
 John Calvin, Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), 2.134.
 Heidelberg Catechism, Q/A 103.
 G. Campbell Morgan, The Acts of the Apostles, 95.