It’s easy to think of Acts 2:42-47 as a model church for us to follow. It is, but in significant ways the first Christians were different from us. They were Jewish believers who continued to see themselves as part of Judaism and therefore they continued in the Temple worship. Jesus had been very critical of the Judean leadership, but He had always been loyal to the Temple. For example, He called the Temple My Father’s house (Luke 2:49, John 2:16), He faithfully attended the festivals, and He said the Temple should be a house of prayer for all nations (Mark 11:17). The Temple was the God ordained centre of worship and the first disciples continued in this tradition while they could.
There were special sacrifices offered at the Temple during the year at various festivals. But there were also daily sacrifices, in the morning and afternoon. These sacrifices were accompanied by prayers, reciting the Shema and the Ten Commandments. The first believing community in Jerusalem continued in this daily worship, but now we can imagine with the added understanding and enthusiasm that Jesus was the fulfillment of these rituals! Acts 3:1 tells us Peter and John went up to the Temple at the time of prayer–at three in the afternoon. This was the time of the evening sacrifice. Acts 2:42 tells us the believers devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers. For some reason many translations including the NIV and KJV omit the definite article before prayers, though the ESV includes it: the prayers. This is surely a reference to the daily prayers at the Temple. Acts 2:46 tells us, every day they continued to meet together in the Temple Courts. Not only were the Temple Courts the place of prayer, but they also provided enough space for a large congregation to meet together. This was most likely an area of the Temple known as Solomon’s Colonnade (c.f. Acts 3:11, 5:12), which was also the area where Jesus had taught (John 10:23). Spiritual significance can be attached to the Temple in Jerusalem which doesn’t apply to our buildings. But the point is we can see from the earliest days the need for the bigger congregational meeting, for teaching, fellowship and prayer.
The first believers met in the Temple Courts, but tensions with the religious authorities were not far beneath the surface, and would soon erupt in opposition and persecution. The large congregational meetings at the Temple were good, but not enough to fulfill the mission Jesus had given. Where else could they meet? They used homes. Acts 2:26-27 tells us specifically they broke bread in their homes, ate together, praised God, and enjoyed the favour of all the people. But what exactly did breaking of bread mean? Did it mean to them the same as it means for us, i.e. the Lord’s Supper? I think this is unlikely because the believers also ate together, and in Acts breaking of bread does not always mean the Lord’s Supper (Acts 27:35). It was a proper meal, albeit in the context of reverence and remembrance of all Christ had done for them (c.f. Luke 22:19). It was probably more like the agape feasts (love feasts) of the early Christian communities (2Peter 2:13, Jude 1:12). These were intended to promote fellowship and brotherly love, and to meet the physical needs of poor believers. But they were more than just a good meal. They would begin and end with prayer and singing, and at some point we can imagine there was devotion to the apostolic teaching. The exact nature of these gatherings is not clear. But we can say with certainty they were gatherings of believers in homes for their spiritual and physical nourishment. This was church at home.
The congregational meeting is important, but we should also recognise that the use of homes in the early church enabled the mission of Jesus in a way that otherwise would not have been possible, and the same is true today:
And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:47).