I have started this article a few times and after two or three paragraphs, deleted the whole thing and started over. I want to share some thoughts without being critical of churches that think they have arrived at the ideal. Are there some local congregations of Christians who closely resemble those churches we read of in our Bibles. I believe so. I also believe they are few and far between. What are the characteristics of that church that is so intimately related to Jesus Christ that it is called in the Bible his bride? I’ll share some of my observations over the next few weeks. What has my attention will not be exhaustive, but will be at least a few of the most obvious ways to spot a local church that mirrors well the church of the first century. Maybe you see some others, I hope you will share them.
Emphasis on prayer, especially corporate prayer.
The very first thing that I notice is how much they valued prayer. Immediately after they had witnessed Jesus’ ascension the Bible tells us what they did.
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. (Acts 1:12-14)
They had heard the words of Jesus. They had his marching orders. But the first order of business was to pray together! Jesus had told them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the power of the Spirit and they knew instinctively what “wait” meant. And so they prayed together. There is something very special, and I’ll say very powerful, about Christian believers praying “together”.
We don’t have to go very far to find them praying again. It was time to replace Judas, to select a new apostle. Did they poll the congregation? Did they appoint a committee? No, they simply prayed.
23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias.24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” (Acts 1:23-25)
Again and again we read about those earliest believers emulating their Lord of whom it is written again and again in the gospels “and he prayed”. Anyone who has read about the life of Jesus knows that he prayed early, all night, intensely, and often. Just prior to the great historic events of Pentecost we read about in Acts 2 the Bible says of the apostles and the others,
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. (Acts 2:1)
I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume what they were doing while they “were all together in one place”. Of course they were praying together! Later, in chapter four of Acts a crisis had arisen and their response was to pray. Both the church and the state were in opposition to what they were doing. They were preaching Jesus, folks were being healed, and by now their number had grown to about 5,000. This fist mega church caused the religious people and the politicians lots of grief. So, after the authorities had threatened them not to speak in the name of Jesus any more, this was their response and the results.
23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—
27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.(Acts 4:23-31)
I love this story! Rather than cower to the wishes of the ministerial alliance or the local ordinances they simply prayed together and the result was that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the Word of God with great boldness. Do we want our churches to grow, do we want our message to be powerful for God and for the people? Then we, like our ancient family of the faithful, must pray together.
It is a wonderful exercise to pray alone, in your private place. Every believer ought to be praying about everything. But there is something special about Christians praying together. Couples, families, small groups, and even large church gatherings are the right places to pray together.
The New Testament church was a praying church. How about yours? How about mine? How much do we emphasize prayer and specifically praying together? In my view, a local church will not be what God wants it to be unless prayer is a priority.
Will we pray together? I hope so.