The Barnabas Ministry

Church Assembly in the New Testament
The church assembly is the most prominent church practice, so it is the logical place to begin a discussion of early Christian practices.  We will examine the New Testament for examples of church meetings, then we will consider the evidence of how and why church meetings changed in the post-apostolic period.

There seem to have been three unique types of meetings in the early church.  They are:

These will be discussed in this order, from the most specialized to the least specialized.  This is because the New Testament tends to discuss things that are unique or out of the ordinary with more detail than those things that were not unique or ordinary.  As a result, there is more information comparatively about the more specialized meetings compared to regular meetings.  After examining special meetings, then the knowledge of how special meetings were different from regular meetings will help explain regular meetings.

Leaders’ Meetings
The most specialized type of meetings of Christians seen in the New Testament center around the activities of the leadership of the church.

The Leaders’ Court
It seems that the leadership of each local church had some form of a “leaders forum” or “court.” This was an avenue for the leaders to be contacted by the members of the church, and a way for them to conduct the leadership of the church.  This is distinct from “closed” leaders meetings, and different from the general church assembly as well.

The primary evidence for the leaders court comes from the early Jerusalem church.  Those in Jerusalem who brought money to the feet of the apostles seem to have brought it to them in some leaders forum.  When Ananias and Sapphira brought their money to the apostles, they also laid it at the feet of the apostles.

There were no needy persons among them.  For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.  Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.  With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet.
Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
Peter said to her, "How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also." At that moment she fell down at his feet and died.  Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband (Acts 4:34-5:2, 5:6-7, 9-10).

Those who buried Ananias and Sapphira were probably attendants or visitors to the leaders forum.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard about news from various churches, it seems that such news was communicated to them in the leaders forum.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them (Acts 8:14).

News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:22).

After the conversion of Cornelius and his household, the leaders’ court heard about the conversions.  In this forum Peter was questioned about what had happened and provided answers as well.
The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.  So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him … Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened:  (Acts 11:1-2, 4).
When Peter is freed from prison miraculously, he instructs those who were meeting to pray to let “James and the brothers” know about it.  This suggests that those he spoke to knew how and where to access “James and the brothers.” For them to be referred to collectively strongly suggests the existence of the leaders’ court.
Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison.  "Tell James and the brothers about this," he said, and then he left for another place” (Acts 12:17).
When Paul and Barnabas were to go from Antioch to Jerusalem to consider a question, they first met with the apostles and elders in the leaders’ court.
This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them.  So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.  … When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses” (Acts 15:2,4-5).

Subsequently, it appears that a separate, private meeting with the apostles, elders and Paul and Barnabas took place, where this question was resolved.
The apostles and elders met to consider this question.

The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them (Acts 15:6,12).

Now up to this point, these leaders’ courts were in Jerusalem.  But in Antioch, Paul and Luke, among others, were apparently in the leaders’ court (possibly a part of a larger fellowship gathering) when the prophet Agabus visited.
After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, "The Holy Spirit says, `In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.' "

When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem.  Then Paul answered, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, "The Lord's will be done” (Acts 21:10-14).

Again, Paul and his companions went to see James and the elders in the leaders’ court in Jerusalem upon their return from the mission fields.
The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present.  Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry (Acts 21:18-19).
When Paul planned to visit Corinth, it seems that he planned to have some sort of a leaders’ forum to take care of certain situations in the church there.  These things could have been handled privately, but the thought of establishing matters by the testimony of witnesses suggests a leaders’ court.
I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world (2 Corinthians 10:2).

And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete (2 Corinthians 10:6).

For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be.  I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.  I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.

This will be my third visit to you.  "Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time.  I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me.  He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you (2 Corinthians 12:20-13:3).

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul referenced a visit to Jerusalem where he addressed the leaders of the church.  This probably would have taken place in the leaders’ court.
I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles.  But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain (Galatians 2:2).
This leaders’ court seems to have a basis in the life and leadership of the leaders of the Jews.  Consider the court of Moses:
The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening.  When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, "What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?" Moses answered him, "Because the people come to me to seek God's will.  Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God's decrees and laws" (Exodus 18:13-16).
The advice of his father-in-law was not to do away with the court, but to expand the court system with more courts at different levels.  These would be led by responsible men at those levels, all with the final result of lightening the load on Moses and providing satisfaction for the people.
Moses' father-in-law replied, "What you are doing is not good.  You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out.  The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.  Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you.  You must be the people's representative before God and bring their disputes to him.  Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform.  But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.  Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves.  That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.  If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied” (Exodus 18:20-23).
In the same manner, the judges of Israel also held court.  This is seen in the life of Deborah:
Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time.  She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided (Judges 4:4-5).
In a similar manner, the leaders of the Jews in the days of Jesus had some sort of a public forum.  On numerous occasions, people went to see the priests and leaders of the Jews, who were accessible for the general public.
Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues (Matthew 10:17).

Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests (Matthew 26:14).

While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened (Matthew 28:11).

The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well (John 5:15).

Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why didn't you bring him in?" (John 7:46).

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind.  … To this they replied, "You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!" And they threw him out (John 9:13, 34).

But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.  Then the chief priests and the  Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.  "What are we accomplishing?" they asked.  "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs.  If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:46-48).

In short, holding court was an effective way for the members of the church to have direct and personal access to the leadership of the church collectively on a regular and “as needed” basis.  From the open courts, the leaders also took the opportunity to investigate matters privately as needed.

Leaders’ Prayer Meetings
There is strong evidence that the leaders of the early church consistently devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to prayer.  The first evidence of this is seen in the response of the apostles to the expanding needs of a growing church and how they viewed their priorities in regard to all other needs in the church at the time.

…and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4).
This seems to date back to the pre-Pentecost time, when the apostles gathered in the upper room and prayed constantly.
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city.  When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying.  Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.  They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers (Acts 1:12-14).
Since the apostles were in the habit of praying together for significant periods of time, it follows that they chose to delegate other responsibilities that certainly would have interfered.

In the Antioch, the leaders of the church were apparently in the habit of fasting and praying together.

While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:2-3).
Paul and Barnabas engaged in prayer and fasting for a period of time when appointing elders in the mission churches:
Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust (Acts 14:23).
Paul and his companions (Silas and/or Timothy) could say they were constantly in prayer for their hearers.  This suggests leaders gathering and praying on a consistent basis.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you (Colossians 1:3).

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings.  He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.  I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:12-13).

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.  We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3).

Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith (1 Thessalonians 3:10).

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith (2 Thessalonians 1:11).

The prayer of leaders for the sick was regarded as a great ministry.
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.  If he has sinned, he will be forgiven (James 5:14-15).
Based upon the preceding passages, the conclusion is that the leaders of the early church met together consistently and together spent an enormous amount of time and energy in prayer.

Leaders’ Training Meetings
In addition to the leaders court and leaders prayer meetings, there were private meetings of the leaders of the church.  Paul had a special meeting with the elders in the Ephesian church in Miletus.

From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church (Acts 20:17).
When Paul charged Timothy to train leaders, he tells Timothy to continue the pattern and practice Paul used in training Timothy and others:
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others (2 Timothy 2:2).
Paul had an entourage of followers which included Timothy and his apparent peers.  These would have received great training as they traveled with him, much as the apostles were trained by Jesus in his travels.
He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia (Acts 20:4).
While there is not a large volume of passages on this topic, it is evident that there were training meetings for leaders in the early church.  As a necessity, these meetings would probably occur on a regular basis, though there were also irregular or special training meetings as well.

The concept of leader’s training meetings has its roots in the ministry of Jesus with the apostles, which was discussed at length in chapter one.

In conclusion on the topic of leaders’ meetings, leaders regularly met in the early church to receive members of the church (and
handle special issues as needed), to pray for the church, and to receive training.

Special Meetings
After leaders’ meetings, the next most specialized group of church meetings that appear in the New Testament church is those which seem to be special in the sense that they were neither regular meetings (to be discussed later) nor a part of the set of leaders meetings (discussed previously), but rather were taking place because of a special occasion.  Also in this category are some seemingly unique or irregular actions that took place in what would have otherwise been regular meetings.
After the first persecution in the early church, Peter and John gathered the church together to report on what had happened, and to pray.

On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.  When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.  "Sovereign Lord," they said, "you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them” (Acts 4:23-24).
The controversy over the feeding of the Grecian widows led to a special meeting of the church to solve the problem and appoint leaders to a position of authority to take care of the need at hand.  Both the apostles and the church had a role in making this decision.
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.  So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.  Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.  We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."

This proposal pleased the whole group.  They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.  They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them (Acts 6:1-6).

When Peter was arrested by Herod, a number of disciples apparently had spontaneously gathered at a house to pray for his release.
So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying.  Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door.  When she recognized Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, "Peter is at the door!"

"You're out of your mind," they told her.  When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel."
But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.  Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison.  "Tell James and the brothers about this," he said, and then he left for another place (Acts 12:5, 12-17).

At the conclusion of the “Jerusalem Conference,” it is interesting to see that both the leaders and the church in Jerusalem made the decision to choose some of their own men to send to Antioch with the letter from the apostles and elders.
Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.  They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers (Acts 15:22).
In Philippi, the release of Paul and Silas from prison merited a special farewell gathering of the brothers.
After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia's house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them.  Then they left (Acts 16:40).
When Paul left Ephesus after the riot, he met with the disciples for a farewell meetings in much the same manner:
When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by and set out for Macedonia (Acts 20:1).
Often, visiting preachers would address the church.  There would be good news from mission areas, messages of encouragement to the church, and possibly some other actions as well (These could have taken place either in regular meetings of the church or in specially called meetings of the church, but these did not occur on a regular basis):
When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.  Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:15-17).

When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts (Acts 11:23).

They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples.  Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.  "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," they said (Acts 14:21-22).

From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed.  On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 14:26-27).

The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted.  This news made all the brothers very glad.  When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them (Acts 15:3-4).

The men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter.  Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers (Acts 15:30, 32).

When he landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch (Acts 18:22).

After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples (Acts 18:23).

He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece (Acts 20:2).

But we sailed from Philippi after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days.  On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.  Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.  Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate.  After talking until daylight, he left (Acts 20:6-7, 11).

After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria.  We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo.  Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days.  Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.  But when our time was up, we left and continued on our way.  All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray.  After saying good-by to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home (Acts 21:3-6).

Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing.  I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you (Ephesians 6:21-22).

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me.  He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.  I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts.  He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you.  They will tell you everything that is happening here (Colossians 4:7-9).

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God's fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith (1 Thessalonians 3:2).

Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring (2 Thessalonians 1:4).

They have told the church about your love.  You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God (3 John 1:6).

On occasion, unique actions occurred in the regular assembly of the churches.  For instance, Paul instructed the Corinthians to hand over an immoral brother to Satan  during an assembly.
When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:4-5).
At one time, the churches of Galatia and Greece were involved in a special collection for the Judean churches.  Paul instructed the Corinthian church to set money aside for this contribution, so it would be ready when Paul came through town.  This “setting aside” seems to have been done as a part of their regular assembly.
Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.  On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
We may observe that Paul planted both the Galatian churches and the church in Corinth, yet at a later date he instructed them to have these special collections.  This shows that these collections were not an intrinsic part of the assembly, but that these were special collections for a special need.

There are other references to these special contributions in the New Testament.

For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26)

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.  Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else (2 Corinthians 9:12-13).

As a part of this contribution, the churches that were involved in this contribution  had chosen a particular brother to accompany Paul to Judea with this contribution.  And Paul bragged that the Macedonians urgently pleaded with him to have a part in this special collection.
What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help (2 Corinthians 8:19).

… they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints (2 Corinthians 8:4).

Though the special offerings were probably not a regular feature of all regular meetings of the church, the giving of money to those in need in other places shows a conscious recognition of a world-wide fellowship and the willingness to meet material needs as they arose.

On occasion, contributions were also taken to support missionary activity.

Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only (Philippians 4:15).
Thus, the missionary activity of the early church was a major reason for special meetings and activities of the church.  In these settings, good news from other places would be passed on, and a message of encouragement would be given.  The emissary would in turn bring back news to the place from which he was sent.

In other situations, special needs were met with special prayer meetings or farewell gatherings, and special contributions were taken to help with needs as they arose.  When decisions needed to be made, they were often made together by the whole church.

Regular Meetings
The apostolic church seems to have met on a regular basis, typically on the first day of the week.  This is evident from the following passages.

On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.  Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight (Acts 20:7).

When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present (1 Corinthians 5:4).

In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.  In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it (1 Corinthians 11:17-18).

On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made (1 Corinthians 16:2).

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:25).

Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in (James 2:2).

Though the statement “all Christians met every Sunday” will not be found in the New Testament, we see that the Corinthians, Galatians and the church in Troas seem to have met regularly on the first day of the week.  Other references indicate regular meetings of the church.

What took place during these regular meetings of the church?  There are four things that seem to have taken place regularly and consistently during meetings of the church:

Preaching, Teaching and Reading
It is very interesting that these closely resemble the short description of the early Jerusalem church:
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).
There is strong evidence for each of these elements from the New Testament.

Preaching, Teaching and Reading
Of all the activities that took place during the meetings of the church, those revolving around preaching and teaching are the most prolific. Preaching also included encouraging, strengthening, admonishing, rebuking and prophesying, with the goal of training the hearts of believers. Teaching was a means of imparting information in various formats, including lectures and discussions, designed to train the minds of believers. The reading of Scripture provided the basis of both preaching and teaching.

Though closely related, preaching and teaching were generally regarded as two distinct actions and ministries:

In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul (Acts 13:1).

But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord (Acts 15:35).

You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house (Acts 20:20).

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13).

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching (1 Timothy 5:17).

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4:2).

It appears that in the apostolic age, more than one speaker would commonly address the church.  This particularly applied to the prophets, as a prophet would receive a revelation, stand up and announce it to the church.
During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.  One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) (Acts 11:27-28).

So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare.  So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!"

What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.  All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.  If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three— should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.  If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.  Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.  And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop.  For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.  (1 Corinthians 14:23-31).

This practice of individuals talking to the church was not for the prophets alone, but also to those with evident gifts of teaching and members of the church in general.  The objectives were to instruct, encourage and strengthen the church, and to use the gifts God had given the local congregation.
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.  If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully (Romans 12:6-8).

What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.  All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church (1 Corinthians 14:26).

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16)

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:25).

Teaching was a distinct aspect of the meetings of the early church.  This could have included some sort of organized curriculum or pattern of study, as well as general instruction about the faith.  In contrast to preaching, teaching also allowed for situations where questions and even discussions aided in the process of education.
…that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (Luke 1:4).

and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch.  So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people.  The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch (Acts 11:26).

So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God (Acts 18:11).

Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.  But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way.  So Paul left them.  He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.  This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord (Acts 19:8-10).

Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor (Galatians 6:6).

Closely related to preaching and teaching was the reading of Scripture:
When you see `the abomination that causes desolation' standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  (Mark 13:14).

After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea (Colossians 4:16).

I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers (1 Thessalonians 5:27).

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13).

In the general meetings of the body, women were not allowed to speak or ask questions.  However, older women were charged with teaching women, necessarily apart from the assembly of the whole church.
For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.  As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches.  They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.  If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church (1 Corinthians 14:33-35).

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent (1 Timothy 2:11-12).

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.  Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God (Titus 2:3-5).

Breaking of Bread
“Breaking of bread” is a technical term for communion, and it was a prominent feature in the meetings of the early church.  However, since this topic is so large and significant, it will be discussed on its own in a later chapter.

Fellowship was also an important aspect of the meetings of the church.  Clearly, the church did not need to meet together for fellowship to take place; however, it is inconceivable that fellowship and other aspects of personal relationships did not take place when the church met together.

I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.  Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints (Philemon 1:6-7).
Greet one another with a holy kiss.  All the churches of Christ send greetings (Romans 16:16).

All the brothers here send you greetings.  Greet one another with a holy kiss (1 Corinthians 16:20).

Greet one another with a holy kiss (2 Corinthians 13:12).

Greet one another with a kiss of love.  Peace to all of you who are in Christ (1 Peter 5:14).

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

In this context, we should consider that the meeting of the church was an event where numerous Christian relationship activities occurred.  The “one another” passages of the New Testament certainly apply in this context; a discussion of these is found in Appendix A.

Another aspect of this fellowship and encouragement was that of singing, though singing could also be regarded as praise to God:

For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God's truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name." Again, it says, "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people."  And again, "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples" (Romans 15:8-11).

So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind (1 Corinthians 14:15).

What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.  All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church (1 Corinthians 14:26).

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit.  Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, (Ephesians 5:18-19).

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16).

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray.  Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise (James 5:13).

Several of these references to singing here seem to suggest solo singing, though congregational singing is probably also in view here since singing to one another is a general command to the church.  Private devotional singing is probably in view in James 5:13.

The objective of all these actions is the strengthening of the church.

What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.  All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church (1 Corinthians 14:26).
Prayer also seems to have been a regular part of the regular meetings of the early church.
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing (1 Timothy 2:8).

From this sampling of Scripture, we can see that preaching, teaching, reading of Scripture, fellowship, singing, prayer and breaking of bread were regular features of the regular meetings of the early church.

Meeting Places
Churches in the first century met regularly in the houses of certain members and other private individuals.

They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts … (Acts 2:46).

When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying (Acts 12:12).

Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshipper of God (Acts 18:7).

You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house (Acts 20:20).

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus.  They risked their lives for me.  Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.  Greet also the church that meets at their house.  Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia (Romans 16:3-5).

Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings.  Erastus, who is the city's director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings (Romans 16:23).

The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings.  Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house (1 Corinthians 16:19).

Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house (Colossians 4:15).

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home: (Philemon 1:1-2).

The early church also met in other places, such as public gathering areas, schools and other unnamed places:
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts (Acts 2:46).

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31).

The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people.  And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade (Acts 5:12).

But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way.  So Paul left them.  He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9).

There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting (Acts 20:8).

The early church met in all sorts of places.  The primary criteria for meeting places seems to have been availability and suitability for the purposes at hand.

Excerpted from Chapter 7, "Keeping the Faith" (Great Commission Illustrated, 1997). Copyright © 1997 John Engler

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