Assembling Day by Day
Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46 NRSV).
This article continues a series of articles on the early Christian church as depicted in Acts 2:41-47. Previous articles in the series are available in the author’s archives.
As discussed in the previous article in this series, the early Christian church was marked by a spirit of unity that produced radical generosity amongst the first believers. Those with abundance shared with those who lacked. Special concern was shown for widows and orphans. Believers voluntarily sold property and laid the proceeds at the apostles’ feet. Paul gathered collections for the poor and instructed congregations to provide for the needs of elders. In this context of unity, generosity, and community, the first Christians assembled “day by day” (Acts 2:46) both publically in the temple and privately in homes.
The expression “day by day” in the NRSV translation is an ambiguous expression that can be taken to mean that the believers assembled every day of the week, or that they assembled with great regularity throughout the week. Other translations offer a more interpretive rendering. The NET, CEB, and NIV translate the expression as “every day,” and the NKJV says that the believers were “continuing daily” to gather in a spirit of unity. These translations suggest that the first Christians gathered seven days a week, a practice that would almost certainly be considered excessive in a modern American church context.
While a daily practice of worship and fellowship is common to a monastic community, this practice certainly is not normative in churches today. In most contexts, a highly committed member is one who attends two times a week–Sunday morning worship and a mid-week Bible study or small group. Only staff and clergy participate in church activities on a daily basis and even many of those duties are business-oriented rather than worship-oriented. For this reason, pastors encourage and exhort members to have personal or family devotion times at home during the week. Even if the church does not assemble together on a daily basis, the hope is that believers are praying, worshipping, learning, reading, and studying at home each day.
Assembling Together in Acts
The end of Acts 5 documents one of the first experiences of persecution in the early church. Large crowds flock to the apostles because of their ability to heal diseases and free people from evil spirits. The Jewish temple officials, threatened by this new messianic movement, order the apostles to be arrested. After a miraculous prison break, the apostles are brought back to the temple officials who order them to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. The apostles cannot obey this command, citing their obedience to God. As a deterrent, the council has the apostles flogged and releases them. At the end of the story, Luke reports that “every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 5:42).” This, then, is the second reference in Acts to daily gatherings at the temple and in homes, corroborating what is said in Acts 2.
Peter’s troubles with the authorities continue in Acts 12. King Herod has James killed by the sword and Peter imprisoned (Acts 12:1-3). Peter’s time in prison is short lived, though, as he is miraculously released that evening. Immediately after being released from his jail cell, Peter goes to the house of Mary “where many had gathered and were praying (Acts 12:12).” While not stating the point explicitly, this reference suggests an idea relevant to the discussion at hand. Peter’s actions prove that he expects to find believers gathered at Mary’s house. This could be because his release from prison coincided with the weekly gathering. Or, more likely given the context of Acts, believers assemble at Mary’s house with great regularity, possibly even every day. Therefore, Peter knows he will find believers in prayer at her house.
Later in Acts, Paul stirs up trouble in the cities he visits because of his gospel message. When he creates a stir in Thessalonica, a mob forms in the marketplace, and the unruly crowd seeks out the believers. Luke reports that “while they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house (Acts 17:5).” When this mob sets out to persecute Christians they ultimately find themselves at Jason’s house. Why? Clearly, even the crowds know that Christians assemble in homes with great regularity. If you want to find the believers, you stop by one of their houses, and they will be there. Peter knows this in Acts 12 and the mob knows this in Acts 17.
The book of Acts ends with one other story of regular home gatherings. Paul is placed under house arrest in Rome. The missionary who once traveled to preach the gospel in new places is no longer able to leave his home. Instead, the tables turn and people come to Paul. Some local leaders of the Jews “set a day” to meet with Paul and discuss his message about Jesus (Acts 28:23) Luke describes this regular meeting as lasting “from morning until evening (Acts 28:23).” As in Jerusalem and Thessalonica, if you stop by the home of a believer, there is a good chance that people will be gathered in worship, prayer, fellowship, or study during all hours of the day.
Not Forsaking Our Assembling Together
Even though the book of Acts portrays the first Christians assembling on a day by day basis, the temptation to withdraw from community is not a modern struggle. The book of Hebrews suggests that some believers, even in the early history of the faith, neglect meeting together (Heb 10:24-25). The passage does not elaborate on why believers are neglecting this cornerstone of the spiritual life. However, Hebrews 11:35-38 lists the various forms of persecution facing the early Christians. The natural desire for self-preservation may have been lurking in the background when believers decided not to gather together.
While exhorting believers not to forsake assembling together with regularity, Hebrews elaborates on why community is so essential to the Christian life. The regular assembly is a place to “provoke one another to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24).” Community facilitates accountability and mutual encouragement. Going it alone in the way of Jesus is hard. Given the difficulty of the times, Christians should consider how to gather together more, not less. Believers should be “encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Heb 10:25).”
The book of Acts portrays the first Christian community in semi-monastic ways. They shared all things in common, experienced a strong sense of unity, and assembled together day by day for worship and fellowship. Clues throughout the book of Acts indicate that the first believers met every day and at all hours of the day. This pattern of gathering may not be realistic in modern American culture, but churches would do well to think about how often they can assemble together rather than how little. The community of the church is a place where Christians encourage one another in the journey of faith, hope, love, and good deeds. Believers should avail themselves of this resource on a day by day basis.
Image from Sydney Missionary Bible College. Used under Flickr Creative Commons license.