What makes a church a "good" church? Acts 2 gives four clear guidelines.
The Church is not a gallery for the exhibition of eminent Christians, but a school for the education of imperfect ones.Henry Ward Beecher
It’s important to keep the words of Henry Ward Beecher in mind as you interact—in almost any way—with churches around the world. There is no perfect church because churches are made up of imperfect people—sinners.
However, the Bible describes an astonishing event and provides a glimpse into the lives of the consequent group of believers. Acts chapter 2 tells the story of Pentecost, the day when the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, and reveals the workings of an early church. After all, at its core, a church is simply a group of believers striving to follow and further the biblical message and teachings.
Therefore, if a picture of a church is provided in the Bible, it’s definitely worth investigating as a model for our modern churches. The Bible tells us these early believers devoted themselves to four things: the Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer.1
The Apostles’ Teaching
Within the Acts 2 story, the Apostle Peter was actually speaking to this group of believers right then. Certainly makes it easier to know what his teachings are, doesn’t it? Well, let’s take a look at what Peter had to say.
Peter’s message was the truth of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and the forgiveness of sins that comes through him: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah. . . . Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”2
Just as Peter established this doctrine early on, so must our churches. Our faith life now and our eternal life to come are based on what we believe about Jesus. Any group of believers with whom we partner must teach the truth about Jesus and our state as sinners in need of a savior.
Several times in the midst of this gathering, Peter reminded the group of what the prophets had said. He reminded them that Scripture had to be fulfilled regarding all the events of Jesus’ death. And because they were experiencing the Holy Spirit, Peter reminded them that the prophet Joel declared the coming of the Holy Spirit would bring the type of reaction they were witnessing—it wasn’t because they were drunk, as some of the Jews and those in Jerusalem thought.3 (There’s something you don’t expect to read in the Bible!)
As the Apostle Peter showed here, it is imperative that we know what Scripture says so we can know if something is from God or not. A church must make the Bible its authority.
But Acts tells us that this group of believers did not just sit and listen to the Apostles’ teaching and then go their separate ways. The believers were a community. They met together consistently—daily even. They had everything in common and even sold their stuff to give to the needy among them.4 Can you imagine being part of a group of people like that?
And even though they were giving things away, the believers in Acts are described as having “glad and sincere hearts.”5 They praised God and enjoyed the favor of all those around them. Their life of generosity and service to each other brought joy. The church today is a place to serve as well. It is important that our churches today be havens, filled with members who serve each other and others in the community.
The Breaking of Bread
The believers even had meals together in each other’s homes.6 The actual phrase the Bible uses is “the breaking of bread.”7 This does not only involve eating together; it is a term used for celebrating the Lord’s Supper—what some Christians refer to as Communion. The Lord’s Supper is performed in remembrance of the death of Jesus Christ, in celebration of the gift of his sacrifice, and in expectation of the joy of being with him in his kingdom.8
These believers kept the work of Jesus as their main focus and realized the importance of a daily reminder of it. Just as the early church devoted themselves to remembering and celebrating Jesus’ life and death, so also should the church today. Our churches should gently remind us of our need for a savior and what Jesus has done for us.
Prayer revealed the heart of this group of believers just as it reveals ours. Humble prayer in every situation displays a gratefulness to and dependence upon God. In prayer, we acknowledge that though nothing can be done on our own, God can work in and through us. The believers were devoted to prayer, devoted to communicating with God on a consistent basis.
In Acts, the church grew—but not because of amazing pastors or fun activities or the best worship music in town. The church grew because “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”9 The growth of the church depends on the Lord, so prayerful acknowledgment of our reliance upon him is essential.
Searching for a Church
If you are looking for a church to attend, consider whether or not they are devoted to these four things. While churches may look different at various times in history and in various parts of the world, it’s always useful to go back to the book of Acts to remember what’s most important.