At the end of the second chapter of Acts we get a glimpse of what the very first church was like. This description comes just after the arrival of the Holy Spirit and Peter’s famous sermon at Pentecost:
And they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. – Acts 2:42 ESV
I used the word church above, but fellowship is more accurate. They were a group of people who were in communion; with God and each other. They were joint participants in a fellowship whose purpose was to worship God and enjoy Him and each other. This was done primarily through the preaching and active receiving of the Apostles’ teaching, which was the words of Jesus during his time with them before and after his death; the breaking of bread, both a formal Lord’s Supper and other informal meals; and prayer, which would have been woven into all the parts of the fellowship. This was the first church, and the essence of what makes a church a church has not changed. For the past few weeks our gathering of new believers has been looking at the three marks of a true church (pure Gospel teaching, sacraments, and church discipline). The foundation of these marks can be found at the very beginning of the church’s formation.
One of the most difficult problems of discipling the new believers here is making unfamiliar language, culture and customs understandable. But not so with the fellowship that is described in Acts 2. The Sakalava have a word, fikambanagna, which comes closer to describing this community than any English word can. To the Sakalava a fikambanagna is a close-knit community of people that are gathered around a particular purpose; it could be net-fishing, saving money, or preserving cultural customs. And the same is true for the fikambanagna of Acts 2; they were a close-knit community of people gathered around a particular purpose, which was the good news of Jesus Christ. He was the focal point and source of their unity, and everything else flowed from that. The teaching came from Him as the true and great Prophet; the sacraments came from Him and were effectual as means of grace because of Him as the true and great High Priest; and they were called to devotion to His word because of Him as the true and great King.
As we continue in the teaching of the Apostles here in Madagascar, please pray with us as we seek to move closer to becoming a church. There is still a long road ahead, and it comforts all of us here knowing that we have people all over the world praying for these new believers and the Sakalava church to go forth, not just in our village, but throughout Nosy Be and Madagascar.