When the risen Jesus commanded His disciples to “‘Go and make disciples of all nations’” (Matthew 28:19, NIV),1 He was issuing a global commission for a worldwide mission. Since then, evangelism, reaching the unreached, church planting, and church growth have become not just an option to the community of faith, but a fundamental, faith-building, kingdom-hastening directive.
The first fulfillment of this gospel commission occurred on the Day of Pentecost, some 40 days after the Resurrection, and 10 days after the ascension of Jesus, when the mighty force of the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples, leading Peter to proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah promised and foretold in the Old Testament (Acts 2:14‒40). That one sermon propelled the Jesus community of about 120 believers (Acts 1:15) to a massive ecclesia that included about 3,000 new believers (Acts 2:41).
Numerical growth in church membership is important. That is why we have evangelism, baptismal goals, organized preaching, scattering of gospel literature like the leaves of autumn, personal witness, total member involvement, etc. While growth in numbers is worthy of pursuing and thanksgiving, more important is advancement in discipleship. Hence the Holy Spirit who testifies of the miracle in Jerusalem, of the emerging company of believers who stepped out from darkness into the marvelous light of the gospel, said of them: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Ponder this verse a little, and discover the secret and the strength of growing into discipleship. The first thing the new disciples did was to devote themselves to several crucial ingredients that make up discipleship. The English word devoted is a good translation. It means the same thing to us today as it meant in Greek to Luke and his generation. The word emphasizes attaching one’s self, being whole-heartedly engaged and single-minded. Devoted is really the perfect word to describe the attachment and the commitment of the new disciples to a new and transformed way of life. These disciples devoted themselves to four primary aspects of discipleship: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer. Their interest was not casual or half-hearted, nor was it an add-on to the rest of their lives. Their interest and involvement were devoted, total, unhesitant, and immovable.
Acts 2:42 tells us that discipleship, from day one, means that our devotional life changes from what it was before we were disciples. We are not talking about the kind of devotional life that does not extend beyond a brief time we set aside to spend alone with God each day. We’re talking about what we devote our lives to in general. We are talking about the transformational focus of our life’s journey.
Much of the world gives its highest devotion to money or power, sex or politics, activism or patriotism, or any number of other items. When one becomes a disciple of Jesus Christ, however, one’s priorities must change drastically from what they were before. That’s what happened to the 3,000 new disciples in Acts 2. They prioritized devotion to Jesus Christ above all other attractions or distractions. Acting on that priority, the faith community in Jerusalem devoted themselves to four essential features of Christian life: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer. This does not mean they were no longer devoted to family, community, jobs, and other important aspects of life, but it does mean that they recognized that to become fully devoted disciples of Jesus Christ, they must transcend the pull of the world below in order to grasp and walk in the higher calling of the new life in Christ.
DEVOTED TO THE APOSTLES’ TEACHING
The first index of this higher calling among the new believers was their devotion to the apostles’ teaching. What did the apostles teach? We need not look any farther than Peter’s bold and fearless proclamation (Acts 2:14–40) that Jesus—the Teacher, the Crucified, the Risen, and the Ascended One—was the fulfillment of the prophetic prediction and the anticipated hope of the Old Testament, that Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior of the world. “With a faith and assurance that they [the apostles] had never before known, they accepted the teachings of the Sacred Word. No longer was it a matter of faith with them that Christ was the Son of God. They knew that, although clothed with humanity, He was indeed the Messiah, and they told their experience to the world with a confidence which carried with it the conviction that God was with them.”2
Thus the early believers devoted themselves to the study of who Jesus was and what He meant to the community of faith. They recognized that they were not called to blind faith but to a realistic faith. They recognized that they needed to grow in the knowledge of Jesus and His way. They felt their need for education in discipleship. Therefore, they humbly apprenticed themselves to those with spiritual authority. Learning from the Twelve, they, too, sought to become faithful disciples of Jesus, and asked themselves the basic questions of discipleship: “Who has the heart? With whom are our thoughts? Of whom do we love to converse? Who has our warmest affections and our best energies? If we are Christ’s, our thoughts are with Him, and our sweetest thoughts are of Him. All we have and are is consecrated to Him. We long to bear His image, breathe His spirit, do His will, and please Him in all things.”3
Disciples are people who continuously learn from others, even after they become teachers themselves. The moment we stop learning from others we cease to be fully devoted disciples of Christ. Disciples are devoted learners. Constant learners. Lifelong learners. And disciples seek out those who can be brought into the fellowship of disciples. Did not the Master command, “‘Go and make disciples of all nations’” (Matthew 28:19)?
DEVOTED TO FELLOWSHIP
Second, those early believers devoted themselves to a fellowship that developed as a result of coming together in confessing that Jesus was their Lord and Savior. The Pentecostal converts recognized that being a disciple of Christ was not an individual activity. They accepted that to be a disciple was to be one small part of a larger body that functions in unity and oneness with Christ. Discipleship requires that as Christians, we develop relationships with other people, that we establish trust with other believers, that we sort out conflicts, and that we learn to live together in harmony.
The entire idea of discipleship collapses when we try to go it alone. There is no such thing as “virtual fellowship.” Facebook can fill a niche in fellowship, but not a very big one. Disciples are not loners. Disciples learn to live together. When there are struggles within the body, true disciples do not look for the exit or stage a coup, they work to resolve the situation. Disciples are teammates, team players. Neither loneliness nor loner-ness is to exist among Christ’s disciples.
DEVOTED TO BREAKING BREAD
Third, the new believers devoted themselves to “the breaking of bread.” This may well refer to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 10:16), which the early church undoubtedly did observe. But the reference can also mean the act of eating together, as described in Acts 2:46. However, it wouldn’t follow that they devoted themselves simply to eating. A comparison of Acts 2:42 with verse 46 seems to indicate that “breaking of bread” carried a new significance, emphasizing a spiritual togetherness and intimacy without walls of separation, characteristic of the early fellowship among the saints (see Ephesians 2:14 and 15).
Disciples are devoted not merely to association but also to closeness. They are members of a family, called to be one in the saving fellowship of Jesus Christ. Eating together symbolizes a deeper relationship, and disciples are devoted to maturing such a relationship. Among true disciples, hunger—either for food or relationship—must not exist.
DEVOTED TO PRAYER
Finally, the disciples of Acts 2:42 were devoted to prayer. They recognized in prayer the action, the mission piece of discipleship. They saw in prayer the unleashing of the powers of heaven in the great controversy between good and evil. Disciples are prayer warriors. Disciples don’t just pray; they are devoted to prayer.
When a disciple is devoted to prayer, he or she is wielding the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18). In the great controversy in which we are engaged, it is not by theology or evangelistic meetings that we advance against the enemy; it is not by going to church or by working hard in our offices that we advance against falsehood; it is by prayer, steadfast prayer. “Prayer is the key in the hand of faith to unlock heaven’s storehouse, where are treasured the boundless resources of Omnipotence.”4
After Pentecost and its resultant surge in the growth of disciples, the apostles made certain that new disciples were devoted to the study of God’s Word, to the fellowship of the saints in interacting and working together, to the deepening of relationships through the breaking of bread together, and to putting on the great armor of faith and prayer in the great controversy against Satan and his hosts. Yes, the new disciples were baptized members. But what they did after baptism took center stage. The description of what happened after baptism begins with the four-fold developmental stage in discipleship described in Acts 2:43. It still remains a test of being true followers of Jesus, and then the results of their devotion to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer are detailed in beautiful stories that follow in the Book of Acts. What led to the splendor and triumph of the early church was not merely the baptism of new believers, but also their discipleship that followed.
Jeff Scoggins (MA in Pastoral Ministry, Andrews University, Michigan, U.S.A.) serves as Planning Director for the Office of Adventist Mission at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A. E-mail:
Jeff Scoggins, "Discipleship: Going beyond Baptism," Dialogue 31:1 (2019): 24-26
NOTES AND REFERENCES
- Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture passages in this article are quoted from the New International Version of the Bible.
- Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1911), 45.
- ____________, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1948), 58.
- Ibid., 94.