The book of Acts is a description; it is not a collection of mandates. In Acts, Luke describes what the experience of the earliest followers of Jesus was like; he tells us what happened. This means when we read Acts we can’t simply conclude that how things happened with them is how things must happen for us. (For example, because those who were first baptized in the Spirit at Pentecost prayed in tongues does not automatically mean that all those who subsequently are so baptized must speak in tongues. This, in fact, is borne out in Acts itself where subsequent accounts of others experiencing such a baptism do not all include tongues speech.)
Nevertheless, we cannot dismiss what Luke does tell us as if it has no value. To recount how the church grew does point us to something about how God might want to grow communities of faith. To report on how the Gospel spread could well provide a window for understanding how the good news of Jesus could be shared. To picture what characterized the church in those days might be a helpful indicator for what contributes to a healthy life of faith.
He writes about the first community of followers of Jesus that took root in Jerusalem this way:
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)
To speak of “continually devoting themselves” to these things tells us that these components were defining; they characterized the life of the community. There are a number of things that Luke underscores. One of the more critical components of life shared in that nascent church is that they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching.
The apostles were those followers of Jesus who had received instruction from him. They were his initial band of disciples. However, Jesus told them they were to “make disciples” of others, teaching those others all that he had taught them (Matthew 28:18-20). Thus, that original band of apostles was responsible for passing on the instruction and insight they had received from Jesus to others.
Throughout the New Testament, the reference to “teaching” typically has the basic doctrinal truths about life with Jesus in view. To speak of “the teaching” is not to refer to “good advice” or “helpful guidance” or even “personal testimony about what Jesus has done in my life” (as helpful as those things might be). Teaching–and here, specifically, the “apostles’ teaching”–has in view the truth (and that includes the doctrinal understanding) that Jesus poured into the lives of his original band of followers. And they were now passing that truth on to others within this growing community of followers of Jesus.
Thus, part of what characterized this growing band of brothers and sisters was their heartfelt and consistent commitment to truth, to doctrine, to Scripture, and to grasping Jesus’ teaching. They grew as a community, in part because they were anchored well. We couldn’t go so far to say that they were all “theologians” (at least in the modern, academic kind of sense), but they were all theologians in that they vigorously pursued a grasp of Gospel truth that would shape their lives individually and corporately. That was the soil out of which this community grew.