Biblical Portrait of the 1st Century Church (part 1)…
Must be careful here not to over-idealize the early Church; clearly the letters of the New Testament reveal many weaknesses and sins and immaturity among the earliest Christians!
But there is much profit for 21st century American Christians to look back, both to the book of Acts and the New Testament letters, to see the characteristics of our brothers & sisters in Christ—how did they live, how did they follow the Lord Jesus, how did they love each other, how did they carry out their mission to non-Christians, etc? I have been quite concerned for so long that the Christianity of 21st century suburban America–of which I am a complicit part!–has strayed so far from the Biblical path…let’s look at just one chapter of the book of Acts to see what we can learn from our spiritual ancestors:
Acts Chapter 4 (please click HERE)
Acts 4:1-2: The apostles were teaching the Jewish people about Jesus, specifically about His resurrection from the dead.
Acts 4:8: They were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Acts 4:8-12: They boldly and clearly proclaimed the Truth of the Bible, the Truth of salvation, etc.
Acts 4:13: They were courageous and it was obvious that they had “been with Jesus.”
Acts 4:18: They were ordered to stop teaching others about Jesus.
Acts 4:19-20: They intentionally and clearly disobeyed that order; they did not stop telling others boldly and clearly about the Lord Jesus!
Acts 4:23: They shared with each other what they went through, what happened to them as Christians.
Acts 4:24-30: They prayed together out loud.
Acts 4:24: They believed that God was in control of everything (“Sovereign Lord”).
Acts 4:24: They believed that God created everything—the heavens and the earth and the seas and all creatures.
Acts 4:25-26: They believed that through the Holy Spirit, God spoke/inspired the Old Testament.
Acts 4:28: They believed God was in control of everything, that God had decided ahead of time what Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles and the Jewish leaders would do to the Lord Jesus.
Acts 4:29: They did not ask God to keep them safe or to stop the threats of those who opposed them; rather, they prayed for God to strengthen them to continue to boldly tell others about Jesus!
Acts 4:30: They also asked God to do powerful miracles and healings through them.* Thus, it seems in verses 29 and 30 that the early Christians, like the Lord Jesus, were focused first on proclaiming the Gospel with words and secondly doing deeds of love/service through their actions.
Acts 4:31: Again, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and went out and did what God strengthened them to do—boldly proclaim the Gospel. That is, they actually did what they were supposed to do, they carried out their mission/purpose in the power of God.
Acts 4:32: The believers were “one in heart and mind.” They were united in their purpose, their mission, their focus.
Acts 4:32: They didn’t look at their stuff as personal possessions but rather as opportunities to share with other Christians in need; indeed they freely chose to sell certain items in order to bless other Christians in need.
Acts 4:33: With great power from God they continued to use their words to tell others that Jesus had risen from the dead, regardless of the response of the people.
Acts 4:33-34: They were so full of God’s grace internally that it showed itself in external acts of love, sacrifice, and sharing—none of the earliest Christians were in need in terms of earthly needs: food, clothing, shelter, etc. Truly God the Father was honoring Jesus’ promise that all their earthly needs would be met if they would seek first the LORD’s kingdom and His righteousness.
Acts 4:34-36: They shared with other Christians by giving money to the apostles who then made sure to distribute the money wisely to any Christians who were genuinely in need.
Humbling! Sobering! The same Holy Spirit that lived in them lives in us! The same King Jesus Who was (and still is!) Head of those Christians is King and Head of you and me! May the LORD bless us to humbly repent of all the ways that His 21st century American Church—and the local churches which we attend—does not line up with His 1st century Mediterranean Church. And may the LORD then forgive us and cleanse us of all unrighteousness and continue to conform us to the image of His Son, that the Holy Spirit might bear His fruit in us for the glory of God!
*(though discussion of this in detail is for another post (or probably for multiple other posts!), there are many Christians who disagree over the extent to which today’s Christ-followers will look like those from the 1st century. That is, should Christians today expect to see the same miracles, signs and wonders as the 1st century Church? Should we be disappointed if we don’t? For a helpful next step in this discussion, please click HERE)