Is there any similarity between the first century church and the 21st century church? This question might be a bit surprising to many of you who claim to be born-again believers.
In fact, you might be even thinking that your congregation or denomination is the most perfect one in the world. You might also think that yours is the only one that built on the Foundation of God’s Holy Word and operate under its guidance. But what is the truth?
If you ask me for an example of a model Christianity or Christian Congregation I would point you to the first century church. The reason I do this is – because they were completely separated from the World and lived by the Word of God; they were the sold-out ones for Christ.
Of course, there were instances of some kind corruption among them but those people responsible for it were expelled immediately in order to prevent them from continuing their evil work. So, the congregations remained Christ-centered, pure, secluded and separated from the world.
However, the story is different in the 21st century. Today’s church operates by Worldly standards, customs and practices which have give room for the world to exert its influence on God’s people and mold them according to its standards.
Those who claim that their congregations are similar to the ones of the 1st century are not studying the Word of God sincerely. In fact, the Book of Acts gives us a glimpse into their way of life and that is what we are going to discuss further in this article.
Since many of you are born-again believers; you might be familiar with the descriptions given in the book of Acts about the early church but have you ever compared those descriptions with the lifestyle of the church that we see among us in this 21st century? Have you ever thought why in the midst of us we don’t see the same intensity and frequency of miracles that we find in the Book of Acts?
We too call on the name of the same Jesus Christ that they called up on and we also claim that the same Holy Spirit that led those early churches are leading our churches too. But still we don’t see the same degree of genuine life style changes or conversions among the people.
Compared to the first century, the rate of conversions and the church growth in the 21st century is much larger; however, we don’t see the same degree of change in the hearts of the believers as we saw among the believers in the first century churches.
Today many of the people who profess their faith in Christ have not given up their love and passion for the things of this world. Contemporary believers are allowed to become part of Christian congregations without shedding anything that belonged to their previous worldly life.
But was this the way the early church operated? Did they allow the world to be in their Congregations? Did they allow believers to possess the world while claiming to be the disciples of Christ?
Let us examine their way of life so that we will get very good answers for many of the ills that have afflicted the 21st century Christian Congregations. But before we delve into this core topic let us examine the beginning of Christian Faith.
The Beginning of Christian Faith.
Lord Jesus started His ministry, when He was around 30 years old, with twelve of His disciples; and it was started as a pure fellowship; yes, it was a fellowship of Christ and His followers. It did not have any of the organizational structures that we are familiar with today.
Through His teachings and miracles many were healed and saved and brought into the Kingdom of God. But Jesus could not continue with His Ministry for long; opposition from the Jewish leaders and the subsequent crucifixion of Christ brought an abrupt end to His ministry.
However, this crisis was temporary. Christ rose from the dead on the third day after His crucifixion and His resurrection breathed a new life into His ministry. His disciples were strengthened with new power from Heaven and they worked with greater vigor and vitality in the midst of stronger opposition and intense persecution.
Many lost everything they had including their own lives. First, Second and third century believers experienced the most severe persecution in the history of the Christian Faith. But the intensity of persecution did not deter believers from spreading the Gospel. As time passed more and more people came to faith and the church started growing rapidly.
Fellowship of the Believers in the First Century.
During this period, the church was holy and the faith was pure. Though, enemies infiltrated into the church, they could not corrupt it as the believers were taught pure Gospel and they stayed in unity.
We could get a glimpse of this unity from the Book of Acts.
42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2, 42-47)
Saints, read the above verses carefully, how did the believers in Christ fellowship with one another?
They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and to fellowship; eating together and praying together, they had everything in common; read verse 44 again; what does it say?
Yes, all the believers had everything in common. They surrendered everything they owned at the feet of the Apostles; remember, they did it on their own accord and not by compulsion or force.
Why did they do so?
Because they found no meaning in possessing anything in this world as they were expecting another world and another life which was far better than the one that they had previously. They saw the Truth and that Truth set them free from the love for the things of this world.
They found the needs of other believers as important as their own needs. So, they did everything they could to meet those needs. Also, everyday they continued to meet together in the temple courts and broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.
As a result of this what happened?
The LORD added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Yes, this was the original church founded by Christ and promoted by the Apostles. It did not have any of the characteristics that your church and my church have today.
Again, let us look at another very interesting characteristic of the early church.
32All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4, 32-35)
Saints, read the above verses very carefully, what did those verses say?
- All the Believers were in One Heart and Mind.
- Non one claimed that any of their possessions was their own.
- They shared everything they had.
- There were no needy persons among them. Because, from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them and brought the money from the sales put it at the feet of the Apostles who distributed the same to anyone who had a need.
Well, let us examine our own congregations. Do we have any of the above described characteristics? No! Absolutely no!
Firstly, today’s congregations operate with a divided spirit; the spirit of division and discord is dominant in our congregations. There is no unity among believers; many of the believers are not in good terms with each other. Also, there is no unity among Pastors, Teachers and Leaders; they are not willing to forgive and forget. They keep on attacking each other and compete with each other in order to gain more power and authority.
Saints; let me ask you frankly – Why do Christianity have so many denominations? What gives birth to these denominations? As Apostle Paul say: We have only one Christ, one Gospel and one Baptism, then, why we have so many denominations among us?
The reason is: lack of unity in the name of Christ and in His Word. Recently I heard someone saying that there are around 30,000 denominations. What does this point to? It points us to the fact that there is so much discord and division among believers in Christ.
The driving forces behind these divisions and discords are mainly three things: Money, Power and Authority. Did the early church have any of these issues? No! and the result was a church filled with the Holy Spirit and 24×7 Miracles.
Yes, God’s Grace was powerfully at work in them all. What about our churches? We all claim to have the grace of God in us but does that Grace work powerfully among all of us? No! why? Because we live in disobedience and disunity; selfishness is the hallmark of today’s Christians; it is true for both sheep and the shepherds alike.
Secondly, in today’s congregations very few are willing to share what they have with others. Everything we own exclusively belong to us alone. Even many of the Shepherds are not willing to share with those who are poor in their congregations. They collect millions and spend millions for running their ministries but few are willing to meet the needs of the poor that are sitting in their church pews.
Thirdly, if you looked at the early church you will find that there were no needy persons among them. Dear Saints – Please read the verse below.
34that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4, 34-35)
Yes, In the early church they shared everything they had with their fellow believers who had needs. Consequently, there were no needy persons among them. Did you hear it clearly?
Saints; what about your church and my church? Look at the congregations in your neighbourhood, in your town and in your city. In those churches how many are sitting without food and clothing, without medicines, without a home to lay their heads? Many!
Well, What about the early church? They had no needy persons among them. Saints; this is the true church of Christ; this is the true love of Christ; this is the true brotherhood in Christ.
Let me ask you openly? Do you think you are smarter than those early church believers? Or do you think that they were fools to sell their properties and share with the poor in their congregations?
If they were not fools, then, why they did this? They did it to obey their Master who bought them by shedding His blood on the cross of Calvary. They saw Christ in each and every poor believer in the midst of them and they could not ignore their needs.
Saints – the reason why you cannot part with your wealth or share it with your fellow believers in Christ is: Because you love wealth more than Christ, you love this world more than God. Don’t get angry with me, I am telling you the truth.
When Jesus said:
Sell your possessions and give it to the poor: He was not joking; He really meant it.
32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12, 32-34)
You might have heard your Pastors and Teachers preaching about every topic under the sun but how many times have you heard a preacher teaching from the above verses?
Saints, if today’s Christians shared their excess wealth with their fellow Christians there wouldn’t be a single poor Christian in this world. Unfortunately, we still have the poor among us because we are not willing to share what we have.
Well, I think by now you might have got a clear picture about the difference between the early church and the contemporary church. Yes, the difference is huge; the difference is same as the difference between day and night and the difference between Light and Darkness.
Dear Born-again believers in Christ; Dear pastors and Preachers – Let me ask you openly – If Apostle Paul and Peter walked into your churches:
- Will they be pleased with your congregation?
- Will they be pleased with your worship songs and dances?
- Above all will they find anything that is similar to the congregations that they were part of?
- Will they find your lifestyle acceptable in their sight? Think about it.
Don’t make excuses saying – Oh! That was 1st century and this is 21st century. Please Remember – God Almighty never changes and His Word never changes; Jesus Christ is the same Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow and His church should be guided by His Word irrespective of the times. Amen.