Life in the Early Church

St.-Peter-Preaching-in-Jerusalem-Poerson-1642-e1365780433925

Considering how the church was born and what God intended the church to become, it’s remarkable so many Christians either ignore it altogether, having no relationship with it or those who actually attend church just don’t take it seriously enough. The church was born on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit supernaturally filled 120 waiting believers.

And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in languages they didn’t know, for the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. (Acts 2:4 TLB)

Pentecost was an event prophesied in Leviticus 23. It was one of several feast days for Israel, divinely planned and appointed. The first feast day was Passover, which celebrated a new beginning for the people of Israel. This feast was a type, a foreshadow, of Christ our passover sacrifice for us:

Christ, God’s Lamb, has been slain for us. (1 Corinthians 5:7b TLB)

The second feast was the feast of Unleavened Bread. It lasted an entire week and foreshadowed the separated life of the believer; a life lived for God, apart from the world. The feast of Firstfruits was the third feast, and it typified the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Fifty days after this feast came Pentecost, also known as the Feast of Weeks. Similarly, fifty days after the resurrection of our Lord the events of Acts 2 occurred.

The church was born by the power of a Person: the Holy Spirit. The so-called “Pentecostal power” is really just the unfettered working of the Holy Spirit in anybody’s life, anytime. When the Holy Spirit fell on those 120 believers, He baptized them into the Body of Christ, literally uniting them as a unit with the risen Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. This is an experience every believer has at his conversion. At conversion, each believer is baptized by the Spirit into the Body of Christ. On the Day of Pentecost, each believer was also filled with the Holy Spirit individually. This “infilling” is something that all believers may experience repeatedly.

It may be said the Pentecost began the “age of the Spirit.”

Acts 2:42 – 47

They joined with the other believers in regular attendance at the apostles’ teaching sessions and at the Communion services and prayer meetings.

A deep sense of awe was on them all, and the apostles did many miracles.

And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything with each other, selling their possessions and dividing with those in need. They worshiped together regularly at the Temple each day, met in small groups in homes for Communion, and shared their meals with great joy and thankfulness, praising God. The whole city was favorable to them, and each day God added to them all who were being saved.

This handful of verses gives us the dynamics of a healthy church. The word “church” doesn’t appear in Acts until chapter 5, but the initially small community of believers formed at Pentecost was the first Christian church. In all, four things characterized it:

The teaching of the apostles. These men were eyewitnesses; they walked with Jesus and listened to His teachings for three years. The teachings or sermons of the apostles were probably teachings or sermons that Jesus gave. They probably talked about their Lord’s life and ministry. This was something Jesus wanted them to do:

“Therefore go and make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and then teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you; and be sure of this—that I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:19, 20 TLB)

Fellowship. The first congregation fellowshipped together, often. They gathered together to share their spiritual blessings and their material blessings.

Communion. The early believers gathered together to hear the apostle’s teaching, to fellowship with each other, and also to have communion. They “broke bread.” We know from Jewish tradition that this group of believers also ate meals together.

Prayer and praise. There were two other things the believers in Jerusalem did whenever they met together, which was often. God and the Lord Jesus were central to their meetings. All the other activities they engaged in revolved around prayer and praise.

This is a church that was healthy. They cared for and about each other as individuals but also as a whole. No doubt they fellowshipped with each other out in the community, but they never neglected meeting together as a congregation that had somethings in common. They held a common experience, a common belief, and a common goal.

The results of this kind of healthy fellowship are obvious:

The people were in awe. That is, the members of the group – the church – worshipped and fellowshipped with reverence for God and the things of God. Apparently this sense of “awe” was bolstered by the signs and wonders performed by the apostle.

They shared what they had with each other. Contrary to what some socialist Christians may think, sharing of possessions had little to do with a regular or customary practice within the early church but had a very practical purpose. During this time – Pentecost – Jerusalem was full of travelers and visitors who were miles away from home, and very often they needed daily necessities. Fact is, after chapter 5, we have no record of this kind “sharing in common” taking place.

Good reputation in town. At least very on in the church age, the congregation in Jerusalem enjoyed a very good reputation among the people. Mind you, this didn’t last too long, but for now, this first congregation was in a very good place.

Growth. Lastly, this church grew. The Lord was moving in Jerusalem, people were getting converted and joining the church.

The church of Jesus Christ is now some 2000 years past this Day of Pentecost. We don’t need another Pentecost; the same Holy Spirit that was at work in this first church is at work in the church today. The overriding needs of the Church today are for its members to be steadfastly dedicated to the teaching of Jesus as revealed in the Bible, committed to fellowshipping together, breaking bread together, and praising God together.

Acts 4:23 – 31

As soon as they were freed, Peter and John found the other disciples and told them what the Council had said. Then all the believers united in this prayer… (Acts 4:23, 24 TLB)

Well, as I mentioned earlier, the early church enjoyed a good reputation in Jerusalem but those feelings of good will didn’t last very long. The first persecution of the apostles took place, which wasn’t too surprising. Jesus did warn His followers to expect it. However, what happened following that persecution was a little unexpected. Instead of hunkering down and going underground, the believers all got together for a prayer meeting! Prayer is always the best way to meet any kind of opposition.

That first sentence is very telling. Here it is from the KJV:

And being let go, they went to their own company...

This is not only a statement of fact, but also of a basic Christian principle. When all outward restraints are gone, what kind of company do you seek?

The prayer which begins at verse 24 and concludes at verse 30 is the longest one Luke ever recorded. It is, in some ways, reminiscent of the prayers found in 2 Kings 19:15 – 19 or Isaiah 37:15 – 20. This great prayer is definitely worthy of not only study but of imitation.

First, notice how they recognized God: He was the God who is the absolute sovereign over His subjects. They used the unusual word despotes, not the more common kyrios. Despotes in English is “despot,” and is sort of a negative word but it does serve to describe their attitude about God: He is the absolute authority and has absolute authority over their lives. They also saw God as the creator; the One who created the universe. In that sense He is the absolute Sovereign.

Then they submitted themselves to the will or plan of God. As they prayed, they quoted from Psalm 2, applying it to Jesus and the Crucifixion. This more than affirms the divine inspiration of what David wrote. Who was responsible for the crucifixion? According to those who prayed this prayer, Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel all conspired to do our Lord in. But that human responsibility is mixed in with God’s predetermined plan.

They won’t stop at anything that you in your wise power will let them do. (Acts 4:28 TLB)

God’s plan may not always be sunshine and butterflies, but believers need to learn how to submit to it. The persecution the apostles experienced wasn’t pleasant, nor was it the last time they would be persecuted like this, but it was part of His plan.

And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and grant to your servants great boldness in their preaching, and send your healing power, and may miracles and wonders be done by the name of your holy servant Jesus. (Acts 4:29, 30 TLB)

These two verses represent the believer’s petitions – their prayer requests. What they don’t ask for is almost as interesting as what do ask for. Their petition is filled with a sense of praise and glory to God, but they for boldness in preaching the Word of God. In essence, following the persecution, the people were praying for the strength – the boldness – to carry on. Human nature would be to ease off the preaching for a while. But these people wanted God to help them to keep going. It’s not insignificant that what is missing from this prayer is a request for divine protection! These courageous Christians didn’t want protection, they wanted power.

It didn’t take long, but their prayer was answered:

After this prayer, the building where they were meeting shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and boldly preached God’s message. (Acts 4:31 TLB)

God’s answer to their request for boldness was another infilling (not baptism) of the Holy Spirit which was accompanied by the shaking of their meeting place. As happened during the Day of Pentecost, when they were filled again with the Spirit the went out boldly proclaiming the Word of God. Duncan Campbell’s observation is priceless:

The Kingdom of God is not going to be advanced by our churches becoming filled with men, but by men in our churches becoming filled with God.

Indeed. Life in the early church was marked by a healthy, vibrant, highly spiritual and therefore, functional congregation, vitally connected to each other and to the head of the church, Jesus Christ. The early Christians seemed to be more concerned with the mission God gave them than with their own comfort and safety. No wonder that early church walked in, not only the grace of God, but the power of God, as well.

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