What was the Early Church Like? From Acts 2.

From Acts 2: "7Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? 38Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. 40And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. 41Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls."2And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved."

This passage tells us so very much about the emerging characteristics of the church for which Christ died (Ephesians 5: 21-33). Granted, the rest of the New Testament goes into much more detail about the church. But this account of the ingathering of the first 3,000 souls sets the tone, and the consistent pattern, for what the church would be like until the end of time.

The Acts account sets the pattern for conversion. The Bible teaches that there are five steps to becoming a Christian. Those steps are:

We see the three-fold mission of the church in the Acts 2 account. The ultimate mission of the church is evangelism, or the leading of unsaved souls to Christ (verses 37-41), But we also see three three-fold mission of the church. Those missions were evangelism, edification, and benevolence. What is also significant is that all of the church's resources were expended in these three areas. They did not take the Lord's money to entertain themselves. They had fellowship, but that fellowship was a by-product of their evangelism, edification, and benevolence. They had worship, alhough there is no record in the New Testament of the church ever owning a building. Instead they met in the temple (which was already there) or in peoples' homes, though we don't press that point. Back to the three-fold mission, along with some other supporting scriptures:

  • Evangelism. The first day 3000 were saved. Within a short period of time that number rose to about five thousand (Acts 4: 4). It would be difficult to construct the commands of Matthew 28: 19, 20 and Mark 16: 15 to being given only to those who were standing there at the time unless we also want to say that the promises of a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4: 8) and Heaven (Revelation 2: 10) were also given only to those in the first century as well. Ready to give Heaven away? Try to make a case that the commands to "go and teach all nations" does not apply to us today."
  • Edification. Certainly we are to teach each other and build up each other in the faith (Romans 14: 19) and to "equip the saints for every good work" (Ephesians 4: 12).
  • Benevolence. Benevolence was an emphasis in the church of A. D. 33; verses 44 and 45 speak of giving and sharing that was done unselfishly. There does not have to be any immediate prospect of a recipient of our benevolence becoming a member in order for the benevolence to be given. Sharing with neighbors is its own reward.
  • Church leadership and governance. In Acts 2, we see the leadership of the church in the hands of the apostles. In Acts 6, we read of helpers who probably were the first deacons, though they are not called expressly by that title (see also I Timothy 3: 8-13 for a description of the office and its responsibilities). In time, elders would be appointed in congregations to be shepherds of flocks (see also Acts 20: 28; I Timothy 3: 1-7; Titus 1: 5-10; I Peter 5: 1-7). Those elders did not have the authority to amend the word of God (Revelation 22: 18, 19) but were to lead particularly by example and teaching. The deacons of the New Testament served under either apostles (Acts 6) or elders (I Timothy 3; Philippians 1: 2). There was never a board of deacons serving without elders, or one elder serving alone. Elders were elders of only one congregation. There was no source of authority above the elders of the individual church, except for Christ Himself, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). In the Lord's church, there were elders, deacons, evangelists (Ephesians 4: 11), teachers (Ephesians 4: 11), and members (I Corinthians 12: 12, 18).

    Orientation towards the future. The church consisted of people who were in the world but not of the world. They looked forward to the Christ who was coming again soon. They tried not to get too involved in the affairs of this world since the world consisted of things that would ultimately be burned up in the day of the return of the Christ anyway (II Peter 3: 8-14). The church of Christ today has a simple, restoration plea--Let's get back to the church of the first century. Ignore the errors and apostasy that came into the church beginning shortly after the last apostle died--those errors cannot be reformed. Rather let's set aside all of the teachings of men and get our answers and our authority from the inspired scriptures. The church of Christ today is composed of about 10 million members worldwide, with 1.4 million active members in the United States. There are about 11,500 individual, autonomous congregations with an average membership of 100.


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