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Blog #387: Traits of the Early Church that Our Churches Should Adopt

When we read the New Testament Book of Acts or the various letters written to believers by people such as the apostle Paul, or by two of the members of the first 12 apostles/disciples, Peter and John, or by the two half-brothers of Jesus, James and Jude, we find that the church was not an idyllic country-club made up of people who did everything harmoniously. This may be a shock to us 21st century Christians for we tend to look back longingly at the early church, maybe even wishing that we could be there. But the early church was made up of people who lived in a society that encouraged divisions and separation, and in which distinct classes of people were put in their places (by the Romans) and told to stay there. To overcome all of that – as well as the constant religious and political persecution of the first believers – meant that life was often very difficult for the original Christians. Despite all of that, though, the church no only survived but grew in numbers and in societal impact, eventually causing the downfall of the Roman Empire as more and more people (the Christians) refused to fight for the Roman army or engage in the lax societal mores of that society or participate in the rituals involved in worshipping the Roman “gods” (such as the self-declared god on earth, the emperor). So, how did the early church do that? What did its members do to survive and thrive? Sophie Bricker published an online article on March 15th of this year in which she identified seven powerful traits of the early church that we should also be adopting as our own. In part, she writes: ‘C.S. Lewis wrote about the purpose of the church in Mere Christianity. As he explained, “[T]he church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time” (HarperOne, 2001, p. 199). At first, Lewis’ statement might surprise us. Constructing buildings, doing missions, and studying the Bible are wastes of time? They are if people are not growing in Christ and making disciples. The body of believers is meant to look increasingly like Jesus and help others become reflections of Christ too. If the church is not doing that, then it is not accomplishing its purpose. It will not look like a biblical church. But what are the indications that a group of believers are accomplishing this purpose of growing to become more like Christ? (They are)

1. DEVOTED TO BIBLICAL TEACHING. Directly after the (Pentecost) account, we read about how the Church lived in daily life. According to Acts 2:42-43, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.” Many important things are mentioned, but the first is that the new believers were devoted to the teaching of the Apostles, which was corroborated by wonders and signs. Today, the equivalent of being devoted to the Apostles’ teachings is to study and obey Scripture. Notice that the word used in Acts 2:42 is “devoted.” We should not just read the Bible passively but listen intently and seek to do what it says (see James 1:22). 

2. A PRAYING PEOPLE. Another thing the Bible tells us the Church should look like is that we should be a praying people. We see this emphasis on prayer modeled in the early Church. The new believers are described as being devoted to prayer, just as they were devoted to the teachings of the Apostles (Acts 2:42). The Apostles had already demonstrated the need to pray regularly, as did the men and women who were with them (see Acts 1:14). When they prayed, they did not ask God for safety or prosperity. Instead, they asked for boldness to continue to speak God’s Word (see Acts 4:29). To look more like a biblical church, we should be making these types of prayers. More than desiring our safety or comfort, we should desire to do the will of Christ.

3. LOVING ONE ANOTHER. Jesus told His disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). A distinguishing mark of the Church, therefore, is love for others, especially those belonging to Christ. An emphasis on love shows us why the early Church committed themselves to fellowship and having all things in common (see Acts 2:42, 44; 4:32). They were called to love each other, not just by word, but by deed (1 John 3:18). They also ensured everyone was provided for (Acts 4:34-35). In essence, they were like a large family knit together by a common love for Christ and each other. Biblically, this love is far more than saying nice words or calling congregation members “brother” and “sister.” Loving others includes action, such as providing fellowship and ensuring that the family of believers has what is needed.

4. SHARING WITH OTHERS. As was shown in the previous point, a church that loves ensures that the family of Christ is provided for. Related to this aspect is sharing with others. A biblical church shares resources and spiritual gifts with others so that none are lacking or struggling. The Apostle Paul gave the example of a body to describe the Church (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Each member or part is needed for the body to properly function. When one part suffers, the others suffer too (1 Corinthians 12:26). Christians should use their gifts and resources to benefit the other members of the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-8). Sharing as an act of service also resembles our Savior, because He came to serve and give His life to save us (Matthew 20:28).

5. CARING FOR THE POOR AND LEAST OF THESE. The Bible also tells us that the Church should look like people caring for the poor and the least of these. Caring for orphans and widows was also a significant part of the early Church. True religion means putting faith into practice and caring for orphans and widows (James 1:27). It also looks like helping the least of these, through feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty water to drink, clothing the naked, helping the sick, and visiting those in prison (Matthew 25:34-40). Others should be able to know that we are members of the body of Christ through our care and concern for the least and poor in society.   

6. ADORNED WITH RIGHTEOUS DEEDS. In addition to helping those in need, Scripture also tells us that the Church should look like a bride adorned for a wedding. The church is the bride of Christ. He died to purify her and make her clean. The Apostle John explained that the wedding dress of the bride – the bright and clean linen – is a symbol of the righteous deeds or acts of believers (Revelations 19:8). Virtuous deeds do not save us, as it is Jesus’ blood that makes us clean (Ephesians 5:25-27). However, the righteous acts we do now will adorn us at the wedding feast. Today, people should be able to distinguish members of the Church by their good works. Believers are not perfect and will stumble at times. However, we were saved and made into God’s workmanship, created to do good works and increasingly reflect our loving Savior. The righteous acts we do testify to others that we are part of the body of Christ. The Church should look like a bride keeping herself pure for her husband and preparing herself for the anticipated wedding day.

7. A MULTIPLYING PEOPLE. Finally, and most importantly, the church is meant to be a multiplying people. The body of Believers should be like the seed that landed on good soil, which produced a crop that increased by a hundred, sixty, or thirty times that which was sown (see Matthew 13:23). We should multiply in number as we make disciple-making disciples. Jesus gave us the Great Commission, commanding us to go out into the world to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). The early Church obeyed this command, adding to their number daily of those who placed faith in Jesus (see Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4). The disciples were multiplying, spreading like wildfire. Even when persecution came, causing the Church to scatter to other areas, Christians continued to spread the gospel and make disciples (see Acts 8:3-4). People should not have to go to a church building to hear the gospel or encounter the loving action of a believer. The Church should go to them, just as Jesus commanded. We look most like the Church when we live as multipliers, going and helping others know Jesus and become disciples.’

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