Early Christian Church History

The history of how the early Christians built their churches, solved their disputes and supported one another teaches us how we should live now and how our churches should behave.

Acts is our history book on the first century church. How these early Christians built their Churches, solved their disputes and supported one another teaches us how we should live now and how our Churches should behave.

Acts is generally considered to have been written by Luke but there is some debate about that. It was written between 60 and 70 A.D. and spans about 30 years, from the formation of the early Christian Church to Paul's imprisonment in Rome.

Acts opens with Luke recounting Jesus' instructions for the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came to them. This sign would be their commission to go out and witness the risen Christ. "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." (Acts 1:8) After Jesus said this, He ascended into heaven. The disciples went back into Jerusalem, where they were all staying together.

Even before the Holy Spirit came these first Christians were developing one of the primary values of the Church - unity. "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication," (Acts 1:14a) Somehow, they knew that they must stay together and act together to carry on Christ's ministry. They were unified not only in their living but in their actions, doing all things with "˜one accord'.

At Pentecost, the disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit. "And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." (Acts 2:4) Made bold by the Spirit, they went out into the streets, preaching the Good News of Christ's victory over death. Because it was Pentecost, the city was filled with devout Jews from all over the Roman Empire, with no common language among them. Yet the disciples were able, miraculously, to preach to them all. Each person heard the preaching in his or her own language.

The people were amazed at this and began to listen and take to heart what was being preached. Peter presented the case for Christ and the people asked what they could do to be saved. Peter's moving sermon, fired by the power of the Holy Spirit, had miraculous results. "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." (Acts 2:41)

After Pentecost, the Church grew rapidly. In those early days, the believers banded together, sharing everything they had with one another. This built a tremendous unity between them that would be necessary for the early Church to spread and survive persecution.

"And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46 And 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, 47 Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." (Acts 2:44-47)

Today's church doesn't have this kind of unity; it's not even seen in individual churches. Communal living and sharing aren't necessary today for the good of the Church, but the spirit of unity that those early Christians valued and nurtured is needed. The single greatest struggle of the modern Church is most likely a lack of unity. The division is evidenced by the number of denominations around and by infighting within individual denominations. Acts serves as powerful model for modern Christians, if only we would study and apply its principles.

This unity of the first Christians either sprung up naturally or divinely. There was no "˜rule' that members must share their belongings, yet they did. Those who owned property sold it and sacrificed the money to the Church body. In turn, the Church provided for its members. "Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35 And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need." (Acts 4:34-35)

Not all members acted in accord with the group, however. The story of Ananias and Sapphira is an example. They owned property and like others sold it to benefit the Church. However, unlike the others, these two conspired to keep a portion of the money. There was no need for them to do this as they weren't required to give anything, but they did it to give the appearance of generosity and still enjoy the profit from their property. Peter confronted Ananias first. " "¦ Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?" (Acts 5:3)

Ananias was so frightened by the confrontation he dropped dead. Later, Sapphira came to offer her portion of the money to Peter, not knowing what had happened to Ananias. She too lied and dropped dead. Peter didn't condemn them nor did he punish them in any way. He confronted their behavior and left the matter of justice to God. The lesson for the modern Church is about hypocrisy. Those who put on a good Christian front may fool some, but they will not fool God and they will pay a penalty. Both individuals and the corporate Church body should be wary of hypocrisy.

While Peter emerged as a clear leader among the first Christians, he was soon to be joined by Paul. Saul of Tarsus, who would later be known as Paul, was an early persecutor of the church. He was part of the crowd cheering on those who stoned Stephen to death. He was a Pharisee and as hardened against Christ as anyone could be. It would have been difficult to find a match for his zeal against the Christians. But God had a great purpose for Saul's single-mindedness and zeal. Saul was miraculously converted to Christianity and was henceforth known as Paul the Apostle. (Acts 9:1-31)

Peter's calling was to witness to the Jews and Paul's to witness to the Gentiles. Between these two teachers and their followers, churches were established through the entire Roman Empire. This was no small area; it spread from Rome to Egypt, Arabia and Mesopotamia, taking in most of the eastern world excepting Asia. The new teaching spread like a virus, infecting the hearts of those who heard it.

The modern Church could use apostles such as Peter and Paul. Their kind of fire for and dedication to the Gospel of Jesus Christ isn't frequently seen today. Even members of the Church would probably brand missionaries like these two as zealots. And zealots they were, because for them (as it should be for us) their mission was a matter of life and death. Every time we let the opportunity to witness pass by, we may well have sent someone on to spiritual death. Making a decision about Christ is something that should not be delayed since none of us knows when we will draw our last breath.

God has given our churches an example to build our modern churches from; our church leaders need only apply it. The record of the early church found in Acts provides us with many lessons on church development and values, it's our job to learn from those lessons and live them out in our individual churches. Each of us, whether pastor or parishioner, has an individual responsibility to this end. Are you doing your part in your church?

(All Scripture is KJV)

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