The Early Church was certainly different from what we today would consider to be “church.” We began looking at what an assembly in the first century might have looked like in general.
7> After the meal was over – with the Lord’s Supper also celebrated as part of the regular fellowship meal – there is a subtle shift in the atmosphere as people begin to quieten down and focus, once again, on worshipping the Lord with their whole hearts. The air seems to thicken and there is a tangible sense of God’s presence that pervades the room or the courtyard where they are meeting. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul writes that when the church assembles, the power of the Lord comes and is present with them.
8> It is at this time, as people are focused on the Lord, that ministry begins to take place. People are worshipping and being touched by God’s presence; others are lost in worship as they sing; some are flat out on the floor as the Holy Spirit ministers to them personally and directly.
The ministry of the Early Church is described in 1 Corinthians 14. Paul writes, “When you come together EVERYONE has a hymn or a word of instruction, a revelation or a tongue or an interpretation… You can all prophecy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.”
9> Although it won’t be evident, there is a leader. No one is the “paid professional” up front. But, the Holy Spirit is leading the meeting as He touches and moves through many of the people gathered. Everyone is taking part in the ministry time. Someone gives a word of knowledge for healing; someone else raises their hand and acknowledges that they need a healing. People gather around this person and pray. The healing is received and the person is set free.
Someone else then reads a passage of Scripture (Old Testament, as most of the New Testament was not yet available). Someone else sings a prophetic song often called a “song of the Lord” or a “new song.” Many are touched by the words of the song and what they are expressing of God’s heart for His people and so they begin to weep. There is a strong anointing – a manifest presence of the Lord in the assembly – and everyone is aware of it. Prophetic words are given. There are tongues and interpretation of tongues. More songs of praise and worship.
10> If there are visitors present, they are introduced and prayed for – especially if there is any newcomer who is in need of a healing or a Word from the Lord. Healing and prophecy (word of wisdom and word of knowledge) are key elements in the evangelizing of visitors and newcomers. Often, because of the powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit, through those who are born again and baptized in the Holy Spirit, unsaved people present experience God’s love for them first hand and come into the Kingdom during this time. This is power evangelism in the Early Church.
Irenaeus, an early Church Father, writing in the year 195, tells us that prophetic words, tongues and miracles of healing were common in his day. He adds that people were frequently raised from the dead through the prayers of the saints. Great church growth strategy.
The house church meeting runs late into the night, but no one seems to notice. Finally, the meeting begins to break up. The sense of the Spirit’s presence begins to lift, but there are still several small groups huddled in prayer.
As people are preparing to leave there is more visiting at the main door, hugging and kissing. You would recognize that these people truly love one another and care for one another. They act like this is their family. And it is!
This is what it was like “to go to church” in the first century. There would have been hundreds of meetings like this going on at the same time throughout a city … Jerusalem, Corinth, Antioch, and Ephesus, to name a few. These are the kind of churches that Paul planted as he moved around establishing the Kingdom where there was spiritual darkness and no light of the Gospel present.
This is how the Church met for 300 years, and it spread everywhere. It literally took over the Roman Empire. Some estimate that by the year 300 as much as half of the Empire had converted to Christianity. That was the life of the Early Church.
But then the Church died. By the year 500, the Early Church had ceased to exist.