New Testament Church – Part Four
The fifth obvious uniqueness of the early Church which is, in many places, lacking today is…
5>The early Christian lived in and experienced a close-knit community life together
The early believers did not think in terms of the individual. Their understanding and thinking was not in line with today’s culture – the “me” and “I” emphasis. Instead, they thought and lived in terms of “we” and “us.”
In the early church, there was no disconnect between getting saved and being a vital and active part of the community of believers – the Body of Christ. If you were a pagan in the first century, you knew that becoming a Christian and follower of Jesus meant being initiated into a shared-life community. It meant losing your raw individualism and your rugged independence. It meant becoming part of the people of God. Not as an abstract doctrine, but as a definitive way of life. You became part of something larger than yourself – a new culture in which you lived your life connected to other disciples of the Lord Jesus. You embraced life in community and the close relationships that this life produced. You were a new creature in Christ and lived in a new culture known as the Body of Christ. For that reason the early Christian movement was called “the Way. It was not a belief system; it was actually a way of life.
Acts 19:9, 23 “ But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus …About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way.”
Acts 24:14, 22 “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets …But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, ‘When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.’”
Western Christians have inherited an individualistic Christianity with an individualistic salvation and an individualistic walk with God. The early Church knew nothing of this brand and expression of the Christian faith.
In the mind of God the type of Christianity we experience today does not exist. Christianity has always been a corporate experience and a corporate reality. The individual Christian mind was born during the Reformation, and it has been set in concrete for the last 500 years. The New Testament knows no such mindset.
6> The early believers saw themselves as truly being “in Christ”
They were pulled loose from a “works” mentality, liberated from a guilt complex, and set free from a sense of religious duty.
This was reflected in their conversations. If you open up the New Testament letters, you will find that Paul always addresses the churches that he planted (despite what they were going through) with the arresting phrase “holy ones.” He saw them as holy “in Christ.”
Today in most churches, you will not hear teachings on the glories of Jesus Christ. No! You will, however, be told what to do to be a better Christian. That is legalism. A works religion.
We cannot live the Christian life. We learn to live by Christ, and we do it together. What is needed in our day, then, is a recovery of what’s been lost, and a discarding of what has been picked up along the way.
When we began this look at the early Church five days ago I quoted what God spoke in the book of Hebrews…
God spoke and said, “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.” Hebrews 12:25-27 The Message Version
God is shaking loose all the things we, the Christian Church, have picked up over the centuries that were not part of His plan for His people, the Church. He is shaking everything that has nothing to do with Christ. Consequently, you and I are faced with the business of laying aside old concepts and reaching back to the primitive mind of the early Christians … when the Gospel was pure, undiluted, and not compromised and the Church after God’s own heart was untainted.