You have probably seen those signs on some of our churches displaying a particular church was established in 33 A.D. I appreciate that sentiment. I appreciate the fact that we are striving to be a church that is pleasing to God (although there were several churches in the first century that we wouldn’t really want to emulate!). I appreciate our plea to go back to scripture and try to model our worship and lives after the first century church and Christians. In doing so we often turn to Acts, especially Acts 2, to find guidance in how the early church was started.
Here is what characterized the early church – “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).
We do a pretty good job at most of that. Which two of these are most neglected?
- “everything in common…”
- “Every day they continued to meet together…”
I wonder why that is? We claim to go against culture. We claim to be restoring the first century church (although there are some real problems with that claim in that we cannot fully return to their way of doing things because of major cultural differences like technology, household structures, etc). Do we not do these two things very well because it was a different culture back then? Or do we not do these two things because of just how inconvenient they are. I know I would have a real hard time being the first to sell my home and start sharing everything I have with people. After all, there are people who would just take and take and never give back. Meet together every day? We have too much going on. There is a lot on the agenda and doing that would be too much! You can’t expect us to do that! We have a hard enough time making it Wednesday night. They were able to do it because it was important to them.
Hurdle 1 – Inconvenience.
Why were these people so different? Did they just have lots of time on their hands and loads of money to give away? No. They also had jobs. They didn’t have welfare systems to fall back on. They had to fight for their survival. They didn’t have unlimited time for this but they sacrificed. They didn’t have millions of dollars to give away. Many gave out of their poverty but many gave anyway. It wasn’t convenient for them but inconvenient for us. Those things don’t come naturally to anyone, regardless of culture and yet they did it. Why? Because they had their eyes on Jesus who gave everything. They were so relieved to be forgiven that giving of their lives to one another and to Christ seemed the natural thing to do. They saw each other as their new family and they were there to help each other through thick and thin because that is what family does.
If we are going to pride ourselves on our similarity with the first century church, we have some major hurtles to overcome and it starts with a thorough understanding of Christ and his sacrifice for us. Out of that will flow a deeper investment of our lives with each other. How do you think we could do a better job of giving ourselves to each other sacrifically? In answering that, remember that what we practice is an outflow of who we are and what we believe – how can we better equip people from the inside out to be more serious in their walk with Jesus Christ that it would result in people willing to sacrifice to this degree?
Hurdle 2 – Minimalism
There is a real tendency to do the things that they did in the least intrusive way as possible. They broke bread/took the Lord’s Supper as a meal. We make it a tiny crumb and a little cup. Our view has been because we are partaking of what they partook of things are exactly right. There is good evidence to suggest that they didn’t have tiny plastic cups and thin little crackers. They had a meal together and probably even had discussions about Christ around the table. That has a completely different feeling and purpose about it than our individualized and self-reflecting take on the Lord’s Supper. Where did that start? Minimalism.
They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching. People today consider you devoted if you go to church Sunday and Wednesday. They called devoted every day. They had everything in common and shared. We give a portion, seperate and apart from the rest of worship. It has been minimalized. They were praising God. We don’t know how many songs they sang or what songs they sang. Possibly the psalms? But we do know that today people get upset if we add a song here or there or change the order of things from the usual. Why? We have to get to lunch and beat the other churches to the buffet. We have minimalized it! Why? Because doing more is inconvenient. I don’t think Christ died on the cross to get us to lunch quicker or because he wanted us to purchase mass quantities of tiny cups and crackers so we could check off our check boxes. He did it because he wanted us to be changed. It was certainly inconvenient for Jesus to have to do all of that and good thing he didn’t minimalize the answer or else we would all be in trouble.
We notice that the first Christians were doing great when they were devoted to each other and to God even if it was inconvenient and to the fullest (rather than the minimum) extent of their lives. Now let’s go and do likewise!