Reclaiming the Church
- The Church
Rev. John Rodgers
November 26, 2017
Understanding First Century Church in Today's Context
The First Century Church was a church that was passionately concerned with evangelism. Taking the Gospel into all the world and making Disciples for Christ. They were ambassadors of Jesus Christ. Their loyalty to each other, to Jesus, to the calling Jesus had given them, forged them into a mighty task-force. By contrast, today the church is only visible on Sundays. You would never know, from our conduct during the week, that our members were pledged to Jesus Christ at all. Until we start doing what the first century Christians did on a large scale we will not see a transformation of society such as was so evident in the first century.
Many parts of Christianity patterns have been reversed during the past 1500 years. Christianity has become very sharply divided between clergy and laity, between those who minister and those who are not permitted. This is a great pity and takes away one of the major differences of the early church. The early Christians did not make the mistake of setting up a church that pulled against each other. They told the Good News in a personal relationship with a living, loving God who accepts us although we do not in the least deserve it, and wants to enlist us as God’s partners. We cannot expect to do outreach/evangelism to grow when there is no warmth, no incandescent love in the congregation. We must start by going back, by equipping the church to be the church of Jesus Christ, exhibiting something of His love, His compassion, His joy.
The church today has grown complacent, obese, inactive, and far too respectable to do what early Christians did. It has become a church that Jesus riled against in His day. The result is almost every denomination in the world is in decline. For every 1 new church start today, 2 churches shutter their doors. We do not set our affections on things above any more; we are more materialistic than any previous generation has ever been. Whole congregations split up because of a change in the church furniture, signs, or some equally trivial reason. We no longer obey Jesus’ command to go and make Disciples. Instead we are hesitant about the content of the Good News, and reluctant to talk about it.
The early Christians believed it was the ministry of every member to witness and spread the Gospel in the community. They simply shared what they has seen and experienced. For them this way of engaging in continually, naturally, joyfully sharing was done by them wherever they went. These days our share of our faith and the Gospel is spasmodic, if it happens at all. It is minister dominated; however, Jesus called pastors/teachers to equip the members of the church to be the witnesses of Jesus, not to do it. We must foster the gifts of people, that’s what the early church did and we need to do today. We should be using our business contacts, our sporting contacts, our leisure time contacts to build up the sort of relationships out of which thoughtful and honest conversations about Jesus might emerge.
The burning enthusiasm of the early Christians on that amazing day of Pentecost led them to do the unthinkable and proclaim Jesus on the streets to an international crowd from all over the world. Enthusiasm is often suspect in our ‘cool’ society; yet it is magnetic. When people have really found something to be enthusiastic about in our blasé culture, others stop and wonder. The energy which the first Christians embodied came from a much deeper source. It derived from a deep compassion, knowing the needs of people who were alienated from God. The early Christians showed amazing faith in the living God who was always leading them on to a new and unexpected adventure; and stuck to it no matter how difficult things became. In our highly mobile and consumer-oriented society we have a tendency, if you do not like the situation in a neighborhood or church, to drive away and try somewhere else. That does not seem to have been the characteristic of the first Christians’ approach to difficulties.
Today’s church needs to rediscover how it can lay stress on holiness in life without relapsing into legalism. Today churches have more rules and regulations to follow than the Jews did in Jesus’ day. Today we hold people to these rules more than the transforming power of Christ. We need to get back to teaching the ways of Christ, lives marked by dedication, enthusiasm, joy, faith, endurance, holiness, power, generosity, and prayer will make a huge impact on any culture. Unless people are impressed by the Christian lives they see, they are not going to want to go further and examine the truth of the Christian message. Many of the rules in today’s church prevent or hinder witnessing to Jesus. The early church helped people bared witness to Jesus – His person, His life, His death, and His resurrection. The content of the message was about Jesus and Jesus only. Christianity has been from the start a faith for the ordinary people, a faith proclaimed in the open air and among the non-religious.
It has been calculated that today over 95% of Christian money is devoted to the maintenance of existing Christian institutions (buildings, ministers, staff) rather than looking towards carrying out what Jesus commanded His church to do – go into all the world and proclaim, make Disciples, and teach the Kingdom of God. Churches are failing to understand that as soon as we exit the church property we are in the mission field. The early Christians we ready and willing to undertake a conversation about Jesus with anyone, giving a full account of what they had seen and felt. Christianity is not a religion; it actually is a relationship with Jesus (even Christians get this wrong). It is only when people see we are hopelessly in love with Jesus and that it had obviously had a beneficial influence on our lives, that they may be prompted to consider Jesus for themselves.
Above all how the early church grew was by personal conversations. If we could instill into our congregations the responsibility, the basic knowledge and the motivation for personal sharing of the Good News, we would be well on our way to regaining the Christendom in the world. Christianity emerged at its very conception with this radical denial of the need for an intermediary caste of priests/clergy and all that goes with it. All took care of the pastoral need of the community. The early Christians were not into maintenance but into mission, outward looking and doing. Wouldn’t it be great if all of us were witnesses, bearing the joyful testimony to what Jesus has come to mean to us. Only in an encouraging atmosphere of love and tolerance and learning by experience can we expect the variety of ministries and missions to appear which God longs to impart to His church.
The first century church held full church meetings. The apostles did not come with any preconceived answers or made decision on their own. They took the problem, with their own convictions about their God-given calling to prioritize ministering the Word of God and prayer, and with the suggestions that the congregation should decide all things and appoint those full of the Spirit and wisdom to carry out the duty/decision. It was particularly important to ensure that everything was done up front, no backroom/hidden decisions, and preconceived plan which was imposed by a minority in the church or church leadership. They allowed maximum involvement in the decision making, no matter how long it took. The decision making in this whole ticklish business was done with the maximum of integrity, compassion, involvement of the congregation, and responsible commissioning. All the people were received with loving welcome, not suspicion. There was an open meeting for the whole church, and freedom to extend debate. People were determined to find God’s solution to problems, not impose their own solutions. Today very often our decisions are man-made. We seek to run Christ’s church in our way and then ask God’s blessing on the results, or imagine that the Holy Spirit must be behind our decisions. And then get mad at people for not participating, questioning decisions, or leave the church.
Jesus promised His disciples three things: they would be absurdly happy, completely fearless, and in constant trouble. Today, there are a great many Christians who are addicted to a particular pastor, building, signs, way of doing things, or a pattern of worship. In opposing any change, they bog a church down over secondary matters, while the primary purpose of the church bringing people to know Christ, teaching the ways of Christ, and making Disciples of Christ is allowed to slide. Then we multiply our legalism (rules and regulations) to deal these items and call them holy, which is killing the church.
The church can only live by doing what Jesus asked and commissioned His church to do – The Great Commission. We need to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. It may be what we need is a major injection of the Holy Spirit into the bloodless lives of our. And then again the Holy Spirit will not go where it is not welcomed.
The priorities of the first century church were always the direction of going outwards.
We wish to thank the many Biblical scholars, commentators, church historians, and archeologist of the Book of Acts and the early Christians and church for all their great work and information.