The first community of saints reflected the power and nature of God with their lives. The early Church followed their Biblical example (recorded in the Book of Acts) as they emulated the nature and essence of the first disciples. The observations of those who witnessed the early Church should inspire and guide us. If we were to imitate the earliest energized believers, our churches would transform the culture and inspire a new generation. How can we, as Christians today, become more like the Church that changed the world and transformed the Roman Empire? We must learn the truth, strive for unity, live in awe, serve in love, share with courage and overflow with joy. These six important characteristics were held by the earliest congregations:
And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Six simple attributes were observed in the earliest believers. These characteristics can serve as a template and guide for those of us who want to restore the passion and impact of the early Church. If we employ them today, we’ll create healthy, vibrant, transformative churches. As grateful Christ followers, our gratitude should motivate us to share the truth with others:
Principle #5: Share with Courage
The Church must live a bold and fearless life surrendered to the cause of Christ:
“…and they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple…”
While the early believers certainly cared for those within the Christian community who were in need, they also courageously communicated the truth of the Gospel with the world around them. The scriptures tell us they were of “one mind in the temple”. What was this “mind” they shared? Repeatedly, and in spite of intense opposition, the apostles and their disciples entered the temple and preached the truth about Jesus. This courageous stand for the truth often brought them into conflict with the world around them:
And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
Opposition became a part of the lives of the first believers. They grew to understand and accept it and live their lives with courage. They repeatedly returned to the most hostile of environments to share their faith because they knew (in spite of any hardship they might suffer) God had a cause they wanted to join and He was ultimately in control of their destiny. The first believers were continually directed back into the eye of the storm:
But an angel of the Lord during the night opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, “Go your way, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” And upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak, and began to teach.
The Church must live with courage. We need to be prepared and ready to share our faith with people who hold differing views. We know the first believers didn’t wait to be asked about their faith and their God; they entered into the most dangerous and hostile of territories and tactfully reasoned with non-believers, even before they were invited. We should live with this kind of wisdom and courage. We need to look and plan for opportunities to engage people with the Gospel. We should have the courage to talk to people who hold differing views. We should understand what they believe and where they are coming from. This passion and courage will often lead us into hostile territory; into the heart of other faith systems, onto university campuses, into ideological communities. But we ought to combine our time of training with a life of courage to advance the cause and mission of Jesus.
In this short series, we’ve examined the value of six important characteristics of the early Church. Grateful Christians cannot help but respond with gratitude and passion. Our gratitude ought to motivate us to share the truth with others. Although Christian congregations have taken many shapes and forms in the two thousand years since the first community of saints, none of these forms are as important as the transcendent purpose of God’s people here on earth. As we look deeply at the nature of the first Church described in the Book of Acts, we see God’s design for us as a family. The Church is not a place to meet; it is a people to be. When we, as a Church, consistently engage our world with the truth of the Gospel, we demonstrate its value in our own lives. If we truly believe the gospel is what we say it is, we ought to be eager to share it with others.
For more information about the reliability of the New Testament gospels and the case for Christianity, please read Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. This book teaches readers ten principles of cold-case investigations and applies these strategies to investigate the claims of the gospel authors. The book is accompanied by an eight-session Cold-Case Christianity DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.
J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.
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