The first community of saints reflected the power and design of God in their lives as a family of believers. The early history of the Church simply reflected the Biblical record from the Book of Acts describing the nature and essence of the first community of saints. The observations of those who witnessed the early Church should inspire and guide us. If we were to emulate 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 principles 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. The family of God must be united:
Principle #2: Strive for Unity
The Church must be connected by a common Father, a common truth, and a common cause:
“…and they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…”
Christians are a diverse people. We have different histories and different stories to tell. But we are connected powerfully by a common truth calling us to action. The Greek word used for ‘fellowship’ (koinoonia) describes our connection to a common set of actions and activities. We have a common spiritual father, and we believe the Scriptures describing him so clearly. We believe this truth about the nature of God calls us to His cause and plan for our lives. As a result, we are united around the cause of Christ to love and reach the lost with lifesaving good news.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
We have become a new creation. Not just as new individuals, but as a new family of God; a new movement; an unstoppable rising tide. As a family of God we are called to love and live as a family. We meet regularly to share meals, to remember Jesus through the Lord’s Supper and to pray. But while this is often an expression of our love for one another, we know this is not the only cause to which we are called. We know we are connected by God’s desire to care for the needy and reach those who are still outside the walls of our homes.
The earliest believers understood fellowship as an act of sharing. We too understand that true fellowship occurs when we are transparent and sincere about who we are. Movements form around people who are committed to a cause and committed to each other. We are united by God’s desire for us to share who we are and what we have with those who are in need and those who are seeking the truth. We are not willing to live dual lives, one inside the walls of a church, and another in our communities. We understand that we are not called to go to church, but to be the Church in a lost and hurting world.
The Church ought to meet regularly to affirm our love for God and for one another. We should understand the power of a meal, so we shouldn’t let a week go by without eating together. We ought to understand the power of group prayer, so we should share in the joy of communicating with God. And we should take time to remember our relationship is more than just a common understanding of God; it is also a love relationship with each other. Loving each other means listening with compassion and asking the difficult questions. We must be accountable to each other by name, just as we are accountable to our Lord. Our relationship is more than just a common understanding of God; it is also a love relationship with each other. Click To Tweet
In this short series, we’ll describe the value of these six important characteristics of the early Church. There’s a reason the word “unity” is part of community. Church groups have taken every shape and form in the two thousand years since the first community of saints. The current form is not nearly as important as the transcendent purpose of God’s people here on earth. As we look deeply at the nature of the first Church as it was 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, are united around a common truth and a common purpose, the resulting change in our character will be noticeable and transformative.
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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