A great deal of time, study, and resources have been spent on making sure that the church of the 21st century models the church in the 1st century. Some things are different now than they were then (i.e. microphones, attire, etc.), but the same truth that provided the foundation of the church then should provide the foundation for the church now (Eph. 2:17-22).
This is a noble goal that many have undertaken in the past and even now in the present unfortunately, our work is not done. There may be no better place to go to learn about the early church than the book of Acts.
The book opens with Jesus ascending into heaven to be with the Father (1:1-9). After this the Holy Spirit fell upon the apostles allowing them to do miraculous things (2:1-13). From here Peter preaches the first gospel sermon leading to thousands obeying the gospel and becoming Christians (2:37-41). The book of Acts doesn’t remain all positive and joyous however. It’s in the later portions of this book that we begin to see the three major differences between us and the early church.
Courage Over Caution
The church in Acts continued to bloom and flourish, but some of that growth came at the expense of shed blood. As early as chapter four we see hostility mounting against Christianity. What begins as annoyance turns to hatred and violence in chapter seven where we read about Stephen’s death at the hands of hostile critics (vv.54-60). The hostility only gets worse from here as the church becomes target practice for masses (8:1-3).
Anger. Murder. Persecution. Sounds bad right? It undoubtedly was, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by the way the early church reacted. In the face of torture and torment what did the early church do? They preached (4:19-21; 8:4). They continued to do the very acts that got them killed in the first place. What courage! These Christians could only be silenced by death, and even then their spilled blood proclaimed the glory of Christ! This courage, however, is not a characteristic that defines us today. Want to silence a Christian today? Label them a “bigot,” call them “hateful” or write them up in an unsavory magazine article. We’ve become cautious. Where did our courage go? Let’s reclaim our courage and remember again that Jesus is worth living for…even if it means death.
Trust Over Security
For the American Christian there may be no bigger idol than the idol of wealth. People here are measured by their size of their house, stuff in their garage, and net income. We are encouraged to achieve at all costs, and value success of self over relationships with others. We routinely hide our money from those who need it and deposit hope in our bank accounts all in the name of financial security. People around you and I aren’t sure where their next meal will come from, but hey at least we’ll be able to retire in our sixties, right?
The early church didn’t behave in such a way. When they were told that the church was a family they believed it. They willingly gave up our their stuff to help each other knowing that if they were ever in need the church would swoop in to take care of them (4:32-37). They abandoned security in cash for trust in Christ and His body, a mindset that we need to adopt today.
Discomfort Over Comfort
From Acts 13 on the book focuses on the missionary travels of Paul and his various traveling companions. It didn’t matter how Paul traveled these missionary journeys. His road was always a treacherous one whether by foot, by boat, or by donkey. Paul encountered mobs (17:5, 13), shipwrecks (27:39-41), arrests (21:29-33), death threats (23:12) and a multitude of other painful experiences (2 Cor. 11:23-28). Despite all of this Paul persisted in teaching others about Christ.
Would we risk such discomfort now? We know the answer to that question. Threaten to take my job away? I’ll stop talking about Christ. I have to give up sports to attend worship? God can wait. Shame on us for letting minor inconveniences and a lack of self-denial stop us from preaching Christ when not even beatings, shipwrecks, and torture could hold the 1st century Christians back.
What Do We Do?
Please don’t write this article off by jumping to extreme conclusions that I didn’t write about. I’m not saying we should be rude in our evangelistic approach, give everything away and run our family out onto the street. I am saying this: we’ve got work to do. The same God that made the early church courageous, and trusting and willing to live in discomfort still lives and works in this world today and we should be as courageous and trusting and as willing to live in discomfort as they were. How can we do this? We can risk losing our friends at the expense of teaching them about Christ. We can downsize on our American dream home and give that extra money to church or charity. We can put ourselves in uncomfortable and awkward situations in hopes of saving someone’s soul. If we truly want to be like the early church, we’ve got to think like they thought, do as they did, and live as they lived courageously, faithfully and uncomfortably in Christ.