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Where Are The First Century Churches?
Published On : April 8, 1998
Last Updated : May 9, 2011
That Was Then And This Is Now, We Must Have Our Megachurches, Early Disciples Won New Converts By The Thousands In One Day, Stadium Crusades And Christians Who Persevere, Apostles Cast Into Prison And Warned To Stop Preaching In The Name Of Jesus, First Century Christian Home Fellowships, From House To House, Singleness Of Heart And Unity Of The Spirit, Simplicity Of The Gospel Of Christ, Burden Of The Law, Paul's Warnings Regarding Jewish False Brethren And False Doctrines That Perverted The Gospel Of Christ, The Home Is The Center Of The True Church, Modern Methods Of Evangelization, Blueprint Hasn't Changed, Modern Christianity Is A Religion Of Convenience, Dangers Of Worldliness, Persecution: Price Of Dropping Out And Following Jesus, Laws Against Communal Living, Organized Religion Fears Small Christian Fellowships, Who Is Actually The Real Cult?, Sickening Personality Cult Worship, Apostle Paul's Rebukes, Paul Heals A Crippled Man In Lystra, Strange Manifestations
Another excuse which is often used by modern Christians to try to justify the millions -- if not billions -- of dollars that are invested annually in constructing lavish church buildings goes something like this: "We understand that the Disciples of the First Century met in small fellowships in the privacy of their homes, or perhaps out in a field, but that was then, and this is now. You need to understand that we are much bigger today. We couldn't possibly meet in our homes, or even in some public place. We must have our church buildings. We must have our megachurches".
Quite frankly, this is not a valid excuse for not following the Original Plan that is laid down in the Book of Acts, as well as in the Gospels and the Epistles. Let us not forget that the Apostles and Early Disciples were winning thousands of new converts at a time. On two occasions alone they won at least eight thousand new members, and that only included the men. In contrast, I am not aware of one single modern church that's actually winning new members thousands at a time; are you? Hundreds or thousands of people may accept Jesus Christ at huge stadium crusades, but how many of them actually go on to become full-time members of a church, and begin to lead active Christian lives? How many of them actually persevere in their new-found Faith once the event has ended?
To the contrary, polls and statistics indicate that church attendance has actually been in decline for many years; in fact, for decades. Consider the following verses, and notice that these new converts were not only baptized in a single day, but they were also "added unto them". I understand this phrase to mean that these new converts actually joined the fledgling Christian Church, and became active participants in it, by following the doctrines and practices of the Apostles. Again, they were not won over a period of time; they were won in a single day:
"Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls."
Acts 2:41, KJV
"Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand."
Acts 4:4, KJV
A close examination of the Book of Acts reveals that after those two mighty witnessing events had occurred, no one said "Hey guys, we are getting too big to be doing this outside. Let's start a building fund so that we can build ourselves some big fancy church buildings. Let's give those Pharisees at the Temple some stiff competition." Now, I realize that I am being a bit dramatic here, but it is to make a point. As I mentioned earlier, it is common knowledge that the Apostles couldn't have constructed church buildings even if they had wanted to, because the Jewish religious Elders were after their blood, as were the Romans as well. Contrary to such an outrageous proposal as constructing church buildings, the following verses explain exactly what the Apostles had their new converts do:
"And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,"
Acts 2:46, KJV
"And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house,"
Acts 20:20, KJV
While the Apostles and Disciples may have initially gotten together for fellowship in the Temple, we know that it did not last for long; particularly not after the Jewish Elders had them thrown into prison, and then warned them to desist from preaching in the name of Jesus in Acts chapter five, as we see by the following verses:
"Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation, And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison . . . Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people. Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men."
Acts 5:17-18, 25-29, KJV
After the Disciples were kicked out of the Temple because of their radical doctrine of Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone, they didn't just abandon their new-found Faith. Neither did they go out and build a new temple that would be able to accommodate even more people, and rival the Temple which already stood on Mount Moriah. After all, as Peter said to the lame man in Acts chapter three "Silver and gold have I none". The above verses plainly inform us that the Christians of the First Century met both publicly, as well as privately, in the homes of fellow Believers. In other words, the obvious blueprint of the First Century Church was home fellowships.
I find it rather interesting that the Apostle Paul went from actually persecuting the Early Christians from house to house, to actually ministering to them from house to house. Compare the following two verses. This fact becomes more evident when we view these verses side-by-side:
"As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison."
Acts 8:3, KJV
"And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house,"
Acts 20:20, KJV
So according to all of the previous verses, Paul persecuted from house to house, he preached house to house after he came to Jesus Christ -- or rather said, he was forcefully brought to Christ on the road to Damascus -- and the Disciples of the First Century Disciples broke bread from house to house. Can the message and the First Century blueprint be any clearer than that?
This is precisely what we saw in earlier verses as well. Even though Christian Believers of the First Century lived much as we do today -- that is, in separate dwellings -- we are told that there was "singleness of heart". This word "singleness" is derived from the Greek word "aphelotes", which also means simplicity. In other words, the First Century Disciples were in unity with the Apostles, and obviously adhered to the same doctrines. There was sweet Christian fellowship and unity of the Spirit. This is precisely what the Apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthian brethren to strive for in the following verse:
"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment."
1 Corinthians 1:10, KJV
In another sense, the phrase "singleness of heart" can also be interpreted as meaning that the Disciples shared a simple sincere faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, in contrast to the Scribes and the Pharisees who had a very complicated religious system that was marked by all kinds of laws and oral traditions, the fledgling Christian faith was -- and continues to be -- based upon one basic, simple truth; and that Truth is that Salvation can be obtained through faith in the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ alone. There are no other requirements that must be met, other than repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Church doctrines and traditions will not save us. Only being washed in the Blood of Jesus Christ can do that.
As I point out in other articles, it is this central Truth which the unbelieving Jews unsuccessfully tried to destroy. In order to accomplish this, they sent in spies and false brethren -- that is, Jews who still believed that one must adhere to the Mosaic Law to the letter -- who then tried to create doctrinal division between the First Disciples. In other words, similar to certain Christians today who insist that water baptism, or keeping the Sabbath, or belonging to one particular church or group are necessary in order to be truly saved, those crafty Jewish leaders schemed to destroy the simplicity of the Gospel of Christ by adding burdensome conditions to Salvation, such as their insistence that one must be circumcised. In the Gospels, even Jesus exposed this particular sin of the Jewish religious leaders when He said:
". . . The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers."
Matthew 23:2-4, KJV
Years later, those Law-bound Jews were still trying to impose the Law, and their vain traditions, upon the Disciples. Paul fully understood this, which is why we find warnings such as the following throughout his writings:
"For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."
Romans 2:28-29, KJV
"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."
Colossians 2:6-8, KJV
"And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God."
1 Corinthians 2:4-5, KJV
So as you can see, as a former Pharisee and a persecutor of the Church, the Apostle Paul was more than aware of their craftiness. In fact, just prior to beginning his final trip to Jerusalem, Paul issued the following warning concerning the legalistic Jews in the Book of Acts:
"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them."
Acts 20:28-30, KJV
Paul's concern for the young fledgling Christian Church, and how it might be destroyed from within by his former Jewish brethren -- the Pharisees -- is quite evident in a number of his other Epistles as well. Consider the following verses where Paul repeatedly warns the Christian brethren to beware of Jewish false brethren:
"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them."
Romans 16:17, KJV
"But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him . . . For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works."
2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 13-15, KJV
"I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed."
Galatians 1:6-9, KJV
"And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you."
Galatians 2:4-5, KJV
"Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision."
Philippians 3:2, KJV
"If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself."
1 Timothy 6:3-5, KJV
"But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself."
Titus 3:9-11, KJV
Again, Paul's words are primarily directed at the Jewish religious hierarchy, who not only rejected Christ, but who were also directly responsible for His Death upon a Roman cross. They -- and their lackeys -- were a constant threat to the First Century Christian Church.
In the previous verses from Paul's second Epistle to the Corinthians, the word "simplicity" is derived from the Greek word "haplotes". This word signifies singleness, simplicity, sincerity, or mental honesty. Please notice that it is very similar to the Greek word "aphelotes" which is translated as "singleness" in the previous verse that we examined from the Book of Acts, where we read that they "did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart".
With the Scriptural evidence which we have examined thus far, it should be evident to you that the True Church is actually centered in the home; because the Church does not consist of a physical building, but rather of the Believers themselves. This is an issue which we will discuss in more detail later on in this series. Despite the fact that the First Century Apostles were winning literally thousands of new converts to the Christian faith, they still continued to meet in their homes -- obviously in small groups -- where they shared not only the Bread of Life -- that is, the Word of God -- but they also shared their food and other necessities as well.
As you may have already concluded from the previous verses, once they converted to the new Faith, these early Christians opened their homes for other Disciples to come and live with them, provided, of course, that they had room. In short, some of the larger residences which were not sold, probably became Christian communes of various sizes. I will be exploring this concept further on in this series. The main question that I wish for you to consider at this time is this: In light of the Scriptural truth which I have now presented here, verse by verse, why is it that some people today continue to build and attend their big fancy church buildings? Has God changed the way He wants us to do things today? I seriously doubt it; for as the Apostle Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Hebrews:
"Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever."
Hebrews 13:8, KJV
While our methods of preaching the Gospel have improved as more modern means of evangelization have become available to us, such as radio, television, Gospel tracts, the Internet, etc., the basic Gospel message has not changed. Furthermore, it is my belief that the Original Blueprint regarding how we are to live the Gospel has not changed either. More to the point, if we apply the previous Scriptures to our situation today, how can anyone claim to be seeking first the Kingdom of God -- as Jesus commanded us to do -- when they dedicate most of the week to working to meet their own needs, and to satisfying their own personal pleasures? How many of us have taken up the challenge to follow the pattern of the Book of Acts, by living and sharing together like the Christians of the First Century Church?
Quite frankly, this is one of the big deceptions that is so often promoted by modern Christianity. In my view, for many Christians today -- although not all -- organized religion -- or "organized division" as I prefer to call it -- is in reality a religion of convenience. In other words, the creed of quite a few modern Christians seems to be "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, after you have sought out your own needs and pleasures first". It is a religion of compromise; it is a religion of selfish materialism; and it conflicts directly with the Apostle John's warning regarding the danger of worldliness, which we find in his first Epistle, as we see here:
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world."
1 John 2:15-16, KJV
The Apostles James and Paul likewise had this to say on the very same subject, and admonished us to not become entangled with the affairs of this world, or to be blinded by its many enticements, but to keep our sight set on the Kingdom of God:
"While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal."
2 Corinthians 4:18, KJV
"If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth."
Colossians 3:1-2, KJV
"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness."
1 Timothy 6:6-11, KJV
"No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier."
2 Timothy 2:4, KJV
"Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God."
James 4:4, KJV
You may recall that in part two, I shared the following verses with you from the Gospel of Mark:
"And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life."
Mark 10:29-30, KJV
Please notice that the Lord attached one other item to the list of things which we will inherit, if we take the step of faith, and choose to follow Him one hundred percent every day of our lives as true Disciples. I am not referring to Eternal Life, but rather to His phrase "with persecutions". In other words, if you're so bold as to drop out of the worldly system of man-made slavery, you will be rewarded both in this life, as well as in the next; but you need to be prepared to suffer some degree of persecution, due to your willingness to make such a bold choice.
The truth of the matter is that the rulers of this world both hate and despise anyone -- whether they are Christian or not -- who can demonstrate that it's actually possible to survive outside of their oppressive economic system. These dropouts prove that there is another way; a better way; a way that the powers-that-be simply do not want people to learn about, and much less actually try to live. If you doubt that this is so, then stop to consider how many laws have now been enacted which basically make it illegal for people to live together in a communal lifestyle. There are zoning laws, housing laws, health department rules, etc., which discourage this type of living, all under the guise of the cloak of public safety and legality.
As if this were not enough, by way of the mass media, Satan has made sure that alarming terms such as free love, wild sex, prostitution rings, dangerous cult, arms traffickers, drug traffickers, etc., have become associated with these kinds of communities. Sadly, it seems that this suppression and persecution isn't just limited to government authorities alone. I suspect that some members of organized religion may also have a hand in instigating persecution against certain small Christian fellowships as well, because they view such fellowships as competition, and they fear that they might lose their members to them. Isn't this precisely what we see occurring in both the Gospels and the Book of Acts? As we saw earlier, these books reveal that the established religion of the day -- Judaism -- persecuted the fledgling Christian Church, beginning with the persecution of Jesus Himself.
As I recently questioned on the Endtime Prophecy Net Blog, why is it, that if a small group of dedicated Christians get together in the privacy of a fellow Christian's home in order to engage in Christian fellowship, perhaps participate in a Bible study, and share a potluck dinner, they are viewed with suspicion, perhaps suspected of being a danger to society, and maybe even accused of being a strange cult; yet if those very same people attend a church service where there is also Christian fellowship, a Bible study before mass, and perhaps an after-service potluck or snacks as well, they are viewed as respectable members of society? What is the difference?
Let's be honest here. The way that some church members are so mesmerized by, and blindly follow the teachings and doctrines of their pastors, priests, ministers, bishops, archbishops -- and yes, even the Pope in Rome -- one would almost think that they are cult leaders as well. There is so much man worship and personality worship occurring within organized religion, that it is quite sickening. Isn't that exactly what cults do? Don't they blindly follow a man or woman who claims to be the very voice of God? Don't they convince their followers that they have received special revelations from the Lord? It may surprise you to learn that many modern denominations began in this very same manner, yet now they are respected members of organized religion. Infatuation with any man or woman of God can be a dangerous thing. Whether there are ten followers, or millions of followers, it may still be a cult. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus alone.
The Scriptures reveal that even the Apostle Paul had to deal with the human propensity for man worship. Thus, we find him writing the following in his Epistle to the Corinthians:
"For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?"
1 Corinthians 1:11-13, KJV
"For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase."
1 Corinthians 3:3-7, KJV
Please go to part four for the continuation of this series.
⇒ Go To The Next Part . . .