Copyright 1994 - 2011 Endtime Prophecy Net
Where Are The First Century Churches?
Published On : April 8, 1998
Last Updated : May 9, 2011
A Lack Of Genuine Christian Love, Crammed Like Sardines In The Cities, We Are Spiritually Separated From Each Other, Selfishness And "Me First" Generation, Failure Of Communal Societies, Fear Of Persecution, Fear Of The Jews, An Unholy Alliance Between Government And Religion, Challenges Facing Modern Christian Communities, We Are In The World But Not Of The World, Balancing Privacy With Obligation To Be Witnesses Of Our Faith, Modern Christianity's Similarity To Church Of Laodicea, First Century Jews' Resistance To Christ, A Temple Not Made With Hands, Stephen's Martyrdom, Putting Our Faith Under God's Scriptural Magnifying Glass, Living Our Lives According To Our Own Faith Without Condemnation, Nature And Structure Of First Century Church, True Church Is The Body Of Believers, Christ Is The Cornerstone Of Our Spiritual Temple, Global False Religious System Of Churches, The Home Church
Aside from our lack of faith, our failure to obey God's Word is also due in part to a lack of genuine Christian love. As we saw in part four, Jesus said that faith would be severely lacking at the time of His Return. But that is not all that the Lord had to say. He also pointed out that true spiritual love would be absent as well, as we see by this verse:
"And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold."
Matthew 24:12, KJV
In other words, there will be so much sin on the Earth at the time of the Lord's Return, that love will be diminished. In the previous verse, the word "wax" is an old English word which means to grow cold, or to be made cool, or cold, as by blowing. It is translated from the Greek word "psucho". In other words, Jesus is describing a period of time which will be characterized by a spiritual coldness in people's hearts, and a lack of warmth and brotherly love.
Sadly, we don't have to look very far in order to determine that this kind of situation certainly exists in our own day. Many people today don't even know the neighbors who live in their same apartment building, or on their same neighborhood block. Despite the fact that many people now live in cities where they are crammed together like canned sardines, they are still spiritually separated from each other by great distances. They don't even know each other's names as they pass each other silently in the hallways; and many of them even carry guns or knives as a means to protect themselves from potential harm. Clearly, we live in an age which is characterized by fear and mistrust, and certainly not by love.
If people are no longer willing, or are simply incapable of opening up their lives to each other in a spiritual sense, they certainly are not going to be able to share both their lives, as well as their possessions, in a physical sense, as we saw earlier in this series. There is simply no way that such people will be able to follow the blueprint which was established by the First Century Church. Recent decades in which the "me first" attitude has so strongly prevailed over our society certainly attest to the truth of my words. While some people may not realize it, even the fact that this time is so characterized by selfishness is itself the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. I discuss this very same subject in the article entitled "Selfishness: A Prophesied Sign Of The Endtime!". Several Scriptures which come to mind are the following:
"And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth."
Luke 12:15, KJV
"This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy . . . "
2 Timothy 3:1-2, KJV
Thus, we can plainly see that unless we have true Faith and true spiritual Love burning in our hearts, it is virtually impossible to live the First Century Blueprint, as laid down by Jesus and His early Disciples. In decades gone by, many attempts have been made to create communal societies, such as are described in the Book of Acts. However, because the majority of them were lacking in the primary ingredient, and the cement which is required to hold them together -- that of course being faith in Jesus Christ -- they were doomed to failure from the very start. Eventually, many succumbed to their own selfish passions. Because many such communities were based upon physical human love -- meaning free sex and drugs in many cases -- it was inevitable that they would result in dismal failure.
However, this was not the case with all of them. There have been some communes which have managed to survive, despite a great deal of harassment and persecution from government and church authorities, who view said communities as a threat to their system of economic and spiritual slavery. As I stated in part four, it is precisely this fear of persecution by the powers-that-be -- both government and religious -- or perhaps by people who have been brainwashed into believing the lies which have been promoted by these authorities, which to some degree has prevented certain Christian communities from ever getting started, even though there was a sincere desire to do so.
As I explain in such articles as "Dracula: Fight Fear With The Word, Faith And Love", this same fear of persecution was also experienced by the early Disciples and the First Century Church; and the source of the fear was the same then as it is today; that is, government authorities -- meaning the Romans -- and organized religion -- meaning the Jewish religious Elders. It becomes quite evident that this was so in verses such as the following:
"Howbeit no man spake openly of him for fear of the Jews."
John 7:13, KJV
"These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue."
John 9:22, KJV
"And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus."
John 19:38, KJV
"Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you."
John 20:19, KJV
The spiritual force which prompted the marriage between the Roman Imperial Government and the leadership of Israel two thousand years ago, is the very same force which works today to unite modern government and organized religion into a very similar unholy alliance. That force has a name and a face, and it is Satan himself, as we see by this verse, in which Jesus plainly tells the Jewish Elders who their true father really is:
"Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it."
John 8:44, KJV
The Apostle Peter likewise admonishes us to beware of the machinations of the Devil when he writes the following:
"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:"
1 Peter 5:8, KJV
The New Testament clearly reveals that through the satanic persecution of Jesus Christ, the Roman authorities -- who were represented by Pontius Pilate at that time -- and the Jewish authorities -- who were represented by King Herod -- were united in a common cause and became friends, as we see by this verse:
"And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves."
Luke 23:12, KJV
So again, just as occurred two thousand years ago at the time of Christ, modern government and organized religion sometimes work hand-in-hand in order to suppress anyone who attempts to live outside of the system mold and accepted societal norms. This no doubt presents a serious challenge for anyone who may entertain the possibility of establishing a Christian commune which is based upon the First Century Church blueprint, in our modern day.
There are a number of factors which work against the success of any such modern Christian communities. In addition to the points which we have already covered, these include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. Mandatory school attendance being enforced by truancy laws
2. An atmosphere of fear and mistrust which has purposely been cultivated within society, so that people automatically question anything which appears a little out of the usual
3. The aggressive steps that are being taken to move society away from a physical monetary system -- meaning bills and coinage -- to a fully electronic computerized credit system
Because of these and other such factors working against them, such modern Christian communities would by necessity have to be in large part divorced from society. Such communes would have to be founded upon, as well as guided by, a great deal of faith, unselfish love, and mutual cooperation and sharing between all parties, exactly as is prescribed in the Book of Acts. These Christian communities would have to be totally self-sufficient, producing their own food, making their own clothes, building their own homes, providing the necessary schooling for their children, etc. They would in effect be in the world, but not of the world, as we saw in part four of this series.
Of course, being as our primary calling as Christians is to be a witness to the world, these communes would also have to have some system of security implemented, whereby they could protect themselves from outsiders -- perhaps even by keeping their exact location a secret -- but which at the same time would still allow them to be witnesses of their faith. But, given the current level of electronic surveillance which is now possible, maintaining full privacy is more than likely impossible to achieve. In fact, endeavoring to maintain full privacy may simply engender more suspicion on the part of outsiders -- such as government authorities -- who may not fully understand the desire to live according to the plan of the First Century Church.
It should be evident to you the reader that there is a clear difference between denominations within organized religion which claim to be First Century Churches, and those Christian communities which truly merit this title. The verses which we have examined reveal that Christian communities which truly deserve this title will demonstrate it not only through their words, but more importantly, by their deeds, which obviously means through their example of living the Life of Faith, as it is described for us in the pages of the New Testament. It is plain to see that most of us fail to meet these stringent requirements.
To reiterate a point that I made earlier, people who simply engage in constructing church buildings, who attend service one hour a week while they selfishly live their own lives for the remainder of the week, and who devote more of their time to earning money than to serving the Lord and being a witness of their Christian faith, do not qualify as First Century Christians, according to the Scriptures. The truth of the matter is that such people are lukewarm compromisers who feign to serve God, while in reality, most of their time is devoted to serving themselves, and the false god of this world, who offers them an easy, comfortable, materialistic life served on a platter.
This lukewarm form of modern Christianity is similar to the Church of Laodicea, which is described for us in the Book of Revelation as being rich, lazy, self-satisfied and fat. The Church of Laodicea had lost the vision, and it certainly was not living the message of the Gospel, or following the First Century pattern, as we see by the following verses:
"And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent."
Revelation 3:14-19, KJV
What I find so alarming about this description of the Church of Laodicea, is the fact that it took so little time -- more than likely only a few decades -- for it to decline to such a dismal spiritual condition. What does that say regarding our Christian faith today two thousand years later? How much have we become sidetracked in the things of this world?
The previous paragraphs no doubt contain a powerful message which many modern-day Christians will not be able to accept. It will make many Christians uncomfortable, and quite a few will in fact find it offensive, because it reveals certain things about their own lives which they do not wish to hear or recognize. Of course, this is nothing new. Even in Jesus' day, the Jewish Scribes and Pharisees obviously did not want their failures and sins exposed. Thus, Jesus said of them:
"If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin."
John 15:22, KJV
As I explain in other articles, following Jesus' Crucifixion and Resurrection, the Jewish religious leadership was still not willing to accept the truth, and recognize Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah. Thus, not only did they attempt to hide the truth concerning His Resurrection, but they continued in their murderous actions of trying to silence His emissaries of truth -- that is, the Lord's Apostles and Disciples -- by persecuting and killing them. In one example that is found in the Book of Acts, we are told that prior to stoning Stephen, they actually covered their ears, because they simply did not want to hear the truth regarding the corrupt nature of their false religious system. Exactly what was the truth that so upset them? It was that God does not dwell in temples made with hands. God is not into church buildings. Consider the following verses:
"Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Hath not my hand made all these things? Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep."
Acts 7:48-60, KJV
How many of us today likewise harden our hearts, and choose to cover our ears, because we don't wish to hear the truth? Are we so afraid to have our faith examined under the Lord's magnifying glass of the Scriptures, because we already know that doing so will expose the shallowness and hypocrisy of our faith, just as Jesus and His followers did with the Jews of their day? Are we afraid to discover that perhaps we are not quite as Christian as we thought we were? Are we afraid that the Lord will look at our "weekend Christianity" and find us wanting?
While I have set the bar rather high in this series -- even though it is no higher than what Jesus Himself set it almost two millennia ago -- I do recognize and fully accept that not everyone is called to be a full-time Disciple of Christ. Not everyone is able to, or willing, to drop out of man's secular system in order to follow Jesus Christ according to the First Century Church blueprint. In fact, not everyone is chosen to do so. We must each choose to live our lives according to our own personal faith, regardless of what anyone else thinks. As the Lord Himself said in the Gospels:
"For many are called, but few are chosen."
Matthew 22:14, KJV
"Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you."
John 15:16, KJV
This series is mainly directly at those people who do feel called by the Lord to live a lifestyle which is comparable to His First Century followers. Its purpose is likewise to motivate all of us to examine our hearts, and to make sure that we are living a life which is pleasing to the Lord, while at the same time, not boasting beyond our measure. In other words, let's not pretend that we are holier than we are, or that we are living like the Christians of the First Century, when the truth is that we probably are not.
As I said a moment ago, if we honestly feel that our hearts are right with the Lord, and that our lives are pleasing in His sight, then we should not allow anyone, or anything, to convince us otherwise, or to condemn us, as we alone must answer to the Lord for our actions and the decisions that we make in this life. This truth is clearly born out in verses: such as the following:
"There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
Romans 8:1, KJV
"One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind."
Romans 14:5, KJV
"Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth."
Romans 14:22, KJV
"For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things."
1 John 3:20, KJV
"Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God."
1 John 3:21, KJV
So while I have presented a strong challenge to my readers to accept the calling of full-time Discipleship, please do not feel condemned if this goal is currently beyond your personal reach and level of faith. As I said, if nothing else, I hope that the powerful truths which I have shared here, will at least motivate you to reexamine your current walk with the Lord. Perhaps I have touched on a few areas where you can make some improvements in your life that will help to strengthen your faith and enhance your relationship with the Lord. And again, I hope that this series will help those of you who hold an inflated image of yourselves, or of your church, to realize that you are not the high and mighty Christians that you believe yourselves to be.
Having said that, if this series sparks the flame of faith in the hearts of a few of my readers, so that they will dare to take God at His Word, and will try to accomplish what I have described here, then I will be even more pleased. If you are such a person of faith, I would truly enjoy hearing from you regarding your successes for the Lord. God is no doubt willing and able. Are you up to the challenge?
At this point in our series, we are now going to further examine the actual nature and structure of the First Century Church.
Compared to the complex, man-made, worldwide hierarchies we are familiar with today -- such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, for example -- the First Century Church was actually a rather loose-knit structure. I am not speaking in terms of doctrinal unity and spiritual love, as in that regard, the Scriptures clearly reveal that they were very much bonded together; at least at first. I am speaking more in terms of their physical, organizational structure.
As I explained earlier in our series, according to the Bible, the First Century Church did not consist of a physical empire comprised of buildings; rather, the true Church was the actual Body of Believers, who initially fellowshipped in the Temple, and then later on, in the privacy of their own dwellings, and quite possibly even in multi-family houses, which today could be viewed as Christian communes. The idea of the true Church being comprised of actual people, and not of buildings, is clearly born out in the Apostle Peter's first Epistle where he writes the following:
"Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,"
1 Peter 2:5-7, KJV
Thus we have a symbolic picture of God's spiritual Temple in which Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone, and we ourselves are living, breathing stones which form the rest of His Temple. You may recall that in part two, I mentioned that our English word "church" is derived from the Greek word "ekklesia", and that this word refers to an assembly of people, and not to a building. This idea is further born out by a number of other verses which are found in the New Testament, such as the following, where Jesus informs the woman of Samaria that the Temple worship in Jerusalem will come to an end, because God desires that we worship Him in Spirit and in Truth:
"Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
John 4:21-24, KJV
So Jesus said it, and He was killed by the Jews. The martyr Stephen likewise dared to say it, and he was also murdered by the Jews. Obviously then, the Lord's First Century followers clearly understood and realized that God was not interested in temple-building -- or church-building -- because He views us as living members of His spiritual Temple, of which Christ is the chief Cornerstone. Consider the following verses which likewise verify this point:
"And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ."
1 Corinthians 10:4, KJV
"What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."
1 Corinthians 6:19-20, KJV
"And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty."
2 Corinthians 6:16-18, KJV
"For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."
2 Corinthians 5:1, KJV
"Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name."
Revelation 3:12, KJV
"And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it."
Revelation 21:22, KJV
Despite this obvious Scriptural truth, modern religionists continue to build their expensive cathedrals, basilicas and church buildings by the thousands all over the world, and people flock to them by the millions, not realizing that they are the true Church, and not some dead, cold building. God's Spirit dwells within them, and they do not need to go to some church building in order to find God, or to worship God. Do you realize what could conceivably happen if the entire Christian world were to suddenly recognize such a powerful truth? It is quite possible that the global false religious system would simply collapse, and the wealth of those who control it would vanish. That is one of the main reasons why religionists so heavily promote the deception that one must attend a church building, in order to be a true Christian; but that is not what the Bible teaches us.
So, exactly what is the smallest unit which can technically be defined as being a Church? Contrary to what is promoted by modern-day religionists, based on Jesus' own words, a Church can be comprised of as few as two or three members. Consider what the Lord said in the Gospel of Matthew:
"Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
Matthew 18:19-20, KJV
Based on those verses, we can say that if you and your wife, or if you, your wife and your children sincerely believe in and love the Lord with all your hearts, and choose to worship Him in the privacy of your own home, you constitute a Church. Jesus is in the midst of you, and He recognizes you as a part of His Body. That is Scriptural fact, regardless of what the religionists may say.
So who are you going to believe; that popular pastor with the large congregation who criticizes you for not attending his church, and who convinces his members that you are just a backslidden Christian, or God and His Word? Please realize that God is not interested so much in quantity as He is in quality. He is more impressed by a small Christian family fellowship of earnest believers, than by a church building that is full of half-hearted Christians who are there due to political correctness and maintaining the status quo.
So this gathering together of two or three people is the smallest Church unit. We can refer to this unit as a Family Church, or as a Home Church; although you really don't even need to belong to the same biological family in order to come together for prayer, fellowship and a sharing of God's Word.
Please go to part six for the continuation of this series.
⇒ Go To The Next Part . . .