Like the Early Christians!

Like the Early Christians

Like the Early Christians!

Richard Hollerman

Do you sometimes read over the Bible—particularly Acts and the Letters—and wish that you could experience the love, devotion, fellowship, and closeness that you read about on its inspired pages? Do you often wonder whether it is possible to have the same perspective, the same attitudes, the same beliefs, and the same lifestyle as did the early believers in the Lord Jesus? Probably these thoughts have gone through the mind of every thoughtful and sensitive believer, but what about you?

If this has entered your mind, you may be in the minority, but still there must be many people scattered on earth who wish for something more, something higher, something greater than what they’ve experienced in the past. Does this describe you? If so, let’s discuss this sober and vital theme somewhat further.

Let’s begin by refining our speech somewhat. Paul wrote to Titus, urging him to be “sound in speech which is beyond reproach” (2:8a).[1] For this present article, we’ll generally be using terminology that is more in keeping with the pure words of Scripture rather than the more religious words found in our common Translations. As Scripture says, “The words of the LORD are pure words” (Psalm 12:6a).

Reader, could it be that some of you reacted somewhat by even our title above? A few may respond by saying, “Why should I want to be like the ‘early’ Christians? I’m more concerned about finding God’s will for me now and in the future—and I’m not that concerned about the past!” We worded the title to emphasize that we need to be very interested in what the early—the first—Christians were, as well as what the early Christians believed and taught. Why?

Because God revealed His will in history, as reflected on the pages of Scripture! Paul wrote, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This means that God, our Creator, revealed His will to us through the Spirit-given words of the Bible.[2] The writers were “moved by the Holy Spirit” so that they “spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21). Thus, we should be utterly concerned about what the Bible says—especially the New Testament portion, which was meant for people in our day.

Yahweh God pleaded with His people Israel, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you shall find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it’” (Jeremiah 6:16). These wayward people were to go back to earlier times and seek God’s will, but they refused! We too need to go back to the times of Christ and His followers who were sent out with His message[3] and ask what they believed and taught. If they taught God’s will, we should be utterly interested in what this will was and is!

A Christ-Centered People

In many ways and at many places, we learn that the early disciples were entirely focused on Jesus, the Messiah and Lord. They were devoted to Him, they were in love with Him, they trusted and obeyed Him, and they served Him 24 hours a day! In short, their life was Jesus Himself! As Paul wrote, “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). Paul went so far as to affirm, “To me, to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21a).

Sadly, today it would seem that those who are willing to accept the name, “Christian,” have merely a passing interest in Christ. They may or may not be willing to identify with Him publicly and they seldom give their time to Him. They are willing to spend their time and life following the sports, watching TV, listening to the radio, checking their smart phone, playing computer games, going to restaurants, and visiting with friends. But where is the Lord Jesus in all of this?

All of this is opposed to the focus and lifestyle of the true follower of Christ, as described on the inspired pages of Scripture. We must be willing to identify with the Lord publicly at all times and in every way! Jesus declared, “Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before Men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). The reverse is also true: “Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).

God’s people are to be a Christ-loving, Christ-trusting, Christ-obeying, Christ-confessing, and Christ-centered people! Why were the early disciples so consumed, so passionate, and so devoted on Jesus? One of the chief reasons was that they knew He had created them, come to the earth for them, suffered and died for them and their sins, risen on the third day for them, ascended to God in heaven to intercede for them, and would return in power and glory one day for them!

The early Christians were a Christ-centered assembly of holy ones. “With great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). They were consumed with a love of Jesus who had borne their sins on the cross and risen from the dead to be their living Savior and Lord! Are we willing to have this same perspective and this same live style?

A Loving Fellowship

If there is one characteristic that describes God’s people, it would be that of love! We are not talking about the Hollywood type of “love” or the “love” that someone may have for a pet, but a special kind of love that is described on the pages of our Bible.

The noun, agape, and the verb agapao, refer to that special love that is found in the way of Christ and was previously unknown. God loved His Son (John 17:27) as well as everyone in general (John 3:16; Romans 5:8), especially those who believe in Christ (John 14:21) and obey Him (John 14:15, 21-24). Thus, this special love was an outgoing, unselfish, sacrificial, and involved love that seeks the welfare of the beloved!

The believing fellowship is one of love! Jesus plainly said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). It is true that people of the world and those who belong to world religions as well as professing (but unsaved) “Christians” manifest some regard for each other, but it is natural that true believers have a genuine care and love for each other. Thus, brothers and sisters love each other! “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11; see also 3:13 to 5:3).

If you seek the fellowship of other followers of Christ Jesus, make sure that you manifest genuine, sincere, obedient love for God, for Christ, and for other genuine children of God. It is true that people around us, including “religious” and “church-going” people, will have some camaraderie and friendliness toward each other—but here we are speaking of a relationship that is deeper and more significant than all of this. We will surely love other people in general (Luke 6:27-28), but there is a special love that will be natural for you to express toward those who have been born of God and are fellow-children of God! “Whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him” (1 John 5:1b). Do we seek this? And are we part of such a community of believers? If so, we will find a genuine love that is not found in the world around us!

A Scripture-Oriented People[4]

If we were to duplicate the early believers, we would want to find a people who were very oriented toward the God-given Scriptures, often called the Bible. We should look on the Bible (especially the New Testament[5]) with special regard, with great respect, and with special interest. Paul, the “sent one,” wrote, “We write nothing else to you than what you read and understand, and I hope you will understand until the end” (2 Corinthians 1:13). We need to “read and understand” what God has revealed through Paul and the other specially-chosen writers of Scripture. The same writer said, “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13; see also 1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Let’s pay utter attention to what God wants us to read and understand, then let us seek to apply it to our personal life as well as our life in association with other true believers. Let’s be willing to cast aside everything that competes with God’s Word.[6] Let’s be willing to turn away from all confessions, disciplines, manuals, rule books, and “statements of faith”—especially those that differ from the Word of God! We are to follow God’s inspired, God-given, authoritative Word!

Like the Early Christians

A Believing People

When Luke wrote the book of Acts in the new covenant portion of the Bible, he said, “All the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number” (Acts 5:14). In what way were these people “believers”? This term was used there and elsewhere to emphasize the important fact that they were separated from other people (such as the Jews and Gentiles) by their belief! These people “believed” the good news of Jesus Christ (and were baptized into Him) (Acts 8:12). They believed in God, in Jesus, in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, in the full “gospel” of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; cf. John 5:24; 6:47; 11:25-26; Acts 16:30-31).

Today God calls on us to have a firm faith or belief in Jesus Christ and in the truth of the Scriptures. In contrast to the widespread unbelief in the world, our Creator insists that we believe in Him fully and completely. While Buddhists deny God entirely, Hindus claim allegiance to over 300 million false gods, Muslims reject God by rejecting His Son, and Jews reject God by refusing to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. And, as we know, vast numbers of professing “Christians” also fail to truly place their faith in Jesus Christ as their sole hope of eternal life. God’s people today must exercise this form of genuine faith in God through Jesus Christ. Do we truly believe? Are we genuine believers?

A Repentant People

When we speak about faith in Christ, we must also see the importance that the early Christians placed on repentance. In reality, both faith and repentance are joined and were looked on as two sides of the same response to the saving message of Christ. Paul testified to all people “of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). We can’t have one without the other. People repented of their lack of faith as well as their grave sins. Jesus said that unless we repent, we will perish (Luke 13:3, 5), and that “repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations” (24:47). We read that those in sin were to repent to be forgiven of sin (Acts 2:38), so that their “sins may be wiped away” (3:19). They should repent in view of the coming judgment (17:30-31).

Those who refused to repent would store up God’s wrath “in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5). Sadly, we seldom hear or read of the importance of turning from all sin in repentance and turning to God in submission to His absolute authority! Some would say that we only repent of our failure to believer; however, in reality, we are to repent of all of our sins—all of the sins that separate us from God and bring us under His just judgment!

A Baptized People

While only a few would deny anything called baptism,[7] many (actually most) Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants do deny aspects of baptism! For instance, the Scriptures point out that a person must repent of their sins (Acts 2:38), believe in Jesus Christ (Acts 8:12, 36-39; 18:8; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:11-13), and commit their lives to Jesus Christ in order to be properly baptized. Of course, such groups as Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, the United Church of Christ, and others “baptize” babies who are incapable of such faith and repentance. They have ways of avoiding the plain words of Scripture that say, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16a). Obviously, a child cannot have saving faith in Christ, thus is not qualified for baptism.

Further, the term “baptism” is from baptisma, and consists of “the processes of immersion, submersion and emergence.”[8] In other words, baptize means to dip, to immerse, to submerge, to sink, or to cover. This is reflected in the examples of the New Testament. For instance, both Philip and the Ethiopian man “went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water…” (Acts 8:38-39). John the immerser even took Jesus into the water to baptize him and “Jesus came up immediately from the water” (Matthew 3:16). Further, Paul said, “we have been buried with Him through baptism into death” (Romans 6:4). Similarly, Paul says, “. . . having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12). Some may also refer to Jesus statement that we must be “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5).[9] Millions and millions of people have just received a water ceremony of being sprinkled or poured with water—and they haven’t been literally baptized (immersed into the water).

Further, we must note the meaning or significance of the baptism of the new covenant. Ironically, most of those who claim to “baptize” infants do believe in some form of “baptismal regeneration” which, in itself, is unscriptural. In contrast, most of those who profess to believe in adult (or “believer’s”) baptism simply look on baptism as a “profession of faith” or a “public testimony” to a prior salvation experience.

What does Scripture say? Peter declared, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Scripture also says, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His [Christ’s] name” (22:16). Baptism is related to being united to Jesus Christ and His death (Romans 6:3-5), the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 2:12-13), putting on Christ (Galatians 3:26-27), salvation (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21), and entering the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). We can see the importance of this act that most religionists deny. It has deep significance and great results—that of forgiveness, salvation, being added to the body, and much more!

A Changed or Transformed People

Sadly, as we look out on those who claim to be “Christians,” we find that most live lives that do not measure up to their profession. Some go so far as to totally deny the truth of the Word and the life of Christ. To use the words of Scripture, “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed” (Titus 1:16). These people do “profess” to know God and Christ, but their lives deny this reality.

When one comes to Christ and is “in Christ,” he is “a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This means that the body of Christ consists of people who are part of a “new creation” with new aspirations, new beliefs, new convictions, and a new lifestyle. Paul tells us that “you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (Colossians 3:9-10). True believers have laid aside “the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,” and have been “renewed in the spirit of your mind.” They have “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

These repentant believers are not sinless, but they do strive for perfection and holiness. As Scripture says, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior” (1 Peter 1:14-15; cf. v. 16). We also read, “Pursue . . . the sanctification [holiness, separation] without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Thus, God’s people are holy people!

If we aspire to be like the early believers, we must live a transformed life. We are not to continue to live worldly or even religious lives. Instead, we are to live according to the transforming message of the New Covenant and allow the Spirit to change us in His own way.

A God-focused People

If God created us, re-created us, redeemed us, and saved us, we can see why our lives should be centered on Him in every way. While the world may call this fanaticism, this God-centered, radical stand is absolutely necessary for each believer. There are no exceptions. We believe in God (Hebrews 11:1, 6) and actually “through Him [Christ] are believers in God” (1 Peter 1:21). We are “born” of God and “know” God (1 John 4:7). Further, “God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us” (v. 12). “We abide in Him and He in us” (v. 13). God is our life and our life is in and for Him!

When people around us pursue the world and its wicked ways; when they would rather find their security, interest, and understandings in the world; when they want to find acceptance in the world and are interested in receiving the world’s acclaim, the true believer in God knows where his focus should be! It is in God Himself. And along with the Lord comes the answer to life itself and a firm hope in what He plans for our future! When we love, we are following Him who is love personified: “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). Let us unashamedly trust, love, obey, and serve God alone!

An Eternity-focused People

Deep down we all know that we are mortal people and that our lives are of brief duration. In fact, we are like grass and a delicate flower but this will soon pass away, but we follow God who is eternal. Even His word is eternal: “The word of the LORD endures forever” (1 Peter 1:25). The God we serve is “the eternal God” (Romans 16:26). Further, even Christ’s “goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2). In contrast, our days here are utterly brief and insecure. With the psalmist, we plead, “LORD, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am” (Psalm 39:4).

All that we see, hear and touch will pass away, but God will continue on and on, without end. The Lord wants us to have a proper understanding of this and wants us to orient our lives to that which is eternal and unseen. “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). If we live our lives and make decisions without regard to eternity, we are foolish indeed (cf. Luke 12:16-21). But if we spend our life for God, His will, and His word, we will be eternally blessed!

A People in Devoted Fellowship

What do you think of when you think of “church”? Many people think of a religious institution that believes certain things, has an earthly headquarters, is governed by certain elected officials, and has a definite name, along with a confession or discipline. It has a denominational name, denominational organization, terms of membership, and surely a church building, sanctuary or cathedral. The local “church” may be composed of a dozen or a hundred; or, in the case of megachurches, the number of attendees may be a thousand or even ten thousand! Generally one sees a few people in “Sunday School” or “Bible study,” or perhaps in the “worship service” itself. We greet one another and don’t see one another until the following week or two. It is somewhat like the Rotary Club, the Masonic or Eastern Star Lodges, or the Odd Fellows organization.

In stark contrast, God’s people (if they are walking in God and His will) are in close, constant, and intimate fellowship! Notice the way the early believers were described: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). These first disciples or “followers” of Christ[10] shared a common life in Him: “All those who had believed were together and had all things in common” (v. 44). They worshipped and ate together: “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” (v. 46). Later, we read that “the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul” (4:32a).

Our heart melt when we read what Paul writes of these believers. He says that “the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Corinthians 12:25b). He goes on to say, “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (vv. 26-27). Does this sound like modern denominations or independent churches and congregations? Does it sound like what you and I are familiar with in the religious world, even that of professing “Christendom”?

These early followers of Christ prayed together (Acts 4:31), even praying in homes of the members and during the week (Acts 12:12). They stimulated “one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24) and met together to “encourage” each other in the things of God (v. 25). They encouraged each other (Acts 11:23), they gave and received teaching (v. 26), and they gave financially of their means to those fellow-Christians in need (vv. 28-30). They served the Lord and fasted (13:2); they knelt in prayer, wept together, and expressed concern and grief for each other (20:36-38). The many “one another” passages of Scripture were ones that they consciously sought to apply (cf. Romans 12:10, 16; Galatians 6:2; Ephesians 4:32; 5:19, 21; etc.).

A Radical People

Most people shy away from anyone whom they perceive to be “radical” in character. There is some justification for this. However, the basic meaning of this word is “arising from or going to a root or source; basic.”[11] As followers of Christ, we are to go to the source of life and truth. Further, the term means, “departing markedly from the usual or customary; extreme.” The believer in Christ does depart from the usual or customary way of life of the world around them. They may be considered “extreme” in lifestyle, in perspective, in appearance, in habits, in pastimes, and in behavior. Further, the term denotes, “favoring or effecting fundamental or revolutionary changes in current practices, conditions, or institutions.” We are not speaking of political matters here—but matters of the spirit and lifestyle. The child of God does favor fundamental and revolutionary changes in the wicked and customary views and practices of the fallen world.

While we aren’t emphasizing the use of this particular word, we can see that God wants us to be a radical people who are different from the world, who shun the world’s evil ways, who are clothed differently from the world, who participate in practices that are different from the world, and who may do things differently from the people around them.

The follower of Christ may turn from certain occupations or professions that conflict with the way of Christ (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:22). He may speak differently from others (cf. Ephesians 4:29-31; Colossians 4:5-6). He may dress differently (1 Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:3-4). He may refuse to place his children in the worldly public state schools and choose to home educate them (Ephesians 6:4; Proverbs 1:8). He may be absolutely committed to his wife and she may be committed to her husband, refusing to forsake their original partner to find a second spouse (Matthew 19:4-9). In a hundred ways, the believer in Christ may be considered “radical” or “different” from their neighbors and fellow-citizens!

A Spirit-filled People

God’s people are not subject to the fanciful and false claims of certain people who may claim to be “prophets” or “teachers” or spiritual leaders of some sort. Many claim that “the Spirit told me to . . .” or “God said to me that . . .” or “An angel appeared to me with a message!” Sadly, in almost every case, these people who claim a special relationship with God utter false, misleading, or deceptive messages (Matthew 7:13-23; 24:11)! Like those in Jeremiah’s day, “they speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:16b).

Literally millions of people around the world claim that God appeared to them in a vision, or spoke to them in the middle of the night, or told them to do something—but most of these visions were false or had no substance. Many are actually contrary to Scripture. A woman may say, “God told me to become an evangelist,” when God has already revealed that a woman is not to teach over a man (1 Timothy 2:11-12) and is not to speak in the public assembly (1 Corinthians 14:33-37). A man may say that God told him to divorce his wife and marry another woman, when God has already revealed that this new relationship is adultery (Matthew 19:4-9; Mark 10:11-12). A preacher may say that Jesus was not Creator (John 1:1-4), that He didn’t exist prior to His birth (John 17:5, 24), or that He was not born of a virgin (Luke 1:28-38). Let’s remember that the Spirit inspired the giving of Scripture (2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:15-17), and anyone who would contradict what God has already revealed by saying that “the Spirit told me” this or that, is wrong and to be rejected (1 Timothy 4:1-6).

Instead of following the misleading and false ideas of a pseudo-spirituality and a deceptive claim to being “Spirit filled,” the true believer of Christ will be firmly planted on God’s Word and be filled with the Holy Spirit as described in Scripture. At the point of salvation, the believer receives the “gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38) or “the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13). The Spirit will enable the follower of Christ to “speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31) and the filling of the Spirit will enable the believer to sing and make “melody” with his or her heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19). Paul commands his readers, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18; cf. Jude 20), and they may be described as those who “worship in the Spirit of God” (Philippians 3:3). Being filled with the Holy Spirit will enable God’s people to live abundant and fruitful lives!

A People Bearing Fruit

As we have noticed above, the people of God will be filled with the Holy Spirit, but how will this be manifested in their everyday lives? How will their transformed lives be lived out day to day, day in and day out? Through the Spirit’s power and influence, God’s people will produce fruit of righteousness and a transformed character. At one time, their “old self” was “being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit” (Ephesians 4:22) but now they are being made into the likeness of God. They will be “imitators of God, as beloved children” (5:1). The old self was once engaged in “evil practices” (Colossians 3:9) but now they are being “renewed to a true knowledge, according to the image of the One who created” them (v. 10).

When we look on those who profess to be “Christians,” we may wonder why they are living such lives with known, deliberate and unrepentant sin. It may be that they are going on “sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth” with an expectation of the coming judgment (Hebrews 10:26-27). Or, on the other hand, it may be that they never truly repented of their sins, thus they do not have the presence of the Spirit in their life to enable them to overcome sin. Whichever it may be (that of a person who was once saved but fell into sin and remained there, or that of a person who never was truly saved through faith and repentance, expressed in baptism), such a person needs the Holy Spirit to indwell him or her!

Paul declares, “If you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13). To reiterate, to live for the flesh will result in spiritual death, but to live by the Spirit will result in spiritual life! We are to be “filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:11). With the Spirit active in our life, we will produce “fruit” in abundance: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23a).

Are we bearing spiritual fruit in our life? Are we part of the body of Christ in which this fruit is produced? We will find that it is only possible through a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Our Lord said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5; cf. vv. 1-8). Let’s bear such fruit by the work of the Holy Spirit. Let’s cultivate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control! Let’s allow the Spirit to produce wisdom, zeal, truthfulness, devotion, and sacrificial service in our life!

A Separated People

When we observe the religious world in which we live, we often see that people are living just like the world. Religious surveys have found that church people are as likely to divorce, to watch pornography, to lie, and to commit all sorts of other sins. God calls us to be separate from the world and its evil ways!

Holiness is from hagiasmos and signifies “separation to God” and “the resultant state, the conduct befitting those so separated.”[12] The adjective, “holy,” is from hagios, denoting “separated from sin and therefore consecrated to God, sacred.” Thus, true followers of Jesus are to be separate from the wicked ways of the world around them that will plunge those in sin into destruction. This is brought out in the words of Paul: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-15). He then urges us, “Come out from their midst and be separate” (v. 17a). Believers are to be a separated people!

Believers are called the “saints” which is based on the same Greek term as holiness and holy. In other words, believers are “saints” or, better, they are “separated” people! We don’t participate in the sins of the world (cf. 1 Peter 4:1-5). We don’t join with unbelievers in their worldly activities. We don’t dress like the world, talk like the world, or think like the world. As James says, we are to keep ourselves “unstained by the world” (James 1:27b) for “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (4:4b). We are not to “love” the world and the things in the world (1 John 2:15-17), nor are we to be “conformed to this world,” but are to be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (Romans 12:2).

Referring to His followers, Jesus said, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). Just as Jesus was able to reach people of the world and teach the world, yet maintain a distance from the sin of the world, so He calls us to be the same. We need to be part of a body of believers who are close to other true believers, yet refuse to participate in the evils of this fallen and condemned world.

A Cleansed People

This may be a misleading term, but it does make a point. Someone once wrote a book entitled, A Clean Church, and this dealt with the fact that God wants His people to be “clean” and free from sin and false teachings (or false doctrines).[13] “Doctrine” is from the Greek terms didache and didaskalia, meaning “teaching.” The body of Christ must be free from immorality, disobedience, unfaithfulness, and false teaching.

This spiritual body of believers was required to purify or cleanse the community from such sins as sexual immorality, covetousness, idolatry, reviling, drunkenness, or swindling (see 1 Corinthians 5:11 and vv. 1-13). In other words, those people who have actually been saved from these sins, fall into them, and refuse to repent, must be “removed” from the midst of the community (v. 2). They are to be delivered to Satan “for the destruction of [his] flesh” (v. 5). We are not to associate with such unrepentant brothers and sisters (vv. 9, 11), we are to “judge” them (v. 12) and are to “remove” them from the community (v. 13). This is not meant to be unkind, bigoted, or harsh, but it is meant to bring such people to repentance so that they may be “saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (v. 5).

This believing community also must separate themselves from brothers or sisters who sin and are unwilling to reconcile (Matthew 18:15-18). Those who lead “an unruly life and not according to the tradition” received from the Scriptures are also to be refused association (2 Thessalonians 3:14 with vv. 6-15). False teachers must also be expelled from the assembly (1 John 4:1-6) and must not be invited into our house or greeted (2 John 9-11). Those who live worldly and fleshly lives must be “avoided” (cf. 2 Timothy 3:1-5).

Again, we emphasize that believers refuse to associate with these brothers or sisters who once were saved but have fallen into unbelief, or immorality, or false teachings, or fleshly behavior. But they do it to keep the body free from sinful contamination as well as to bring the offender to repentance (2 Thessalonians 3:15). We love these people but we love the Lord more!

Like the Early Christians

A Suffering People

We may think that it is somewhat unusual to describe people in these terms but this is exactly what the early believers were! When they came to Christ, they didn’t enter a comfortable zone with everything pleasant, prosperous, and perfect. Instead, by coming to Jesus, they were laying down their lives and were prepared to die for their faith in Him!

Consider a few of the references to suffering and hardship. Paul writes, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3). He went on to say, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (3:12). Do we suffer hardship and persecution for Jesus? When Paul and Barnabas preached in Galatia, he told his converts: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22b). Back in Jerusalem, when they had been rejected and flogged, the apostles finally were released from jail. Luke tells us that “they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). Whether it be suffering, hardship, persecution, shameful treatment, or tribulations, these early followers of Christ were willing to endure all of it for Him and rejoice!

All of this may be traced back to the Lord Jesus Himself.  He forewarned His followers, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:11). In a delightful warning about the suffering expected of His followers, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:22-23a). Notice again the note of joy in the midst of persecution and suffering. How different from the attitude that many of us would have today! He forewarned His faithful: “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). If we are followers of the Lord Jesus, we will be hated, but note well that these are the very ones who will be saved!

Instead of expecting to find a group of people who are experiencing the best of everything, including prosperity and perfect health, we are to expect rejection, persecution, poverty, troubles, hardship, and difficulties! This will be one of the marks of discipleship through the ages. In Paul’s own case, he endured weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties “for Christ’s sake” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Let us do likewise! Let’s be part of a fellowship of suffering!

An Exclusive People

We mean by this that these early believers realized that they were at the very center of God’s plan for the world.  They could see that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19b). They realized that “he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36b). They could also see that “he who has disbelieved [the Son] shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16b). They understood that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:16).

Not only could they see that the vast majority of people are on the “broad” way “the leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13-14), but they also realized that God’s grace has been displayed in the salvation of those who come to Him through Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:6-8). The means that the early followers of Jesus realized that He was the only way—the single way—that can possibly save one from sin, death, and destruction, and can bring one to eternal life with God in heaven! As Paul put it, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

This is the constant theme of God’s revelation to humanity in the Scriptures (the Bible). The Lord Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6; cf. 1 Timothy 2:5). He is the only way to eternal salvation; He is the truth that will overcome all theological and religious lies; and He is the only means to eternal life! This is why the apostles were told to tell people “the whole message of this Life” (Acts 5:20). The fellowship of Christians today are to have this same view of Christ and of life!

A Peace-Loving People

Most people of the earth are devoted—without reservation—to their country, their nation, there government. Yes, there may be exceptions, but this is the general rule. How can this be right? Usually, a nation and its government fail in many ways! We should not be unreasonable, irrational, and blinded by nationalistic fervor! We should be a loving people who love even our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).

The early believers realized that they were “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). Jesus had earlier said, “My kingdom is not of this world; if My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36). Believers are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) and do not give ultimate loyalty to earthly kingdoms (cf. Acts 4:19-20; 5:29).

In this part of the country, there are thousands of men and women in the military and also building fighter bombers! People display flags and express nationalistic commitment. Yet Jesus said that our view should be very different! He said that we must live peaceful lives that refuse to participate in the carnal, violent, and militaristic view of those around us (cf. Matthew 5:38-42; 26:52; Romans 12:17-21). We refuse to repay evil with evil and “always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people” (1 Thessalonians 5:15). As Paul said, we are to “pursue peace with all men” (Hebrews 12:14a). We are a peace-loving people rather than a war-like fellowship!

A People without Denominational Terms

This may seem like a strange description, but it is very, very important. Nomenclature refers to “a system of names used in an art or science.”[14] The Bible uses a wide range of simple and common terms to refer to the truth, and it is vital that we know what those terms are and how they were used. We reveal who we are, what we believe, and our life-perspective in our speech. As Jesus our Lord said, “The mouth speaks out of what which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34b). What you say reveals you—the real you!

The religious world likes to use “religious” words but they often use them in ways different from Scripture. In other words, the Holy Spirit inspired writers to use certain Greek words (in the New Testament portion of the Bible) with specific meanings but modern man has twisted and distorted those terms and made them say something that was not intended by God. If we wish to recapture the beliefs and practices of the early believers, we should seek to “purify” our language to reflect God’s own will and word.

Let’s notice a few of these terms that the believing community will seek to use, in contrast with the religious world around them. Notice a few:

Church: The Greek term ekklesia denotes a “congregation” or an “assembly” of people.[15] In contrast, “church” is from the Greek kuriakon, “the Lord’s (house).”[16] Assembly and church come from entirely different Greek terms and they have different meanings. It would be best for God’s people to more often use such synonyms as assembly, congregation, group, gathering, or community. In this way, they would avoid the “churchy” words that are so common in the jargon of others.

Bishop: The KJV sometimes uses the term “bishop” instead of the better English translation of “overseer” (such as 1 Timothy 3:1). The NASB uses the better term “overseer” in this passage (vv. 1-2; see also Philippians 1:1). Bishop has an ecclesiastical ring to it, but “overseer” is a literal translation of episkopos. As Vine points out the Greek term is literally “an overseer” that is from the Greek epi, “over” and skopeo, “to look.”[17] Today, there are many prideful men who like to call themselves “Bishop so and so” and thereby violate the meaning and intent of Scripture.

Pastor: The term “pastor” (KJV in Ephesians 4:11) is from the Greek poimen, meaning “a shepherd, one who tends herds or flocks (not merely one who feeds them).”[18] Today “pastor” has become a thoroughly religious term that loses the original meaning. True “shepherds” (the better term) are named according to their position and especially work.

Elder: According to the Bible, the terms “elder,” “overseer,” and “shepherd” are used interchangeably and refer to the same position and work. The different terms merely refer to different roles or works. “Elder” comes from the Greek presbuteros, “an adjective, the comparative degree of presbus, ‘an old man, an elder.’”[19] Not only does the term refer to a man’s chronological age, but also his spiritual maturity in the faith. Some (such as young Mormon missionaries) use the term in a totally unscriptural way today.

Deacon: The term “deacon” actually should be “servant.” Here we have a word taken from the Greek kiakonos, meaning a “servant.”[20] Often the term today loses its Scriptural significance and simply is an ecclesiastical term of respect. Sometimes it is used in regard to those who supervise a congregation. In fact, some, such as Baptists, may use the term to refer to the work of an overseer! Actually a servant (KJV, “deacon”) refers to one who serves a local assembly of believers. The body of servants (each congregation, with qualified men, had a plurality of these men) may have aided the overseers or elders (Philippians 1:2; 1 Timothy 3:8-13).

Immersion: This term is taken from the Greek baptisma, “consisting of the processes of immersion, submersion and emergence.”[21] In many churches and religious organizations the term “baptism” has come to mean almost any water ritual—whether immersion, pouring, sprinkling, or moistening. New covenant believers will want to recapture the original meaning of immersion, submersion, dipping, covering, or sinking—and cease practicing unscriptural substitutions.

Good news: The term “gospel” has come to mean the message that the believer is to communicate to others. It comes from the Greek euangelion, “the good news” or the good message, the good tidings.[22] It refers to the “good news” of Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection, and the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

Love: At times this good English word is dismissed in favor of the KJV term in 1 Corinthians 13:1-8, “charity.” Actually, charity refers to “provision of help or relief to the poor; almsgiving.”[23] The term “love” should surely be used in such cases for it reflects the meaning of the Greek much better. It refers to an inner attitude of self-giving concern and interest in the welfare of another.

Meeting, Gathering: Very commonly modern usage has the term “service” which is definitely an ecclesiastical word used in religious contexts. Generally, when people speak of going to a “service,” they don’t mean going to “serve” at all. A more accurate and less “religious” term would be to say one is “going to the meeting” or “gathering together” for teaching and worship.

Fellowship: When the early believers gathered together, they did so to “break bread” (cf. Acts 2:42; 20:7) or to partake of the bread and cup (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:23-26). In some “high churches” (such as the Episcopal or Roman Catholic Churches), the term “Eucharist” (meaning “grateful, thankful”) is employed for this. It is better to use Scriptural terminology here, such as “the breaking of bread,” “partaking of the bread and cup,” or the like.

These are a sample of  various “ecclesiastical” or “religious” terms that people use today that often obscure the meaning of the inspired Biblical text. If we are seeking  to view things as the early believers did, it is better to pursue a pure speech that uses Biblical terminology. One slogan of the past says, “Let’s call Bible things with Bible names and do Bible things in Bible ways.”

Conclusion

As you have read over these pages and aspects of the early Christians, do you see the value and even necessity of seeking to view things in light of the Word of God? Do you see the importance of following Scriptural precedent and submitting to Scriptural authority? Do you not only see the value of this but also the importance of pursuing the truth of Scripture and the life of the Spirit as manifested by the early followers of Jesus?

Probably many of you who are reading these words find yourselves in a conventional “church” setting and are bound by your religious connections. But now, perhaps you are tired of “playing church” and doing everything like your parents, grandparents, friends, and associates have done year after year. Instead of breaking free from the past for the sake of “newness” or “religious liberty,” you want to submit yourself to what we’ve found on the pages of Scripture! This is good—and I commend you for your awakened interest to follow the words of Scripture and the leading of the Spirit in all things!

Now for several cautions: First, don’t pursue something just for the sake of a change or to do something new! That isn’t sufficient reason to forsake a previous church connection and do something else. You shouldn’t do something different for the sake of change, but to seek a more Scriptural way in all things!

Second, the “old” is not necessarily good and the “new” is not necessarily bad. Conversely, the old is not necessarily bad and the new is not necessarily good. Regardless of whether a way of meeting, of worship, and of life is old or new, what we should really be concerned about is whether something pleases God and conforms with Scripture.

Third, realize that nothing should stand in the way of your pursuing the truth and the way of the Lord. Let nothing deter you! Let nothing stop you! Let nothing shake you! We need to seek God’s will as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures (cf. Proverbs 2:3-4). Along with the psalmist, we should pray, “From Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:104). He went on to say, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (v. 105). Pursue the truth regardless of the consequences!

Fourth, remember that you don’t just want to seek a new experience. Rather, you should want the Lord Himself! Seek the Lord, seek His will, seek His truth, seek His Word! More than even doing the will of God corporately with other believers, you need to be assured of your own salvation from sin to God! We can supply you with much information that should help you to understand and follow God’s truth so that you can humbly come to Christ and His salvation and find full forgiveness!

Come to Christ Jesus and His Way Today!

We have covered many points in our short article today. We’ve tried to paint a picture of the early followers of Christ Jesus and encouraged each of us to seek to be an integral part of such a body of believers.

Significantly, the early believers were referred to as those “belonging to the Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9). In Ephesus, Paul found that there was a great “disturbance concerning the Way” (19:23). When Paul was known as Saul, he “persecuted this Way to the death” (22:4). When giving his defense before Felix the Governor, Paul declared, “I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers” (24:14; cf. v. 22). These brothers in the Lord were following Jesus who declared Himself to be “the Way” (John 14:6), thus they were living a certain way—“the Way” of Christ. It was not a sect or cult or religious institution, but it was the “Way” of the Lord lived out on this earth for the glory of God and the continuing salvation of the Lord Jesus!

Thus, we surely wouldn’t encourage you or anyone to become part of a sect, a cult, a denomination, a church, or a religious institution. Rather, God wants His people to be simply believers in Christ or followers of the Way. Seek for a better understanding of what God wants and then determine to walk in it, regardless of what anyone else does or doesn’t do. We are accountable to God, thus we need to please God in our personal and in our corporate lives.

Look to Jesus today and walk as He would want. Believe in Him and obey Him. This is the only way.

References

[1] NASB (New American Standard Bible). We’ll use this translation for the most part, but other translations may also be employed. For instance, Titus 2:8a in the ESV says, “sound speech that cannot be condemned”

[2] “Scripture” means “writings” in the original Greek language—the language that God chose to reveal His will in the first century. (He used Hebrew and a small amount of Aramaic to communicate His will in the period before Jesus.)

[3] The Bible refers to these specially chosen twelve men as “apostles” which in Greek, means “one sent forth on a mission.”

[4] We’ll continue to use the term “Scripture” in this little teaching even though the word means “writings.” We do this to better communicate with the reader. Besides, we have already explained the meaning of the rather esoteric word “Scripture.”

[5] The term “New Testament” really means “new covenant.” The New Testament was given to those who are under God’s “new covenant” or “new agreement” that was ratified by the blood of Christ.

[6] The official Roman Catholic doctrine is that “divine tradition” is equal in authority with the Scriptures. Sadly, this tradition does differ in many ways with the belief and practice of the early believers.

[7] The Quakers (Society of Friends), the Ultra-dispensationalists, the Salvation Army, and others do reject all actions called “baptism.”

[8] Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words

[9] Some may doubt that this text refers to literal water baptism since baptizo is not used here. However, this was a favorite text in the early “church” in reference to baptism

[10] “Disciple” comes from mathetes and means a learner or follower of a person and his teachings. The early believers were “followers” of Jesus and His teachings.

[11] The American Heritage College Dictionary.

[12] Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.

[13] “Doctrine” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old Testament and New Testament Words.

[14] The American Heritage College Dictionary.

[15] The New Smith’s Bible Dictionary, William Smith.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old Testament and New Testament Words.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] The American Heritage College Dictionary.

 

 

 

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