What Was The First Century Church Like?

What Was The First Century Church Like? March 24, 2017

What was the 1st century church like? Are there churches still like this one?

The First Century Church

You don’t even have to go to the church historians or the writings of the early church fathers to know what the first century church was like. Of course, you are free to do that, but we can learn much about the church by reading the Book of Acts, more specifically, Acts 2:42-47 in this case. Three, you can see what the primitive church did. To begin with, the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42), so they saw studying the apostle’s doctrine as being of first import. What was “the apostles’ teaching?” Surely, it was the very same things that Jesus taught them which were the same things that Jesus said they were to teach others, or as Jesus said, they are to be “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20). That is the apostles’ doctrine. Next, notice that they continued in fellowship. The early church didn’t live the Christian faith out in isolation. In fact, there are dozens of “one another’s” in the New Testament, indicating that we were made for fellowship and relationship, but only if the apostle’s doctrine was taught.

Prayer and Communion

Some believe the “breaking of bread” is simply eating together, but they might actually fall into the fellowship part. Our church has a “Fellowship Hall” where we eat meals together, have board meetings together, and members use it to have family birthday parties, wedding receptions, and several other purposes, so part of our fellowship is eating and meeting, so by the early church “breaking bread,” it could well be that Luke is writing about Communion or the Lord’s Supper. We know from Paul’s writing that the early church participated in the Lord’s Supper, so it wasn’t an optional event. It was commanded by Jesus Himself, where Paul quotes Him; “Do this in remembrance of Me” (1st Cor 11:24). This sentence comes as an imperative command. Another key point is the church were people of prayer. Paul and Silas had been thrown into prison, and they “were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them they prayed” (Acts 16:25), so prayer was a way of life. I find it interesting that the word “prison” is found 64 times in the New Testament, but nearly half of those (28) show up in the Book of Acts, and of course, they’re related to those who preached the gospel. Even here, it brought much good because the Apostle Paul now had time to write the prison epistles while being incarcerated, not to mention, witnessing to the fellow prisoners, and a rotating guard.

And-they-devoted

Persecution and Growth

I don’t remember too many missionaries ever asking for the persecution to stop. They mainly asked for prayers so that people might be saved. That’s what the early church did too. Their priority was to be used by God to save some. It’s not personal comfort and safety that they worried about, or they wouldn’t even be a missionary in the first place. We read in Acts 5:41-42 that the apostles “left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” So not only didn’t the beatings and suffering not stop their preaching, they increased all the more, “from house to house…not [ceasing from] teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” During an especially intense period of persecution, Saul (later, Paul) and the Jews were making sweeps, looking for the Christians so that they could be imprisoned, beaten, or even stoned to death like Stephen was. And it says, “Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1), but did it stop the church or slow down its growth? No, because “those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). Missionaries don’t request prayers to be free from persecution because they know they are blessed by it (Matt 5:10-12; 1st Pet 4:12), and it also helps to spread the gospel (Acts 8:1-4).

Glad and Generous Hearts

I believe it is true; a joy shared is doubled, but a grief shared is halved. The early church clung to one another in fellowship, prayer, sharing, and the study of the apostles’ doctrine, but they were also “attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). Noticed that they had fellowship, regular Communion, prayer, sharing, and study, so they “had all things in common” (Acts 2:46). This shows a church that was unified in purpose and in teaching; a church that was unified in prayer and Communion; and a church unified in worshipping together and fellowshipping at home with one another. No wonder they had “glad and generous hearts.” Here are the results of a Spirit-led church; they were “praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:47a), and “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b).

Conclusion

Finding resources to grow a church is okay, but I can think of many of these methods I’ve looked at to grow churches and I can either burn a big pile of money or I can turn to the New Testament, and specifically the Book of Acts. That’s where I have decided to study the primitive church, which “continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people,” and the best part, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47).

Article by Jack Wellman

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is a writer at Christian Quotes and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Monty

    If we get back to New Testament principles we should expect New Testament results! Sadly, Christians are way too busy fighting the wrong battles (mostly with other Christians) to obey Christ’s injunction to preach the Kingdom and make disciples. I do not believe that my eternal position in Christ depends on my being Calvanist or Arminian, whether I am pre-trib, post -rib or mid-tribulation rapture. I see a whole lot of arguing and not a lot of “love one another as I have loved you”. When Christians get off their soapboxes (yes, I’ll throw mine away soon) and start to live what they say they believe, the world will sit up and take notice. We may well antagonise a lot of unbelievers. Good. “Make ’em glad or make ’em mad.” I do not advocate overlooking heresy. The really sad bit is that heresies have come in undetected while Christians are contending for their particular version of the faith. There should be NO denominations. There is only one Church and it is not the Baptists. Or any other denomination.”All one in Christ Jesus”? Sounds good, let’s work to bring it about as we are led by the Lord.

  • The church discussed in the piece doesn’t exist today for its foundation was Judaism; the preaching of JTB, Jesus, the 12 and especially belief that Jesus was the Messiah. That gospel had nothing about Christ dying for our sins. Members of the Body of Christ church have the foundation of what the glorified Christ spoke after His cross and resurrection unto Paul the apostle of the Gentiles, and that had been hidden from the beginning of the world( I Cor. 15:1-4, Rom. 16:25,26, Eph. 1:13, Eph. 2:8,9 etc.) Christianity at large doesn’t admit this though it is in the Word, and the result is the weak and apostate “Christian Church” of today.

    • pud

      Dying for our sins…what a hideous ridiculous made up concept

      • Jeff

        Internet troll.

        What a pathetic excuse for a life.

        • pud

          Not an argument. You must be one of those model christians following that jesus fella

          • Jeff

            Troll.

          • pud

            Not an argument…you seem to be incapable of intelligent thought.

          • Jeff

            Still right. You’re still a brain-dead internet troll.

          • pud

            And you remain stupid and incapable of an intelligent thought or contribution. I win!

          • Jeff

            And the crybaby troll has been called out.

  • pud

    The “early” church was a fragmented collection of superstitious cults running around like lunatics begging for the world to end….not too different from the christian lunatics today

    • Bobby Ray Burns

      And you know this how?

      • pud

        Good place to start…http://listverse.com/2014/02/07/10-bizarre-early-christian-sects/

        Bizarre then, bizarre now, delusional always

        • Bobby Ray Burns

          To quote you: “Not an argument.” An understandable opinion, to be fair, but still nothing more than a flippant opinion nonetheless. The early church grew and then flourished in the midst of and in spite of the “superstitious cults”. SImple as that.

          • pud

            No…It is still a fragmented superstitious cult! Are you a snake handler or a ritual cannibal catholic? A gay tolerant methodist or a speaking in tongues pentacostal? See? Lunatics then, lunatics now.

          • Jeff

            Typical troll behavior.

    • Jeff

      Not a surprise to see Pud the Pathetic Troll here.

      • pud

        Not an argument.

        • Jeff

          Troll

  • Just block him/her and ignore…

    Now back to the subject at hand.
    There are a few Bride Church First Century Biblical Christians types surviving today.
    Most found in the persecuted countries.
    go to:
    Open Doors International and USA.

    https://www.opendoors.usa

    A wonderful example are the extremely persecuted in the Chinese house churches. They refuse to join with the government in any way. They will not join the government sponsored “church” of the Three Selves. Just look at that name, should give everyone a clue… Me, Myself, and I rather than HIM HIM HIM.

  • See Noevo

    “What Was The First Century Church Like?”

    It was like the Catholic Church.

    In fact, it *was* the Catholic Church.

    • Raised “Catholic” I gradually learned why I mistrusted the Bible when I tried studying it; there was no sign anywhere in it that the Catholic Church existed.

      • See Noevo

        The key word being “tried”.

    • douglas dereuck
      • See Noevo

        douglas deceived

  • douglas dereuck

    The early church was the same as Jehovah’s witnesses are today.