How Did the Early Church Differ from the Church Today?

How Did the Early Church Differ from the Church Today? May 30, 2018

How is the church of today different from the church during the apostle’s day? What are the major differences?

The Birth of the Church

Some would argue that the church existed well before the Day of Pentecost since Jesus referred to the church several times (Matt 18:15-20). After the Apostle Peter’s statement to Jesus that, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16), Jesus said, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). Peter was not that rock. Peter has come and gone and cannot lead the church from where he’s now at, and besides, most feel that the church was actually born on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon believers. This is recorded in Acts 2:1-6, where it said that “they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting and divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.”

Jews and Gentiles

What an amazing testimony to the power of God. Since those who were witnesses to this event, and hearing these things in their own language, God was proclaiming that the gospel is now open to all people and nations. The message of salvation first went to the Jew, but then to the Gentiles, so whosoever may come (Rev 22:17) includes people of all languages and all nations. In the Old Testament, people of other nations could be joined with Israel if they obeyed His laws. We see this throughout the Old Testament. Jonah is a great example of God’s desire that no one perish, Jew or Gentile, so God sent Jonah on a mission trip to Nineveh, and hundreds of thousands in Nineveh repented and were spared the judgment of God (2 Pet 3:9), but Jonah was angry because he didn’t understand that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked at all (Ezk 18:32, 33:1), and desires that everyone, everywhere repent and trust in Christ.

House Churches

In the New Testament, the Christians had to meet in homes and often did as noted in Acts 2:46-47 where it says, “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” One difference about the early church was that they met daily, in most circumstances, and they also ate together. Nothing can draw people closer together than having meals together, but they also “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). These were not little sermonettes for Christianettes, but studies of the same things Jesus taught His disciples. Those were the instructions Jesus left with the church (Matt 28:19-20). Today, churches meet in larger facilities and infrequently eat together except on special occasions, but house churches don’t work for many because there are just too many in the congregation. For others, house churches are a solution. Some are born due to the negligence of churches to preach the gospel of repentance and faith (Mark 1:14-15), which is exactly what Jesus said. As a result of the teachings and following the “apostle’s doctrine” (or Jesus’ teachings), “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b).

The Evangelistic Church

One of the major differences between the church of today and the early church was that the early church was much more evangelistic (Rom 15:19, 1 Thess 1:7-8, Acts 13:1-26:32). Paul wrote, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (Rom 1:8). Maybe evangelism was taken more seriously because the Great Commission given by Jesus was still fresh in the minds of the apostles, but undoubtedly, the gospel spread due to the Jews trying to stamp it out, but like a grass fire, they simply spread it, so the severe persecution that came upon the early church, spread the gospel, far and wide, and most certainly to the whole Roman Empire (Acts 8:1, 4-40, 11:19-26). Later, the apostles and others would take the gospel beyond the Empire, and today, the apostles are still spreading the gospel through their writings found in the New Testament.

Baptism and Ordinances

The primitive church also held to the sacraments like communion. Today, churches have communion every week, some once a month, while others have it about once every quarter (every 3 months), and there are similar authoritative structures in the church today. The Corinthian church is a great example of church discipline, and we can see how Paul handled this in 1 Corinthians 5:1-7 where it says, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.” If allowed to continue, sin would become acceptable in the church, and that would only serve to propagate more sin in the local body of Christ. Why did Paul take such extreme measures? He wrote that we are “not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one…Purge the evil person from among you” (1 Cor 5:11-13). Sin spreads like leaven, and so these must be put out of the church, but it’s for their own sake and for the sake of the purity of the church (1 Cor 5:6), and it is done in the hopes that they will repent of this sin and return to the body of Christ.

Conclusion

Does it seem that many churches or believers in general have lost that “first love” that the early church had? Having riches it seems makes us have a self-sufficiency that blinds us to the reality that we “are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev 3:17). Jesus’ solution is to “buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent“ (Rev 3:18-19). Has that zeal for God and that evangelistic fever faded? It’s still not too late for revival, but it must begin with us. Revival will never spread outwardly unless it begins inwardly, and that will be expedited if we study the “apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42), “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46), and what was the result? “[T]he Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

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
  • Salvatore Anthony Luiso

    Thank you for this article. I generally agree with it. We should indeed look to the Christians of the New Testament to learn from their example.

    One reason why the first Christians were more evangelistic than we are is that they believed that the Lord would return within the lifetime of most of them, and they wanted to finish the Great Commission before He returns.

    Based upon the New Testament, I think that the early Christians exercised church discipline more than we do. I think I may have never heard of a contemporary of mine being excommunicated from a church unless it is someone so prominent that the excommunication has bee reported in the news, e.g. a high-ranking clergyman or church official.

    With all due respect, I think I know of two things which can draw people closer together than having meals together: working together and enduring hardship together. For example, if certain members of a church regularly evangelize together, or regularly serve in a soup kitchen together, I expect that they will be closer to each other than members who do nothing more than eat together. Similarly, if a church endures hardship together–for example, persecution, a natural disaster, or a massacre, as happened last November in Texas–I expect its members will be closer than if, instead of suffering together, they had eaten many meals together.

    • pud

      Yeah, you should be using leeches and exorcisms too,

    • Jack Wellman

      You have contributed so much for here sir, and yes, I see your point on their expectations of Jesus’ return. Good point my friend. Thank you.

  • pud

    In the words from that great all time classic hymn….”How dumb thou art, how dumb thou art”

    One would think that by the time you are buying your 4th private jet, you can afford it on your own; well in the case of US televangelist Jesse Duplantis, that’s not the case: it turns out Jesse decided to share the burden of his newest toy with his followers, asking them to help fund his fourth private jet because Jesus “wouldn’t be riding a donkey”.

    In other words, Jesse Duplantis said God had told him to buy a Falcoln 7X for $54 million.

    And while according to BBC he was hesitant at first about the ridiculous purchase, when God told him “I didn’t ask you to pay for it. I asked you to believe for it”, all his doubts faded away.

    While there have been similar ridiculous past requests by tele-evangelists, who pray on the stupid and the gullible, this particular appeal caused immediate controversy, and as noted by BBC, Twitter exploded with many users responding to the request with shock and disbelief, some quoting Bible verses warning against greed and “false prophets”, or suggesting that the money could be better used to help the poor; others simply decided to slam the charlatan “preacher.”

    The belligerent responses, however, did not stop Duplantis: in a video address posted on his website, the 68-year-old explained: “You know, I’ve owned three different jets in my life, and I’ve used them and just burning them up for the Lord Jesus Christ.

    “Now, some people believe that preachers shouldn’t have jets. I really believe that preachers ought to go on every available voice, every available outlet, to get this Gospel preached to the world.”

    Standing beside framed pictures of his current fleet, he said that the jet he bought 12 years ago was no longer sufficient for his ministry because he could not fly non-stop, meaning he had to pay “exorbitant” refuelling costs. And what god allows his preachers to have to deal with that…

    View image on Twitter
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    Jesse Duplantis
    @jesse_duplantis
    Watch “this Week with Jesse” as Jesse shows the importance of using aviation as an amazing tool for evangelizing the world! Tune in each Monday at http://jdm.org or on our JDM App. Click to watch http://bit.ly/2leCz7E

    4:00 PM – May 21, 2018
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    In another picture which appeared in the video, the preacher stands with the three aircraft, above the caption: “It’s not about possessions, it’s about priorities.”

    To be sure, Duplantis came prepared and justified his request by saying that Jesus had told people to “go into the world and preach the Gospel to every creature, now how we gonna do that? I can’t live long enough to travel by car or by ship or by train, but I can do it by an aeroplane”.

    In retrospect, flawless logic, and we certainly understand his motivation: surely there will be enough idiots within his “flock” who defray the $54 million purchase price; but why the fixation with private Well, in 2015, Mr Duplantis appeared in a video with another preacher, Kenneth Copeland, in which Mr Copeland described travelling on commercial airlines as being “in a long tube with a bunch of demons”.

    Come to think of it, he may be correct.

    • Graeme Cooksley

      ha, Pud! Still trolling I see.

      BTW re your comments from you earlier post; Leeches are still used in medicine. Exorcisms are still helpful for the right situations.

      I can see you have problems staying on topic – but it is a learnt skill. 🙂

  • Bezukhov

    One difference I see is the early Church had no desire to become Caesar. Today’s Church is all about getting as many Bible Thumping Republicans as possible to get elected and seize political power to lord over everyone.

    • Jack Wellman

      I am sure this is true of many, but certainly not all. In fact, most believer’s I know are not as you described.

  • Rudy Schellekens

    Faith was their own to proclaim (They went everywhere, preaching the word). We have created a professional clergy – “we pay them to do…”
    Truth was simply that: Truth. Today we play games with multiple “truths…” What is true for you is not necessarily truth for me
    Lost was lost. There was a clear understanding about what it meant to be lost.
    They were in the middle of the events. We cannot possibly trust their eyewitness accounts.
    They lived within a community. We live in facebook land.

  • It was all White.

    • Jack Wellman

      Nope. It’s all Jewish to begin with.

      • Bungarra

        Note that on the day of Pentecost that part of the wonder was that people from various parts of the Roman Empire whose basic language was different to Hebrew could understand those who ‘spoke in tongues’. This suggests that the ethnic mix was some what more diverse than just the citizens of Jerusalem.

  • Alex Voon

    Acts 2:46-47 where it says, “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
    Because of this one verse in Acts, many Christians wrongly thought that the law of worship service on every Sabbath day can be done away with, replaced by Sunday instead.
    Noted that they continuing daily with one accord in the temple. They waited and prayed daily in the Temple until the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost day. The true model of worship place is the Temple and synagogues but Satan has turned the modern church into something secular. The cross is nowhere found in the Temple or synagogues. Satan have deceived the Church with the Cross symbol and certain decorations. In Jewish culture, breaking bread from house to house is not the holy communion but it is merely eating meals as they ate their food with gladness in fellowship having favor with all the people.

    Isa 58:13
    – If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, [from] doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking [thine own] words:
    58:14
    – Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken [it].

  • Joshua Sonofnone

    Some respondents to your article seem to believe only in what they can see. How amazing that anyone possessing real intelligence would believe only in that which can be detected by finite human senses.

    • Jack Wellman

      That is a very insightful comment Mr. Sonofnone. Spot on. Thank you sir.

    • Glory

      So true. The biblical heart consists of the heart, mind, conscience, will, emotions, belly and the reins (kidneys).

      But people like to severe off their emotions as unreliable culprits and ignore everything but the mind or human logic and sight.

      I think faith is an ancient form of social intelligence. How do you leave will, conscience or emotions out of social intelligence?

  • Catherine Peters DeVries

    Richard says: Every time I have visited one of today’s churches where the music is falsely called “worship,” I can’t help but think of Isaiah 1:13-15, (plus a little more of that chapter). It describes hypocritical worship. “Bring no more futile sacrifices; … I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. … When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear.” This surely describes the so-called contemporary church. There is almost no worship in the contemporary and entertainment-oriented church event. I’ll admit that there is in reality some “praise” but very little “worship.” Remember this, music is not worship, and worship is not music. And even much of the so-called music is questionable — mostly in shallow text. [And then there is also the problem for another time, that congregations no longer sing. For broadcasting or streaming these services, there no longer are microphones over the congregation for broadcast since they don’t sing anyway.]

  • Bungarra

    I am an MK (Missionaries Kid) of the old CIM, now OMF. After the Communist take over of Shanghai, my father wrote to Mission Headquarters re the future of the Mission in China and suggested that it could not continue in China due to the immense pressure from the new Government. The Mission changed its name and focused on the Chinese diaspora. At the time the number of Christian Chinese was – 5-8 million. More recently I saw a quote form Os Guinness of close to 200 million. This was achieved in the ‘house churches’ .

    About 10 years ago I attended a week long workshop in Singapore on the role of ‘small groups’ for spreading Christianity. One of the speakers introduced 2 women leaders of Chinese home-groups. One was helping to coordinated 1,750 groups and the other was only looking after 750 groups.

    In the discussion re the birth of the church, for the next 300 odd years the Church was built by small groups. Just the same as the Chinese Church has gown since 1950.

    Having spent a bit of time in India, I have seen many efforts to spread Christianity, However, India has a long history of Imperialism – 5,000 years or so. Some would suggest that the Caste system was developed to make it easier to manage and to for new rulers to take over. Some Church’s want to copy the big Church’s of the West – eg Hill Song et al, and one sees imperial tendencies in the management of such. I would suggest that India has yet to see the explosive growth of the Church as has occurred in China as power has tended to be retained by those who wish to create Empires.

    My thesis is that good social interaction is essential for the growth of the Church. Mass entertainment is not so effective. I would suggest that the acquisition of the Roman Empire model of doing things was in some respect not a good thing.

    Also, re home groups, I find that fellowship and respect and care for fellow believers is much easier when one can see the face of others. ‘Fellowshiping with the back of the head of the person in the pew in-front of you’ does not work well at all. Also of complete relevance to our current problems, is that in small groups it is much harder to hide the sexual abuse of children and of members of the congregation or of ‘extra marital affairs’. See the continual outcomes of the Royal Commission into Sexual Abuse in Australia which are possible as there was a culture of hiding such events in many groups.