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.


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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