The Church No One Wanted To Join
“But no one dared join himself to them” (Acts 5:13a).
How strange these words sound today! And they are strange-sounding because the concept is so foreign to us.
Whereas many of our churches will do practically anything to draw unbelievers to their services, the earliest Christians were so committed and so radical that few if any unbelievers dared join them. In New Testament times the early disciples came together not for evangelism or even for worship but for teaching, for fellowship, for the Breaking of Bread, and for times of prayer (Acts 2:42). The Lord’s Supper was not an addendum celebrated quarterly or monthly but the main reason the church assembled on the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7). Jesus was front-and-center, not a pulpit.
“Church” did not mean a state-of-the-art building with all the latest gadgetry. It meant a company of committed believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who met regularly (at least weekly) in homes or perhaps small rented rooms where a committed family spirit could develop. To reach outsiders they took the Gospel to them – a riverside (Acts 16:13), a marketplace (Acts 17:17), a school hall (Acts 19:9). Because expenses were kept to a minimum, funds could be used to support the poor and, when necessary, their teachers (Acts 11:29; Phil. 4:16). Each believer was taught to exercise his or her own spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12) in a spirit of love (1 Cor. 13). When the Body gathered, its goal was that of strengthening itself and building itself up in love (1 Cor. 14:26).
Because every believer was a priest and minister there was no need for an officiating “clergy.” Those who had been appointed by the Holy Spirit as pastors (Acts 20:28) became elders and teachers (Eph. 4:11), guides and leaders (1 Thess. 5:12-13). But their Senior Pastor was none other than Jesus Himself, in whose name they gathered. It was by devotion to Him and not to any human leader that they were held together. How unlike the guilds of the day!
The early church had little of the glitz and glamour of its modern counterpart. Few of its member were from the upper crust of society. It exercised discipline on its members. It preached Jesus as Lord, not as a benevolent butler. It called for total allegiance even when that went against the ruling authorities. Its power, passion, and purity was a flaming sword that guarded the way to the tree of life (cf. Gen. 3:24).
Today we announce “services as usual” but the situation is more desperate than that. While the modern church seeks medals, the early Christians wore scars. Being true to God did not put them at the top of the ladder but at the bottom rung. Little wonder “no one dared join himself to them.”
June 7, 2006
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.