In the beginning of the church, God displayed to the known world what happens to people who are forgiven and redeemed, saved from the bondage of sin. Acts is Luke’s eye-witness account. From it I know about that dramatic change wrought by God to those who believe in Jesus Christ and gave their lives to Him.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42–47)
Is this the norm? Does this still happen? Some people say that the church today should be more like the early church with a greater demonstration of the power of God in their lives. If these verses describe what they mean, it would be wonderful, yet church history has brought issues that have changed things. I don’t offer those changes as excuses, only explanations.
In North America, life’s pressures have Christians busy with work, family and all sorts of activities that pull them away from Bible study, fellowship that includes eating together, and prayer. In many other parts of the world, these activities have stopped or gone underground because governments have made them illegal.
Signs and wonders have fallen into question. Many theologians teach that these served a purpose then but are no longer part of God’s plan. Many Christians think that miracles have ceased, and without them, awe for God’s power has also faded. Adding to this is the tendency of media to bypass stories that glorify God or draw favorable attention to God’s people. Living for Christ seldom gets any press.
Believers are still willing to share. The stories of their generosity also seldom hit the news. As one reporter told me, if it bleeds, it leads and good news does not bleed, usually. Besides that, government has taken over the role of caring for the needy. We now rely on unemployment insurance and a host of other resources. Christian people offer soup kitchens but so do others. We no longer rate high in helping one another or the poor, and even if we did, it would not reach the press.
Over the centuries, the Spirit of God has prompted revivals where the church experiences renewal and people are drawn from ignoring God to salvation. I’ve heard that in some revivals the change in Christians was so dramatic that when they walked down the street, the Spirit touched others on the other side of the street and brought them to their knees before God in repentance and faith.
Perhaps that is the desire in our hearts when we say we should be like the early church. We want to be effective in our witness so that when we share our stories and our lives with each other, the world sees it and people are drawn to the Lord Jesus. As I read the above passage, I see that it is not that simple. If we want to be like those first Christians, we must devote ourselves to being together, to Bible study and prayer, having all things in common, selling our stuff and using the money to meet needs. This is not a description of Sunday church attendance, but a day by day focus on the things of God.
There is no mention in Acts of those new Christians having hobbies or spare time. It does not say anything about their employment because it was not the most important thing, nor does it mention themselves or their children being enrolled in lessons, sports, or other activities. These people were glad to eat together and generous of heart, praising God and not interested in awards or rewards. Could modern-day believers in our culture actually live like that? Could the persecuted church in other parts of the world enjoy that kind of togetherness without fear of being arrested or worse?
Jesus, I cannot answer my own questions. I know You can do whatever You want with us. The changes in the first century were instigated and sustained by the Holy Spirit. We are called to live for You in a totally different setting and challenged by many issues that did not exist at the time covered by Luke when he wrote Acts. As it has been said, every generation must work out its own theology and how to live it in the time in which we live. They had their challenges and so do we. All I can ask is that You enable me to obey Your will today in my world in ways that bring You glory.