The Early Church

In the last section (The New Testament) we learned how Jesus fulfilled the Law just as He said He would:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”… “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matt 5:17

Here Jesus proclaimed that those in His Kingdom must still keep the Law—His FULFILLED Law! The fulfilled Law is simply the Old Covenant Law transformed into Spiritual Law. Whereas the Old Laws were performed physically, through Jesus they are now to be performed spiritually or in our heart.  After His resurrection Jesus explained how He fulfilled the Laws and what they now mean to us. For example, we are told that the slavery of Egypt now represents the slavery of sin. So when a person first trusts in Jesus, they too put the blood of the Passover lamb over the door of their home to escape death and to be delivered from slavery; but the Christian is saved from the Eternal death that comes through the slavery of sin. But the Passover is only our first fulfillment provision. Jesus fulfilled all of the Laws, thus the Christian must partake in all of them as well.

sunriseThankfully compared to keeping the old Law, keeping the Law of the Spirit through life in Christ Jesus is easy! Indeed, Jesus said “come unto Me ye that are burdened and I will give you rest—for My yolk is easy and My burden is light.”  No longer must the people of God build and maintain a physical Temple; rather, when the Christian simply asks Jesus into their heart, they themselves become God’s Temple. Moreover, when they sin, they no longer need to travel to the Temple to offer a sacrifice; rather, when they simply need to ask God to forgive their sin in Jesus name. In doing so, they offer Jesus sacrifice to God as their sin offering (Rom 8:3). Moreover, because the Law says only a priest can offer a sacrifice, through the Spirit the Christian becomes a Spiritual priest offering Spiritual sacrifices to God. Jesus certainly did NOT abolish the Law; rather it is active in your heart if you live by the Spirit.

In fact, when the Christian asks Jesus to be their personal Savior, they embark on the same journey that the old Israel traveled; but in the Spiritual realm. Like old Israel, the journey is designed to sanctify the follower…but the Christian is to become sanctified (Holy) in Heart. Indeed, the Spirit will lead them into situations that will teach, test and try them. While some may fall in the very beginning (in the wilderness), others will continue on in Christ as He takes them through to the Eternal Promise Land!

Now although the believer must undergo this inward journey alone; they can gain encouragement from others who are also on this journey. Actually, Christians are commanded to love one another and to grow together in the unity of the Spirit. This “Commandment” to Love is the second provision of the New Covenant.

While Jesus’ sacrifice fulfilled the sacrificial and ceremonial Laws, the Old Covenant contained society Laws as well. Jesus said the society Laws could be summed up in the Law that says “Love you neighbor as you love yourself”. But like the ceremonial Laws, the society Laws needed to be fulfilled as well. Jesus fulfilled these Laws when He provided a Love that went above and beyond the old requirement. Indeed Jesus loved us MORE than He loved Himself in that while we were still His enemies, He died for us. Because Jesus fulfilled the entire Law through Love, He offers us the ability to be able to keep it through Him…through His Love! Thus in order to become partakers in His New Covenant, Jesus commands us to Love others…as He Loved us:

“A NEW COMMAND I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  John 13:34

As previously explained, just like the Old Covenant the New Covenant is like a marriage contract in which both parties must agree to the terms. Jesus agreed and fulfilled His part of the contract and the Christian must also agreed to their part. The Christian enters into the New Covenant by trusting in Jesus sacrifice as provision for the Law and by committing to His Love; and they must continue in it. All who continue (abide) in Jesus will one day enter into the final Rest of the glorified City…the New Jerusalem. (9)

The first Christians understood the fulfilled Law. Because they understood that there was no longer a need for a physical temple, they simply met together in their homes. Their meetings were simple and consisted of eating a meal symbolizing the Passover meal Jesus shared the night He died. At that “last supper”, Jesus shared a loaf of bread that represented His body and a vessel of wine representing His blood to be sacrificed for those who would believe in Him. Therefore, the Christians would share a meal that contained a loaf of bread and a vessel of wine symbolizing their unity in the Lord. But these meals often included other foods and were celebratory as they were also rejoicing in what Jesus had done for them. At these gatherings the believers would also study Agape_feast_02the Old Testament Scriptures together and discuss their spiritual fulfillments. Under the power of the Holy Spirit they would also sing, preach, teach and prophesy. These informal gatherings nurtured the believer’s relationships and developed their Love for each other. They also strengthened and equipped them to take the salvation message out to their communities. (10)

The Christian Elders (older men) were to act as pastors (shepherds) in these groups and set good examples as they guided the younger believers. Hence the younger Christians were to honor their elders. Some elders were to receive “double honor” because of their extensive spiritual dedication. This simply meant that the younger believers were to yield and give more consideration to that elder’s council or teachings. Elders were paid in honor…not money. The Church elders were simply local family men who had worked for their living and had done well in raising their families; thus they could relate to and advise the younger families. Some of the elders were called to oversee the functions of the group, but not to dominate it.  ALL believers were encouraged to participate regardless of age. Whether through teaching, preaching or prophesying, the meeting was to be an open forum to all. (11)

As the Church grew, there were often several groups meeting in each city. For example, the church in Corinth was made up of several groups in that city, but they could all be considered the church of Corinth collectively. Each group was autonomous (self governing or free of outside rule). Although the apostles visited and wrote letters to these churches, no hierarchical system was established to govern or control them. In fact, Jesus exhorted His disciples not to establish a hierarchy. He told them not to identify each other with authoritative religious titles such as “father”, “rabbi” or “master” for they were all to be as “brothers”. In fact, Christians were to regard others as greater than themselves. Indeed, Jesus said, “He who wishes to be first will actually be last in the Kingdom”. True humility and servitude was the standard. (12)

The Apostles were allowed to receive money for their labors, but that was because they were constantly traveling and could not hold down jobs like the local elders. However, the Apostle Paul truly loved, in that even though he had a right to receive the help, he refused it. He said that he did not want to hinder the Gospel by appearing to be doing it for money. Rather, Paul said he worked with his own hands for all of his needs (1 Cor 9).

The Christian Church quickly flourished and became well established; but it was not without its troubles. Almost immediately false teachings emerged in the churches causing strife and divisions. There were two main dissensions: one came through some Jewish Christian teachers who sought to re-implement the old Covenant Laws on the Christians. This false teaching appealed to those who struggled with spirituality and or who felt pressured by their fellow Jews.  The Apostles however repeatedly refuted these teachings as seen in many of their writings. A good example can be found in the letter written to the church in Galatia by the Apostle Paul where he refuted the teachings of the “Judaizers”. There Paul adamantly instructs the Christians to continue to hold to their life through the Spirit for their salvation. (14)

The other main dissension became known as Gnosticism (knowledge). These false teachers seduced Christians with distorted philosophies and mysticisms.  One prevalent teaching held that all spirit was good and all matter was evil. Therefore, it did not matter what sinful activity one may partake of in the flesh. Thus, one could participate in all manner of fleshly indulgence and it would have no effect on their eternal spirit. Several letters written by the Apostles, especially John, strongly refuted the Gnostic’s false teachings. (15) Due to the onslaught of these false teachings, the Apostles repeatedly reminded the followers to adhere to the original Gospel message. Unfortunately, these teachers gained followings and formed sects which eventually separated from the main church.

Troubles of another kind arose when many of the Jews who professed Jesus as their Messiah were ostracized from their Jewish families and communities. Moreover, the Jewish religious leaders continued to seek out Jesus’ followers to persecute them in an effort to stop the movement.  However, later, as tensions escalated between the Jews and the Romans, the Jews entreated the Christians to join with them to fight against the Romans. But because the Christians were no longer looking to obtain a physical kingdom, and because they were commanded to love their enemies, they declined. This further alienated them from their fellow Jews. (13)

Moreover, the Gentile Christians were also detested by their peers. The Romans fervently nurtured an environment for tolerance of all gods, and thus were incensed by the Christian’s proposal that Jesus was the only “Way” to God. As a result, the gentile Christian’s allegiance to Rome’s “god-Emperor” became a problem, and the Romans also persecuted the Christians to suppress the movement. (13) The Christians were publicly taunted and maligned. Because they had no temples, priest or rituals, they were dubbed atheist. Their spiritual (family of God) love was misconstrued as incest and their communion meals as cannibalism, and it became quite popular to hate the Christians. (13)

Although troubles certainly abounded, the church as a whole was fundamentally strong, functioning well, and growing fast. But, the Christians were soon to face their greatest challenge.

martyrdomIn the summer of 64 A.D. a massive fire destroyed much of the City of Rome. It was rumored amongst the Roman people that their own Emperor (Nero) had set the blaze; but he was never charged. Rather, in an attempt to clear his name, Nero blamed the devastating inferno on the new divisive and hated Christians. This sparked a large scale and vicious persecution of the Christians, and many were brutally tortured and killed. During the Roman games, the Christians were crucified, burned alive and even devoured by animals for entertainment.  The Roman persecution of the Christians continued for nearly three centuries.

Moreover, in 66 A.D. the Jewish wars against the Romans began. For four years the Jewish Zealots fought vigorously to drive the Romans from Jerusalem. However, in 70 A.D. the Romans besieged the city and killed millions of Jews. Moreover, the Romans completely destroyed the prized Temple and drove the remaining Jews from the city. Alas, Jesus foretold of this dreadful end to the physical city of God. But the Jews did not give up. In 132 A.D. a man named Simon bar Kokhba who claimed to be the Messiah rallied the Jews to retake Jerusalem; but the effort failed miserably and more Jews were killed in 132 than in 70 A.D. Moreover, because of their brazen attempt, the Romans completely banned the Jews from the region and renamed it Palestine after Israel’s old enemies (the Philistines).

seedsThis upheaval also began an unprecedented persecution of the Jews by the Romans. Due to these persecutions, Christians and Jews fled the region, relocating to the farthest regions of the world. But this too was divine providence; for like scattering seeds in the wind, the Christians shared their gospel wherever they went and the Spiritual Kingdom of God grew throughout the world.

“…and this gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world and then the end will come.” Matt 24:14

 

Please click on “Church History” to continue.

 

 

References:

(1) Romans 8:2 “…For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death…”

(2) Phil 3:3 “…for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…”

(3) John 15:4 “…Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me…” 

(4) 1 Corth 10:1 “…For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; 4and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ…”

 (5) 1 Corth 6:19 “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God…”

(6) 1 Pet 2:5  “…you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus…”

(7)  Matt 11:28  “…Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Also read Matt 12)

Heb4:4  “…For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day, “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; 5and again in this passage, “They shall not enter My rest.” 6Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, 7He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.”

(8) <st1:bcv_smarttag>Matt 22:40 “‘…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38“This is the great and foremost commandment. 39“The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40“On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets…”

Rom 13:  “…Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law9For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law…”

(9) Eph 4:13  “…until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ…”

Heb 10:25  “…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near…”

Eph 2:21 “…and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit…”

(10) House Church:

Rom 16:3  “…Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; also greet the church that is in their house…

Col 4:15  “…15Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house…”

Philm 1:2 “…Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house…”

Communion:

1 Corth 11:23  “…For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes…”

(11) Elders: Titus 1:5 “…For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion…”

1 Pet 1:5 “…Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain (money), but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 

1 Tim 5:17  “…The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor,  (not money) especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching; for the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages…” (Note: ox and laborer are similes)

Assembly: 1 Corth 14:26 “…When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification…” 14:31 “…For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted…”

(12) Matt 23:5 “…“But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their £phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6“They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. 8But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9“Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10“Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11“But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12“Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted…”

(13) Source: A Summary of Christian History  Baker

(14) Gal 3:1 “…You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

(15) 1 John 1:6  “… If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us…”

 

 

 


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