A First Century Church

Several years ago, I saw in a church’s mission statement: “We want to be a New Testament Church.” I thought to myself, “What other kind of church is there? There are no Old Testament churches.”

Many times, I have heard such statements. I began asking church members and leaders what they meant by being a New Testament church or a first century church. They said they wanted to be like the first church that had the power of the Holy Spirit, but none of the problems associated with modern churches and denominations. Somehow they thought that the first church had no problems, and that all was peace, love, and joy.

A quick look at the book of Acts reveals problems in the early church. Some of the leaders were beaten and imprisoned. The Apostle James was executed, and Peter and John were imprisoned for preaching the gospel. The first century culture opposed the message of Christianity. They did not tolerate the supposed message of love and peace that Jesus preached. Complaints also arose among some of the church members over the way their loved ones received their daily allotment of food.

The Apostle Paul suffered many hardships, including imprisonment, flogging, stoning, deprivation, and shipwreck. He did not enjoy an easy life. He didn’t do book signings or motivational speaking tours. He did not own a luxury chariot. He preached the gospel plain and simple, and many people hated him for it. One group of artisans had him thrown in to prison because his preaching ruined their source of income (see Acts 19).

The early missions movement wasn’t without conflict either. Paul and Barnabas made a couple of mission trips together. A young man named John Mark went along with them on one trip, however, he did not finish the trip. This led to a great division between Paul and Barnabas. So deep was the division that they parted ways. Paul joined with Silas and continued his mission journeys. All was not peace and tranquility.

Also, the churches themselves were not without conflict. When people say that they want to be a New Testament church, I asked them, “Like which one? Which one had no conflict?” The Corinthians dealt with immorality and sin within the congregation. The Galatian church dealt with legalism and religious hypocrisy. The Philippian church had a conflict between two women who were causing a stink in the fellowship. In fact, if there were no problems in the first century churches, there would be no New Testament epistles.

Paul’s letter to the Romans give us a further indication that we are indeed living in a first century like culture. Romans 1 says that God gave the people over to sinful desires, shameful lusts, and a depraved mind. That early culture turned their backs on God so he abandoned them. He turned them loose and let them suffer the natural consequences of their choice to reject God. Verse 18 says that they repressed the truth about him in their unrighteousness. Their thinking became futile. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie. They rejected the Creator and worshiped the creation instead.

This is true in our culture today. People reject God as Creator by accepting evolution over millions of years. They worship the creation rather than God who created it. They have pursued sinful desires and are now following the shameful lusts that Paul speaks of. What were they? Romans 1:26-27 says, “their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way, the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” Those are shameful lusts.

The depraved mind is one that cannot distinguish right from wrong. It is the mind that calls “evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20). Due to political correctness in our culture, we can no longer say that anything is right or wrong anymore. We cannot claim moral absolutes.

Further proof we are living in a first century culture is found in Romans 1:29-32, “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” This sounds like the way our modern culture is becoming.

That culture faded away, but the church continued. Just a few centuries after the church was started, the Roman Empire melded into various Latin cultures. Although Rome’s influence remains, its glory is gone. However, the church continues around the world. Even though the culture seems dark today, in many places around the world the church is thriving.

Daniel predicted a kingdom that would never pass away. It would outlast the empires of the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans (Daniel 2:44-45). Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar that God would establish his own kingdom on earth, and that it would never pass away. No matter what happens in the society around us, God’s kingdom will prevail. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). One day Christ will return and establish his visible kingdom on earth.

Even though the modern culture is clamoring to cover up or eliminate Christian influence, Jesus also said, “heaven and earth will pass away, but my word remains forever” (Mark 13:13). The world will never be able to overcome Christianity. But like the first century, Christianity will overcome the culture.