The New Testament Church which was founded on the day of Pentecost and of which we are a part today, can teach us many things. We can see a number of characteristics that were predominant within the church at that particular time. We would do well to try and emulate those characteristics today.
In this editorial, I’d like to briefly discuss three main characteristics of the early Church. The first one is that of purpose and determination.
The early disciples had a deep sense of purpose. They were promised the Holy Spirit. In the 40 days between His resurrection and ascension, Jesus made many recorded appearances to the disciples to banish forever from their minds any doubt as to His continued existence as a living person. They were to receive power – the same Greek word is also translated as dynamite. In Acts 2:1, we read that they were all with one accord in one place. We see the Holy Spirit appearing like cloven tongues sitting on them. In verse 4, we are told that they were filled with the Holy Spirit. It would be hard at that time not to have a deep sense of purpose! In Acts 2, Peter gave the first New Testament sermon. In verse 40, we are told, “And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation.'” Here he showed, with quite a sense of urgency, the determination and purpose motivating and driving him.
In chapter 4, Peter and John were brought before the council. The rulers who had crucified Jesus were alarmed at the spreading of the message and the growing popularity of this new religion as they saw it. Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke boldly. This was the same Peter who, a few weeks before, in the same place, had been embarrassed at the remarks of a girl and had denied Christ. Now, in utter fearlessness, he defied Christ’s murderers. Being empowered by the Holy Spirit, Peter and the other apostles were transformed and filled with courage to proclaim the gospel. They were “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15: 58). There is no question that the New Testament Church certainly had a deep sense of purpose. WE SHOULD HAVE THAT SAME SENSE OF PURPOSE TODAY. They had to endure opposition and persecution then. We have opposition today. Things have changed little over the last 2,000 years. They had a deep sense of purpose and nothing was going to distract them. They got on with the job irrespective of all other considerations.
The second characteristic of the early disciples is that of unconquerable courage. Remember that Stephen gave an answer to his accusers. In Acts 7:54 they were just a little upset! Stephen didn’t flinch. In Acts 6:15 it says that as he spoke, his face “shone as the face of an angel.” He didn’t fear death. He died without a trace of resentment, which must have put his killers to shame. We read in 2 Corinthians 11 about Paul, an apostle of Christ, who was beaten with rods, who received five times 39 stripes, who was stoned, who was shipwrecked and who suffered all manner of things for the name of Christ. You don’t go through those sufferings and trials without knowing your cause is right. Paul had to have unconquerable courage. Tradition has it that John was the only apostle that was not martyred. He apparently lived his life out fully, but all of the other apostles apparently suffered martyrdom. You don’t give up your life for a lie – you give up your life for that which you totally believe in and are fully convinced about.
We also find, as a third important characteristic of the early New Testament Church, that it was a caring Church. We see in Acts 2: 44-47 that they all worked together for the common good, sharing all that they had. At the outset, they had all things in common and a community spirit was born. Of course, it was all new and later, problems surfaced – they always do! One problem that immediately springs to mind is the problem with Ananias and Sapphira who received the ultimate form of discipline because of their treachery. However, such an incident cannot hide the fact that there was a togetherness in the New Testament Church at the inception of the true Christian faith – a togetherness that assists everyone when problems arise. There were, of course, other examples including the collection for the saints in 1 Corinthians 16 where produce was collected for those less well off.
These are just three characteristics of the New Testament Church that we can learn from. Times are getting more and more difficult, and it behoves us all to ensure that the examples that are there in the Bible are not wasted on us. The New Testament Church which was founded on the day of Pentecost and which we are a part of today, can teach us much. Let us take these lessons seriously!