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16. The early church

16-1 A Taste Of The First Century: The Positive : 16-1-1 " With one accord" || 16-1-2 The Early Church Our Example || 16-1-3 Prayer Meetings || 16-1-4 Christ-centredness || 16-1-5 Radical Preaching || 16-1-6 Women In The Early Church || 16-1-7 The Joy Of Faith || 16-2 A Taste Of The First Century: The Negative: 16-2-1 Division In The Church || 16-2-2 Politics In The Church || 16-3 Unity And Division In The First Century : 16-3-1 Unity And Division In The First Century Church || 16-3-2 Oikonomia And Household Fellowships || 16-3-3 Rich And Poor In The First Century || 16-3-4 Unity In The Church || 16-4 The Obstacles : 16-4-1 The Obstacles To The Growth Of Christianity || 16-4-2 The offence of the cross || 16-4-3 The rejection of Caesar || 16-4-4 Women And Slaves In The First Century || 16-4-5 The Roman Empire And Christianity || 16-4-6 The Attraction Of Judaism || 16-4-7 Other First Century Objections To Christianity || 16-5 How They Succeeded: 16-5-1 Why Christianity Spread In The First Century  || 16-5-2 The Example Of The Community || 16-5-3 House Meetings In The First Century || 16-5-4 Witness In The Workplace || 16-5-5 The Witness Of Christian Unity In The First Century || 16-5-6 The Role Of Women   In The First Century || 16-5-7 Style Of PreachingIn The First Century || 16-5-8 Christian Ethics In The First Century || 16-5-9 The Exclusivity Of Christianity || 16-5-10 Early Christian Doctrine || 16-6 Where Things Went Wrong: 16-6-1 Doctrinal Apostacy || 16-6-2 The Rise Of Traditions || 16-6-3 Legalism In The Church || 16-6-4 Social Tensions In The Church || 16-6-5 Wealth In The Church || 16-6-6 Worldliness In The Church || 16-6-7 Lost Emphasis Upon Grace || 16-6-8 Loss Of Faith In The Church || 16-6-9 Poor Church Leadership || 16-6-10 Dogmatism And Legalists


16-3 Unity And Division In The First Century Church

16-3-1 Unity And Division In The First Century Church

Baptism into the body of the Lord Jesus was only a beginning. Straight away, we find ourselves in the body of Christ not only in that we personally are connected with Him, but in that we are now intimately linked with all those others who comprise His body. And yet we soon find that we are all so different- ethnically, in temperament, colour, personality type, in so many ways... And we can find this so irritating, we can easily chose to fellowship only with those whom we find natural affinity with. Perhaps we don’t realise the depth of the challenge we face: we must be one. We must face up to the fact that to a brother and to a sister, we must each accommodate ourselves to all others who are in the one body. If we opt out of realistic mixing with each other, we are effectively resigning from Christ. For He is His brothers and sisters. He didn’t say ‘I am the trunk and you are the branches’, He said ‘I am the vine, and you are the branches’. We are Him, His body. Our attitude to our brothers and sisters is our attitude to Him. We cannot claim to love God if we don’t love our brother. It’s as simple as this.  

Frankly, we need a lot of encouragement to take our need for unity more seriously. Unity and division in the church is the most tragic paradox. Our community is divided, far more than it should be. There are exclusive ‘fellowships’ refusing to break bread with others, from America to Australia through India and Zimbabwe. There are divisions between male and female in some ecclesias which didn’t ought to be. There are tensions between rich and poor, both within ecclesias, and within the world-wide brotherhood. There are some deeply felt ethnic dislikes, often not even disguised, amongst us on every continent of this planet. And very evidently, there is an inability for different personality types to come together. And a house divided will fall, even if those expressing these feelings and tensions may appear at this point in time to be ‘strong in the Truth’. It’s no good thinking that the elders of our community or the community itself ought to do something. We personally must grasp the height and depth of the idea of unity, and go out and show it to our brethren; by caring for them, praying for them, visiting them, writing to them, thinking about them… We have been called to overcome the petty barriers which our humanity erects. This is why the Lord calls in the way He does; brethren and sisters from every ethnicity in the Balkans, Albanian, Serb, Croat, Macedonian….rather than just calling, say, 20 Serbs in Belgrade. It’s why young and old are called in the same town, why one brother and one sister in the same town rather than two men or two women. It isn’t just to make a pretty pattern on a map or in a set of statistics; it’s so that His glory can be advanced by them all overcoming their barriers and achieving the unity of the Spirit. The Lord in His death tore down the barriers that existed between men. He died so that He might gather together in one all God’s scattered children. He died to create a unity between us, so powerful it would convert the world. The cross and our part in it, our salvation through it, must therefore be our guiding and motivating force.

The idea of an international community of believers in the same faith was in itself quite radical in the first century. People from different ethnic groups from throughout the known world were all believing the same religion, the same Saviour. This was far more radical than we may now appreciate- for in the first century “People took for granted that religion was indissolubly linked to a particular city, nation or people” [see Robert Wilken, The Christians As The Romans Saw Them (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984)].