Online Bible College
Carelinks Home
FREE Literature
'Bible Lives' Home
Bible Books Home
Buy this Book!
Bible Lives  

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


16-3-4 Unity In The Church

There is repetition of the command to all ecclesial members to greet all the other members with a "holy kiss" (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Pet. 5:14). It's hard to translate into our terms the huge meaning of this in the first century world. It would've been unthinkable for a slave to take such initiative to kiss their master, or indeed any free person. This practice of all kissing everyone else in the congregation would've been arresting and startling. Sociologically, it stood no chance of ever being done. And yet these social and inter-personal miracles were what made Christianity stand out so noticeably- and in essence, our overcoming of social and inter-personal barriers ought to do the same for our community in the present world. But does it? Are we so markedly different from others... ? Is our love and unity of such an evidently deep and different quality?

Of course, the early believers found their new unity difficult. The weaker ones didn’t practice it; which was why the rich feasted at the Corinth breaking of bread, and the poor went hungry. Perhaps the poor hit back by abusing the gift of tongues- showing off that they could speak, e.g., in Japanese when there was no call for it. Yet despite the failures of the early church, the dramatic progress of Christianity meant that their general unity was powerful enough to constitute a gripping witness to the world, just as the Lord had predicted that His crucifixion would inspire. And so with us. We are divided. Unity amongst us can seem impossible; we are too many opposing personality types, too many different ethnic groups, too widely scattered, too lazy to reconcile with each other. We must hang our heads in shame over some of our weaknesses as a community. And yet, the Lord was not dead in vain for most of us. His cross and His living again do quite evidently inspire a love and unity which is converting the world. And yet we have a long way to go.  

One thing that can make a true unity in the church difficult is that we believe that we “have the Truth” about the basic doctrines of the Gospel, on the basis that we have searched the Bible for that Truth, and yet we can tend to therefore treat every matter of Biblical interpretation as ‘the Truth’. We can slip into a logical fallacy, whereby ‘the Bible is true, this is what I think the Bible teaches, therefore this is the truth, therefore if you don’t agree with me you don’t believe the truth nor the Bible’. We can perceive that by tolerating a brother or sister who has a different view to us on a non-essential, we are somehow selling out, giving away God’s Truth. But we personally aren’t doing this, by simply doing as Paul says: “Him that is weak in the faith, receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations”, i.e. don’t keep making an issue over his weaknesses in the faith or your disagreement with his view of things. Don’t keep agitating it. Let it be. That’s surely what the verse is saying in plain enough words. More subtly, we can also have the impression that if we break bread with somebody, we are saying that we agree with their Biblical interpretations and way of life. The core doctrines of our faith are the basis of our fellowship- but nothing else. Different views on prophecy, different personality types resulting in differing approaches to clothing and how we run our meetings…these and the host of other differences between us, exist only as challenges for us to overcome. They challenge us to tolerance. Those like myself from a conservative mindset simply must find the grace to accept those who differ. And vice versa. The idea has been pushed by a few extreme members of our community that there is such a thing as ‘guilt by association’, whereby the wrong ideas or ways of another enter into us through the bread and wine. Nowhere in the Bible is this taught- we each die for our own sin, not that of our brother.  

And if there is no ‘guilt by association’, then we shouldn’t be worrying too much about who within the body of Jesus we fellowship. And when it comes to defining the body of Jesus, we have some clear Biblical guidance. We are baptized into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13), so nobody unbaptized is in the body. And valid baptism isn’t just a going under the water; it requires a belief of the “one faith”. 

We have suggested elsewhere that the great commission is repeated in John’s Gospel but in more spiritual language. The whole world is to know the Gospel because of the unity of the believers (Jn. 17:18,21,23); and it follows that a situation will arise in which the extraordinary nature of Christian solidarity over linguistic, ethnic, social and geographical lines will make a similar arresting, compelling witness as it did in the first century. The Lord had prophesied that His followers over time “shall become one flock” (Jn. 10:16 RV); they would be “perfected into one, that the world may know” (Jn. 17:23 RV). He surely hoped this would have become true in the first century. And it could have been like this in the first century- for Eph. 3:9 speaks of how the unity of Jew and Gentile would “make all men see” the Gospel. This is the urgency of Paul’s appeal for unity in Ephesians- he knew that their unity was the intended witness to the world which the Lord had spoken of as the means of the fulfilment of the great comission in Jn. 17:21-23. But sadly, Jew and Gentile went their separate ways in the early church, unity in the church broke up, and the possibility of world-converting witness evaporated. Seeing the great commission is to be powerfully obeyed in our last days, we simply must learn the lesson. 

The World Crucified

Appreciating the massive gap which there is between the believer and the world will help us realise how there ought to be no gaps between us. The whole way of thinking and hope which we have is totally at variance with this world. The differences are radical and fundamental, not cosmetic. Thus the New Testament is full of direct and breathtaking challenges to the thought of the Roman world in which the early believers lived. Thus, the Romans allowed the existence of the autonomous politaea, the city-state, so long as within its religion it featured the worship of the Emperor. And yet the NT writers speak of the ecclesia as a city which is independent, defiantly devoted to the worship of the one and only true God (Eph. 2:19; 3:20; Heb. 12:22; 13:14; Rev. 21). The writers must have nervously penned those inspired words, knowing the problems it would create. The Spirit of God could have chosen not to so directly challenge this world; and yet there is a chasmic difference between the community of God and the surrounding world, which the New Testament unashamedly triumphs in. The whole basis of this radical separation is the fact that Christ died for us. He died to unite us who believe in what the NT terms “the unity”, without seeking to further define it…(Jn. 11:52; 17:23; Eph. 1:10; 2:14; 4:3). We were reconciled to each other as well as to God “in one body by the cross” (Eph. 2:16). His death unites us in that standing before His cross, all our pettiness disappears, and we are impressed again with the reality that if He so laid down His life for us, so we must lay down our lives for the brethren (1 Jn. 3:16). It really and truly is a case of one for all, and all for one. And yet through His death, the world is crucified unto us, and we are unto this world (Gal. 6:14). In nothing can we boast or glory to this world, save in this, that He died for me, that He died for us, we brethren-in-Christ, we who have believed through grace; and that therefore this world, what it offers, what it threatens, what it stands for, is now dead for us, just as surely as we believe that the triumphant body of Jesus hung dead upon the stake.