Newsletter July 2018
House to house
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47)
These two verses sum up the nature and impact of the Early Church. Having been baptised in the Holy Spirit, the disciples boldly declared that Jesus had risen from the dead and that He was the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world. And Jesus was not only at the centre of their message, but of every aspect of their lives. Everything they did was modelled on what they had seen in Him and inspired by His Spirit who now lived in them.
The Early church did not have a church building. Yes, being of Jewish background, they would meet in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, which was one of the most magnificent edifices of their day. They would go there to observe the worship requirements of the Law of Moses and to proclaim Jesus as the fulfilment of that Law. However, for them the temple was not the equivalent to our church buildings today – a place where they could come together and worship with those who shared their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. On the contrary, it was a rather hostile place; the religious leaders who oversaw the temple worship were, for the most part, opposed to their message and soon persecuted them as they had persecuted their Master. When we think of the temple, we must rather think of a public place where all kinds of people gathered – a place where one could preach the message of the risen Christ to those who had not yet heard it.
So where did the first century believers meet? Where did they worship the Lord and fellowship with one another? It was in their houses. As more and more people responded to the message to follow Jesus, the disciples opened their homes to these new believers. They did not regard what they had as their own, but as God’s, and therefore it was natural for them to welcome others who shared their faith to also share their food, their fellowship and their entire lives. This is what they had experienced when they had been with Jesus while He was on earth, and this is what they continued, as He continued to walk with them in the Spirit.
Our understanding of church today has been shaped largely by what we have seen around us rather than by the experience of Acts. Most people associate church with a building where we gather once a week on a Sunday morning to take time out for God. Our busy lives and varied responsibilities do not allow us to “get involved” any more than that. When we face struggles, we either keep them to ourselves or maybe share them with those whose “job” it is to look after the flock.
Not so the Early Church: they had all things in common. No one was left alone with their need – be it material or spiritual. Everyone knew that the others cared for them, because their God cared for them. Therefore they were not afraid to share their needs with their brothers and sisters in Christ and not too busy with their own lives to support those who were struggling. Their faith was not merely a religious exercise tagged on to the end of a busy week – it was a lifestyle. It reflected who they were in Christ; and it helped them survive and grow ever stronger, even in the face of constant persecution.
Now this model of church was not limited to Jerusalem. As the church grew and spread throughout the Roman Empire, fellowships sprang up everywhere, meeting mainly in homes and gathering only sometimes in larger groups, as they were able. For the first three centuries, the church was built on caring relationships within small groups. This fact is reflected in Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8.
… we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.
The New Testament model of church is built on small groups – now, as it was then. It is in the caring environment of a small group that we can grow in the knowledge of God, discover the gifts He has given us, and bear one another’s burdens in true Christian love. Let us share our faith and our lives with one another and discover the purpose and calling God has for us. So sign up to join a small group if you haven’t already.