Archive for May, 2008

Does the Example of the Early Church teach Communism?

May 31, 2008

Title: Does the Example of the Early Church teach Communism?

[Audio http://ab86qw.bay.livefilestore.com/y1pv9y9Cj_frmhRcWMCZnBLpiKBiflBARCZhJ9MaXQMvyNzcU3dnkSTbHhezqTNvmz6Vo17JVHWXUTYdSvOd62ZhA/7-27-08doesthebibleteachcommunism.mp3%5D

Text: Acts 2:44-45

Time: June 1st, 2008

As we make our way through the accounts of the early Christian church in the Book of Acts we come to a two-verse passage that may leave us scratching our head and thinking, “This looks a little like Communism,” is it? Acts 2:44-45, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” Now from that one section of the New Testament one might conclude that the early Christians were practicing a form of Communism – or at least some kind of Socialism – but that would be a false reading of the historical record. As we go verse-by-verse through the Book of Acts and its record of the first century church, we’ll stumble upon parts that on the surface seem to say something different than we’ve come to understand about Christianity. Sometimes we’ll have to modify our present views to fit the reality of the early church, but other times we’ll have to dig deeper in order to really understand what the account is actually saying instead of relying upon a surface reading of the text. This is an example of that. On the surface, with a superficial reading of this passage in the Book of Acts, one might think that early Christians were practicing a form of Communism or Socialism, but that is entirely false. Yes, there are similarities that the early church exhibited with what we understand today as Communism or Socialism, but these similarities amount to only superficial similarities, not essential similarities. In other words, while the early Christians “held all things in common,” that is a far cry from the state requiring that all its citizens hand over all their possessions as is the case with Communism, or even requiring that all citizens hand over most or much of their earthly possessions and finances as is the case with Socialism. The original Christians shared their possessions with each other voluntarily out of love for one another, not because they were forced to by a coercive state government. That is the biggest difference. But there are other differences that I’d like to look at in more detail today. What the passage does teach, while not teaching us to reorganize ourselves along the lines of Communism or Socialism, it does teach us the importance of sharing and generosity. And we need such a teaching because today we live in a very individualistic and selfish age. We also live in a very materialistic time as well. Individualism, selfishness, and materialism – they all work together against the kind of love, sharing, generosity and community we see among the first Christians in the Book of Acts. We can learn a lot about true Christian community by rethinking what it means to live together with others based on the New Testament model. Although not advocating Communism or Socialism, there are some very important things early Christianity teaches us. Let’s see. (more…)

More Characteristics of the Early Church, Part 2

May 24, 2008

More Characteristics of the Early Church, Part 2

Text: Acts 2:44-47

Time: May 25th, 2008

 

Our goal in studying the Book of Acts is to understand the early church and learn what we can about it in order to apply its teachings and example to the life of our own church today. There is no question that when we look at the early church and then compare it to our own church today there is a vast difference. Some of the differences have nothing to do with human choices or abilities today, they are just circumstantial differences between that ancient culture and our modern times. But other differences have everything to do with the choices we make and the things we do today in church. For example, we learn from the Book of Acts that the early Christian church operated under a more informal rather than formal organizational structure. Yet today, most churches operate under more formal than informal organizations. That is a choice Christians make today – to operate more formally than informally — that could be changed, if there were a will to change. And there are many such choices that we make today that are different from the early Christian church. As we search for better ways of doing church and fulfilling the Lord’s mission to make disciples, we should then consider how the early church went about their church mission and then compare it with the way we are currently doing things, and then finally ask ourselves the question, “Where do we need to change our ways to follow the original pattern for church?” Now some patterns in the early church cannot be followed today simply because it is impossible. For example, in the first church found in Jerusalem, the early Christians met daily in the Temple courts, but today that is impossible. First, because there is no Temple today; it was destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Romans and never rebuilt. The only thing that remains is the Western or “Wailing Wall” where Jews today meet and pray; no Christians are even allowed in this remaining section. But second, even if the Jewish Temple were still standing, the vast majority of Christians wouldn’t have access to it simply because they would be nowhere near it geographically. So something that the early Christians did is impossible for Christians today to do; we cannot follow the pattern of the early church in this detail. And there are other such things found in the Book of Acts that are impossible for us to follow today, even if we wanted to follow them to the exact detail. So when we examine the Book of Acts for patterns of church to apply today we must sometimes be ready to look beyond the specific details and look rather for the spiritual principles behind the specific practices. In that way, we can apply the spiritual principles in whatever time or place. So with that in mind, let’s look at some more characteristics of the early church with an eye for applying anything we can today. Last week I covered three characteristics; let’s look at four more characteristics of first century Christianity. (more…)

More Characteristics of the Early Church, Part 1

May 19, 2008

Title: More Characteristics of the Early Church, Part 1

Text: Acts 2:44-47

Time: May 18th, 2008

It is my goal in studying the Book of Acts to understand the early church and learn what I can in order to apply this knowledge to our present-day church. The early church is the only pattern we have of an “ideal” church, even though it was not a perfect church. First-century Christianity had problems too, as we can easily see from simply reading the New Testament, particularly the Corinthian letters, but also other writings. But what the early church had was the closest thing to an ideal church as we can get because it was closest to Christ himself and it had Christ’s apostles still living, teaching and influencing it. If any church in any age had it right, it was this first and earliest of churches. So there is great benefit in reading, understanding, and applying the principles of early Christianity to our churches today. In reading over the Book of Acts, I ask a number of different questions, which include: what was the earliest church’s gospel message, what was preaching like in the early church, what did Christian fellowship look like, what activities did the early church carry out, what were the main components of early Christianity, what were the essential features of the primitive Christian church, what was expected of early Christians, how did leaders lead in that first church, how did the early church make decisions, how did they praise and worship God, how did they spread the gospel, how did they raise up committed followers of Christ, etc. Today, we operate under certain assumptions of what Christianity is and what is a Christian church, so much so that we all think we have a pretty clear understanding of things, when in reality we may simply be repeating assumptions that we’ve been conditioned to assume rather than truths that the Bible actually teaches or models. For example, when we hear the word “Christian fellowship” many things may come to mind. We might think of the typical after-church get-together of punch and cookies where church members and visitors gather to mingle and share small talk. For many people that may be the one and only definition of fellowship in their vocabulary. When they read in the pages of the New Testament, particularly in the Book of Acts, for example, Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship, . . .” they may fill in the blanks and picture ancient people standing around in togas talking, sipping coffee and eating finger food – fellowship – which would be completely wrong! Fellowship in the early church was so much more, but if we aren’t careful we will read into the text our own misconceptions. That’s why I’m going verse-by-verse through Acts trying to understand what took place 2000 years ago, so that we might get a clear understanding today in order to live out the real Christian life and not just repeat popular but misguided conceptions today. So then again, let’s turn to Acts, 2:44-47, to help us know what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be a church today. (more…)

Repent and Turn to God

May 8, 2008

Title: Repent and Turn to God

[Audio http://ab86qw.bay.livefilestore.com/y1p6k96bomac7JEI56v2mh6cLAllNNTIeRSikilnHXTFLVL6jasooj8Qy5hGwIIob81N7kM5u_4L0wksljHRhTaLQ/4-27-08repentandturntogod.mp3%5D

Text: Acts 3:1-4:26

Time: May 11th, 2008

In this study of the Book of Acts, a few weeks back, I reviewed the Apostle Peter’s first Christian sermon after Pentecost, today I’ll review Peter’s second sermon. To be very honest, the two sermons sound very similar in style and content. In fact, we might conclude that we see here a pattern of preaching that would characterize not just the Apostle Peter but all the apostles as they proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ in the first century. Now if we compare Peter’s first two sermons, his preaching of the gospel, with what passes for preaching in most churches coming from most pastors, we find that there is a vast difference in both style and content. One of the most striking features that we see in Peter and the other apostles, but what is absent in most preaching today by pastors in churches is repentance. In Peter’s first sermon – the first Christian sermon from the official beginning of the church at Pentecost – repentance played a major role, it was a major theme, even the major theme. Here again, in Peter’s second sermon, we again see repentance at the heart of the message. Yet if we were to survey sermons in the typical Christian church today, in this country and around the world, we would probably find that repentance doesn’t play much of a part in messages, and in many cases, plays no part at all in church sermons today. Why is that? Why have pastors and teachers in the Christian church today omitted a main, if not the main, component of the gospel message of the early church? It is a curious and strange situation when the original sermons of the Christian church, their style and content, are largely ignored by preachers today, and other styles and contents are substituted instead. Is it any wonder why the Christian church and/or the average Christian today is so weak? Isn’t it easy to understand why the typical Christian today cannot be distinguished from the average non-Christian in belief and behavior? Christians today are not hearing the genuine and authentic biblical preaching that can alone feed their soul. Instead, they are being fed a diet of feel-good self-help psychology aimed at helping them obtain high self-esteem and succeed or achieve a comfortable life in the here-and-now, while utterly neglecting real eternal spiritual issues. Early Christians, in contrast, were fed by the apostles with true spiritual food, revelation from God about important things, not trivial matters like what is taught today in countless churches. And so again, this week, we’ll revisit another one of the Apostle Peter’s sermons, and hear once again what real spiritual Christian preaching should sound like. Once we get a taste of God’s authentic Word delivered by a man of God, we’ll never want to go back to the kind of fast food, junk food served Sunday after Sunday in many churches today. So let’s turn once again to the Apostle’s preaching and see if we can’t hear what God is trying to teach us from it. Three things are important in Peter’s message. (more…)