In this section we are going to look at just some of the practices of the early church believers for approximately the first 250 years of the church. In 313, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan legalizing the practice of Christianity. We have many today that refer to the church fathers as being from this time forward but really the church fathers were the 11 Disciples and Paul, with many co-laborers, not for instance St. Augustine, St. Athanasius, or Gregory of Nazianzen, let alone theologians such as Luther or Calvin.
By the time of the Apostle John's death the world had been completely evangelized with the Church fully established upon the teachings and commandments of Christ and the Apostles. The practices of this original group lasted for several generations until the church began to blur the distinctions between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world under this new governmental favor.
From this, even though the church didn't immediately deviate from the teachings of the Apostle's in regards to doctrine, they did begin to flee the teachings of the cross. Therefore once the message of the cross leaves the church it, in itself, becomes nothing more than a hollow collection of accepted interpretations of what used to be considered absolute truths. Now the doctrines of the church replace the truths of God. At times they may mirror much of the original testament, but more commonly they are adapted to fit the culture of the day in an effort to convince and convert, and even at times, force those it is imposed upon to practice what is currently understood as Christianity. Once man uses his worldly influence and authority to promote the cause of the church we simply have a functioning religion that only changes the outward and never truly regenerates the inward part to become Christ like.
For all worldly powers will pass away and anything that is established through the natural carnal ways of the world will also pass away for we will find that they were like a house that was built upon the sand. The structure of the house built upon the sand may very much appear like the house built upon a rock, but when we see the structural details we will find the foundation of the house built upon the sand is built in haste compared to the structure of the house built upon a rock.
For hundreds of years the house of Christianity has been built upon the sand. The amazing thing is this type of structure leads to easy alterations and minimal effort for changes, but not so for the house built upon the rock.
Much effort goes into a structure built upon a rock. The design is unique, the labor intensive, and there is much greater time involved. Typically this house could never be built by just one person, but rather takes the skill of many to work together for it to be successfully completed. Leaving the Kingdom principles, and abandoning the message of the carrying our cross daily, leads to the equivalent of building our house upon the sand And it is upon this solid rock, Christ, not Peter as some may teach, the original church was built, that we must revisit, and revisit soon.
So now let's look at some of the practices of the original members of the Church.
- Christ was the head of the church, not a board of directors, a denominational conference, synod, or delegation, nor even simply a pastor.
- Elders were recognized for their gifts of establishing and maintaining the church. Bishops were called out of this group to represent an area where the church physically existed. Sometimes the local church meet in multiple settings, therefore the bishop was called to give spiritual guidance to the total group of the believers for a particular area and give guidance and direction for this overall group. Deacons were appointed out of this same group to meet the physical needs to the local church.
- Only men were called into establishing and maintaining the practical, physical, and spiritual aspects of the church. Women were to be silent in settings of church fellowship.
- All members lived modestly including dress. Men had short hair, woman were to have long hair. There was no Sunday "best". Vanity was avoided and a lifestyle of simplicity was embraced.
- They were model citizens, they paid taxes and willing complied with the worldly dictates of state where these did not conflict with the teachings of the kingdom and Christ's commands, yet they did not mix church and state.
- They fully embraced the principal of non-aggression. This included not taking the life of another for any reason, nor taking people to court. Even in small matters, outside of standing upon the truth, they chose to suffer for injustices, realizing that God also tests the believers faith by allowing such injustices knowing that it would produce fruits of righteousness if endured with joy. They also did not involve themselves with the affairs of state even in judgements against criminals and evil doers.
- They did not take, or swear by, oaths of any kind.
- They lived close enough to each other to have a practical working relationship of caring for the needs of those within the local church. Most sold everything that they had and it was given to the Deacons to be properly distributed amongst the brethren. They did not tithe or practiced any type of standardized support, but generously gave, cheerfully, as they were able to, knowing that God saw there hearts and judged them accordingly.
- They embraced hard work and honorable occupations that did not compromise their aversion to carnality and sinfulness, conducting themselves with the utmost of integrity.
- They celebrated the physical example of our Lord's last meal with the disciples and also the celebration of communion. They were two distinct celebrations, not blurred into one, even though they were practiced one after the other. Many set aside the first day of the week for fellowship, yet all were granted liberty in which day they chose to worship.
- They extended Christian fellowship to all those that, first, sincerely repented, then confessed their belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, followed by water baptism as soon as it could be performed. They were slow to ex-communicate anyone, yet they did not tolerate any sinfulness or errant teachings in their midst.
- They were of the conviction that there was no new special revelation after the Apostles, and they did not believe in progressive revelation as many do today.
- They abstained only from food that was offered to idols and blood.
As you can see from the above much of what the early church believers practiced is much different than main stream Christianity today. Since Christ died for the church, purchasing it by his atoning blood, I believe it is therefore of the utmost concern to all those that profess to be Christians to endeavor to follow in the standards that were originally put in place for the functioning of the church. May this short article encourage all of us to return and hold true to the original Church established by the Apostle of long ago, for they were inspired for our spiritual benefit not just on the doctrines of the church but also on the physical functions of the church.