For the early church, faith was not something reserved for Sunday morning services and a home group one night a week – it was at the very center of their lives. In this sixth concept in a series looking at “Redefining Church”, we get a window into the all-encompassing nature of the faith of the first-century church, and what it might mean for the twenty-first century church to have a faith that is more than just a compartmentalised part of our lives.
Read: Acts 2:46
They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity.
Consistency and dedication were a huge source of strength for the community of believers that we have come to know as the “early church”. Faith was at the very center of everything that they did – rather than being a “part” of their lives, as faith has generally become in the twenty-first century. Even if we think that we’re putting faith high up on our priority list, and object to the idea that it’s just a part of our lives, compartmentalising aspects of our lives is such a “normal” part of modern life that often we’re not even aware that we’re doing it. We may ring-fence time for our family, for our work, for our hobbies, and for church on a Sunday and maybe midweek, too. Faith is important, and we may try to make decisions based on faith, but it’s still not the same as what the early church did.
Acts 2:46 tells us that the early church “worshiped together at the Temple every day, [and] met in homes for the Lord’s Supper”. The key phrase here is “every day”. Church wasn’t just something they did on a Sunday morning, worshiping God together was a part of their daily lives. Nowadays, someone who goes to church every day (if that is even possible, given that many churches only open their doors on Sundays) is regarded as a fanatic – but in the first century, everyone in the community of Christ-followers worshiped together every day. It wasn’t fanaticism then – this kind of dedication and consistency demonstrated the deep, genuine hunger for God that was present in those who came to faith soon after Jesus’ ascension. Maybe it was because they had the opportunity to learn from the apostles who had walked and talked and eaten with Jesus both before and after his crucifixion and resurrection. The stories were fresh and exciting – and because this was before any written New Testament was available, it wasn’t possible for them to sit at home on their own and read their Bibles as part of an obligatory “quiet time”. Is it possible that two millennia of distance from Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have watered down the excitement and the availability of the written Bible has taken away the need to “worship together…every day”?
Why bother going to church when you can worship God at home, with your own Bible and your own worship music? This is very much a modern attitude – and it’s the polar opposite of what the early church modelled. There are so many other demands on our time that faith-based activities often get pushed to the sidelines and we worship in ways that are convenient to us. It’s entirely possible in the twenty-first century to have a “private faith” that means that even if faith is central to our lives, and is all-encompassing, and does guide every decision that we make, it doesn’t have to entail (and probably rarely does) going to church every day to worship with other believers. Private faith is a valid, genuine faith, but in many respects it lacks the power of the corporate faith that the early church modelled. It lacks power because rather than fostering community strength, people gathering together with the same thirst and hunger for God, pulling together, working together, worshiping with one voice, it creates a fragmented community, pulling in different directions, having the same thirst and hunger for God but pursuing Him individually rather than together, and lots of individual voices in isolation. Private faith cannot be all-encompassing in the way that the faith of the early church was.
Private faith is a valid, genuine faith, but in many respects it lacks the power of the corporate faith that the early church modelled.
The early church demonstrated a faith that took center stage in the way that they lived and worshipped together. It was not compartmentalised or fragmented in the way that modern faith often is. In the twenty-first century, private faith is encouraged, but this kind of faith lacks power, and leads us to wonder what impact it would have on our society as a whole and our communities in particular if we were to Redefine Church to reflect the all-encompassing faith that the early church modelled for us. Could this be the transformative power that could change lives not only of the community of believers but of the hurting, broken and desperate people who don’t get to see Jesus when our faith is private?