Living to Learn – The Early Church (Part 3)

A devoted church, is a church who is willing to learn and teach.  In this series, we’ll explore what Jesus said, what the early church did, and how we, the church, can become more devoted.

There are two kinds of people involved in learning – someone who is receiving information, and someone who is giving information.  Quite often we call these people the mentoree and the mentor.

What JESUS said about learning…

Jesus did a lot of teaching throughout his ministry; however, sometimes we forget to study his life before his ministry started.  Luke is the only gospel writer who gave us a picture of his early childhood.

…the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.  And the favor of God was upon him.  Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.  And when  he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom.  And when the feast ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem.  His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him.  After three days, they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions.  And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.  And when his parents saw him, they were astonished.  And he said to them, ‘Why were we looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.  And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.  And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.  And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.[i]

There are a number of things Luke wants us to see here.  First, there is a human side to Jesus.  He was a man who grew.  He didn’t just appear; he was a child who grew into the person he needed to become.

Second, Luke uses the catch-phrase, “he grew” to isolate how Jesus grew.  Verses 40 and 52 mark the beginning and end of the story.  Jesus grew by Luke calling him a child to being called Jesus, from being filled with wisdom to increasing in wisdom, and from being in favor with God to being in favor with God and man.[ii]

Third, it’s interesting to note how Jesus was submissive to his parents.  As a child, it seems as though Jesus knew he was the Son of God.  He said, “did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”[iii]  When his parents came for him, however, he submitted himself to their leadership.  He knew, that at this place in his life, it was important to obey his earthly parents.

Jesus was a human who grew in size, maturity, wisdom and in favor with God and man.  Even though his heavenly Father had future plans for him, he remained faithful to the leadership of his earthly parents.  He was willing to learn; he was both a mentoree and mentor.

What the EARLY CHURCH did…

The early church was devoted to the apostles’ teaching.[iv]  Peter described this devotion as craving after spiritual milk just as a newborn baby craves it’s milk.[v]  He seemed to understand spiritual growth and spiritual learning in terms of a natural hunger.  A baby doesn’t have to think about wanting their milk – they just want it.  The early church understood spiritual growth as a natural desire to want to grow.

Learning took place in a number of ways.  Being an oral culture, they listened to teaching, memorized scripture, and were often involved in intense discipleship.  They even learned from the generations before them.  One author makes this connection when studying early Christian occupations.  Early Christians followed in their father’s footsteps and chose humble, honest and hard working jobs (ie. tent-making, fishermen, or carpenters)  because “God hates the slothful.”[vi]   The early Church had a natural desire to learn and teach.

What EARLY PENTECOSTALS did…

Early Pentecostals believed in a spiritual journey of learning and experience.  Steven Land explains this in a sort of divine participation.  They experienced three foundational experiences: (1) new birth (justification); (2) spiritual growth (sanctification); and, (3) empowerment (Spirit Baptism).  They didn’t just experience these three aspects of their spiritual journey, they experienced “life as part of a biblical drama of participation in God’s history.”[vii]  Their desire to learn and teach each other was based on a desire to participate in God’s activity among them.

Early Pentecostal pastors also relied on the Spirit for their learning needs.  In relation to what we know today, they relied less on “academic learning” and more on “Spirit learning.”  Because they understood the Spirit to be very active among them, the Spirit gave them the instruction they needed.  Whether it was a lack of resources, or if they truly believed the spirited provided what they needed, early Pentecostal pastors had a desire to learn and relied more on the Spirit than academic education to do so.

What the CHURCH TODAY needs to do…

We need to be people who both learn and teach.  If we do so, we’ll bring unity, purpose, confidence and humility to our assemblies.  Learning and experiencing life together brings unity to the body of Christ.  Likewise, when the body gathers together, we share in each other’s gifts.  As we do so, we bring purpose to what God has uniquely gifted us with.  Learning and teaching also aids in confidence and humility.  If we’re able to teach and share something with others, it builds confidence in how God can use us.  On the other hand, if we’re willing to learn from others, it allows us to stay humble.  A growing and devoted church, is a church who is willing to learn and teach; including mentorees and those who mentor.

Along the way, academic and spiritual learning both play a part.  God helps us understand scripture and his will by speaking to us through the Spirit.  On the other hand, academic learning helps us set a frame work, ensuring our emotion doesn’t take us off course.   Pastors should be educated to think and defend theology while encouraged to have a relationship with God leading to vision and passion.

We need to be a people who are eager to learn and teach!

Will we be as devoted as the early Church was to learning and teaching?



[i] Luke 2:40-52, ESV.

[ii]Comparison of Luke 2:40 & 2:52.

[iii] Luke 2:49b.

[iv] Acts 2:42.

[v] 1 Peter 2:1-2.

[vi] Henry Sheldon, History of the Christian Church: The Early Church, vol. 1 (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1988), 304.

[vii] Steven Jack Land, Pentecostal Spirituality (Cleveland: CPT Press, 2010), 67, 75, 82, 84.

Andrew lives in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland with his wife, Deidre, and two children (Rae and Pierson), where he is the Lead Pastor of Bethel Pentecostal Church. He is a graduate of both Memorial University (BBA) and Tyndale Seminary (MTS). His passion is to help people become true disciples of Jesus.

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