The Fellowship – The Early Church (Part 4)

Reading Time: 6 minutes

A devoted church, is a church in fellowship together.  In this series, we’ll explore what Jesus said, what the early church did, and how we, the church, can become more devoted.

What JESUS said about fellowship…
Jesus declared that he would build his church on the rock that Peter stood on – the faithful ones who believed and followed him…

“[Jesus asked], But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon, Son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…”[i]

Jesus spoke of building his CHURCH.  He used the Greek word ecclesia, meaning “the called out ones.”  Therefore, the Church consists of those who are called out to believe and follow in faith.  Jesus is calling all of us[ii], and so those who choose to believe and follow become the Church that Jesus is building.

Jesus even prayed for those who would believe in the future.  Jesus prayed, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message…”  But he didn’t stop there, Jesus prayed that through UNITY and LOVE, others would and will know that He indeed was the Son of God.[iii]

The Church, as Jesus taught, is a group of believers who not only follow in His footsteps, but also bond together in unity and love so that others would believe and follow as well.  For Jesus, the Church is about being in fellowship together.

 

What the EARLY CHURCH did…
The early church devoted themselves to the fellowship.[iv]  The fellowship was who they were.  The early church made up a group of believers, following after Christ’s example who gathered together in unity and love.  Paul wrote of this when talking to the church in Ephesus:

“For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”[v]

Because of their common belief, values and connection with God, the members of the Church became uniquely connected.  With Christ as their cornerstone, they were joined together by the Spirit to become a dwelling place for God.  As a result, the early Church devoted themselves to developing this fellowship with one another.

Check out this interesting picture of the early Christian life…

“The Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe.  They display to us, nevertheless, a wonderful and confessedly striking method of life.  They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners.  As citizens, they share all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.  They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh.  They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven.  They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives.  They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are insulted, and repay the insult with honor.  They do good, yet are punished as evil-doers…”[vi]

No doubt this is an optimistic picture of early Christian life; however, it certainly gives a clear picture of what was expected of early Christians.

 

What EARLY PENTECOSTALS did…
Early Pentecostals really embraced the idea of being a part of a spiritual family.  A Pentecostal believer wasn’t simply a part of an assembly; rather, they were a part of a family – and they were devoted to making sure everyone felt a part of it.

One of the ways Pentecostals create a family atmosphere, is by calling each other “brother” or “sister”.  No matter ones leadership role, age, or spiritual maturity, this prefix is used to bring everyone together.  This was especially true among early Pentecostals, and it brought a sense of community to believers.

Moreover, the Pentecostal view of fellowship can be seen in their view and understanding of God.  Steven Land labels this understanding as Eschatological Trinitarian Fellowship.[vii]  Let’s break that down.  Their fellowship is eschatological (meaning “focused on Christ’s return”) because they believe they are a part of the body of Christ and their work, as a fellowship, is directly involved in preparing for the return of Christ.  Their fellowship is Trinitarian (meaning “God in three persons: Father, Son & Spirit) because they believe they are in a relationship with the Father, as the body of Christ (Son), while living in the Spirit.  As a result, Pentecostals are driven by the fact that Christ is returning, to be a part of a fellowship based on a godly relationship with the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit.

 

What the CHURCH TODAY needs to do…
Jesus, the early church, and early Pentecostals gave a lot of attention towards being a fellowship.  A believer was not only a believer personally with God, but also in community with God and each other.  As a result, believers become united together in faith, belief, finance, community, and relationship.

In our culture, however, tradition often outweighs biblical support.  The question Christians need to ask today is this: will we base our fellowship on scripture or culture?  This is especially true for our public gatherings.  If we based our gatherings (services, socials, etc…) on scripture, not culture, would our meetings look like they do today?

Perhaps we should re-evaluate the way we conduct ourselves as a fellowship.  Maybe we need to regain what has been lost, and remove what has been added without warrant.  In either case, we need to be a people who are eager to be a part of the fellowship!

 


[i] Matthew 16:15-18, ESV.

[ii] 1 Timothy 2:3-4.

[iii] John 17:20-23, 26.

[iv] Acts 2:42

[v] Ephesians 2:18-22.

[vi] Henry Sheldon, History of the Christian Church The Early Church, vol. 1 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988), 293.

[vii] Steven Jack Land, Pentecostal Spirituality (Cleveland: CPT Press, 2010), 205-206.

Living to Learn – The Early Church (Part 3)

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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.