The Early Church

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Before our Savior ascended into heaven and started what we know as the early church, He said to His disciples that they would be his witnesses throughout the earth (Acts 1:8). And when Matthias had been chosen, and the promised blessing had been received on the day of Pentecost, this order was strictly followed.

The earliest New Testament church first proclaimed the Gospel in the city of Jerusalem and the numbers of those who believed gradually rose (Acts 1:15, 2:41, 4:4). Until the disciples were scattered "upon the persecution that arose about Stephen" (Acts 8:1, 11:19) Jerusalem was the scene of all that took place in the early Church of Christ. We read as yet of no communication of the truth to the Gentiles, nor to the Samaritans, no hint even of any preaching in the country parts of Judea.

It providentially happened, indeed, that the first outburst of the new doctrine, with all its miraculous evidence, was witnessed by "Jews and proselytes" who would ultimately become part of the early church (Acts 2:9 - 11). They had come up to the Festival of Pentecost from the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, of the Nile and of the Tiber, from the provinces of Asia Minor, from the desert of Arabia, and from the islands of the Greek Sea. When they returned to their homes, they carried with them news which prepared the way for the Glad Tidings about to issue from Mount Zion.

The first acts

The first acts of the early church were prayer and supplication in the upper room, the breaking of bread from house to house and miracles in the Temple. They also included gatherings of the people in Solomon's cloister and the bearing of testimony in the council chamber of the Sanhedrin.

One of the chief characteristics of the early Church was the bountiful charity of its members one towards another. Many of the Jews of Palestine, and therefore many of the earliest Christian converts, were extremely poor. The odium incurred by adopting the new doctrine might undermine the livelihood of some who depended on their trade for support, and this would make almsgiving necessary. But the Jews of Palestine were relatively poor, compared with those of the dispersion. We see this exemplified on later occasions in the contributions which apostle Paul more than once anxiously promoted (Acts 11:29, 30, 24:17, Romans 15:25, 1Corinthians 16:1 - 4, 2Corinthians 8:1 - 4).

In the very first days of the early Church, we find its wealthier members placing their entire possessions at the disposal of the Apostles. Not that there was any abolition of the rights of property, as the words of apostle Peter to Ananias very well show (Acts 5:4). But those who were rich gave up what God had given them, in the spirit of generous self-sacrifice, and according to the true principles of Christian communism, which regards property as entrusted to the possessor, not for himself, but for the good of the whole community. Their goods were meant to be distributed according to such methods as his charitable feeling and conscientious judgment may approve.

A healthy church

The early Church was, in this respect, in a healthier condition than the Church of modern days. But even then we find ungenerous and suspicious sentiments growing up in the midst of the general benevolence. That old jealousy between the Aramaic and Hellenistic Jews reappeared. Their party feeling was excited by some real or apparent unfairness in the distribution of the fund set apart for the poor. "A murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews" (Acts 6:1) or of the Hebrews against the Grecians, had been a common occurrence for at least two centuries.

That the widows' fund might be carefully distributed, seven almoners or deacons were appointed, of whom the most eminent was Stephen, described as a man "full of faith and the Holy Spirit," and as one who, "full of faith and power, worked wonders and great signs among the people" (Acts 6:5, 8).

It will be observed that the seven men chosen by the church (Acts 6:3) have Greek names, and that one was a proselyte from the Greco-Syrian city of Antioch. It was natural, from the peculiar character of the quarrel, that Hellenistic Jews should have been appointed to this office. And this circumstance must be looked on as divinely arranged. For the introduction of that party, which was most free from local and national prejudices, into the very ministry of the Church, must have had an important influence in preparing the way for the admission of the Gentiles.

The synagogues, as we have seen, were very numerous at Jerusalem. There were already the Cilician Synagogue, the Alexandrian Synagogue, the Synagogue of the Libertines, and to these was now added (if we may use so bold an expression) the Nazarene Synagogue, or the Synagogue of the Galileans.

Meeting in houses

Not that any separate building was erected for the devotions of the Christians, for they met from house to house for prayer and the breaking of bread. But they were by no means separated from the nation. They attended the festivals and they worshipped in the Temple. They were a new and singular party in the nation, holding peculiar opinions, and interpreting the Scriptures in a peculiar way. This is the aspect under which the Church would first present itself to the Jews, and among others to Saul (Paul) himself.

Many different opinions were expressed in the synagogues concerning the nature and office of the Messiah. These Galileans would be distinguished as holding the strange opinion that the true Messiah was that notorious "malefactor" who had been crucified at the last Passover. All parties in the nation united to oppose, and if possible to crush, this monstrous "heresy" of the early church.

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