This awesome article has been frequently shared by people in my networks the last couple of days; Preston Sprinkle writes about 4 ways the modern church doesn’t look like the early church (and, as several have pointed out, this goes especially for the modern mainstream Western church). These four areas are:
1. How we view other Christians. When the early disciples called themselves brothers and sisters, they actually treated each other like brothers and sisters and had a community that was far more relational and sacrificial than fellowship in most Western churches.
2. How we spend our money. The early Christians didn’t collect money for church buildings and pastors’ wages but for the poor.
3. How we think about power. The early church refused to be patriotic but was pacifist and persecuted.
4. How we study the Bible. Early Christians let every new convert study the Scriptures in a detailed manner, and most disciples then knew the Bible better than many Western church goers today.
I totally agree with all of Sprinkle’s points, and I’m glad that more and more start descovering the radical roots of the Christian faith. However, I would like to pinpoint three additional areas where the early church looked different from the mainstream Western church life today:
5. How we share the Gospel. Evangelism for the early Christians wasn’t merely an individualistic practice that one was supposed to practice alone, or a hierarchial idea where the laymen should bring their friends to church so that the pastor or priest can hold a saving sermon.
No, the early church simply met together in public places. The Jerusalem congregation met at the temple courts to join the Jewish prayer and preach the Gospel to those who didn’t believe in the Messiah (Acts 2:46, 5:20). For the same reason, Paul went with the local Christians either to a synagogue or to a secular gathering place like a lecture hall (Acts 19:9). Evangelism wasn’t just something for evangelists, whose mission is to equip all believers (Eph 4:11), but it was for said all believers and it was practiced communally so that existing disciples were trained while new disciples were saved.
And how did they preach the Gospel? Through words, deeds and the power of signs and wonders (Rom 15:18-19). Activism and miracles weren’t unimportant for the early Christians, but were integrated with all parts of the church life.
6. How we meet for service. The modern usage of “church service” usually means an introvert meeting in a building that is being empty most of the time, where a limited number of believers are actually serving while most are simply consuming. But again, the early church met on public places to evangelise as a vital part of their church schedule – Acts 2:46 says that all believers did this every day!
They had more introvert meetings as well, but these were in homes instead of a church building, which was both far more cheaper (the rent is being paid anyways by the people who lived there) and more efficient (instead of rebuilding the church whenever the attendands increase or decrease in size, the church simply meets in fewer or more homes). It’s insane how much money, time and energy churches with buildings could save if they transformed to a house church model, and I will write more about this in the future.
7. How we own our stuff. Not only did the early church prioritize the poor over buildings as Sprinkle writes, but they practiced community of goods. There were no rich and no poor in the apostolic church and as I wrote last week, this wasn’t something that was exclusive and disappeared with the first church in Jerusalem. In fact, community of goods was the Christian norm for over 200 years, and it was unlawful for Christians in the early patristic period to be rich.
Great painting! I didn’t know that one.
Nice points on the text as well.
Perhaps, now we should ask if the Church has withdrawn itself from the public square or the public opinion has kicked off the church only into certain spaces in Western societies.
I think that you should make it clear that we are talking about the early church in Jerusalem right after the Pentecost. Most of those points don’t apply for Gentile churches as we know them from Paul’s letters.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a restorationist and a Pentecostal. But there are things that we can’t tell for sure.
How can we know that the early Christians possessed the Bible? It was very expensive! Paul may have owned some, but what about ordinary members?
How can we tell that the Corinthian church was so outward-oriented? 1 Cor 11 implies that they were in a private building.
How can we tell that pastors weren’t paid by the members? (1 Tim 5:17f)
Micael – as chance would have it, I meet with Preston Sprinkle at his house not too long after you posted this article. I mentioned that his early church post had been picked up by you in Sweden, which he thought was pretty cool. It is a small world after all. =)
Wow, that’s amazing! I have many friends that have read it and shared on social media. Tell him to keep up the good work!