First you take a bunch of people who are living wicked, abusive, lust-filled, self-centered, careless, indifferent, immoral and even God-hating lives. Throw in some people who are devoutly religious – zealous for their traditional faith and customs – people steeped in a mixture of societal mores and scripture misinterpretations. Add in a mixture of people of different social, economic, national and racial backgrounds who would otherwise have nothing to do with each other.
Convince them that God loves them so much that He sacrificed His own Son to save them from their sins (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Convince them of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection and of His ascension to the right hand of God (Acts 2:34-36) where He now reigns as sovereign over all the universe. Bring them to a point where they have such faith in Jesus that they will turn away from sin and from idolatrous traditions to become obedient to Him alone, first by being baptized into a relationship with Him and then to live for Him for the rest of their lives.
Convince them that God has a purpose for them other than just to get off this earth so they can “go to heaven when they die.” Bring them to the point that they understand that His purpose for them is to faithfully do His will here on earth as long as they live (Ephesians 2:10). Let them understand that the appropriate response to God’s sacrifice in their behalf is to give their bodies as living sacrifices to be used for His purposes and glory (Romans 12:1, 2).
A group of people with this understanding will show the world what the church is supposed to be by making such a huge difference in the world around them that people will see God in all they do. To work for the eternal purpose of God is an investment in His future – and therefore in ours as well. “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1Corinthians 15:58).
Teach them to love others in the same way God loves them and to serve others the way Jesus serves them. Let them come together regularly to focus their minds in the Lord’s Supper on the death, burial and resurrection of the Savior as the reason they have brought together into the family of God. When they come together let them consider, think about, be concerned for one another – about how we can encourage one another to greater love and good works (Heb. 10:24). Let them study together, pray together, sing together and then turn them loose to go out and work together as God’s people.
Bring them “to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” to where they will “…no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” Let them know that they have a role to play, work to do, talent to use and then get out of the way and let them do it! (Ephesians 4:11-16; Romans 12:6-8; 1Corinthians 15:58). Let them know that they are to be fellow-workers with God in His great plan for this wonderful creation He has made so that in everything they do His glory will be seen.
And not least, convince them that all the historical traditions, doctrines, practices, opinions, schisms, schemes, sects, denominations, creeds, names, and all such things that obscure the genuine and keep people separated from one another are at the best superfluous and at the worst, damning. Let in any of these things in and it mars the picture and obscures and confuses the identity of that original bunch of [redeemed] sinners who were saved by God’s grace through their faith in the Savior.
Is all this going to happen? Not likely. That does not mean that we should stop striving for the ideal. It just means that we have to work all the harder and be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). That means that we have to do our best with what we have and not allow hindrances to stand between ourselves and the Lord and our brothers and sisters in the Lord. In order to eliminate the effect of all these things, Christ should be kept as the focus of all that is done. When He is the center of individual and church life and not traditions and opinions, we will be nothing other than Christians and Christians only. Do these things and you will have a pretty fair replica of the church of the first century.