There are in our world today many who denigrate the Christianity and the church, putting anything related to them down, painting the church and Christians in a very negative way. The reason for some of this I can understand. What has passed for Christianity for too long has been a sham and a hollow mockery of what Jesus intended his people to be. Of course much of the negative attitude against Christianity and the church is due to the unbelief that is so common in society.
But much of the blame lies at the door of the denominationalism and sectarianism that exists today along with a spirit of softness and compromise among those who claim to be true first century Christians. With their clashing, discordant doctrines and dogmas, the division that defies God’s purpose (Ephesians 1:10) and Jesus’ prayer (John 17:20-21), it is no wonder that what claims to be Christianity today does not have very high standing in the world. With the focus of so many professed Christians being more on their own entertainment and comfort than in serving others even at the cost of inconvenience and discomfort it is no wonder that Christians are marginalized by society in general. With the lack of distinction between churches and society in general regarding morals and social values it is little wonder that Christianity is seen as irrelevant in today’s world. When the church is seen as little more than a social club by its members it is no wonder that the world sees the church as an unnecessary appendage on society fit only to be excised as one would a cancer from the human body.
When Christians have a mistaken concept of the church the church will take the “shape” of that erroneous thinking. What is needed is for the church to be put in its proper place in the thinking of Christians. What place should the church occupy in the world? And what should shape our perception of what the church should be in that world?
Look at how the church in Jerusalem was perceived by the community soon after the day of Pentecost. In the very early days of the church it was held in high esteem by the community. They were much respected. The church in Jerusalem serves as an illustration of what the church in the 21st century should be.
“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47).
What produced this public perception? One thing was obvious to all who observed them – they truly loved one another. They shared a common life as a family would. They took care of those in need as a family should. After all, they were the family of God.
They were a visible people. They could be seen by the community. Their visibility was not that of extravagant buildings or entertaining plays and pageants. The apostles set the example for the disciples when, after they had been jailed, beaten and threatened, continued preaching the gospel openly in defiance of the council (Acts 5:40-42). They did not hide away within the walls and behind the closed doors of an elaborate, comfortable meeting house loaded with all the conveniences anyone could desire. They were seen when they gathered together in the temple and in the homes of other Christians. And people liked what they saw – they had favor with the people.
They were a sacrificing people. They were people who would make sacrifices for one another when they sold their property and gave to support the poor (Acts 4:34). They relieved the needs of all who lacked the means to provide for their own needs including the Grecian widows – people from different countries and cultures.
They were a united people (Acts 4:32). They were together – not only on a social or assembled basis, but in their faith and in their lives they were of one heart and one mind. They were not segmented into separate sects. Sadly that would come all too soon among Christians, but in the earliest days of the church they were united in the ways Jesus intended for his people to be throughout time.
They were a preaching people (Acts 8:4-6). This is how the gospel is intended to be spread – by those who believe the message telling others the good news about Jesus who is the Christ. First it was the apostles who preached and then as other Christians became grounded in the faith they began to spread the word also. Consequently the church grew rapidly.
They were a reverent people. (Acts 2:43) “And awe (fear, reverence) came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.” To hold God in awe means that people will be drawn to him, giving their homage to him in obedient lives.
They were a worshiping people – they praised God for what he had done for them. (Acts 2:47). They weren’t just a “go-to-meetin’” people – their worship was evidenced in their lives as they reflected the love their had received from God by reflecting his glory into the world around them. This is the kind of worship that makes the deepest impression on the world around us.
They stood for something. (Acts 4:33). Enemies tried to destroy them, but they kept on preaching Jesus Christ and him crucified. When the Jewish authorities tried to silence the apostles by warning them to not preach the name of Jesus they stood up to them, refusing to be bound by their unlawful decree.
“But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20).
The apostles knew the gospel and showed their brothers and sisters that the gospel was worth standing up for. They possessed the same spirit that later that caused many of the early Christians to die as martyrs rather than deny Jesus their Lord.
They were a bold people. Boldness is the quality of standing out strongly and distinctly. The apostles showed it in their willingness to stand up to the Jewish council and other Christians showed it when they prayed for boldness to continue preaching the gospel in the face of opposition. The gospel is not something to be hidden away. It is to be preached when it is popular and when it is not. It is not something to be whispered in a corner – it is to be shouted from the housetops. (Acts 4:28-31).
Until the church recaptures these features of the apostolic church we will continue to be ignored, despised and dismissed. We have for far too long been coddled by sycophant preachers and caved in to self-centered egotists who are looking not to please the Lord and do his work, but to have their own way and/or please men.
We have for too long drunk from the stagnant cisterns of denominationalism instead of drinking from the pure fountain of the water of life. We have too long wavered between the world and the Lord, compromising out of fear of offending friends or family.
It is time for us to get some backbone and go back to the life and character of the first Christians. It is time we meet the world head on on the Lord’s terms instead of dancing around with the devil who is piping the tune. Restoration? Yes! But restoration of the things that make the church the church – the things that make a real difference in the world we live in!