The Church in the First Century

The church Jesus built (Matthew 16:18) in the first century was quite different from that which most of us visualize. It was very different from the churches we are familiar with in the 21st century. Most churches today make little or no effort to be like the church we read about in the New Testament. To too many Americans, the Bible is like our Constitution - it was OK for way back then, but not much of it applies in today's culture.

In the Grecian culture of the first century, the church (Gr. ekkleesia) had reference to the assembly of citizens called out to carry out community business. Christ changed all that. Jesus used ekkleesia (church) to refer to those called out of the world by the Gospel message to be children of God. This community of Christians was to carry out the business of the church. They became citizens in the church through the new birth (John 3:5). As citizens they organized themselves into congregations to carry out the work and worship of the church.


One of the more interesting contrasts was the fact that denominations, as we know them, did not exist in the first century. Most Bible students understand that the early churches were patterned after the synagogues. This meant a place they regularly met to worship (1 Corinthians 16:2, etc.) and studied God's word. Contrary to modern thought, these local congregations were organized. Often it was with elders and deacons (Philippians 1:1).


Today, thanks to progressive educators, we must have change for sake of change and innovation is the order of the day. The only relevant change churches need to make is backward - to the Bible, Christ as the sacrifice for sin and the church He built. In spite of all our modern technology, man remains basically the same as Maslow pointed out in his "hierarchy of needs." More importantly, we must understand that God does NOT change (James 1:17), sins remains the transgression of God's law (1 John 3:4); and we will answer in the Judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10).


Today the culture is changing the church - in the first century the church changed the culture. The influence of Christianity abolished slavery, elevated women, and eliminated superstition. It gave a model of morality that produced the greatness of western civilization. Our godless leadership has given us abortion and open adultery. It has produced a war on Christianity, encouraged homosexualism, advocated same-sex marriage, along with pornography - all in the name of liberty. How much lower can we get?


Israel was unrighteous in the days of the Babylonian captivity, to the point that both princes and priests had become corrupt. God wished for a righteous man to stand in the gap (Ezekiel 22:30) against the forces of evil, immorality, and idolatry. Today the church must put on the whole armor of God. We too "wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6:11-13).


Dale I. Royal, Elk City OK