By Wayne S. Walker
We often talk about restoring primitive, New Testament Christianity. We are usually referring to the abandonment of denominationalism and the restoration of first-century patterns of mission, work, worship, organization, and message of the Lord’s church. This is a needed and noble effort. -“We speak where the Bible speaks and we are silent where the Bible is silent” should be a practice rather than just a motto. Congregations which make and actually try to keep this plea are often called sound or loyal, others being referred to by such terms as liberal; digressive or institutional. But there is more to first-century Christianity than a few outward forms, although these are important and without them all else would be vain.
1. The early Christians were a lot like Jesus, who had “not where to lay his head” (Lk. 9:58). Jesus did not own a home; He had to borrow a donkey to ride into Jerusalem; in fact, the only things we can assume He actually owned were the garments which were parted and gambled for at His crucifixion. And most of His followers were known for their relative poverty also (1 Cor. 1:26, 2 Cor. 8:2). Yet today, we seem many brethren more concerned with a nice house, a new car, modern conveniences, the latest clothing, etc., rather than the work of the church. Keeping up with the Jones has led a lot of so-called Christians to become merely church-goers; or even worse, nothing more than church-members (name on the roll). Of course, there is nothing wrong with having money, comforts, and a reasonable good life; but aren’t some of us overdoing it? We have a tendency to attach too much emphasis to material possessions nowadays (Mk. 10:23-25; 1 Tim. 6:6-10, 17). Worldliness is sapping the life out of the church.
2. First-century disciples “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41). These simple, humble, but dedicated and convicted people were willing to risk and, if necessary, lose security, property, limb, and even life for Christ’s sake. And yet we think we are “suffering above and beyond the call of duty” if our religion might cause the loss of some “friends,” the approval of our family, or the esteem of the social leaders in our area. As a result, several have become “ashamed of the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16) in deed, even though they may not admit or even recognize it, as evidenced by their non-committal attitude. It is sometimes called “chameleon religion.” Many children of God (and sometimes even whole churches) have fallen into what might be called “Laodicean lethargy” because they are more concerned about building an image for themselves in the community than doing God’s will.
3. New Testament children of God, as well as those of earlier periods in our own nation, could always be identified because they lived “soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world” (Tit. 2:12). Although they did not strive to be “odd-balls” or non-conformists just for the sake of being eccentric, they were different even as Peter indicated in 1 Pet. 2:9-12. However, modern times have ushered in the “neo-Christian,” more tolerant and “open-minded” about sin than before. So now, Christians dress (or undress), curse, drink, smoke, fill their minds with smut, and divorce, etc., just like the world around them to the extent that it is next to impossible to tell who is the Christian and who is not by the way they live. Brethren, these things ought not so to be!
4. Followers of Christ in ancient times were known for their liberality in terms of giving. They were generous, benevolent, charitable. They even sold lands and other possessions in order to have the money, when it was needed, to give so the church could carry on its work (Acts 4:32-37). And they gave in other ways too – helping the needy, visiting the sick, etc. (Gal. 6:10, Jas. 1:27). One problem today is that elders do not have enough faith and foresight. Instead of planning a work (within reason, of course) and asking each member to give for it, thus providing a goal to be reached, they let things drift along on the basis of what they already have or have always done, taking care of only the bare essentials (i.e., paying the preacher and the bills) because “we don’t have enough money for anything else”; and then complain because the brethren don’t give more! How many of us have ever sold, given up, or gone without something so that we could give more? Sacrifice – we do not even know the meaning of the word in our prosperous and affluent society.
5. Primitive brethren also engaged in extensive “personal evangelism.” We are told that “daily, in the temple and at home, they ceased not to preach and to teach Jesus as Christ” (Acts 5:42). Even as persecution arose, “They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). They did not leave this work to full-time preachers or a select few who were “trained” for it. Every Christian was an “evangelist” in one sense or another. And so far as we know, this is the only method by which the gospel was spread and the church increased in those days. How long has it been since you talked to someone about his soul? In spite of all the television shows, radio programs, newspaper articles, magazine advertisements, and bulletins we may use, the Lord’s church will never grow until every individual Christian fills himself so full of joy and God’s word that he will be driven to share the good news with others.
This is not to say that these qualities do not exist anymore today, that the church is failing. There are many devoted Christians; I know some of them. God’s people in this generation have great possibilities. But these trends seem to be developing among us as they have in every pervious era and I mention them only to warn us to be on guard. Unless each one of us has the kind of attitude displayed by the people of God of the first-century as revealed in the New Testament, we cannot be the kind of influence He wants us to be in this life, and we simply will not get to heaven.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 3, p. 77
February 3, 1983