Church History is a subject that many people find very interesting. Probably, the most popular work on the subject is Philip Schaff’s multivolume (8 in all), “History of the Christian Church.” Originally published in 1910, it is still the standard source and extensively quoted even in more recent works on the subject of church history. Schaff begins in the 1st Century AD and traces the development of Christendom, not the New Testament church, all the way up to the late 16th Century and what Schaff refers to as “Modern Christianity.” Unfortunately, the very large majority of Schaff’s history is not at all the history of the New Testament church but the history of apostasy and man-made mockeries of the New Testament church. Especially when it comes to “Modern Christianity,” there is very little in Christendom that actually looks like the original New Testament church.
Christendom refers to any religions claiming any connection to Christ. That is much different, though, from actual New Testament Christianity. Sadly, not everyone claiming Christianity is actually practicing Christianity. So, a better title for Schaff’s work would be “The Development of Christendom.” For “The History of the Early Church,” one only needs to study the biblical text of Acts. While I am very interested in the development of Christendom, my goal is not to follow the model of any man-made religion. My goal is to resemble, as closely as possible, the church recorded in the book of Acts.
It is very interesting to read about the fulfillment of the apostasy predicted in passages like Acts 20:28-30; 1 Timothy 4:1-5; 2 Timothy 4:1-4; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4. To see how those prophecies of apostasy were so exactly fulfilled in the development of departures over the years following the Apostolic age of the 1st Century church is a fascinating study in itself. And to see how Protestant Denominationalism developed out of the work of the early Reformers, working to reform corruptions in the Catholic Church, is likewise a very interesting study. Sadly, the Reformers were not so much interested in returning to the original ancient order of things but were working to correct problems within the Catholic Church, itself the product of apostasy.
While studying these events is very interesting, none of them can help me in achieving my primary goal. It is only when I go back to the original source on church history – the inspired book of Acts – and strive to emulate what I find there, that I am practicing true New Testament Christianity.
It is only in studying the book of Acts that I can find the true origins of the New Testament church (Acts 2:1-4). There are many predictions of the church that point to its establishment (i.e. Isaiah 2:1-4; Joel 2:28-32; Daniel 2:28-45; Matthew 16:18-19; Mark 9:1; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-8; 2:1-4, 41, 47). Any church that traces its origins to any time after Acts 2, any place other than Jerusalem, and any man other than Jesus Christ, is not the New Testament church!
It is in the book of Acts that I learn about the assembly of Christians for worship on the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:9, 10), Sunday (Acts 20:7). It is in the book of Acts that I learn how the disciples worshipped God on the Lord’s Day – in the teaching of God’s word (Acts 2:42; 20:7), observing the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42; 20:7), and for prayer (Acts 2:42). Elsewhere, I also learn that, along with these three acts of worship, the New Testament church observed a collection (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2; 2 Corinthians 8, 9) and sang collectively in praise to God (Hebrews 2:12; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). If that was the worship activity of the church in the New Testament, then the New Testament church today will continue following the same pattern.
It is in the book of Acts that I learn how the New Testament church carried out the Great Commission of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18, 19; Acts 1:8). Since all disciples were to be taught to observe all things that Christ taught the apostles, I know that the command to make disciples of all nations continues today. In the book of Acts, I learn how the apostles and New Testament evangelists carried out that great work.
Just one of many great examples of evangelism in the book of Acts is in chapter 8. It is in these kinds of examples that I learn how people responded to the gospel when it was being spread from the original New Testament church. They heard the word of God (Acts 8:5, 35), they believed what was taught (Acts 8:12, 37), they repented of their sins (Acts 2:38; 17:30, 31), they confessed their faith in Christ (Acts 8:37), and they were baptized to have their sins forgiven (Acts 8:12, 13, 36-38; cf. Acts 2:38; 22:16). Acts 8 also has an example of how one is forgiven when they sin after they have been baptized into Christ (Acts 8:22-24). Simon had already been baptized so when he sinned by offering money for the gift of the Holy Spirit he was told to repent and ask God’s forgiveness for reverting back to his former, pre-conversion, conduct.
Does your religious practice today match the model of their religious practice then? If not, then can it truly be said that you are practicing New Testament Christianity? On April 2nd the church of Christ, Northside will begin a study of “The History of the Early Church.” The real one, the one recorded in the inspired book of Acts. We invite you to come take part in this important study with us. Class material will be provided, just show up with an open Bible and an open mind (Acts 17:11). Sundays at 9:30 AM and Wednesdays at 7:00 PM.