Monday, October 26, 2015
They didn’t have a street sign. They didn’t have a church building. Since there was no building, there wasn’t a sign with the assembly named. They divided up and met in homes (Acts 2:46; Philemon 1:2; Acts 12:12). They didn’t have a radio or TV program. They did not advertise their location or their services in a local paper. There were no cushions on the pews because they didn’t own any. No air conditioning was present. Their assemblies were unusual. They didn’t have “a” preacher, but several. Often there would be six different men speaking, averaging two, sometimes three hours for a service (1 Corinthians 14:26-26, 29-31). When praying they raised their hands (1 Timothy 2:8). If a person was convicted, he would end up worshiping face down on the floor (1 Corinthians 14:24-25). Women wore veils (1 Corinthians 11:6). There were no songbooks nor projectors or screens. Songs were sung for the first time (1 Corinthians 14:26). No one sang bass, tenor, soprano, nor alto. It was more of a chant. There was no communion set nor table with the words “Do This In Remembrance of Me.” People brought their own unleavened bread and wine for their family and shared with those who had none (1 Corinthians 11:19-20). They preached from Genesis through Malachi since no one had Matthew through Revelation. They did not cite chapter nor verse. They sometimes introduced their quote with, “It is written” or “in a certain place” rather than give the book. When it came time for the offering, each person walked up to the preacher and laid their contribution at his feet (Acts 4:35, 37; 5:2). Some were asked about their giving (Acts 5:1-11). Lying was rewarded with extreme violence! “Fear” in church was experienced by all, even by those who had never attended (Acts 5:11)! The assembly met to partake on Sunday evening (Acts 20:7-11), since it was a work day. Saturday was everyone’s day off. The contribution was given to those who had needs (Acts 2:45; 4:34-35; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4).
An invitation was not extended nor a song sung inviting folks to obey the Good News. The sermon was interrupted by the lost asking what they must do (Acts 2:37). Although an answer was immediately given, it was not hurriedly carried out (Acts 2:40). Since there wasn’t a building owned by the saved, there wasn’t a dressing room nor a baptistry to immerse people in. Baptisms were not integrated into the assembly. The nearest river was 21 miles away. There were two large pools in the city and the Gahon Spring brought water to them. Since there wasn’t a dressing room, folks were immersed fully dressed and dripped dry. Folks who assembled didn’t know about one’s “Sunday best.” The fancy dressed were the critics of Jesus, not his nor the church’s friend (Matthew 23:5).
Bible classes would not be introduced until 1780 in England, so they didn’t have that to go to. Vacation Bible Schools had to wait until 1894 to make their appearance, so these folks knew nothing about them. If a preacher remained with a congregation for a year, it was news, but to stay a year and a half was a record (Acts 11:26; 18:11). Leadership for all the churches was located in one city. When any serious problem arose, the leadership met in that city to discuss it and find a solution (Acts 15:1-6). The solution was taken back to those other assemblies (vv.22-33).
In spite of great leadership, there were always problems. Some serious and others more so. Each congregation, when fully organized, had a plurality of elders and deacons. Sometimes error crept into an assembly through one or more of the elders (Acts 20:28-30). Some times the error came from those who went out from the first assembly, although the congregation itself did not authorize their teaching (Acts 15:1-2, 24). Some assemblies had multiple problems that affected their work and worship (1 & 2 Corinthians). One assembly had the best of everything. Name it and they had it. Yet, they made Jesus sick to his stomach (Revelation 3:14-22). Jesus called one assembly “dead” (Revelation 3:1). In spite of that condition, some would walk with Jesus because he found them worthy (Revelation 3:4). One congregation developed divisions and created the first denominations modeled after their favorite preacher (1 Corinthians 1:10-13).
For the first decade the congregations were racist in belief and practice. When that attitude changed,those non-Jews came into the faith (Acts 10). Some decided these other sheep were not yet qualified as “real” Christians until they submitted to foreskin removal (Acts 15:1, 5; Gal.5:1-4, 12). Even after the church leadership settled this issue, some did not heed it. Another letter had to be written to condemn this view as accursed (Galatians 1:6-9).
In spite of these shortcomings, each individual who had been added to Jesus by God Himself, was washed in Christ’s blood, his sins were washed away, and he was a child of God (Acts 2:47 ASV-NIV). However, in spite of the spiritual blessings which they had enjoyed, some fell away (Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:25-31).
Today, we look back at these fallible assemblies hoping to learn from their mistakes. Peter took his eyes off Jesus and allowed his action to pull his faith out from under him (Matthew 14:30). Let us look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith that we may continue to walk with him and enjoy his blessings (Hebrews 12:1-2; John 10:10).