Christianity and the Early Church
by Nate Wilson
Have you ever really given serious thought to Christianity, what exactly is Christianity and has it always been as it is today? "Christianity" in most people's view, is a conglomerate of all religions, regardless of how remotely they resemble the scriptures, that profess to believe in Jesus Christ. This belief in Christ, the founder of Christianity, may involve an actual belief in his person and teaching or simply a general acceptance of the historicity of Christ, the fact that a man named Jesus lived. I invite you to take a trip back in time, all the way back to the First Century.
Contemporary denominationalism. Beloved, denominationalism, many different churches, teaching many different doctrines, did not exist in the First Century (time of Jesus and the apostles). There was one universal church and the local churches were united around the word of God (Eph. 4:4, 5) As a result, Paul could "teach every where in every church" (1 Cor. 4:17). Denominations are the result of a party spirit and men rallying around men (1 Cor. 1:10-13). For a number of years, there were 360 different denominations listed in America. That number grew to 1240. Now, there are thousands, with new ones started every week. Have you ever taken a good set of reference works and looked up some of the major religions to see their origin? Please do not be insulted but here are some origins: Baptist, 1607, Holland, founded by John Smith; Methodist, 1739, England, John Wesley; Presbyterian, 1536, Switzerland, John Calvin; Episcopalian, 1534, England, Henry the eighth; and Mormon, 1830, America, Joseph Smith. The Lutheran's claim to be one of the oldest denominations is essentially correct, but they only go back in time to 1520. Beloved, the Lutherans are 1500 years removed from Christ and the apostles!
"Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Eph. 4:3-6).
Roman Catholicism. Many think of the Catholic Church when they think of ancient Christianity. It is true that Catholicism gave birth to most of the older denominations (the Reformation Movement). Lutheranism and Protestantism originally came into existence as a result of realizing they could not reform the Catholic Church (see addendum). However, Roman Catholicism (as a full-grown entity) cannot be traced back to the time of Jesus and the apostles. Most reference works cite AD 606 as the date of origin of the Catholic Church. In fact, the scriptures appear to speak of the development of Catholicism, but in the atmosphere of apostasy and departure from the truth (2 Thess. 2:1-12, 1 Tim. 4:1-3). The impetus which resulted in the total corruption of power being given to "one man" started within the eldership, just as Paul prophesied it would (Acts 20:27-31, 2 Thess. 2:4). Various doctrines, which are associated with Catholicism, did not begin in the First Century (not part of the "doctrine of Christ"). The date of origin for the teaching of transubstantiation is AD 1215; celibacy, 800; purgatory, 593; and the legalization to generally practice sprinkling was 1311. Beloved, Catholicism, as such, is 600 years removed from Jesus and the apostles.
"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth" (1 Tim. 4:1-3).
Let us now travel all the way back in time, past denominationalism, the Reformation Movement, and Catholicism. Let us go back to the First Century when every individual Christian was a priest and collectively constituted a priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). It was a time when men and women heard the simple Jerusalem gospel and responded in implicit obedience (Acts 8:12, they did not practice "infant baptism"). It was a time when Peter and others were simply preachers of the gospel, they claimed no papal power and presented the gospel to the people in their own language (Acts 2:1-11, 14-40). Peter, while inspired, made no claim to papal infallibility; when he sinned, he was rebuked and he refused worship from any man, even a Gentile (Gal. 2:11-14, Acts 10:25, 26). The doctrine of celibacy had not been introduced by man, at the time of the First Century; hence, we observe Peter being a married man, as were most of the other apostles (Matt. 8:14, 1 Cor. 9:5 ff.).
"Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 2:5).
The First Century was a time when elders or bishops had the oversight of the congregation where they served (Acts 14:23, 1 Tim. 3:1-7, Tit. 1:5 ff.). It was a time that preceded the creeds and dogmas of men, as we know them today. The word of God was the final authority and they were taught to abide in Jesus' teaching (1 Pet. 4:11; 2 John 9). Fellowship was spiritual and determined by the truth taught and practiced (2 John 9-11). The local church wore no human names, as seen, there were no Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians in the time of Jesus and the apostles (Rom. 16:16, 1 Cor. 1:2). The saved were simply known as Christians, members, believers, disciples, and saints (Acts 11:26; 1 Cor. 12:27; 1 Tim. 4:12; Acts 6:1; Phil. 1:1). Christians were to believe and practice the same belief, the one faith (1 Cor. 1:10, John 17:21). Religious division was not glorified, as it is today, but was viewed as sinful (1 Cor. 3:1 ff.).
"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1:10).
The First Century church met on the Lord's Day to observe the Lord's Supper, sing praise to God, pray, have teaching, and to give of their means (Acts 20:7; Eph. 5:19; Acts 4:31; Acts 20:7, 2 Tim. 4:1 ff.; 1 Cor. 16:1, 2). Their worship was simple, sincere, and spiritual. They did not have bands for their entertainment or productions to placate their theatric propensities. Religion was not big business and the churches were not into the social gospelism, not in the First Century (1 Tim. 3:15). In the First Century, much emphasis was placed on the truth of the gospel and they believed the truth was not relative, but fixed and ascertainable (John 8:32, 31, Gal. 2:14).
"Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31, 32).
Beloved, do you not agree it is high time that we stopped practicing a distorted, human manufactured, and perverted "Christianity" and travel back, not to Protestantism and Catholicism, but all the way back in time to ancient and pristine Christianity? All the way back past the pollution and smog to the time of "the churches of Christ salute you"? (Rom. 16:16.) Moreover, the gospel, as given in the First Century, is final and has no provision for additions, amendments, or addenda (Jude 3).
Addendum: The term "Protestant" was born in an atmosphere of protestation to the Catholic Church. When the diet met at Spires in 1526 the majority were dissenters to Catholicism. Ferdinand of Austria, the one presiding over the diet, demanded the enforcement of the edict of worms. When the diet met again at Spires in 1529, the Catholic party was largely in the majority. There was a concentrated effort, therefore, to regain the measure of political power of the Catholic Church that had been lost in 1526. The following is a quotation of part of the protesting which led to the famous beginning of "Protestant" (notice the use of "protest"):"We protest publicly before God….we do not consent or agree with any resolutions or acts contained in the last degree of Spires above referred to (1529, dm), which, in the great concern of religion, are contrary to God and to his holy word, injurious to our soul's salvation…and we hereby solemnly declare that, from reasons already assigned, and from other weighty considerations, we regard all such resolutions or acts as null and void." Hence, the origin of "Protestant." Notice that the inception of "Protestant" was in the climate of the second meeting of the diet at Spires in 1529, 1500 years after Jesus' church came into existence (Matt. 16:18, Acts 2:47, 5:11).