Why was the early Church so effective?
I’ve recently felt impressed by God to think of the example that the early church provided, especially that in Acts. Comparatively speaking and worth mentioning, this was a group with very limited resources. No programs, committees, councils or even Bibles! The Gospel was written on their hearts. They didn’t devote themselves to a set of principles, doctrines, or methods (mainly because relationship with Christ is not a methodology). This wasn’t a group that hosted Vacation Bible School, looked toward annual retreats to reclaim spirituality, or define special ministry programs to better serve their congregations. They knew that they had the Ministry of Reconciliation, as Paul describes it. The ministry of the Apostles was experiential, relational and clearly demonstrative. How was their message received so well, and how were the fruits of their ministries among the most legendary in Church history? I’ve compiled four points that I think speak to their masterful example for us in the present day Body of Christ.
• They had the Holy Spirit (like we do)
• Their message was pure
• Their actions reinforced their message
• They loved their own lives not unto death
The Holy Spirit
Acts 2 describes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, arguably the most dynamic moment in the history of the modern world. This is the same Holy Spirit who Jesus called our ‘Advocate’ or ‘Helper,’ and said that it’s actually to our benefit that He go, so that this Advocate could come. (See John 16:7) Immediately after the Holy Spirit arrived, Peter had the opportunity to address a crowd of Jews. The following events ensued:
- Peter shares the gospel
- The Jews are convicted of their hardened hearts, lack of understanding and deceit
- The Jews ask how they can be redeemed. Peter’s reply: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2: 37, 38)
- The Result: 3,000 people are converted
The presence of the Holy Spirit was also evidenced in the early Church through signs, wonders and miracles. Take, for instance, the next chronological happening in early Acts: Peter heals a crippled beggar through the power of the Holy Spirit. The emphasis on power taking precedent over words was central to the early church. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians emphasizes this point. Paul claims “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” (1st Corinthians 2:4) Later, he declares “The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1st Corinthians 4:20) The power source of the Holy Spirit was the first and most crucial element of the Apostle’s ministry.
A Pure Message
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5) The task for the early Apostles was to personify this fact, that God is light and in him there is no darkness. The absence of darkness is the ultimate mark of purity, so “walking in the light as He is in the light,” is what they preached and consequently lived. They preached and lived the call to walk by the spirit and thus be free from the law and sin. Their message was not double-minded or legalistic, it was utterly pure and luminous, following the very footsteps of Jesus.
The Fruits of Righteousness
Just like a healthy fig tree or grapevine does not yield rotten figs or grapes, the disciple’s ministry did not yield lack of faith, dead works or a cause for dissension or division. As James puts it, “The fruits of righteousness are sown by peace for those who make peace.” (James 3:18) The early church sowed peace and reaped peace among their followers, harvesting a righteous crop. Jesus said prophetically of his followers in Matthew, “You will recognize them by [their] fruit.” (Matthew 7:16) The Apostles in Acts and beyond very simply brought their faith to completion by their works, or fruits. Their fruit was good because their belief was good. Paul and the gang committed to “knowing [believing] nothing but Christ and Him crucified.” They simply manifested what they believed.
The perfect example of eternal perspective in our biblical records of the early Church is Stephen. In the face of being arrested, being put before a council and then being stoned to death, Stephen proclaimed the Gospel and forgave his accusers before dying. I like to call this eternal perspective because Stephen clearly had his sight set on the prize and His reward in Heaven. If he hadn’t, he would have toned down his ministry, as to not offend anyone, or retreat to safety as his chargers were preparing to arrest him. But Stephen did not love his own life, nor did any of the Apostles for that matter: Nearly all of them perished at the hands of angry accusers. The fourth and final key to the Apostle’s ministry was this devotion to God and others, not counting themselves and their welfare as critical to their mission on earth.
-By Joe D’Orsie