Was it different for the “upstart” Christians in the book of Acts than for us today, or are there some striking similarities? There really is a lot to admire when looking at their example in creating a world-wide faith movement. Most were unsophisticated, regular folks, just like you and me. They were teachers, businesswomen, farmers, retirees, construction workers, widows, in the service industries and in the arts. Not wealthy. Not so much political or powerful.
In some respects their culture and circumstances were like ours. Neither then and in a growing way today, both cultures expressed disinterest to the Christian faith on a good day and hostility on “not so good” ones. Keep in mind also that most of the early followers were not eyewitnesses to Jesus. They never heard him speak or had a written record of his teachings. For most of them and us as well, belief was based on a person and event and believing what they heard about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Much of that is true for us as well, adding to that our advantage of having a printed record of Jesus’ life and the teachings of his chosen representatives. When it really comes down to the basics, most people begin their faith life by believing in a story, having a degree of faith in what they were told. How was it for you, can you remember?
What might have been different about the first Christians was that they were highly excited about their new found faith and prized it greatly. They maintained their sizzle. From the standpoint of faith and witness, they didn’t sense they needed to find their life’s purpose in their work. There was no mass shift to vocational Christian service. They did what Christians throughout the ages take to heart as their role being ambassadors for Christ. They brought God’s purpose into their work and social environments using appropriate opportunities to respectfully minister the message of reconciliation. They lived their faith. Certainly not perfectly in all respects, just as we see Christians today blow it and give Christianity a black eye. But they had courage. And they knew they had the story that could change the world, one person at a time. The gospel.
Even though we may not see our salvation as a treasure (Matt: 13:44), there is a crippling tendency to see and experience the gospel too much as a personal relationship with God and not about God’s redemptive plan to renew all things using us as his agents. If we don’t get the purpose for our spiritual rebirth as expressed in 2 Corinthians 5:16-20 (please stop now and just read 5 verses), or if we have or are drifting from this anchoring component of our faith, we must admit we are lacking the vision and fervor and commitment that characterized these crazy new Christians of the 1st century.
Having received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2), the early church members forged ahead fearlessly and enthusiastically with a message of the gospel and its power for changing lives. There was no focus on themselves or on a religious institution, but instead on the man, Jesus, on his life and death and the reality of his life and promises for us after his resurrection. They took the clear commands of scripture taught by the apostles and gave it away in its purest form. They fed the poor, healed the sick, cared for the widows, lifted the burden of suffering for others. But they did not dilute the life-saving message and they gave it away liberally, aware from their own changed lives how transforming the gospel can be.
The results from these “faith pioneers” of almost 2000 years ago have been the expansion of our faith world-wide and an explosion of hope within the cultures where the message is received openly. The gospel still has the potential and power to expand like wildfire and give light and life where darkness and despair have taken hold. It does it everywhere it is introduced. It could be said that the church (Christ-followers) built the church and has brought it to where it is today. The baton of the gospel is passed from generation to generation by person to person, not by institutions and organizations. What will you and I do, even within the limits of our neighborhoods, our abilities and the circles of relationships we dare to establish, to mimic the example of those crazy ones who started this faith that has been passed into our hands? Think About It.