The first century church is often deemed more worthy, holy, nourishing, ministering and bold than today’s 21st century churches. This sentiment is well-founded, because modern churches do in fact differ dramatically from first century churches. The following are the most notable differences:
The terms brother, sister, father or mother in Christ is often spoken in 21st Century churches; however, the actions behind those words are missing. This excerpt from Relevant Magazine explains the way first century churches viewed other Christians within their congregation as truly part of their family:
“In the first century, the family unit extended far beyond the nuclear family and was held together by an unconditional bond of commitment and service. You didn’t have to like your relatives, but you were expected to love them.”
Of course, this is a vastly different mindset than what’s in most modern churches. In today’s churches, arguments will often cause splits and hurt feelings, and the commitment aspect mentioned above is most certainly absent.
How Churches Give Back
In today’s churches, most of the giving goes to support the ministry itself. It might consist of paying salaries for church employees or payment on a mortgage on ministry buildings, such as the sanctuary or a family life center. According to a Relevant Magazine article, most modern churches only allot 1 to 2% of their funds to helping the poor, or benevolence. Some might go as far as to designate 10% commitment of their income towards needs outside their ministry.
In other words, the churches of today offerings are allocated primarily to keeping their ministry running. This way of distributing church funds is vastly different from the way the first century church spent their generated revenue. Just read the New Testament to discover that the early church refers to giving as allotting money to the poor, meaning their tithes or offerings were primarily going outside their ministry. There is rarely, if ever, mention of paying for a building or salaries in New Testament passages. Jesus himself even mentions the importance of giving to the poor, saying it is evidence of genuine faith. Reference Matthew 19:16-30, Luke 12:33, 14:33.
Support for the Military
In today’s churches, militarism is prevalent. The term militarism means, “the desire or belief that a county should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests” This inherently American way of thinking has permeated churches as well, and in some cases, have even been driven by them. Conversely, early churches were not militaristic at all. They did not align themselves with the powerful Roman military, but only focused on the cross. In fact, the most often quoted verse of that time was Matthew 5:44, which says:
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Of course, there is nothing wrong with supporting a military committed to ridding the world of evil and those who seek to do harm. It is just a notable difference between today’s version of churches and the first century variety.
Focus on the Bible
Although today’s Christians own several Bibles and claim to study them, one statistic states that 60% of those who confess to be Christians cannot name even five of the 10 commandments. Another 81% either aren’t aware of or don’t believe the basic tenets of the Christian faith. Contrastingly, Christians in the early church knew their Bible. They soaked it up like a sponge. They put into action Matthew 4:4, which says, “man cannot live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the Lord’s mouth.” They likely had these skills because first century Christian leaders required rigorous communal study for anyone who wanted to become a believer. New converts to the faith were required to spend their first three years as a Christian studying the entire Bible.
Admittedly, there are some significant differences between today’s churches and first century congregations. Some of that is simply due to cultural differences over time. However, modern churches would be wise to look back at what the first century did well and emulate it in today’s congregations.
~ 1776 Christian