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What Did the New Testament Church Look Like?

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What Did the New Testament Church Look Like?

Professing Christianity is comprised of many groups and endless schools of thought. But does the picture today reflect the New Testament Church of 2,000 years ago?

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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More than two billion people on Earth profess to be Christian. In other words, nearly every third person believes he is following Jesus Christ and the Bible.

Dominant in Western nations, Christianity is the world’s most popular religion, appearing in all sorts of shapes, sizes and varieties.

Huston Smith, author of The World’s Religions, described the world of Christianity this way: “From the majestic pontifical High Mass in St. Peter’s to the quiet simplicity of a Quaker meeting; from the intellectual sophistication of Saint Thomas Aquinas to the moving simplicity of spirituals such as ‘Lord, I want to be a Christian’; from St. Paul’s in London, the parish Church of Great Britain, to Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta—all this is Christianity.”

Was he correct? Is this the picture of true Christianity?

Traditional Churches

Have you ever wondered why there are so many different groups? Have you ever thought to yourself: “Is this what Christ meant when He said, ‘I will build my Church’?” Additionally, have you asked, “What is the difference between these groups?”—“Which one is the exact continuation of the first-century Church?”

If you are religious, then your beliefs are important to you—religion is a central part of your life.

But have you ever examined the traditional view of Christianity? Have you compared it with your Bible? Or do you simply assume that the church you attend is correct?

If religion is an important part of your life, then you should not take the answers to these questions lightly. On the other hand, if you do not consider yourself religious, this article will change your perspective of those who call themselves followers of Christ.

What Did the Church Look Like?

Suppose you are living during the first century, and you are asked what you think Christianity will look like in 2,000 years. The only item you have to determine your answer is the Bible. What picture would you paint? Would it look similar to what exists today? Since the Holy Bible is Christianity’s foundation, it must hold the answers to the religion that comes from it.

Why, therefore, are there so many groups today claiming to be Christian? The simplest answer is that they all teach different things. If they taught the same doctrines, they would be united under one Church government—in one group.

The book of Acts begins with the birth of the New Testament Church. Therefore, this is the place to begin. Notice how the Church was described after 3,000 people were baptized in one day: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship…” (Acts 2:42).

Why is this significant? The two most defining features of God’s Church are evident: steadfast continuation in (1) the apostles’ doctrine (teachings), and (2) fellowship. Verse 43 explains that the fear of God was apparent in “every soul,” with verse 44 adding, “…all that believed were together.” Verse 46 also states that they continued to be of “one accord [agreement],” meeting together “daily” in various houses in “singleness of heart.”

The Church of God was unified!—not divided in varying and disagreeing groups all calling themselves Christian.

One Church or Many?

Professing Christianity believes that God’s Church is split into different branches. Perhaps The United Methodist Church best explains on their website the common position of Christianity: “Nourished by common roots of this shared Christian heritage, the branches of Christ’s church have developed diverse traditions that enlarge our store of shared understandings. Our avowed ecumenical commitment as United Methodists is to gather our own doctrinal emphases into the larger Christian unity, there to be made more meaningful in a richer whole” (emphasis added).

While this sounds honorable, is it what Christ intended? Were there to be many groups of “diverse traditions” all with their own “doctrinal emphases”?

Even Roman Catholics, who, for the most part, believe that God’s Church cannot be divided, say this: “Those [outside the Roman Catholic Church] ‘who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church).

Again, did Christ intend for all these differing groups?

The Bible is clear that the Church—Christ’s Body (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18)—is unified. Notice:

  • I Corinthians 1:10: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
  • I Corinthians 12:25: “…there should be no schism in the body.”
  • Ephesians 4:16: “From whom the whole body fitly joined together [Moffatt translation: “welded together”] and compacted by that which every joint supplies…”

Do these scriptures describe modern Christianity? The answer is clear!

The world is filled with all sorts of different groups professing to be Christian, and most profess that the other competing groups are also Christian. Yet notice Christ’s words: “And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25). The Greek word for “stand” can also mean “abide, continue, be established, hold up.” A house or any organization cannot stand—abide, continue, hold up—if divided. But the world of Christianity is divided!

Would Christ have built His Church to contradict His statement in Mark 3:25? Of course not.

Simply put, Christ said, “I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18)—not churches!

This is only the first of many differences.

Is God a Trinity?

When researching the statements of belief of various Christian denominations, invariably, the description of God is listed first. Of course, since Christianity should be based on following the God of the Bible, it is understandable that God is central.

Notice the common view of conventional Christians: “The most distinctive belief of mainstream Christianity is the doctrine of the Trinity, which views the one God as consisting of three Persons: the Father, the Son (Christ) and the Holy Spirit” (ReligionFacts).

Yet nowhere in the entire Bible is the trinity mentioned, even if one combines a number of verses to try to prove it! (One scripture does mention this triune relationship in the King James translation, but biblical scholars admit that this verse was not part of the original text.) The convoluted, confused picture of God that professing Christianity presents is simply not there.

Of course, the true nature of God cannot be explained in a few short statements. Nevertheless, God’s Word is clear on who and what God is. There are only two god-beings—the Father and Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is not a person. (To understand God’s true nature, read the book The Trinity – Is God Three-In-One?)

True Gospel

Another common emphasis among modern Christian churches is the mission of spreading and teaching the gospel. But how do all these groups define Christ’s gospel?

The word “gospel” means “good news.” Christ was a Messenger who preached a message of good news. Almost every church, however, believes and teaches that the gospel message is about Jesus Christ Himself—in effect, their message is about the Messenger. They focus on teaching and spreading stories about His life to new believers.

Christ does play an extremely important and central role in Christianity, but He is not the gospel. The Bible clearly shows that Jesus preached the gospel—and He did not talk about Himself when He did so! (Read John 7:18.)

Methodists believe the following, as stated by their website: “Gospel has a number of distinct meanings. It refers to the Good News concerning Christ, the Kingdom of God, and salvation. It also refers to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.”

As can be seen from this definition, Christianity takes a vague approach to this basic, fundamental teaching. As a result, the actual mission of Christianity is watered down, confused and simply taught incorrectly.

How does the Bible define the gospel? Notice Mark 1:14: “…Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.” This is the gospel that Jesus preached. It was in this same context that He said, “Repent you, and believe the gospel” (vs. 15). Which gospel? “…of the kingdom of God.” (The booklet Which Is the True Gospel? thoroughly explains this topic.)

Holidays and Holy Days

Central to modern Christianity are its many holidays: “The most important Christian holiday is Easter, a spring holiday that celebrates Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Easter is immediately preceded by Holy Week, which includes Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. The 40 days prior to Easter are the Lenten season, a time of fasting and repentance. Another holiday that came to be important is Christmas, which commemorates the birth of Jesus on December 25. Saints’ days are also important. Some of these, such as St. Patrick’s Day and St. Valentine’s Day, have come to play a prominent role in popular North American and European culture” (ReligionFacts).

These are commonly observed days for both the religious and non-religious—but they are not taught in the Bible! Neither will you find that New Testament Christians kept these worldly holidays. (Only once does the word “Easter” appear in the Bible. However, upon closer examination, the Greek word actually should be translated “Passover.”)

So then, we must ask: what days, if any, did the New Testament Church observe?

The Old Testament describes the Holy Days instituted by God millennia ago. Physical Israel kept those days as did spiritual Israel, which the Bible shows is the New Testament Church.

Notice that Paul mentioned the Days of Unleavened Bread: “And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days” (Acts 20:6).

Also, in Acts 2, we find the Church keeping the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost). Because it was a Holy Day, the Church was “all with one accord in one place” (vs. 1).

Then there are the other Holy Days established by God—Passover, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Last Great Day.

These Holy Days picture God’s Plan for mankind. (The booklet God’s Holy Days or Pagan Holidays? explains the full meaning of these days.)

Seventh-day Sabbath

Another common trait of traditional Christianity is Sunday worship: “Christian practices vary by denomination, but common elements include a Sunday worship service…” (ReligionFacts). The vast majority of professing Christians claim that Sunday is the “Lord’s Day,” and that those who believe in God are to keep this day.

Many also believe that Christ did away with the seventh-day Sabbath. Then why did Christ say to His disciples, “Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath” (Mark 2:28)?

Notice this astonishing admission on whether Christ authorized the change from the Sabbath to Sunday: “For example, nowhere in the Bible do we find that Christ or the Apostles ordered that the Sabbath be changed from Saturday to Sunday. We have the commandment of God given to Moses to keep holy the Sabbath day, that is the 7th day of the week, Saturday. Today most Christians keep Sunday because it has been revealed to us by the [Roman Catholic] church outside the Bible” (The Catholic Virginian).

The Bible commands God’s people to have a “holy convocation” (or assembly) on the Sabbath and Holy Days (Lev. 23:3). Read the book Saturday or Sunday – Which Is the Sabbath? for proof that Jesus Christ and first-century Christians kept the Sabbath, and that God’s people are still required to observe the seventh day.

By keeping Sunday instead of God’s Sabbath, modern Christianity differs from what the Bible teaches and from what New Testament Christians practiced.

Little Flock

Could so many of these large, well-established churches—with hundreds of millions of people—be wrong?

Society, especially in Western cultures, stresses “bigger is better.” More money, more friends, larger cars, bigger houses, and so on are all seen as a better way of life. The more people one can find to support this or that group, idea or cause, the better. This way of thinking is prevalent in professing Christianity. People feel safe in numbers. Therefore, large congregations are more popular and grow faster than small ones.

But just because the majority follows a certain way, does that make it right?

“The god of this world”

Clearly today’s Christianity and the Church that Christ established are not one and the same. Notice how Jesus described counterfeit religion: “Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, [they] hold the tradition of men…Full well [they] reject the commandment of God, that [they] may keep [their] own tradition” (Mark 7:7-9).

This article has only briefly touched on several common beliefs to which the majority of so-called Christians adhere. With that in mind, what happened within the last 2,000 years? How could so many today be so deceived?—and so wrong?

The Bible reveals that the whole world is deceived (Rev. 12:9) by the “god of this world” (II Cor. 4:4)—Satan the devil. The world is cut off from God, and Satan has deceived a large part of it into thinking they are following Christ. But they are following “another Jesus” (11:4)—and, in fact, are not part of true Christianity.

With a clear picture of the New Testament Church now painted in your mind, realize that it has looked the same throughout the centuries. The informative and eye-opening book Where Is the True Church? – and Its Incredible History! can help guide you to where it still exists today!

Will you put forth the effort to find it?

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