Most people seem to think that the Christian church was born on Pentecost day in Jerusalem, as described in the book of Acts. Ten days after Jesus had risen to Heaven, the Holy Spirit was poured out on over a hundred disciples and they started to speak new languages (Acts 2:1-4). After Peter had powerfully preached the Gospel, 3,000 were saved and baptised and suddenly there was a church in Jerusalem, in which everyone had everything in common, miracles abounded and people were converted daily (Acts 2:42-47).
But if this was the birth of the church, what should we call the community Jesus had with his disciples in the Gospels? Was it some sort of preparation for the real stuff, a “church pre-school”? Admittedly, it isn’t spelt out to be a church in the Scriptures, but what else could it be?
Think about it, what’s the difference between the discipleship community in the Gospels and the church of Acts? The discipleship community also preached the gospel (Matt 11:1), healed the sick (Luke 10:9) and shared money (John 13:29). They baptised new believers (John 4:2), worshipped together (Mark 14:26) and shared the bread and wine (Mark 14:22-24).
Apart from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, there are really only two differences between the disciples’ fellowship and the post-Pentecostal church we’re familiar with.
They didn’t preach very much about Jesus’ death and resurrection but rather emphasised the kingdom of God. This isn’t very surprising – Jesus’ death and resurrection hadn’t happened yet! But Jesus did prophesy about his coming crucifixion and how God would raise him (Mark 9:31, Mark 10:33-34), even though His disciples didn’t understand it at first. In this church He was the pastor (the best pastor!) and He revealed the mysteries of the kingdom progressively as His church members matured.
Jesus’ followers were ‘nomads’ – walking and boating from place to place as Jesus saw fit. This surely makes Jesus’ church different from most churches today, but why should “remaining in one location” be part of our church definition? In fact, according to the Bible, it isn’t. The church is the body of Christ (Colossians 1:18), God’s own people (1 Peter 2:4-5) and the fellowship of the saints (Ephesians 4:12). Sure enough, local churches are often called the church “of Corinth” or “of the Thessalonians”, but that’s not really what defines them as being a church. It’s merely a description of where they are, not what they are.
Accepting that the fellowship of Jesus and the disciples was an actual church has big implications. With a sinless pastor in charge, the Jesus church is the best example modern Christians can ever get for what their churches should look like.
This post is part one of a three-part series.