The established church, as in the universal body of Christian denominations and sects, including Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant viewpoints, has existed for over two millennia at this point. It began on the day of Pentecost with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the inhabitants of the upper room of a building in Jerusalem. That first day, the followers of Jesus went from 120 to over 3000 with a very, very short sermon from St. Peter to a crowd standing outside, wondering what the heck was going on. (I’m getting a little excited now, so follow me if you can) From there, widespread opposition and persecution attempted an assault of what the Pharisees called “the Way,” a small sect of Jews dedicated to the teachings of a man named Jesus of Nazareth, who had been executed as a revolutionary not 50 days prior to the day of Pentecost. No matter what they did, no matter how hard they tried, they could not stop it. Members of the Way were imprisoned every day, yet ten would replace every single one they imprisoned. It got ugly when a young man named Stephen was stoned to death for blasphemy after testifying before the Sanhedrin of Jesus’s status as the only Son of God. The attempts to suppress continued, this time coming from the Roman emperor, whom members of the Way refused to offer sacrifice to.
Now that I’ve painted this picture here, what exactly was so repulsive about “the Way” that people hated it so much? What were they doing that they hated so much? Let me show you:
42And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46And day by day,attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
For further reference:
32Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:32-37)
So, let’s break this down:
1) They shared everything; food, property, you name it. No one had any need among them. To us, as the church today, this means that if there is even ONE member amongst us who has need, we are not fulfilling Christ’s commission.
2) They preached the resurrection of Jesus with great power. This means that we ought to do the same thing. Christ’s resurrection should be at the forefront of our theology and thinking as a church. If it’s not, then we are reflecting a lack of the risen Jesus in our own lives, and are still dead in our transgressions.
3) They attended the Temple together, as well as met together in homes. This means they kept an establishment as the center of their organization (I am sure that there will be one church leader who will read the words establishment and organization and cringe). They also spent time together outside of meeting at the Temple, eating together on a regular basis, like families.
4) They sold their possession and laid the profit at the feet of the apostles, who redistributed according to need (1700ish years before Karl Marx could even suggest the idea). This means that at least a portion of our income belongs to the church. I will say, though, if we could get it to the point where anyone joining our ranks in the church would be moved to sell everything and give it over to the leaders of the group and all was distributed to everyone as they needed, that would just be awesome.
5) If disputes arose, such as in Acts 15, where we see men called Judaizers trying to make Gentiles observe Jewish law, they held a council to make an official decision on the matter. The Council that met in Acts was referred to as the Council of Jerusalem, and it was decided that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised, but were to avoid idols, sexual immorality, what has been strangled, and blood.
6) One thing we can also be certain of is how infectious this movement was. Their first day they added over 3000 to their numbers, and it seems like every time the apostles spoke, large amounts of people came to Christ. The same love that spurred the apostles to teach and preach infected the hearts of the listeners so well that it spread like wildfire, and no one could stop it.
7) The New Testament demonstrates a very holistic pattern of worship and doctrine within the church, as does church tradition. There were functions for meeting together, in which an order of service existed (see 1 Corinthians 14) and special attention was given to social matters, though not necessarily on a political level, tending more to operate independently of government and using their own possessions to care for the needy. The theology laid out by Paul, especially in Romans, demonstrates a God thoroughly involved with humanity, one who cares for each of his creations and hears its groanings for redemption, and Christians aimed to reflect that God.
Today, does the church at large, be it Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox, reflect this image wholly, or only in pieces at best?