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A LOOK AT THE FIRST CENTURY CHURCH

Part 2

Review

Heb 4:12

12 For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart.      AMP

So if the emphasis of God is on His Word then it would stand to reason that words are extremely important. Thus a study of specific words and their origins is essential to understanding the importance of not only their meaning but the implications that they have on our lives and how we respond to what we believe to be true.

For this session, we will look not only at the word but how it came down through the ages to it's current multifaceted form(s). We will also continue to discuss the reasons and the implications it has on the "church" today.

 [Please note that the use of the word "church" does not mean that the Bible has an error. It is common knowledge that the Greek word from which it was translated is "ekklesia." Further the word "church" is used in modern English to denote a local congregation or assembly as well as buildings and denominations. The problem, as this article points out, is that word "ekklesia" would have been better translated "assembly" or "congregation" and in doing so the false teaching of a universal or invisible church would have been avoided. The reason for the article is to uphold the original meaning and use of the word as God intended.]

    The English word "church" has various meanings. Webster gives the following definitions for the word church.

1. a building for public Christian worship. 2. a religious service in such a building. 3. (sometimes cap.) a. the world body of Christian believers; Christendom. b. any major division of his body; a Christian denomination. 4. a Christian congregation. 5. organized religion as distinguished from the state. 6. (cap) a. The Christian before the reformation. b. the Roman Catholic Church. 7. the profession of an ecclesiastic -V.C. 8. to perform a church service of thanksgiving for (a woman after child birth). [Go RI(a)on (DOA) the Lord's house) 7

 

This word church, we will continue to use for the rest of this study as the modern definition of the word includes not only the structure but the folks in it. What we will look at is the church universal as opposed to the Messianic version of which will be the focus from now on.

So where and how did the first century church conduct its "services"?

Several scriptures come to mind from the book of Acts which is the primary source for the operation of the New Testament church. But what we will briefly examine is what version of the "Bible" did the first century believers commonly use.

Ac 2:46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house , did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,       KJV

Ac 20: And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house ,  KJV

 

            NT:3624

            <END GREEK> oikos (oy'-kos); of uncertain affinity; a dwelling (more or less extensive,                   literal or figurative); by implication a family (more or less related, literal or figuratively):

                  KJV - home, house (-hold), temple.

            NT:3614

            <END GREEK> oikia (oy-kee'-ah); from NT:3624; properly, residence (abstractly), but usually

            (concretely) an abode (literally or figuratively); by implication a family

            (especially domestics):

            KJV - home, house (-hold).

            (Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-  Hebrew

            Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.)

Even Jesus told them to meet in houses in Luke 10 where He sent out the 70.

Lk 10:4-7

4 Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way.

5 And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house .

6 And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again.

7 And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house . KJV

This is amazing, because the power that they walked in didn't happen in "church". They were instructed by Jesus Himself to meet in houses and to stay and minister at that house. He didn't send them to the Synagogue.

This is how the church met until the 4th century when Constantine got saved. Constantine's salvation came about briefly as follows.

The year was A.D. 312. It was a time of turmoil in the (Roman) Empire. The Imperial throne was empty and several rivals fought to seize control. Two of the rivals were Constantine and Maxentius. During this struggle, Maxtentius challenged Constanantine to battle.

Constantine, alarmed by rumors that Maxentius was a master of magical arts, prayed to the "Supreme God" for help. To Constantine, the supreme god was "Mithras", the Persian sun god.

In response to his prayer, he reportedly saw a vision of a flaming cross in the sky next to  the sun along with the words, "Conquer by this!" He then confronted Maxentius  and won the battle.

            The result was that Constantine came to the throne with the announcement that he was now a follower of Jesus. The Christians could hardly believe it. The "church" had gone through centuries of scattered local persecution. Then, during the reign of Diocletian (A.D. 287 to 305), they endured one of the most severe persecutions the church had known. Diocletian's persecution was a brutal empire-wide attack on the church. Many thousands were tortured and killed. During that eighteen-year period the church lost almost all its leadership. Since the leaders were the most visible members of the church, they were the first ones killed. Bibles (letters, scriptures) were confiscated.4

The point being, suddenly the church was free to worship as it saw fit. Now they had a ruler that was sympathetic to their cause and would encourage their relationship with God. This was a sinister deception as the church was lulled into complacency and soon, the Roman form of worship based on pagan beliefs slowly pushed the Judaic roots out of the church. The result was pagan styles of worship were incorporated into the services and eventually everything Jewish was removed.

The question was raised at the last meeting, "What was the reason that anything Jewish was removed from the church?" 

The answer is in the structure that Constantine put in place that emulated his own imperial organization. He felt that the Christians were disorganized and lacked the hierarchy that the Roman system was proud of. This gave him not only control of the empire and it's politics, but having the church meet in a large building would give better oversight and control of the religion. Also, the Roman pagan system of worship had to be overhauled and a lot of people would be out of work if the temples were closed down. So, rather than put all these people out of work and ruin a lot of ornate artwork, he decided to incorporate the gods and goddesses into the Christian form of worship.

Well, there wasn't room for two systems so one had to go. The entire empire would have to relearn this foreign form of worship so to expedite the process, just take what you have and convert it all to Christianity. Simply rename and restructure Christianity to fit the pagan mold, fund all the buildings, etc. Then over the course of  the next 5 centuries anything Jewish would be eliminated and put Jesus, Mary and Joseph into the center of worship and instead of praying to the secular gods, worship the "saints". All of this was convenient and the masses could still worship their idols and make it look "Christian". Essentially taking the square peg and hammering it into a round hole. Something had to give!

Over simplified but I am sure you get the point. This whole thing did not happen overnight and is still the bulk of Christian worship today. Space does not provide for the extent of this study, but eventually everything turned toward pagan style worship and philosophy influenced heavily by the Greek culture. All of this forced out what had originally been given by direct revelation of God to the Jewish people. God has not cast out the Jew and he never eliminated the "Old Testament" as is taught in replacement theology.

For sake of time, here is the breakdown of the process that eliminated the Jewish celebrations and moeds of God from Christian worship.

The Council of Antioch (A.D. 345) -  "If any bishop, presbyter or deacon will dare, after this decree, to celebrate Passover with the Jews. the council judges them to be anathema from the church. This council not only  deposes them from ministry, but also others who dare to communicate with them.

The Council of Laodicea (A.D. 365) - " It is not permitted to receive festivals which are by Jews, nor to hold a festival together with them. (Canon 37) Christians must not Judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day... but if any be found to be JUDAIZERS let them be anathema from Christ.

The Council of Agde, France (A.D. 506) - "Clerics must not take part in Jewish   festivals.

The Council of Toledo X (Seventh Century) - "Easter must be celebrated uniformly" [at the time set by the decree of Nicea rather than at the time of Passover]

The Council of Nicea II (A.D. 787) - "[Those who] openly or secretly keep the Sabbath and follow other practices in the manner of the Jews are not to be received into communion, nor into prayer.

In the light of these statements one must ask an obvious question: If the Jewish elements of Christianity  died out before the end of the first century, as many have been taught, why were church councils still fighting to stamp out these influences seven hundred years later? 4

 It is apparent that there were other forces at work to derail God's divinely ordered plan to meet with Him using the pagan mindset brought into the church through the gentile believers.

The bottom line is this. If God set up an order of worship and teachings to learn about Him and how to relate to Him, why do we relate to Him in pagan rituals and festivals when they have been ordered of men?

So let's look at the question posed by the religious order of the day to Jesus. starting in verse 28 of Matthew 11 they asked;

Mk 11:28 And say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things? 29 And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question , and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me. 31 And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him? 32 But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed. 33 And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.      KJV

This is the quagmire faced by the current system of Christian worship. If the current church structure admitted all of the shortcomings and reverted back to God ordained worship services, the power of God would flow freely, but a lot of folks who are made comfortable by the "traditions" being touted as God ordained would be really angry with the leadership. On the other hand, failing to recognize the way God set things up, would lead to a powerless social church not having anywhere near the Glory of the "Ekklesia" set up in the scriptures.

o  Am I telling you to convert to Judaism?                              Absolutely not!

o  Am I suggesting leaving your current fellowship?                Absolutely not!

o  Am I suggesting maybe looking into the scriptures to learn for yourself and seek the fellowship of like minded believers?                                YES

Pastor Kevin Humphrey, of Abundant Life Church here in River Falls, recently taught on "Wisdom" and I am going to quote from the e-mail sent out to the congregation summarizing this last point. The sermon was taught on June 30, 2013 and posted July 2, 2013. The whole message can be found at the ALC website.

Wise

Let's review what we heard from Pastor Kevin last Sunday at Abundant Life Church.

Prov 13:20 Become wise by walking with the wise; hang out with fools and watch your life fall to pieces. MSG

If you go to a worship conference where for two hours thousands are worshiping; can the spirit of worship rub off? Can a positive attitude at work rub off? Can you show up at a workout place with the same group; can healthy workout habits rub off? Can those at Celebrate Recovery who commit to living free from addictions rub off? Stuff rubs off for the better or worse. Solomon who wrote much of Proverbs says that we are all going to be affected by who we hang out with, so let's choose our friends wisely.

7 Traits God Detests. It should be a red warning light to you; danger, not friend material.

Prov 6:16-19 For there are six things the Lord hates-no, seven: haughtiness, lying, murdering, plotting evil, eagerness to do wrong, a false witness, sowing discord among brothers. TLB

Though you are to not become friends with these you can invite to faith in Christ, church, etc. Paul says it this way in 1 Cor 15:33, “Bad company corrupts good character.”

Redefine Friendships. You are growing in Christ, but some of your friends are not. This can be awkward. Try to bring them along with you in this adventure; bring them to church, a small group, Christian concert, etc. Some will refuse to go on the journey with you. What then? Sit them down and explain the importance of your faith to them and that you will continue. Some friends will bolt. If so, let them go. It’s better to have no friends than to have the wrong friends. Let them know you still want to stay in touch - keep the communication open; don’t burn a bridge. One day they may be open to listen to the Truth you have.

Rom 12:18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. NIV
Some of you are being harmed by the friendships you are in and need to end them. They are not cheering you on or looking out for your good future. They want you to stay in the rut you are in. But tell them you are moving on. Find some new wise friends. Pray and ask God who you can be friends with. It is glorious when new friends encourage you and walk with you in your spiritual growth. Friendships with like-minded people is a gift from God.

Copyright © 2013 Abundant Life Church, All rights reserved. (Used with permission)

 All resource references are on Page 1 of this series on this website or are contained in the body of the text.

Part 3 will deal with the sources used by Jesus and taught by Him and the disciples.