“And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15).
An important characteristic of the New Testament church that is often underemphasized can be found in the account of Cornelius’ conversion in the simple phrase “at the beginning.” Have you ever wondered what it was like at the beginning of “the last days” (Acts 2:16, 17); at the beginning of “repentance and remission of sins” (Lk. 24:47); at the beginning of “the church” (Acts 2:47)? At the beginning there were no divisions among brethren over marriage, divorce, and remarriage. At the beginning there were no debates in the church about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. At the beginning there were not multiple congregations meeting in one city that could not fellowship one another because of petty squabbles, personality conflicts, or even disagreement over doctrine! At the beginning Christians “continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine” (Acts 2:47). At the beginning “all that believed were together” (Acts 2:44). At the beginning Christians were kindhearted and benevolent toward one another (Acts 2:45), spiritually focused (Acts 2:46a), enjoyed spiritual and personal fellowship (Acts 2:46b), and by their conduct and example gained “favor with all the people” (Acts 2:47). Let’s consider some other thoughts about the church “at the beginning.”
At the beginning, Christians worked together providing benevolent help for the needy and taking advantage of teaching opportunities even at the risk of personal peril (Acts 3:1-4:22; 5:12-40). In the early church, the Holy Spirit gave power to the apostles and wondrous works were done by their hands (Acts 5:12). Today, even in the absence of miracles the church can still do great benevolent works!
Though we cannot heal physical ailments we can provide for other’s the physical needs. Such benevolent help is not only pleasing to God but also opens doors for the gospel and for greater opportunities to do good work among men (Acts 5:16).
At the beginning, Christians rejoiced together for the blessings of God: “And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord” (Acts 4:24). By creating opportunities to teach and to do good, hearts were opened, souls were saved, and the church greatly increased (Acts 5:14). Such occasions were reasons to rejoice. Even when they suffered persecution for the cause of Christ, at the beginning Christians rejoiced together! (Acts 5:41)
At the beginning, Christians who were blessed with wealth and possessions provided for the lack of others and for the furtherance of the gospel. Local works (Acts 4:34-37) as well as missions (Acts 13:3) were financially supported by the church at the beginning. Budget committees were not set up to decide which good works would be supported, and which good works would be turned away. No “spending limits” were placed on the works of the church. If the need was there the money was there. Christians used God’s blessings for God’s work, at the beginning.
At the beginning, when differences and difficulties rose up in the church, good men stood up to lead (Acts 6:1-7). Even at the beginning, the church was populated by men and women whose hearts were filled with prejudices and whose character was often less than Christlike. But the church was also blessed with men who were “full of faith” and possessed of spiritual wisdom. Such men were called upon to take the lead in matters of local dispute, disagreement and division (Acts 6:3; 15:1-6; cf. 1 Cor. 6:5). These men did not take sides, play favorites, or keep strife stirred up for their personal benefit, but rather led the church in the ways of God advancing peace, love, and unity among brethren. Such leadership caused “the word of God” to increase and “the number of the disciples” to multiply (Acts 6:7).
As a final observation let us ask ourselves “Are we like the church at the beginning?” No doubt some will reply with a resounding YES emphasizing that we teach the same doctrine, imitate the pattern of worship, and place great emphasis on evangelism throughout the world. But are we laboring together to provide benevolent help for the needy and taking advantage of teaching opportunities locally – as they did “at the beginning?” Are we rejoicing together for the daily blessings God bestows upon us – as they did “at the beginning?” Are we giving to the church liberally from the abundance of blessings given to us by God – as they did “at the beginning?” Are good men, full of faith and wisdom stepping up to lead the church through difficult times – as they did “at the beginning?” Brethren, if we cannot answer these questions with a “yes” there remains yet one question more: Who are we?
Christians, let us come together in truth, unity, peace, love and strive to be just as they were “at the beginning!” In so doing God and His Christ will be glorified among men!
– Ronnie Scherffius