All who believed were together and shared all things in common. (Acts 2:44)
Now 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. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 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 and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Act 4:32-35)
Where can Christians look today to see believers living the same way they did in the first church in Acts 2 and 4?
Most scholars treat these verses as a far-off ideal, placing those first disciples up in the heavens where mere mortals like ourselves can never reach. Others look down their noses on the simplicity of their common life, calling it primitive, saying the church has evolved past such hare-brained escapades. The alarming thing about either of these responses is that they effectively place the life of the first disciples in the casket of idealism. An ideal is an interesting concept with no reality attached to it, existing in the imagination only.
The holy nation described in 1 Peter 2:9-11 has been reduced to a spiritual concept. But this is not what the Word of God says. In reality, that holy nation was filled with real human beings who were overcoming the sins that have entangled humanity for thousands of years. Those first disciples had a vibrant social life in which each member was vitally connected and cared for. Their life was a vivid witness of the love of God which had been poured into the hearts of every believer.1 It is disturbing that this life, so well documented in Acts 2 and 4, is today disregarded and even disqualified.
Anyone can read what the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians:
For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea... (1 Thessalonians 2:13-14)
Obviously, the submissive2 disciples of Thessalonica had received the true gospel3 as it had been spoken to them by the apostles, thereby establishing their community according to the same pattern established by their leaders, who were "wise master builders."4 They must have been true believers, devoted to the apostles and their teachings, to prayer, and to the breaking of the bread.5 The Holy Spirit must have been filling their souls, since the pattern of Acts 2 and 4 is unable to be imitated by natural men. It is only the love6 of God that dictates this pattern of true community. Any attempt by natural men to live this closely together and share their belongings must be enforced by oppressive external compulsion and only results in frustration and alienation.
Why is it that there is no resemblance to the archetype7 presented in Acts in the churches of today? If it was the God of heaven who designed the original as both architect and builder,8 then have others built without regard for His blueprints? Did they not realize that "no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Yahshua, the Messiah"?9 If the whole building has gone up on a different foundation, because the builders have rejected the chief cornerstone, then there is no way the house can stand.10
What calls itself the Church, both today and for the past 1900 years, does not resemble the pattern set forth in the Book of Acts. This record, however, explicitly describes what life in the Body of Messiah was like -- the life that came by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. There is no other pattern described in the New Testament for the church's foundation. The evidence of its existence is found throughout the epistles,11 yet endless excuses are formulated to explain why it is not that way still.
By ejecting the original pattern of the first church into outer space, or by trampling it underfoot, they sidestep any accountability for not living this way themselves. However, if indeed all true believers are to live as the first disciples, then a sobering question must be asked: "Have they ever truly heard the gospel?" Christians who dwell in their theological comfort zone of daily devotionals and weekly church services are not willing to ask this question.
By what standard are we to judge salvation -- by the Word of God or by something else? Do all who profess to believe realize that being saved from sin includes forsaking the world where sin reigns?12 Being born again13 is starting life over after being immersed into a new social and spiritual life in the community where Messiah reigns.
That is why Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, said, "Come out of this evil and perverse generation."14 That is why those who believed and received his word responded accordingly. They literally left behind the life they lived in the world. They payed the cost set forth by Messiah in Mark 10:28-30,
Then Peter began to say, "See, we have left all and followed You." So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly I say to you, there is no one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for My sake and the gospel's who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time -- houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions -- and in the age to come, eternal life..."
This is the only gospel Peter ever knew, as proclaimed to him by the Messiah himself. Did he preach something different from his Teacher15 when he shared the "many other words" with those in Jerusalem, who were cut to the heart on Pentecost?16 Or was he being obedient to his calling as an apostle by fulfilling the commission given to him?17
We believe the latter. But eventually the pattern of the Body of Messiah in Acts 2 and 4 was abandoned by those who had left their first love and soiled their garments.18 They chose to broaden the narrow way of Matthew 7:13-14. Due to their disobedience, the Holy Spirit was quenched and grieved, and eventually withdrew from their hearts.19 Divisions and schisms set in amongst all the churches, which characterize Christianity to this day. Community life began falling apart, for it could not be maintained where love grew cold.20 Tragically, their light went out as they stopped living by the revelation from the Holy Spirit.21 Instead, they settled for the doctrines and traditions of men by which they beautifully wrapped themselves in a more comfortable lifestyle. Form and ritual filled their gatherings22 and the clergy-laity system soon emerged. A new religion was born out of this darkness of separation and unresolved division.
So how does one get back to the foundation and original pattern of the early church? John 12:25-26 is the only way and the only place a person can both follow and serve Him.
He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates His life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serve Me, him My Father will honor.
You must hate your life in this world and obey His commands to completely surrender all that you possess.23 If you desire to serve Yahshua, you must obey Him. Obedience to the Gospel is the only way you can gain eternal life.24 All other promises and all other gospels other than the one first spoken by the apostles and Messiah Himself will eventually bring disappointment.25
The rich young ruler26 sought eternal life, but in the end he didn't trust the One who could give it to him. It was soon evident that he loved his own life more than the eternal life he said he wanted. In stark contrast, Peter and the other disciples left behind everything to follow Yahshua.27 This was the natural and fitting response from someone who recognized the worth of the Son of God. They revealed His true value by paying the true cost.
The Gospel has to be restored and defined according to the original pattern of the early church. Otherwise, the life of love and unity that sprung forth from the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those first disciples will forever remain an idealistic concept, and its reality will forever be lost. What happened on the Day of Pentecost was a graphic illustration of the outpouring of God's love in the hearts of those who first believed. It was a demonstration of what happens when the true Gospel is obeyed.
Thus, the church began and the foundation was set. It was no mistake, but was the very intention of the Gospel. It was not an ideal -- it was real. That realized nation was described in 1 Peter 2:9-10,
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people, but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
We invite you to come and join us in bringing about the cry of Yahshua's heart, that the kingdom of God would come to the earth, just as it is in heaven.28 There is actually a place on the earth where you can pour out all your heart, mind, soul, and strength on the God of heaven, and love your neighbor as yourself.