“But this I confess to you, that according to ‘the Way’ which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets.” (Spoken by the Apostle Paul in Acts 24:14)
If Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever,1 and if the church is His Body of which He is the head,2 then it follows that the church must also be unchanging in its essential nature. In other words, “the Way” (as the church was called in the first century) cannot be any other way than the way it was when it was “the Way.” And what way was that? It was the way it was in the beginning, in Acts 2:44-47 and 4:32-35, when they were one heart and one way, just as the prophet Jeremiah foretold.3
All who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need? Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.
But that is not the way it is now. Evidently a mutation has occurred, as the church no longer resembles its original pattern. What happened to the visible demonstration we can read about in Acts 2 and 4, the result of the first preaching of the gospel by those who had actually been with Christ? To find out, let’s look at a couple of definitions.
Ethereal — 1. of or relating to the regions beyond the Earth 2. lacking material substance: immaterial, intangible.
Corporeal — 1. having, consisting of, or relating to a physical material body; not immaterial or intangible: substantial. 2. of or relating to a person’s body, especially as opposed to his spirit; tangible, material, seeable, touchable.
The first century church was corporeal, not ethereal. It was the visible, tangible manifestation of the salvation found in Christ, revealed through a concrete expression of Christ’s life and love in His Body. Only a corporeal witness of the Body of Christ can fulfill His new commandment in John 13:34-35 and His last prayer in John 17:23, just before His crucifixion:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have this love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
I in them and You in Me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that You have sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me. (John 17:23)
The love and unity among His disciples must be visible to the world to prove that God did indeed send His Son into the world to save it. The world cannot believe unto salvation without seeing this unity among His disciples, whose obedience to His word sets them apart from the rest of the world.4 This is what sanctified means: set apart, made distinct, undefiled spiritually and physically.
The Body of Christ can be compared to a ship on the open seas, carrying all the passengers safely to their destination. A ship is in the ocean, but not of the ocean. Imagine a bunch of people just floating around separately, treading water in the ocean, all claiming to be safely on the same ship going to the same destination. Ridiculous!
In the beginning, the church was like that ship, and its structure was community.5 What does the life of the first-century disciples in Jerusalem document if not the Master’s commandment in John 13:34-35 and His prayer in John 17:21-23? It was a detailed expression which elucidated6 His prayer and His command to His disciples, throwing light upon the commandments.7 That life was the blueprint of the Body of Messiah.
That outward expression of community was the nucleus that was to replicate itself throughout the world. The Jerusalem pattern was to be only the beginning of the corporate, corporeal Body of Christ. For example, Paul commended the Thessalonian church for following the same pattern that was expressed throughout the churches in Judea,8 observing that they were also persecuted because of that radical demonstration of their faith.
Living in community, by the power of the Holy Spirit, purifies all those within it. Experientially, you are truly made complete spiritually. The spiritual strongholds in your life caused by your sin are broken down by the loving hands of those committed to you in the same life. Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant9 can only be fulfilled by this life in community, which is the only way you can actually become one — having one heart and one way, unified in every aspect of your being, growing up into the head, which is Messiah.10 There you grow to live in absolute unity, just as the Savior prayed for in John 17:23 — “one as the Father and Son are one” — a unity which makes no room for denominations.
The outward, visible unity of the early church was the outcome of love reaching the innermost parts of everyone who believed. The gospel had cut them to the heart and the outcome was absolute surrender to the sovereignty of Messiah over them. This was expressed through the corporeal witness of the Body, the reality of their salvation. There were no solo disciples doing whatever they felt God wanted them to do, independent of each other. A real body doesn’t work that way. “All who believed were together?”11 Their love for each other was real — corp-o-real. They had truly believed in Messiah and therefore were grafted into His Body through baptism, surrendering their independent existence. Those 3,000 surrendered lives, added to the original 120, comprised not an ethereal body, but a real body of believers living together in community. Their love was real and visible, and their unity was real and visible, lived out daily as the corporeal expression of the Body of Christ.
Sadly, Christianity today expresses quite a different response to Messiah’s call to discipleship. Church leaders everywhere accept the impossibility of such a corporeal expression of the Body of Christ with sayings like, “Let’s agree to disagree,” and, “We’re only human,” and, “The flesh is just too strong,” and, “We’ll be one in heaven.” Unfortunately, that “pie-in-the-sky” unity won’t do the world any good, since, according to the Savior, they need to see a demonstration of that unity in order to believe that the Father sent the Son.12 After all, if His sacrifice wasn’t sufficient to set His followers free from the sin that divides them,13 then what evidence is there that He died and rose again on their behalf?
Spiritualizing the words of Christ so as to avoid simply obeying them only produces an ethereal result — wispy and mystical. But the first church actually was said to “turn the world upside down.” Its effect was far from ethereal. It was corp-o-real.
When the church is restored to its original foundation and pattern — that real body and real life that results from the reality of “all who believed were together” — then there will be hope for the world to believe that the Father sent His Son. Then the church can truly grow with a growth that is from God,14 increasing to the full stature of Messiah,15 as a Bride prepared for her King.16 And only then will her King return for His Bride to establish His kingdom on this earth.