A survey of the New Testament gives us a picture of the church that can still be produced today - a church that preaches the same gospel and commits to the apostles' teaching. The church is presented as all those who believe the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and who have been baptised in his name.


Local Communities

Wherever the gospel was preached and people responded to it, churches came into existence. In essence, Christians formed their own local communities.

For example, when Paul preached the gospel in Corinth, "many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptised." (Acts 18:8) These new converts, under apostolic teaching, were organised and formed a church, a community of God's people. And as more Corinthians became Christians, they too became part of that community. The same was true when the gospel was preached and obeyed in Philippi, Antioch, Thessalonica, Rome, etc. The same can be true today.

Where They Met

Purpose-built places for worship did not come into existence until about the fourth century. The early Christians met in their homes or rented suitable facilities. "He [Paul] took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord." (Acts 19:9-10) And Paul, sending his greetings to Aquila and Priscilla in Rome, states "Greet also the church that meets at their house." (Romans 16:5)

A Worshipping Community

The practice of the early church was to gather on the first day of the week. (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2) When the church assembled, they partook of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-33) and collectively worshipped the Lord. Their gatherings provided opportunity for the believers to receive instruction in the apostles' teaching (Acts 2:42) and to bless the congregation by the spiritual gifts they had been given for the edification of the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:24-26, 14:26; Romans 12:4-5)

Shepherds of the Flock

The Lord who saves also provides leaders for the church: elders/pastors/bishops. (These are three ways of describing the same office.) "Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in every church…" (Acts 14:23) Paul gave this instruction to Titus, "The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten our what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town as I directed you." (Titus 1:5) The pastors cared for the spiritual health of those whom God had placed in their charge. Their qualifications are recorded in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9.

Guided By the Scriptures

Just as Jesus submitted to the authority of the Scriptures, so the early church imitated the Lord in this manner. The Scriptures inspired by the Holy Spirit were written to the church and carried the authority of God. To the church at Corinth, Paul wrote these words, "If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored." (1 Corinthians 14:37-38) The authority of Scripture is also seen in these words, "If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed." (2 Thessalonians 3:14) And the Bereans were commended in that they "examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." (Acts 17:11)

The early church never saw itself as the authority that must be obeyed, but placed itself under the authority of the Scriptures. And the same should be true today.

Everyone was a Priest

The early church knew nothing of a clergy/laity arrangement. Every Christian, male and female, is a priest and can offer up spiritual sacrifices. This is supported by the following three scriptures:

1. "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood…" (1 Peter 2:9)
2. "You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:4-5) See also Hebrews 13:15-16, Philippians 4:18, Romans 12:1.
3. "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit…" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Wherever there is a Christian, there is a priest who can offer up spiritual sacrifices in the temple of God.

All Things Common

Sharing was a distinguishing feature of the life of the early church. "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need." (Acts 2:44-45) This extraordinary sense of caring one for another was frequently repeated. "And all the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had… From time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet and it was distributed to anyone as he had need." (Acts 4:32-35)

A holy people

Scripture continually exhorts the church to display godliness, holiness and Christlikeness. These instructions are summed up as follows: "conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ." (Philippians 1:27) "But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written, 'Be holy, because I am holy.'" (1 Peter 1:16) The same can be true today.


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