The early church was made up of a diverse, ever-expanding group of individuals united by a common faith in Jesus Christ. They were radically devoted to learning scripture, serving one another, and worshiping God.
What was the very first church like? Is that a relevant question? Well, the Bible describes the first church in a lot of detail—and we’re not talking about the structure of an ancient steepled building with stained glass. Before we jump into the details listed in Acts 2 (the beginning of the church), let’s first make sure we understand the meaning of the word “church.”
What is a Church?
Many people use the word “church” to describe a building, but in the Bible, the word “church” translated from the original Greek (ekklesia) in the New Testament means a gathering or assembly of called-out ones. In other words, a group of believers, not a building, make up a church. So when someone asks, “Do you have to go to church to be a christian?” you can respond, “Not necessarily, but if you’re a christian, you are the church, and it’s important to be a part of a local group of believers.
Today there are many types of churches (denominations), but only one Church body.
8 Characteristics of the Church in Acts
The church began after Christ ascended to Heaven (as He said it would). The Bible records this powerful and miraculous event for us in the book of Acts as the first churches were planted. Here are some unmissable characteristics of the very first church (gathering of Christians) on Earth.
1. The Early Church Was Diverse
This doesn’t seem very profound today, but we must remember that in Bible times, your culture and geographical position largely influenced who and how you worshiped. Until the beginning of the church that is!
Suddenly, at Pentecost, people from all regions with varied languages experienced the miracle of the Holy Spirit who enabled them to understand and speak in different languages that they might hear the gospel and believe. Many were then united in their faith in Jesus Christ. What a great reminder that the gospel is for all people; every tribe, tongue, and nation. The early church was certainly diverse!
Acts 2: 9-11 (ESV) Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”
2. The Early Church Was Gospel-Centered
The church was made up of a group of people with one very specific belief in common: Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life—no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). You were not part of the church unless you accepted that salvation is through Christ’s life, His death, and resurrection alone—and declared this faith publicly by baptism (being fully submerged in water and then raised out again). Their unity in Christ, united them as a group.
Acts 2:38,41 (ESV) And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
3. The Early Church Was Devoted to Learning God’s Word
The early church was excited about their salvation and ready to live lives that honored God, so they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles. They didn’t have the fully revealed Word of God the way we do today. They were taught from the Old Testament scrolls and from sermons and letters written and sent around by the apostles. This was a trait that continued until it led to the Reformation.
Acts 2:42 (ESV) And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
4. The Early Church Was United
Something that really stands out about the early church is their intentional devotion to one another. The gospel not only saved their eternal lives (souls) but also drastically changed their everyday, earthly lives, and relationships too! There were no isolated groups within the church, there was no room for pretenders and hypocrisy, they were physically and emotionally close and shared everything they had with each other.
Acts 2: 44 (ESV) And all who believed were together and had all things in common.
5. The Early Church Was Sacrificial
From their closeness and love for one another, flowed unselfishness that blessed all the church members. People were valued over money or social standing and through the church, the Lord met all the needs of the poor and needy members. They were loved and cherished to the glory of God.
Acts 2:45 (ESV) And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
6. The Early Church Was Hospitable
People were not only giving their resources or money but were joyfully opening their homes to hold gatherings and share meals. Church didn’t have a specific time or place, it simply was whenever the believers were together; at home or at the temple, at the dining table, or resting in the living room. They shared their lives, their homes, their food, and their time—and they did it all with glad and generous hearts. Wow.
Acts 2: 46 (ESV) And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts
7. The Early Church Was Joyful
And do you know what the result of living like that was? Joy. A natural, God-given, outpouring of joy. Joy despite persecution, joy despite ridicule. God gave His early church joy. They never stopped praising Him.
Acts 2: 46b-47a (ESV) they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people
8. The Early Church Was Expanding
This radical, miraculous, and joyful lifestyle got the attention of many outsiders, and God, in His goodness, saved many during this time in church history.
Acts 2: 47b (ESV) And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
The Early Church: a Reminder for Today’s Christians
As Christians, we are to love God, hold fast to His Word, and serve each other with the same zeal and love that the first Christians had for each other. We’re quick to get comfortable in our neat, quiet lives but the gospel calls us to step out, love hard, make sacrifices, and share ourselves with others. We are His church, He has called us. And He will meet our needs as we serve Him and seek to edify our own churches.
How will you respond?
John 15:12-13 (ESV) “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”