How to build a 1st Century church in the 21st Century

 God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19) Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. (Matthew 16:18) It is clear that Jesus is in the church building business. He came to earth to seek and to save the lost. His mission is plain, His plan is sure. 

When you set out to build a great church like the ones you read of in the book of Acts your motive should be “redemption”. If it isn’t perhaps you should pursue some other endeavor. Tens of thousands of folks have set out to build churches and some of them had a measure of success. Many of them reached their stated goal, to build a church. In my view the goal should always be reaching folks with the good news about Jesus, the goal should not be building a church. If the job of presenting Jesus is done right the church will happen with little effort. 

Jesus mapped out a plan that was magnificent. Every time it has been tried it has been successful and when His plan is not followed there is little success. Matthew 28:18-20 is where we begin. “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen”

 Before we “go” we must get Jesus’ “therefore” settled first. “All authority in heaven and on earth” is the most overlooked aspect of evangelism. In previous posts I have made the Bible case for having Holy Spirit power before you begin. I have heard possibly scores of sermons and Bible lessons on this great passage in Matthew 28 and almost all of them overlooked the most important part of the formula for success. We can only go and tell because of Jesus’ authority. If you and I will join God in His redemptive work we must go in His authority and power. It is precisely because He who commissions also gives authority. As the Apostle Paul pointed out in Ephesians 6 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places”. In 2 Corinthians 2:4 Satan is referred to as “the god of this age”. We must understand that when we go to the lost with the message of reconciliation in Christ that we are invading a wicked, spiritual kingdom controlled by Satan and we can only do this work in the “authority” and “power” of Jesus Christ. 

The “go” of the great commission is assumed. There is no “opting out” of the command. The emphasis is not on going but rather, “making disciples”.  How do we then make disciples? The same way Peter, Paul, Phillip, and others made them. One only has to read through the Acts to see that the message, the only message, was the good news about Jesus. When the apostles were put in jail it was for preaching about Jesus. When the Ethiopian did not understand the book of Isaiah the Holy Spirit sent along Phillip to preach Christ to him. There is no message other than Christ. 

Building a church that is like the 1st Century one must follow the same formula. You will not build a Bible church, focused on Christ, by preaching the church. Many church planters have as their goal a church and their message reflects that goal. In churches of Christ much of our historic ministry has been “corrective” rather than “redemptive”. The most common method employed is to lay out a logical argument in favor of the church of Christ as the only true church, for water baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and to finally win the argument. The result in my view is that our churches are populated by many people whose security is tied to the church of Christ and the fact that they have been immersed and not to Christ alone. 

 While I am on this subject, I am reminded of the seriousness of preaching the pure, unadulterated, good news about Jesus. In Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia he gave this chilling warning. “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8, 9) This is pretty serious language! “If I, an angel from heaven, or anyone else..” preaches anything other than Christ “Let him be accursed”! Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul was pretty upset that some were not preaching Christ and Him only. In verse 7 Paul spoke of those who “want to pervert the gospel of Christ”. What had they said or done that was so offensive that Paul would make such a strong defense for the gospel? The Jews who had given allegiance to Christ were teaching Gentile believers that faith in Christ is not enough, to really be saved you also need to be circumcised. That was it? Yes, that was the “perversion” of the gospel in this case. At first glance this doesn’t seem to be that bad, after all we of the faith have Abraham as our father, our history goes back to the old covenant, so what is so wrong about having some foreskin removed? Wouldn’t that be more proof of one’s allegiance to God? Paul would have none of that! The Holy Spirit through the pen of the Apostle says to those who preached circumcision in addition to faith “Let him be accursed”! 

 I ask this with a pure conscience and with love. Am I treading on the same ground if I tell people they are not really saved unless they are members of a local church of Christ? Is it a perversion of the gospel to tell a person they must be re-baptized to really be saved? Is a person in danger of being accursed if he preaches that only people who sing in worship without the accompaniment of instruments are going to heaven? These are serious matters not to be taken lightly.  One more quote from Galatians chapter 1. In verses 3 through 5 Paul clearly lays out the gospel story. “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen”. The reason we must preach only Christ is that only He can save; only He can deliver us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. No church can do that, no religious act can do that, no pattern or from of worship can do that, and water baptism cannot do that. Jesus saves! Nothing or no one else does. 

Building a 1st Century church in the 21st Century requires the right motive, the right authority, the right message, and also the right ministry. We go in Christ’s authority and power, we preach Him and make disciples or (learners), we baptize them in water, and then we begin to teach them ALL Jesus commanded. The model is laid out clearly in Acts. These men and women, including Peter, who were prayed up and filled up with the Holy Spirit, preached Christ, baptized believers, and then the Scriptures say this of those new Christians, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship..” (Acts 2:42)What was the “doctrine” of the apostles? Christ! Read it for yourself. They taught that salvation was only though Him and were convinced enough to endure jail, whippings, hunger, and finally death rather than compromise the message of the gospel.

 There was an air of excitement in the air! These new believers met every day to break bread (possibly to share the bread and cup of communion remembering the Lord), the praises of God were on their lips, (they even had the favor of outsiders), they exhibited the unselfish love of God by pooling their resources for the furtherance of the gospel and the care of fellow believers, and the church grew like a prairie fire driven by the wind. There was no focus of how to “do” church; there was no preaching about the church. The church grew because of the Christ who was the focus of their faith, their love, and their surrendered lives, and He alone was their message. 

There is no question in my mind that any people who go into a community any place on the earth and follow this ideal will find God’s blessing and the church will grow, multiply, and men and women will become children of God. If the meetings take place on the patio of a Starbucks, in a rented saloon, in an abandoned theater, or in a beautiful church facility, the results will be the same if Christ is central in every message, motive, and mission. 

 Churches that make much of Jesus grow, and those whose focus is elsewhere do not. Admittedly, there are still false prophets and those who follow them. And the way to mark them out is the Jesus test according to 1 John, Paul’ and Peter’s letters, and Jesus’ own words. 

My prayer and sincere hope is that we will see scores of churches rise up whose only goal is the one Paul talked to the Corinthians about. I close this post with his words.    

                            Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 
 Corinthians 5:18-21) 

Grace to you,
Royce Ogle

6 comments on “How to build a 1st Century church in the 21st Century

  1. Royce, I to believe we should have a church focused on Christ instead of the bible, I don’t know how we are to build a first century church focused on the bible, when it had not been written as of that time.

  2. The truth is that we rarely are Christ centered because we do everything possible to push Him to the side.

    We want it to be all about Christ, yet we repeatedly make it all about us. What we want. What we like or dislike.

    Bring people closer to Christ and Christians closer to God. That’s the plan. Nothing more and nothing less. Christ (not my peace) needs to be the center if I ever hope to point the way to God’s grace.


  3. I think we should shoot for a 2nd century church; the 1st century one was predominately Jewish in thought and practice.

    Even Paul is asked by James and the leadership at Jerusalem to ‘prove’ his Jewish bona fides to the other Jews by going to the temple and performing the rituals.

    By the mid second century, that concept is gone since there are few Jewish Christians left. The Law of Moses is not part of the equation any more.

    Good thoughts, though.

  4. Pingback: Top 10 Posts of All Time | Grace Digest

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