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Part 4, The Early Church. Lesson 2 of 7
Lesson 20. Christian Living

Through today’s lesson, we hope you will treasure your legacy from the early believers and will continue the way of life started by the early church.

1.Legacy. The first believers were Jews, so they retained many concepts that God gave to them in the Old Testament. These lessons will explained which concepts were retained, which were no longer needed, and which were changed to have deeper meaning. For example, the Old Testament says “If there is no shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” 1  Because Jesus shed his blood, the believers continued this concept with a deeper meaning, even though animal sacrifices are no longer needed. 2

The New Testament continues to use the Old Testament concept that there is only one God, who is Spirit, is eternal, is creator, is love, and is the judge. The New Testament adds additional details: This only God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 3 The New Testament continue the Old Testament concept that salvation is through faith, for Paul writes. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4

The New Testament continues the ethical rules from the Old Testament; as a matter of fact, Jesus explains these rules even more strictly, reminding us that even thinking about sinning proves that we are sinners. 5

2.Baptism. Peter told the people to repent and receive baptism. 6 The Jews at the time of Christ already had ceremonies with water.  John the Baptist used a ceremony with water as a way for people to confess their faith that they were sinners and that they believed that only God could cleanse them.  Jesus kept this outward ceremony, but gave it a deeper meaning. Paul explains that because you have been baptized, you know that you have been given a close relationship with Jesus7 and that because you have been baptized, you know you have received the benefits of the death and resurrection of Christ.  8  Mark writes says because you have been baptized, you can depend on God’s promise to save you. 9

3.Washing. The word “baptize” means to wash with water.  The Bible does not tell the details about how the water was put on people.  Some people suppose that they used the common Jewish method of sprinkling water with a reed.  Others think that people actually put their heads under water.  The important thing is not how the water is applied, but rather the meaning.  Baptism is more than an act of obeying God.  Baptism is a work of God.  It is a uniting with Christ. 10  In Paul was told, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins.”  11 It is God giving you assurance that you are forgiven. It is an applying of the promises of God to you.

4.Babies. From early centuries, Christian parents brought their babies to be baptized.  An early quote says “how can we turn away those who bring their children to be baptized?”  In 185 a bishop  wrote “Christ came into the world to save all, including infants.”  12  In 250 a scholar named wrote, “the tradition to baptize infants came from the apostles,” for “in all is a natural pollution which must be done away with by water and the Spirit.”  13  The practice of infant baptism was so common that in the 400s a church leader could write, “if there is no original sin, then why do we baptize babies?”  14  Baptizing babies among Christians was the common practice for over 1500 years.  At the time of the reformation, the followers of Luther and Calvin continued the historic practice of baptizing babies.  The Anabaptists and groups influenced by them said that infant baptism was not effective.  They told people who had been baptized as infants that they must be baptized again.  This disagreement between infant baptism and believers’ baptism has continued among Christians for the past 500 years.  Lesson 36 we will describe in more detail the reasons for infant baptism and believers’ baptism.

5.The Christian life-style. The first believers were all Jews.  They accepted the good news about Jesus, they repented, and they received baptism.15  These three things are still done today by those who become Christians, both Jews and non-Jews.  After they were baptized, these early believers engaged in certain other actions from the very first day:  The first believers obeyed the apostles’ teaching, met together for fellowship, met together to break bread, and met together to pray16   Believers have continued to do these four things for the past 2000 years.  Here is more detail on each of these four things:

6.Basis for teaching. The verse says they obeyed the apostles’ doctrine.  Notice they did not only learn about the doctrines, but also followed them, that is, put them into practice.  What were these doctrines?  The entire New Testament constitutes the doctrines taught by the apostles.  Much of the training consisted of knowing more about Jesus, so that people would focus on him. In, the people who received Jesus as Lord were told to “follow him,” that is, their behavior and actions would be affected by their relationship to Christ.  They were then told to be rooted in him and have him as their foundation.  17  Much of this knowledge of Christ came from understanding the teachings about the Messiah found in the Old Testament.  How did the apostles know these things?   Jesus explained that the Old Testament already clearly taught that he would suffer and then rise from the dead. 18 Focusing on Christ led to a change in outward behavior.  The good moral behavior of the Christians was known to others and made a big impact, as the following section will show.19

7.Creeds. In the Book of Acts, people were commonly baptized immediately after they heard and accepted the message about Jesus. However, not too many years later, it was common custom to have a period of baptism preparation, for as much as one or two years.  During this time the candidate attended worship services, showed a willingness to live a moral life, and received instruction.  By 145, a creed was used as a basis for instruction before baptism and as a standard summary of the Christian faith for the person to assent to at the time of baptism.  By 390 the creed used at baptism was called the “apostles’ creed,” because it summarized the essential teachings of the apostles.  The words were continually refined, and the version we use today comes from the 6th or 7th century.  Please click here to read the apostles creed.

8.Organization of the creed.  The creed has a section about God the father, a section about the Son, and a section about the Holy Spirit.  The creed includes the biblical teaching that Jesus is both God and man, and that Jesus died and rose.  The next paragraph explains some concepts in the third section of the creed.

9.Hell. The creed says that Jesus “descended into hell.”  Jesus did not go to hell in order to suffer.  We know this, because before Jesus died, he already said “it is finished.”  The word “hell” in the creed does not mean the eternal place of punishment, but is the word used to indicate “where do dead people go.”  By putting these words about hell in the creed, the early church meant to proclaim that Jesus really did die.  He did not merely become unconscious and then wake up inside the tomb.  Secondly, the church believed that Jesus proclaimed his victory to believers who had died.

10.Saints. The creed says “I believe in the communion of saints.”  Here the word “saints” means all believers.  This phrase means that all believers form one large fellowship.  Even death does not break this fellowship. 20 In heaven, all believers will be together.  The creed then concludes with expressing belief in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

11.Books. The idea of writing materials for instructing ordinary people about Christianity started early.  These books are called catechisms (the original is a Greek word that means instruction).  As early as 375 a large catechism was written.  At about the same time, the preparation time before baptism for adults was reduced from 2 or 3 years to the 40 days before Easter.  The creed, the ten commandments, and the Lord’s prayer have long been included in catechisms.  One of the signs that Charlemagne’s time was a time of revival in education was that in 770 a new catechism was issued by Charlemagne’s religious advisor.  After the reformation the churches again produced catechisms (listed in footnote 21). Books like this are especially used today in churches that baptize infants.  In many Protestant churches, during junior high school years the child is given a period of instruction so that he can understand the faith he was baptized into.  At the end of these instructions, he takes part in a ceremony called “confirmation,” at which time he can publicly state that he does accept the faith 22  More details about this are in chapter 37.

12.Fellowship. The first believers recognized that Christianity is not a religion to do alone.  During the past 2000 years, Christians have gathered together for worship, for mutual encouragement, and for mutual help. The early Christians were not limited to once a week. 23   The Bible tells them how to behave toward one another, with eir behavior toward one another is described by words like Kindness, patience, forgiving each other, tolerance, love, teach each other, admonish each other. 24  Their relationship and care for one another had a great effect on others.  Others could see they were disciples because of their love for each other. 25  Their mutual help even extended to material needs.26 . 

13.Worship. In the year 110 a Roman governor from a region in Turkey sent this report to the Roman emperor about a group of Christians in his region:

It was their custom to meet on a fixed day before daylight and, alternating with one another, to sing a hymn to Christ as to a God.  They also bound themselves mutually by an oath, not in order to commit any crime, but to promise not to commit theft, robbery, or adultery; not to break their word, and not to refuse to pay back a loan when asked.27

Details about worship will be in lesson 30.

14.Breaking of Bread. Many agree that the term “Breaking of bread” refers to holy communion.  Communion gave a new meaning to an Old Testament ceremony.  When the Jews met to remember their escape from Egypt, they used bread and wine.  When Jesus did this Jewish ceremony with his disciples, Jesus added a deeper meaning to it. He said says that through communion, we are assured that we are part of the new covenant. 28  The coming of a new covenant was prophesied by Jeremiah 500 years before Christ: “The time is coming when I will make a new covenant …  I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they shall be my people. 29   This last sentence is the same promise given to Abraham, as you read in lesson 18, so the new and old covenants have that promise in common. It was the method of providing the blood sacrifice was different.  The Old covenant was established by the blood of animals, but the New covenant is guaranteed by the blood of Christ30   Therefore every time I take communion, I take the blood that guarantees the new covenant.  When I drink, I receive the results of Christ’s death, which is the forgiveness of sin.

Communion is an intimate relationship between me and Christ.  Paul writes says that in the Old Testament, the people of God ate the sacrifice, and that is how they shared in its benefits. 31  Likewise,  Jesus is our sacrifice, and we share the benefits of his sacrifice when we eat the bread and drink the cup.

Communion is also an intimate relationship between me and all other believers. says that just like many grains of flour make up one loaf of bread, in the same way, Christians together make up one body. 32

  1. Prayer. Praying was another way that the new believers continued and enriched the customs of God’s Old Testament people.   Jesus told his followers that they could address God as their “father.”  33 This was because they were united with God through Christ, and therefore  they could pray intimately with God, even to the point of calling God their Father.   The New Testament says that Jesus‘ death took away the blockade between people and God, so they can ”draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” 34 and not be afraid to ask anything from God. Our prayers are not based on our own worthiness; rather, we show that we depend on the worthiness of Jesus when we pray in the name of Jesus.

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Footnotes.

1 In Hebrews 9:23, quoting Leviticus 17:11
2 Hebrews 9:14
3 John 14:26
4 Romans 4:3, quoting Genesis 15:6,  and Romans 3:29.
5. Matthew 5:27-28  Irenaeus
6. Acts 2:38
7 Galatians 3:26-27
8 Romans 6:3-4
9 Mark 16:16
10 Galatians 3:27
11 Acts 22:16,
12 Irenaeus
13  Origen
14 Augustine
15 Acts 2:38-41
16  Acts 2:41-42
17 Colossians 2:6-7
18 In Luke 24:44-47,
19 Romans 13:13-14
20  The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox church foster praying to dead believers. . The reasoning is that that the Bible says, “Pray for one another.” and if we are one communion of saints, living and dead, we can ask those already departed to pray for us. Protestants do not promote praying to the saints, for at least thee two reasons: (1) it is not shown or taught in the New Testament, and (2) it makes it seem as though praying directly to Christ is not enough.

Some Catholic and Orthodox believers go further, not just asking the saints to pray for them, but actually asking the saints to help them. This need a different explanation. It seems to be largely based on visions that people have had, and anecdotes about prayers that have been answered. Protestants would say that the visions and anecdotes should not be believed, because they lead people to do something that is not taught in the New Testament.

Some orthodox and catholic believers go further, and select one or more departed believer as a “patron saint,”

Since Catholics believe that some believers who have died are undergoing purification in purgatory, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says in paragraph 958, “it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins. .. our prayer for the is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.”

To see a searchable version of the Catholic catechism, go to searchable catechism.

21 Some catechisms:

Year Produced by Name
1529 Luther Small catechism
1542,
1563
Calvinists Geneva catechism,
Heidelberg catechism
1566,

1885,

1994

Roman Catholic Roman catechism,
Baltimore catechism
Catechism of the Catholic Church

 

 

22 In the Roman Catholic church and Eastern Orthodox churches,  confirmation is regarded as a sacrament through which the Holy Spirit and His gifts are more fully given. By the 200’s the laying on of hands and anointing with oil for confirmation were done right at the time of baptism. The Eastern Orthodox churches still have them together. In the European churches (Roman Catholic), the two actions were already separated by the 400,s, and today it is common for confirmation to occur around age 7.  (references: The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, New York: Oxford University Press 2000. Page 137,   Catechism of the Catholic Church. Dubuque:Brown-ROA, 1970. page 331ff.

23 Read Acts 2:46.
24 Colossians 3:12-16
25 John 13:34-35
26 Acts 2:44-45
27 The quote is from a letter by Pliny, quoted in The Early Christians after the Death of the Apostles by Eberhard Arnold.  Rifton NY: the Society of Brothers, 1970, pages 60-63.)

28 Matthew 26:27-28
29 Jeremiah 31:31-34
30 Hebrews 9:18 and 22
31 1 Corinthians 10:18
32 1 Corinthians 10:17
33 In Matthew 6:9
34 Hebrews 10:19-2