FELLOWSHIP IN THE EARLY CHURCH
The arrival of the Holy Spirit gave rise to the aggressive spread of the gospel. This period therefore marked the beginning of the early churches in Judea, Samaria and other parts. Those first few years of the church were marked by close fellowship among each other as well as a unique communal type of life in which they cared for each other. In this chapter, we will discuss this communal living alongside its characteristics, problems as well as attempts to solve them.
Communal Living in the Early Church -Acts 1:15-26; 2: 41-47; 4:32-37
In obedience to Jesus’ injunction to his disciples to stay together in Jerusalem, they all returned to Jerusalem where they went into a house, staying together as a community. One of their earliest actions was the replacement of Judas Iscariot, who had long committed suicide following his betrayal of Jesus. To this end, Barnabas and Matthias were selected, but after several rounds of prayer, they cast lots and finally, Matthias was chosen.
The disciples, numbering about a hundred and twenty stayed together as a family, praying and waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit did come exactly ten days later and Peter’s powerful sermon that day led to the conversion of about three thousand people who were later baptized in the name of Jesus.
With the addition of these three thousand people to the original hundred and twenty, the number of disciples in Jerusalem rose to about three thousand one hundred and twenty. They all lived as a community, sharing, fellowshipping, praying and praising God.
There was a common purse for all disciples and the ones who had enough food shared it with others according to each person’s need. Those who owned lands and other properties sold them and deposited the proceeds at the apostles’ feet for the common use of all. For instance, a man named Barnabas displayed a rare show of brotherhood by his generosity to the church.
Again, there was the spirit of oneness among them, as they worshipped God daily, sharing what they could afford with joy. God responded by multiplying their number greatly daily.
Problems Of The Early Christian Community And Solutions -Acts 5:1-11; 6:1-6
Like any other organization of human beings, the joy and communal living among the brethren gave way to human weaknesses and problems. In the early church dishonesty and discrimination came in to destroy the spirit of fellowship but was quickly stopped by the apostles.
Ananias and Sapphira
A man named Ananias and his wife named Sapphira became envious of the commendation given to brethren who showed acts of generosity to the church. To this end, they sold their piece of land, but unlike other donors, decided to keep back part of the proceeds, bringing the rest to the feet of the apostles. But Peter, full of the Spirit, confronted Ananias for his dishonesty to the Holy Spirit. Peter rebuked them sharply for dishonesty saying:
“Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, “did it not remain your own? After it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God”. (Acts 5:3-4)
Out of shock, Ananias collapsed and died and was buried. Later, his wife Sapphira came in and confirmed her husband’s earlier statement of falsehood. She too collapsed and died (Acts 5:7-10). This incident of sudden death of a couple dealt a big blow to the church as people were filled with fear of not knowing what to do so as not to be a victim of the wrath of the Holy Spirit.
Nepotism and Favouritism
The next problem that crept into the church was that of favouritism. The community was a mixture of Hebrews, Greeks and so many other ethnic groups and everyone was expected to be treated equally without discrimination according to individual needs. This however, was not the case as Hebrews discriminated against non-Hebrews in the distribution of food (Acts 6:1).
The non-Hebrews accused the Hebrews of neglecting their women in the daily ministration. Hearing this, the apostles summoned a meeting of the elders of the community and resolved not to forsake their more important duty of spreading the gospel and be involved in sharing of food. Peter suggested the selection of ”seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and wisdom” to take charge of distributing food and other necessities.
This gave rise to the selection of Stephen and six others called deacons for this special task and this was how the problem of favouritism was solved and the church grew thereafter.
Some Social Problems Facing The Church Today
- The issue of women ordination.
- So many pastors take the work of God as part time duty.
- Local traditions are clashing with christian values and ethics.
- Stealing of church funds.
- The urge to get rich overnight by pastors.
- Proliferation of churches.
- The legitimacy or otherwise of polygamy
- Lack of unity among members
- Fight for positions of authority.
- Differences in doctrines.
- There is always struggle for leadership in most of the churches
- There are some pastors that live immoral life unworthy of emulation.
- Others preach doctrines that lead people astray.
Lessons To Learn From These Problems And Solutions
- When the church finds a divine solution to its problems, then the church grows both numerically and spiritually.
- There is no human organization that does not experience problems of one kind or another.
- We should steer clear of the urge to imitate others for the purpose of receiving praise, when in fact, the Spirit did not lead us to do such things like Ananias and Sapphira.
- Dishonesty and lies do not pay but lead to death.
- Domestic problems in the church should not be allowed to distract us from the major task of evangelism.
- The poor and less privileged should be cared for in the church.
- The church should live as a community of one body united by faith in Jesus, free from discrimination.
- The church should not create a vacuum in its activities. Any vacant position should be filled immediately so as not to create loopholes. Judas was immediately replaced by Mathias.
- Selections into offices in the church should be backed with prayer for divine guidance.
- The church should set a code of conduct for its officers and this code should be a prerequisite for appointing anyone into any office. The church must always select officers based on character and reputation.
- The early church lived as a community bound by a common ideal – faith in Christ.
- There was the spirit of communism and brotherhood as well as charity.
- However, sooner, problems arose and the apostles were able to address such problems through the diplomatic wisdom and pragmatism of people like Peter.