1. The early church didn’t have protection from the governmental authorities (Acts 7-8, 16-28).
In Acts 7-8, Stephen gave a devastating verdict to the Sanhedrin on how they were just like their fathers who persecuted the prophets as they crucified Jesus and persecuted the apostles as well. They stoned Stephen! Acts 8 then leads off with severe persecution against the Christian church! In fact, the majority of Acts shows that both the secular and religious institutions were against the Christians’ message—and not a few business owners as well!
Living in America, we tend to think: “Well, our Constitution and Bill of Rights grants the freedom of religion—so I can be a nominal Christian knowing that I’m still on the government’s side.” Yet, what if those things change! What if the slow downgrade of the Christian influence in America gets to a point where it’s not safe to practice Christianity because of a lack of protection from our government! Will that affect the church? Only if we are trusting in presidents, mayors, and councilmen rather than the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Will that affect our faith? Will it show that there was little faith to affect?
Our hope is in Christ, not the Constitution!
2. The early church didn’t escape doctrinal controversies (Acts 15).
So many in our day believe that in order to have unity, one must put aside divisive doctrines. “We’re not about doctrines—we’re about Jesus.” One must consider that there are truths that the Scriptures and Jesus Himself spoke regarding His nature and work. Those truths are doctrines.
In Acts 15, we read that “some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’” (Acts 15:1). This is a doctrinal controversy regarding the use of the Old Testament law now that Christ came along. Along with this, a controversy arose on how to be saved; that is, how may one have a right standing before God.
My intention here is not to delve into these particular issues. My aim here is to show that the early church was not removed from these controversies. And these controversies are not a bad thing—in fact, these controversies serve a good purpose if your aim is to find truth. Some felt the truth was that it was Christ alone through faith alone. Others felt they still had to abide by the law of Moses as a by-product of one’s faith in Christ. They gave testimony at how the Gentiles (non-Jews) were being sealed with the Spirit of Christ even though they did not abide by the Law of Moses. The conclusion?
James said, “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God” (Acts 15:19). In other words, James implies that we should not make it difficult or hard for those wishing to come to Christ. In reflecting on Acts 15:1, Andy Stanley comments that men do not need surgery (circumcision) in order to be right with God.
So questions and issues will arise. Will we be ones who permit our churches to be safe havens to ask questions and work through the answers?
3.The early church didn’t escape internal strife and deceit (Acts 5:1-11).
Ananias and Sapphira give evidence that even in the early church, strife and deceit arose among that congregation. Everyone else was bringing in their contributions for the ministry of the church (Acts 4:32-37). Yet this husband and wife combination came in pretending to be giving their stated amount—only to have their deceitful hearts exposed for the lie they told to the church and ultimately to God!
Many pastors and congregants have their hearts broken over the faulty expectation that those in the church are always on the up-and-up. How many times have we seen in the papers and our own experience where pastors are living double lives! By seeing the consequences of the sin of Ananias and Sapphira, we see the danger of “suppressing the truth” (Romans 1:18). The Apostle Paul dealt with false teachers continually—those who demeaned the full authority of Scripture and the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross and resurrection. Internal strife and deceit will happen!