The characteristics of the apostolic church
The circumstances surrounding the church at the time:
vViolent persecutions from the Jews and the Romans, i.e. from within and from without the church
vThe pagan worshiping awaiting the reaction of Christianity
Yet, although the apostles were like sheep amongst wolves, the church was strong and growing … 50, what are the pillars upon which it was based?
First: the life of virtue:
vVirtue was a chain connected together. One may excel in one virtue but still maintains the rest of the virtues.
vEvery person who believed in Christ felt responsible about the Lord, glory to Him, who entrusted those who believed in Him with His Name. So either, due to one’s deeds, people may blaspheme against the Name of Christ or witnessing one’s good deeds, they would give glory to God the Father who is in Heaven.
vThe Lord had owned us to Himself by His precious Blood and made us part and parcel of His Holy Body of His own flesh and blood. Can anyone ever take the limbs of Christ, the members of His body and make them adulterous, God forbid. Rather each one should lead a life of purity.
vAren’t we the temples of God and the Holy Spirit dwells in us? How dare anyone spoil the temple of God? God forbid.
vSince the virtuous life is accompanied by strength as mentioned in “the song of songs”: “watch out, who is this lady rising forth from the wilderness, pure as the sun, awesome as an army”. The church was strong.
vAt that time, Justine, the martyr of the 2nd century, stood up and said, fetch one Christian who is a murderer or a thief or one who is committed adultery, if you find one, kill all Christians.
Second: the unified life:
vThe membership, the uniqueness, the comprehensive, the support and the cooperation, love and participation
vAll form one body with one head namely the Lord God. The head dominates the body to work out for the good of all.
Life is an enjoyable participation and sharing. Everyone according to his needs and each one has his work and task according to the gifts endowed upon him by God. Thus we witness wonderful role models of love (John the beloved and the youth, as well as Paul the apostle and his kens)
vThe Lord Jesus Christ loved them all and redeemed all. No love is greater than this one. He is the head pouring down love to unto the whole body through the work of the Holy Spirit. The whole body loves the head that redeemed it. He demonstrated His love to us sinners! Jesus loved us all and died for every one of us so how can anyone be doomed to eternal death. This was explained by St. Paul when he said when one gets weak I feel the weakness in myself, when one stumbles, I cannot bear it. That is the amazing love.
Third: growth of life:
Unity and cooperation lead to growth and life. Growth in individual life as well as in the whole church. The growth of one means the growth of the other. The church is growing every day and every person is growing as well. All spiritual practice leads to certain growth. Man, can never stand still, either grow, moving forward or move backward.
vThe church feeds on the word of the Lord Christ and His flesh and blood in communion, thus growing continuously otherwise all spiritual practices would be futile if they do not lead to growth.
vWatch, how the apostle used to rejoice in the growth and spiritual prosperity of his sons and thus firm faith that is known worldwide.
“And He gave some to be apostles, and some prophets. For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:11-13)
Fourth: the spiritual life:
Growth refers to spiritual growth, thus the church survived through spiritual life
Leading a spiritual life doesn’t mean to severe oneself from materialistic life, but rather to endow it with spiritually
vIt is profitable to turn materialistic items into a spiritual life.
vThe Lord Christ used materialistic stuff (as the plants, the power, the yeast and trading)) to serve spiritual aims. Paul, the apostle makes use of sports and marathon for spiritual goals.
vWhat about us? (club, theater, trips, retreats and serving Christ’s brethren)
Fifth: a church of pain & joy:
The church was growing in all dimensions; depth, width and height. A church of pain and joy
vDifferent kinds of pain. If that’s how they treated the only perfect one, namely Jesus Christ, no wonder what they do with us who lack perfection !!
vAll the apostles were martyrs and had gone through horrible pain except for John the beloved who is considered a martyr without bloodshed.
vContemplating the horrible pains of St. Paul, for him they were sweet and acceptable
vDespite the pain,, there was joy, praising the Lord and singing hymns. Paul, the apostle cries out from prison “be joyful”. James calls out; to consider it real joy to fall into various painful experiences and Peter tells us not to be astonished when we face horrible disasters.
All whoever decided to sacrifice worldly matters for the sake of delving into this way must be fully aware of the value of the way and the great reward awaiting them on reaching their destination.
The shadow joy without deep understanding a person would not bear painful experiences, unwilling to sacrifice worldly matters. (This is the 2nd type of earth in the parable of the ploughman). “But he that received the seed into stony places, as he that hears the word, and at once receives it with joy” (Matt. 13:24)
As to selling everything to own the one valuable, that person must have found the hidden treasure or the one precious diamond, to the extent that he was overwhelmed with joy that made him consider all worldly matters an mere rubbish. “Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which, when a man hath found, he hadith it, and out of joy went forth and sold all that he hath and bought that field.” (Matt. 13:44).
This is the same joy that overwhelmed the wise man (Magui) who travelled a long distance to set their eyes on the Holy new-born child, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” (Matt. 2:10). The same happened to Zachaus who out of great joy sacrificed all the money that he gathered along the years which was once the source of his happiness, “and he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully” (Luke 19:6)
These pains also lead us to a virtuous life, the life of chastity: “for he who hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin” (1 Peter 4:1). Such is Christian life as a locked in chain holding firmly, as well Christians as members of the one body supporting one another.
Sixth: the victorious life:
The life of spiritual victory is what encourages Christians to bear the pain. Reading throughout the New Testament we sense the life of victory that the early Christians shared and experienced: “But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:57) “Now thanks be unto God, who always causes us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savior of His knowledge by us in every place” (2 Cor. 2:14). Also the words of the Lord Jesus in Revelation that ends up with “whoever is triumphant”. This means that victory and conquering characterizes these who follow the Lord. Those who are victorious, know very well that they are indebted the Lord who is victorious. They know very well the price paid for this victory. He paid it on the cross “And having destroyed principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them (Col. 2:15)
However those who witnessed the Lord’s crucification may doubt this victory, as He was desired by His people, He was abandoned and desired by his disciples, banded over to be killed by the Roman authority. Watching Him laid on the cross (as if) helpless, nailed to the cross, denied His freedom. It seems more like defeat than victory. It is cruelty, jealousy, hatred and cowardness that seem victorious at that moment. Yet the truth is that he was the triumphant one. He crushed down the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). The supposed victim is victorious and he still reigns over the world from upon His throne namely, His cross.
vThe Lord is victorious:
Be careful, there are 2 attitudes that please Satan: to be indulged thinking about Satan and the other one is to doubt his existence. The Holy Book shows us the character of Satan and his power: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12).
The Holy Book reveals to us the Lord being victorious conquering Satan. This was revealed through 6 stages:
- Prophesying the victory over Satan (Gen. 3:15, Is. 9:6,7)
- During the service of the Lord, as He used to heal the sick and dismiss demons.
- The third and decisive stage on the cross “And you being dead in your sins and the uncircumcission of your flesh, hath He quickened together; blotting out, the handwriting the ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross; and having destroyed principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” (Col. 2:13-15).
- The resurrection confirming the victory and announcing it.
- The wide-spread of Christianity despite the horrible persecution
- This victory will be complete by the Lord’s 2nd coming when Satan is thrown unto the lake of unquenchable fire.
vStepping unto the victory of Christ:
Christian life is a matter of struggle. For a Christian to be victorious needs that he steps unto the victory of Christ and make use of its benefits. For although Satan was conquered yet, he doesn’t acknowledge it. He still exercises his powers over us Christians. The only way to face him is to find shelter in Christ’s power. Hence St. Paul says, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us and let us sun with patience the race that is set before us.” (Heb. 12:1) “Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Eph. 6:14)
vThe book of revelation is the book of victory revealing the conflict between the church and the world reflecting the unseen conflict between Christ and Satan.
In the light of all this, we have to face the continuous subtle acts of Satan, whether physically (persecution), or mentally (deceit) or morally (corruption).