First Century Christianity
Image: The Greek name for "fish" is Ichthus, or in Greek characters asshown, ΙΧΘΥC. This formed an acrostic, each letter standing for a word: "Jesus Christ God Son Savior" -- an early Christian confession of faith. Found in the catacombs.
Why Use the Term
“First Century Christianity?”
The interest in First Century Christianity developed because of disagreement with modern day Christianity that attracts followers by conforming to today’s prevailing culture rather than Biblical truths. This leads to the culture defining the church instead of vice versa. By attending a church that bends scriptures and worship to the left, you may be led to assume that God endorses same-sex marriage, abortion, redistribution of wealth, and other politically correct issues. Syncretism, i.e., a fusion of belief systems that is occurring in main-line denominations, is an enemy of God’s Church. Churches engaged in syncretism have strayed far from Biblical truths and doctrines. The First Century movement searches for and strives to be obedient to Biblical truths that are instructive for living a Christian life.
Image: Paul's Letter to the Romans and Paul's Letter to the Colossians, from a codex containing the Pauline Epistles entitled, "Romans 10.12-11.2; 11.3-12; Colossians 1.16-24; 1.27-2.7" (P46), written in Greek with ink on papyrus; made in Egypt and dated c. 200 AD. The manuscript is the oldest surviving almost complete copy of the Pauline Epistles (P46); 86 of its original 112 folios survive. These are divided between the Chester Beatty (56) and the University of Michigan (30). Beatty acquired ten folios in the early 1930s.
First Century Christianity maintains that personal belief in Jesus’s death and resurrection for forgiveness and salvation is the only way for a relationship with God. The faith the believer enters into is one that is illustrated by a passion to learn and obey the Torah which is God’s teachings (commandments) found in the first five books of the Bible. Jesus lived a life obedient to Torah. Perfect obedience is never really accomplished, but remains the goal of the believer.
The term emphasizes a return to the original practice and teachings of the faith, before post-apostolic traditions developed. For instance, we set aside traditions that teach that portions of Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament”) were cancelled in Christian faith and that Christians should only adhere to the New Testament. In “First Century Christianity” we attach the old with the new. In other words, we use both the Old Testament, i.e., the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, i.e., the Apostolic Scriptures. While all this may sound new, it really isn’t. Christian obedience to the Law of Moses was expected in the early church (Acts 15:21). Jesus Himself commanded those who follow Him to remain obedient to the Torah. Nowhere did He separate His commands and state that this only applied to Jewish followers. He simply stated:
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matthew 5:17-19, NASB)
In some churches, believers have been discouraged from following Torah, hearing that such obedience would be inconsistent with Jesus’ teaching. Some argue that only Jewish believers should adopt and follow the commandments of Moses, yet the “Great Commission” in the book of Matthew confuses such a position when Jesus instructs his Jewish disciples:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations [Gentiles], baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you [Jewish disciples of mine who I have told previously to follow the Torah
in Matthew 5:17-19]…”
While the church has variously upheld obedience to some of the Commandments (many would teach nine of the Ten Commandments today, exempting the 4th about the Sabbath), the record of Scripture stands firm to endorse this First Century Christianity expression of the Christian faith, calling followers of Messiah to grow in obedience to the Law after they are granted faith and fully assured salvation through faith in Jesus.
Isn’t this What
Many who hear of a group that promotes obedience to the Law of Moses claim that Scripture rebukes such teaching. “Judaizers” and “legalism” are terms used to rebuke any teaching which promotes a return to the Mosaic Law or anything “Jewish.” Scriptures that speak to a cancelation of the Law or to the Law as “a curse” refer to it when it is improperly used as a means to earn one’s way into Heaven (salvation). So, to be a Scriptural “Judaizer” or “legalist” was to teach that one must obey the Law to merit salvation or that one must become Jewish by a conversion ritual. Such teaching is not biblical and Scripture states that such people are accursed.
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God's curse!”
For example, if the church taught that belief in Jesus was necessary for salvation, but it added that one must also obey certain laws to be saved and made right with God, it would be a legalistic church. Alternatively, if it were to teach that one had to be a member of the church via baptism, circumcision, or a membership ceremony, etc. it would be “Judaizing” and thus be contrary to the faith according to Scripture. To summarize, anything added to faith in Messiah for salvation is wrong teaching.
Teaching on the Law and the Believer
Jesus was definitely a “Hebrew Roots” teacher. Nowhere does Jesus suggest anything but relying on Him for salvation and obeying Torah. While most every challenge to the Law of Moses comes from referencing Paul’s writings, the only thing heard from the Master is an upholding of the Law.
Peter’s and Paul’s Argument over the Misuse of the Law
Our contention is that Paul did not come to write the Gentile Bible and set the Hebrew Scriptures aside. Instead, God wrote a Book/Scroll for all people. The Bible is a Book that suggests throughout that its content is fixed, unchangeable and universal in scope (Deuteronomy 4:1, Isaiah
56:1-8). Any one section of it is not complete without the others: the New cannot stand without the Old and vice versa. The fact that the New was not always available as it had yet to be written left some things to be more fully defined. But as Biblical prophecies happened as foretold and the Bible was completed, full truth and definition were forever established. This is all quite different from a Bible that amends or changes over time to be used in support of new secular or “religious” ideas. The Bible is not a different story and different guidebook for different people and different times. The Bible speaks repeatedly of itself as being a book for all to refer to and a book that never contradicts itself or changes because something new comes along. God Himself is said to be the same as His Word: unchanging and evenhanded with all people.
Therefore it is correct for Gentiles to refer to and apply the Hebrew Scriptures to their lives as believers and it is equally appropriate for a Jew to read and apply the Apostolic Scriptures and the writings of Paul to their lives. Jesus and Paul really did not disagree and the teachings of both are for every believer. Paul was quite clear on that point (1Corinthians 1:11-13).
Contradictory Christian Doctrines
The Result of Pulling Out the Roots of Your Faith
The book of Judges ends with what is intended to be a sad statement, “...and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” What was expressed in sadness then has become the American Dream today. Individuality, personal morality and doing things the way it seems best to oneself has become the norm for living life. There are so many practices in the Christian church that are opposed to Scripture that it would be difficult to list them all. It would seem much of Christianity, with its various doctrines and individual group practices has come to a point where an honest observation indicates that everyone is doing what they perceive to be correct.
How is this possible with those who claim “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism?" Why do people disagree over topics that are clearly addressed and discussed unambiguously in Scripture?
Where do we see the Sabbath cancelled or moved to Sunday?
Why is there disagreement in the church on abortion?
Where do we see that Jesus cancelled Old Testament Law?
Why are there differences among Christians as to what constitutes sexual sin?
Why is there disagreement over divorce among Christians?
Do we then nullify the Law through faith? Far from it! On the contrary, we establish the Law. (Romans 3:31)
You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. (Deuteronomy 4:2)
The answers may be quite simple. Could it be that there is very little personal study of all of God’s Word? After all, knowledge of the Old Testament is required to correctly interpret the New Testament. Without correct interpretation of Scripture, you simply do not have the Scriptures. Could it also be that among those who have familiarity with the Scripture, they do not believe that all of it applies to them? If they were to believe and apply the entire Bible to their lives, there would likely be very little division of thought on marriage, divorce, sexual behavior or treatment of the poor. All would practice the Sabbath, being the only day mentioned in Scripture for worship, rest and family. Holidays would be enjoyed together as one, and people’s beliefs would be more unified and defined than in the current state of Christianity, where believers tend to be self-guided or misguided and where the truth is what seems right, rather than being defined by God’s Word.
The key to unity is through the humble admission of our inability to know right from wrong without God’s help and definition. Once there, we further understand our need for a Savior, who lived as we should—by obedience to the Scriptures. In that need, we not only find our faith in Him, we also find our continued need in our salvation to begin to grow in the knowledge and application of the commands which were lived out by our Jewish Messiah. Reattaching ourselves to a First Century Christianity brings us into alignment with the Bible and its People. It makes us one in faith and closer in practice to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, David, Our Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul. It also allows us to agree on, and encourage, one another to live consistent with the Word God has revealed to His people. Can you imagine such a world—one that would begin to live more closely with the way He intended us to live, walking just as Jesus walked in the commands of the Torah, Prophets, and Scripture while being fully consistent with the writings of Paul? Such teaching is not for Jews alone but for all of humanity.
Step back and reattach yourself to the life Jesus lived. Begin to walk more as He walked. Christianity has deep and sturdy roots that have held strong for many years but sadly are sought only by a few. Come alongside the Disciples of the Master by applying the practices He commanded of His followers. Church can be much more than just an experience; it can help plant the seeds of obedience to the Father, the Son and their Word. There is a life with good results when you tap into what flows from the Holy Spirit. It is this salvation that brings obedience that Jesus intended for His followers, but it is only realized by those who purposefully seek it.
Come learn and find unity and God’s will for your life in Christ through the lens of First Century Christianity
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