J. Warner Wallace does a great job in The First Characteristic of a Healthy Church: A Desire to Learn the Truth. My only negative reaction is to the word characteristic. To me, he highlights one of the first characteristics. Even in the Scriptures he references we clearly see one of the others, i.e., "doin' the stuff". In the texts he cites we can clearly see the activity of the Kingdom of God. But that's an aside, enjoy his article below ...
The first community of saints reflected the power and design of God in their lives as a family of believers. The early history of the Church simply reflected the Biblical record from the Book of Acts describing the nature and essence of the first community of saints. The observations of those who witnessed the early Church should inspire and guide us. If we were to emulate the earliest energized believers, our churches would transform the culture and inspire a new generation. How can we, asChristians today, become more like the Church that changed the world and transformed the Roman Empire? We must learn the truth, strive for unity, live in awe, serve in love, share with courage and overflow with joy. These six important characteristics were held by the earliest congregations:
And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Six simple attributes were observed in the earliest believers. These principles serve as a template and guide for those of us who want to restore the passion and impact of the early Church. If we employ them today, we’ll create healthy, vibrant, transformative churches. It begins with a commitment to truth:
Principle #1: Learn the Truth
The Church must be passionately committed to the pursuit of truth:
“…and they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching…”
There is a truth about God. There is a truth about whether or not He exists and a truth about His nature (if He does exist). Jesus certainly had a position about the nature of truth and the nature of God. He believed objective truth exists and could be grasped. Jesus was all about evidence and truth; the evidence demonstrating his deity and the truth about God’s Kingdom.Jesus provided his followers with proof and convincing evidences (even after appearing to them in the resurrection):
To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.
The earliest believers learned from this example. Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost (Acts chapter two) was an effort to get his listeners to examine the evidence of fulfilled prophecy. He described Jesus as “a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst”. The Greek word for attested is “apodeiknumi” and it means to demonstrate, prove or show. In essence, Peter was saying, “Hey, God gave you proof that Jesus was God through the miracles that Jesus worked, including His resurrection.” Peter wasn’t just making a statement to the crowd; he was developing a persuasive argument for the deity of Jesus. And as the first disciples spent time together, they came to understand the difference between teaching and training. Teaching that does not equip us to be the Church in a lost world, is of little value to those in our world who are hurting and seeking answers. When believers come together to learn about God, we are focused on more than just the truth we are learning. We know we are preparing for something we are about to do and something we desperately want to be:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
The Church ought to come together to train. It should come together to prepare. We must realize we are here to love and serve those around us so we can reason with those who are seeking answers to life’s deepest and most important questions. The Church must be persuaded objective, transcendent truth exists and is transformational. We must remember salvation by grace alone is the distinctive truth claim of the Christian Worldview. We've seen God work in our own lives and we've seen God work in the lives of others. We should spend our time together trying our best to understand the truth and the culture denying it.
In this short series, we’ll describe the value of these six important characteristics of the early Church. It all begins with a commitment to truth, but this commitment will cause the other five attributes to emerge. Church groups have taken every shape and form in the two thousand years since the first community of saints. The current form is not nearly as important as the transcendent purpose of God’s people here on earth. As we look deeply at the nature of the first community as it was described in the Book of Acts, we see God’s design for the Church. The Church is not a place to meet; it is a people to be. When we, as a Church, are foundationally committed to the truth, the resulting change in our character will be noticeable and transformative.