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What Did the Early Church Believe and Practice?

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The book of Acts is an eyewitness account of the early Church from Christ's death until about A.D. 60. Chapter 2 records the beginning of the Church, when God sent His Spirit to 120 followers of Jesus Christ.

Many Bible readers are familiar with the miraculous events of that day—of the place they were assembled filling with the sound of a mighty wind and what appeared to be tongues of fire alighting on those gathered there. Another miracle occurred as those people, now filled with God's Spirit, began to speak in the languages of people from many lands so that all could understand their words.

Often overlooked in this account is the day on which these events occurred, the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1 Acts 2:1And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
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), one of the festivals God commanded for His people many centuries before (Leviticus 23). In revealing these festivals, God said that “these are My feasts … the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations” (verses 2, 4). God proclaimed that these festivals were to be “a statute forever throughout your generations” (verses 14, 21, 31, 41).

The Gospels show that Jesus Christ observed the same festivals (Matthew 26:17-19 Matthew 26:17-19 17 Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to him, Where will you that we prepare for you to eat the passover? 18 And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say to him, The Master said, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at your house with my disciples. 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover.
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; John 7:10-14 John 7:10-14 10 But when his brothers were gone up, then went he also up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. 11 Then the Jews sought him at the feast, and said, Where is he? 12 And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, No; but he deceives the people. 13 However, no man spoke openly of him for fear of the Jews. 14 Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught.
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, 37-38). Both the book of Acts and Paul's letters show the apostles keeping these festivals during the decades after Christ's crucifixion (Acts 2:1-4 Acts 2:1-4 1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat on each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
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; 18:21; 20:6, 16; 27:9).

Most churches teach that the festivals were “nailed to the cross,” that they were somehow annulled by Christ's death. Yet the unmistakable record of the Bible is that the early Church continued to observe them, but with greater grasp of their spiritual significance.

Speaking of one of these God-given feasts, the apostle Paul urged the church in Corinth—a mixed group of gentile and Jewish believers—to “keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8 1 Corinthians 5:8Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
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). Paul was clearly referring to the Feast of Unleavened Bread (see Leviticus 23:6 Leviticus 23:6And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread to the LORD: seven days you must eat unleavened bread.
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; Deuteronomy 16:16 Deuteronomy 16:16Three times in a year shall all your males appear before the LORD your God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the LORD empty:
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).

Paul explained the significance of the Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7 1 Corinthians 5:7Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
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; Leviticus 23:5 Leviticus 23:5In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD’s passover.
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) and gave instructions on how to properly observe this ceremony (1 Corinthians 11:23-28 1 Corinthians 11:23-28 23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: 24 And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do you, as oft as you drink it, in remembrance of me. 26 For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show the Lord’s death till he come. 27 Why whoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
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).

The many references in the Gospels, Acts and Paul's epistles prompt an obvious question: Since Jesus, the apostles and the early Church kept these days, why don't churches teach and observe them today? After all, Paul directly tied the feasts to Jesus, His purpose and His sacrifice for mankind (1 Corinthians 5:7 1 Corinthians 5:7Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
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). (To learn more about these festivals, send for or download our free booklet God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind . )

The Gospels and the book of Acts are equally clear that Christ, the disciples and the early Church kept the weekly Sabbath—from Friday evening to Saturday evening, the seventh day of the week—as their day of rest and worship (Mark 6:2 Mark 6:2And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From where has this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given to him, that even such mighty works are worked by his hands?
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; Luke 4:16 Luke 4:16And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
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, 31-32; 13:10; Acts 13:14-44 Acts 13:14-44 14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down. 15 And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, You men and brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on. 16 Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and you that fear God, give audience. 17 The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelled as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it. 18 And about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness. 19 And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Chanaan, he divided their land to them by lot. 20 And after that he gave to them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. 21 And afterward they desired a king: and God gave to them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years. 22 And when he had removed him, he raised up to them David to be their king; to whom also he gave their testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, which shall fulfill all my will. 23 Of this man’s seed has God according to his promise raised to Israel a Savior, Jesus: 24 When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John fulfilled his course, he said, Whom think you that I am? I am not he. But, behold, there comes one after me, whose shoes of his feet I am not worthy to loose. 26 Men and brothers, children of the stock of Abraham, and whoever among you fears God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. 27 For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him. 28 And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. 29 And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulcher. 30 But God raised him from the dead: 31 And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses to the people. 32 And we declare to you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made to the fathers, 33 God has fulfilled the same to us their children, in that he has raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, You are my Son, this day have I begotten you. 34 And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. 35 Why he said also in another psalm, You shall not suffer your Holy One to see corruption. 36 For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid to his fathers, and saw corruption: 37 But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption. 38 Be it known to you therefore, men and brothers, that through this man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins: 39 And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses. 40 Beware therefore, lest that come on you, which is spoken of in the prophets; 41 Behold, you despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which you shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it to you. 42 And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles sought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. 43 Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. 44 And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.
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; 18:4). Jesus even called Himself “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28 Mark 2:28Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
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).

It was Jesus' custom to go to the synagogue every Sabbath to worship (Luke 4:16 Luke 4:16And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
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). Contrary to the teaching of those who say that Paul abandoned the Sabbath, it was his custom, too, to go to the synagogue every Sabbath (Acts 17:1-3 Acts 17:1-3 1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: 2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in to them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, 3 Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach to you, is Christ.
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), using the opportunity to teach others about Jesus Christ.

The weekly Sabbath is another of God's festivals, like those mentioned earlier. It is, in fact, the first of His feasts listed (Leviticus 23:1-4 Leviticus 23:1-4 1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts. 3 Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; you shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings. 4 These are the feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations, which you shall proclaim in their seasons.
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). It is included in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11 Exodus 20:8-11 8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: why the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
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; Deuteronomy 5:12-15 Deuteronomy 5:12-15 12 Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work: 14 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your ox, nor your ass, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates; that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you. 15 And remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD your God brought you out there through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
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).

As with God's other feasts, the Sabbath is ignored by the overwhelming majority of churches. Rather than keeping the Sabbath as God commanded, most churches meet on the first day of the week—Sunday—a day nowhere commanded in the Bible as a day of worship. Why? If we are to observe any day as a weekly day of rest and worship, shouldn't it be the same day Jesus Christ and the apostles kept? (Be sure to request or download our free booklet Sunset to Sunset: God's Sabbath Rest to learn more.)

We also find other differences in teaching and practice. Many churches teach that obedience to God's law is unnecessary, that Christ kept it for us or it was “nailed to the cross” with Christ. This is directly contrary to Jesus' own words (Matthew 4:4 Matthew 4:4But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
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; 5:17-19) and the teaching and practice of the apostles (Acts 24:14 Acts 24:14But this I confess to you, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:
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; 25:8; Romans 7:12 Romans 7:12Why the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
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, 22; 1 Corinthians 7:19 1 Corinthians 7:19Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.
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; 2 Timothy 3:15-17 2 Timothy 3:15-17 15 And that from a child you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works.
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).

Following Christ's example, the apostles powerfully preached about Jesus Christ's return to establish the coming Kingdom of God (Luke 4:43 Luke 4:43And he said to them, I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent.
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; 8:1; 21:27, 31; Acts 1:3 Acts 1:3To whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:
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; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 28:23, 31). But Paul warned that, even in his day, some were already preaching “a different gospel” (2 Corinthians 11:4 2 Corinthians 11:4For if he that comes preaches another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if you receive another spirit, which you have not received, or another gospel, which you have not accepted, you might well bear with him.
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; Galatians 1:6 Galatians 1:6I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ to another gospel:
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).

We see much confusion in churches about what the gospel is. Most view it as a message about Christ's life story and His death to “save” us without really understanding why He came and why He had to die and without proclaiming the message of God's Kingdom that Christ Himself taught (Mark 1:14-15 Mark 1:14-15 14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent you, and believe the gospel.
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).

Similarly, Jesus and the apostles did not teach that the righteous ascend to heaven at death (John 3:13 John 3:13And no man has ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
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; Acts 2:29 Acts 2:29Men and brothers, let me freely speak to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us to this day.
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, 34), and they understood that man does not possess an immortal soul (Ezekiel 18:4 Ezekiel 18:4Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sins, it shall die.
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, 20; Matthew 10:28 Matthew 10:28And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
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) that would spend eternity in either heaven or hell. (For the truth on these matters, download or request our free booklets The Gospel of the Kingdom and Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? )

Furthermore, nowhere do we find popular religious holidays such as Christmas approved in the Bible. The only time Easter is mentioned in the Bible (Acts 12:4 Acts 12:4And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
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, King James Version), it is a blatant mistranslation of the Greek word for Passover . Lent and its practices are nowhere found (see our free booklet Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Observe? ).

These are some of the major differences between the Christianity of the time of Christ and the apostles and that commonly practiced today. Shouldn't you look into your Bible to see if your beliefs and practices square with what Jesus Christ and the apostles practiced and taught? As noted, we have many resources that can help in your study of God's Word. 

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