What Happened to the Beliefs of the Early Church?

You are here

What Happened to the Beliefs of the Early Church?

Login or Create an Account

With a UCG.org account you will be able to save items to read and study later!

Sign In | Sign Up

×
Downloads
MP3 Audio (48.92 MB)

Downloads

What Happened to the Beliefs of the Early Church?

MP3 Audio (48.92 MB)
×

Søren Kierkegaard, the 19th-century Danish writer and religious philosopher, wrote that the “Christianity of the New Testament simply does not exist.” He questioned how popular Christianity had strayed so far from the way of life described and practiced in the Bible.

This sounds odd to most people today, but he was deadly serious. Is it possible that today’s Christianity is fundamentally different from the teachings of the apostles? Some scholars and serious students of the Bible have recognized and acknowledged that the practices of the early Church varied greatly from those of today.

Norbert Brox, professor of early church history at the University of Regensburg, Germany, described the context and perspective of the early Church in these terms:

“Thus the first [Christian] communities were groups that formed within Judaism . . . Christians believed as before in the God of Israel: their Bible was the Bible of the Jews . . . They continued to observe (as Jesus did) the Jewish practice of temple worship and law (Acts 2.46; 10.14), and gave outsiders the impression of being a Jewish sect (Acts 24:5 Acts 24:5For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes:
American King James Version×
; 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:
American King James Version×
; Acts 28:22 Acts 28:22But we desire to hear of you what you think: for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against.
American King James Version×
), not a new religion. They themselves probably also simply thought of themselves as Jews” ( A Concise History of the Early Church, 1996, p. 4).

This is what we see in the Bible as recorded in the book of Acts and the letters of the apostles. But things would change dramatically, as we see in the state of the Church in the second century. Historian Jesse Hurlbut says of this time of transformation: “We name the last generation of the first century, from 68 to 100 A.D., ‘The Age of Shadows,’ partly because the gloom of persecution was over the church, but more especially because of all the periods in the [church’s] history, it is the one about which we know the least. We have no longer the clear light of the Book of Acts to guide us; and no author of that age has filled the blank in the history . . .

“For fifty years after St. Paul’s life a curtain hangs over the church, through which we strive vainly to look; and when at last it rises, about 120 A.D. with the writings of the earliest church fathers, we find a church in many aspects very different from that in the days of St. Peter and St. Paul” ( The Story of the Christian Church, 1970, p. 33). How did this transformation in the practices of Christianity come about?

Major shifts in Christianity

Only a few decades after Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, some who presented themselves as faithful ministers of Christ began to introduce heretical teachings. The apostle Paul described such men and their methods: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness . . .” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. 14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.
American King James Version×
, emphasis added throughout).

These teachers appeared to represent Christ at a time when the masses of humanity lacked any significant education. To the unschooled believers of that time, their teachings probably seemed reasonable and even sounded right. Yet these teachers were really instruments of deception in Satan’s hands, used to lead others astray. Many may not have even realized their own errors and misguided motives.

Over time the damage was done. The apostle John, apparently the last survivor among the 12 original disciples, wrote of one false minister who had risen to power within the Church. This man was openly rejecting John’s emissaries and excommunicating faithful members (3 John 9-10). This is a shocking example of how bad conditions had become in the Church as the first century drew to a close.

With John’s writings, the books and letters that would form the New Testament were complete. With his passing, however, reliable eyewitness accounts of events and changes in the Church largely ceased. We are left with confusing and contradictory accounts for the next several centuries.

Persecution leads to changes

Part of the lack of information about this time stems from persecution against the Church. Under Emperor Nero (A.D. 54-68), Christians were blamed for burning the city of Rome, and many were killed—including the apostles Paul and Peter. Later all inhabitants of the Roman Empire were required to worship the emperor as a god. Christians and Jews who, in obedience to God’s commandments, refused to comply with the edict were vigorously persecuted. For several centuries, waves of persecution engulfed Christianity and Judaism.

Jews living in the Holy Land revolted twice against Roman rule—in the first century and the second. The later rebellion in particular brought persecution of Jews and Judaism. Emperor Hadrian (117-138), on capturing Jerusalem, razed it and built a new city that Jews were forbidden even to enter. He also banned circumcision and observance of the Sabbath.

Professor Brox describes the effect on the Church: “The Jewish Christians in Palestine had been driven out in the First Jewish War (66-70) but then had returned to Jerusalem; however, after the Bar Kokhba revolt, the Second Jewish War against the Romans (132-135), they had to leave the land because, as Jews, they had been circumcised, and all Jews were now banned on pain of death. So for the moment that meant the end of this [Jerusalem] church” (Brox, p. 19).

From the scanty historical records it appears that, to avoid punishment, a significant number of Christians began to avoid identification with Judaism during this time of intense persecution of Jews. The more visible portion of Christianity began a significant transition from the teachings of the apostles to an anti-Jewish religious philosophy.

Former practices held in common with Judaism—such as resting and worshipping on the weekly Sabbath day (the seventh day of the week, from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday) and keeping the God-ordained festivals found in the Bible—rapidly began to wane as new customs crept into the Church. Most who identified as Christians failed to summon up the courage to face continual persecution for remaining faithful to the customs handed down by the apostles of Christ.

The Passover-Easter debate

The church historian Eusebius, reporting on the Council of Nicaea (325), describes a debate going back to the second century between Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John who urged Christians to continue to keep the Passover as a memorial of Christ’s death, and Anicetus, bishop of Rome (155-166), who advocated a celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. Later, bishop Victor I of Rome (189-199) issued an ultimatum that all were “to follow the Sunday practice of the Roman church and most other churches” (Brox, p. 124).

At Nicaea the new custom of Easter won out over the biblical Passover. The Roman emperor Constantine decreed that those who refused to follow the Roman church’s lead were heretics and to be excommunicated. His resulting letter showed the depth of his feelings regarding practices he considered “Jewish.”

“It appeared an unworthy thing,” he wrote, “ that in the celebration of this most holy feast [Easter] we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul . . . Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd: for we have received from our Savior a different way . . .

“Strive and pray continually that the purity of your soul may not seem in anything to be sullied by fellowship with the custom of these most wicked men . . . All should unite in desiring that which sound reason appears to demand, avoiding all participation in the perjured conduct of the Jews” (Eusebius, Life of Constantine 3, 18-19, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1979, second series, Vol. 1, pp. 524-525).

Constantine endorses ‘Christianity’

Constantine’s reign as emperor (306-337) dramatically changed the direction Christianity would take. Under his rule, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and he was baptized (albeit on his deathbed).

But what was the nature of the Christianity he endorsed?

By now, much had already changed. Charles Guignebert, professor of the history of Christianity at the University of Paris, observes: “Contemplate the Christian Church at the beginning of the fourth century, therefore, and some difficulty will be experienced in recognizing in her the community of Apostolic times, or rather, we shall not be able to recognize it at all . . .” ( The Early History of Christianity, 1927, p. 122).

Consider also the noted British historian Paul Johnson’s conclusions regarding Constantine: “He himself appears to have been a sun-worshipper, one of a number of late-pagan cults which had observances in common with the Christians. Thus the followers of Isis adored a madonna nursing her holy child; the cult of Attis and Cybele celebrated a day of blood and fasting, followed by the Hilaria resurrection-feast, a day of joy, on 25 March; the elitist Mithraics, many of whom were senior army officers, ate a sacred meal. Constantine was almost certainly a Mithraic, and his triumphal arch, built after his ‘conversion’, testifies to the Sun-god, or ‘unconquered sun’.

“Many Christians did not make a clear distinction between this sun-cult and their own. They referred to Christ ‘driving his chariot across the sky’: they held their services on Sunday, knelt towards the East and had their nativity-feast on 25 December, the birthday of the sun at the winter solstice. During the later pagan revival under the Emperor Julian many Christians found it easy to apostasize because of this confusion; . . . Constantine never abandoned sun-worship and kept the sun on his coins . . .

“[Constantine] no doubt shared the view, popular among professional soldiers, that all religious cults should be respected, to appease their respective gods . . . Many of his ecclesiastical arrangements indicate that he wanted a state Church, with the clergy as civil servants. His own role was not wholly removed from that of the pagan God-emperor—as witness the colossal heads and statues of himself with which he littered his empire—though he preferred the idea of a priest-king.

“How could the Christian Church, apparently quite willingly, accommodate this weird megalomaniac in its theocratic system? Was there a conscious bargain? Which side benefited most from this unseemly marriage between Church and State? Or, to put it another way, did the empire surrender to Christianity, or did Christianity prostitute itself to the empire?” ( A History of Christianity, 1976, pp. 67-69).

This is a remarkable admission in light of the fact that the apostle John, as recorded in Revelation 17, saw in a prophetic vision a woman representing a great false church acting as prostitute with the world’s kings (to learn more, see “Is the Protestant Reformation Being Undone?”).

From Sabbath to Sunday

Constantine’s affection for sun worship led him to formalize a change in the weekly day of rest for Christianity. “In 321 Constantine introduced Sunday as a weekly day of rest for the society which he had Christianized as part of his religious policy, and on it no work was done . . . The rest from work on the Christian Sunday was derived from the Jewish sabbath commandment, with which Sunday intrinsically had no connection . . . So the present-day Sunday ultimately arises … through the state legislation of late antiquity” (Brox, p. 105).

For a time some in what was now a largely transformed Christianity continued to observe the Sabbath and other festivals kept by Jesus and the apostles. This was not to last.

Says Robin Fox, lecturer in ancient history at Oxford University, “In the 430s, the Christian Council of Laodicea ruled in detail against Christian observance of the Jewish Sabbath, their acceptance of unleavened bread from Jews and their keeping of Jewish festivals” ( Pagans and Christians, 1987, p. 482).

Transformed by paganism

While the practices of the apostles were being banned, traditions from other religions were being incorporated and relabeled as Christian. Writes historian John Romer:

“Subtly, so subtly that the bishops themselves had not seen them, the old gods had entered their churches like the air of the Mediterranean. And they live still in Christian ritual, in the iconography and the festivals of Christianity . . . The ancient sign of life, the ankh, which the gods had carried in their sculptures for thousands of years, was easily transformed into the Christian cross; the figure of Isis nursing her child Horus, Isis Lactans, became the figure of the Virgin with Jesus at her breast . . .

“At Rome, Romulus and Remus were swapped for the biblical saints Peter and Paul. And still in the fifth century, the Pope had to stop the early morning congregation of St Peter’s from walking up the church steps backwards so as not to offend Sol, the rising sun god.

“Similarly, 25 December, now Christ’s birthday, was also the day of Sol Invictus’ [the unconquered sun’s] festival . . . celebrated by cutting green branches and hanging little lights on them, and presents were given out in the god’s name. Sol’s weekly festival Sol-day—Sunday—became the Christian Sabbath . . .” ( Testament: The Bible and History, 1988, pp. 230-231).

To expand the universal church’s power and influence, its leadership welcomed many new converts—and many new practices—into the church. Professor Guignebert describes this process: “Now at the beginning of the fifth century, the ignorant and the semi-Christians thronged into the Church in numbers . . . They had forgotten none of their pagan customs . . . The bishops of that period had to content themselves with redressing, as best they could, and in experimental fashion, the shocking malformations of the Christian faith which they perceived around them . . .

“[Properly instructing converts] was out of the question; they had to be content with teaching them no more than the symbol of baptism and then baptizing them en masse, postponing until a later date the task of eradicating their superstitions, which they preserved intact . . . This ‘later date’ never arrived, and the Church adapted to herself, as well as she could, them and their customs and beliefs. On their side, they were content to dress their paganism in a Christian cloak” (p. 208-210).

Guignebert describes the resulting bizarre synthesis that now formed Christianity: “The ancient festivals [are now] kept as holidays and celebrated in the country parts, and the Church can only neutralize their effect by turning them to account for her own profit. There is nothing stranger, from this point of view, than the instructions given by [Pope] Gregory the Great to the monk Augustine, his missionary to England.

“He is to transform the temples into churches, after they have been ceremonially cleansed; and to replace the devil-sacrifices by processions in honor of some saint, with an offering of oxen to the glory of God, and the distribution of the flesh among the congregation. Moreover, the king of East Anglia, Redwald, after his baptism and Christian confession, is careful to keep opposite the altar in his church at which mass is celebrated, another altar where the sacrifices demanded by the ancient gods are carried out” (p. 214).

Guignebert also observes, “It is sometimes very difficult to tell exactly from which pagan rite a particular Christian rite is derived, but it remains certain that the spirit of pagan ritualism became by degrees impressed upon Christianity, to such an extent that at last the whole of it might be found distributed through its ceremonies” (p. 121).

What does God say?

During these early centuries, Christianity was radically transformed. The leaders of the most highly visible form of Christianity—the Roman Catholic Church, now supported by the power of the state—ignored God’s instruction and substituted one pagan practice after another, even as they persecuted those who still held to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.

They disregarded God when He warned: “Take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them [the pagan nations], after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way . . . Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:30-32 Deuteronomy 12:30-32 30 Take heed to yourself that you be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before you; and that you inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. 31 You shall not do so to the LORD your God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hates, have they done to their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. 32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
American King James Version×
).

The apostles understood God’s instruction and steadfastly resisted the kind of changes that later infiltrated the Church. After all, this instruction was part of “the Holy Scriptures,” the only Bible they had at the time (2 Timothy 3:14-17 2 Timothy 3:14-17 14 But continue you in the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing of whom you have learned them; 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.
American King James Version×
).

Although many blatantly non-Christian practices were toned down in later centuries, even cursory research into many popular practices reveals their roots.

But what is equally regrettable is that, by abandoning the practices of Jesus and the apostles, so many are missing out on a fuller understanding of true Christianity.

Rest assured, there are still Christians who faithfully follow the practices and teachings of Jesus and the apostles who enjoy the blessing of discerning God’s great plan for men and women everywhere. They have discovered the “narrow” way of life that few find (Matthew 7:14 Matthew 7:14Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few there be that find it.
American King James Version×
). And with God’s help, you can find it too!

 


Jesus’ Warnings of Abandonment of Truth

Jesus Christ forewarned that men would change His teachings. He was right. Is it possible that Christianity was radically transformed in its earliest centuries? Surprising as it may seem, both Jesus Christ and the apostles warned of changes that would come in the Church. Were these empty warnings, or did Christ foretell a subtle yet deadly threat to the religion that bears His name?

Notice the ominous tone of His warnings to His followers: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15 Matthew 7:15Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
American King James Version×
).

He explained: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23 Matthew 7:21-23 21 Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name have cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus knew that some would feign obedience to His teachings, but their actions would reveal their motives. “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” He asked them (Luke 6:46 Luke 6:46And why call you me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
American King James Version×
).

How would this be possible? Shortly before His death, Jesus described to His disciples the trends that would begin in the near future and culminate before His yet-future return to earth. He warned of false teachers who would “rise up and deceive many” (Matthew 24:11 Matthew 24:11And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
American King James Version×
). Many of these would claim to come in His name and to represent Him (Matthew 24:5 Matthew 24:5For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
American King James Version×
), yet they would teach a different message. Many would fall prey to their deceptive teachings, Christ warned.

Notice that the deception would center on His person. They would rightly say Jesus was the Christ, yet deceive many. The issue turns on obedience to Christ (Luke 6:46 Luke 6:46And why call you me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
American King James Version×
). Worshiping Jesus Christ should always be accompanied by keeping the commandments of God. These deceptive trends would include “false christs and false prophets [who] will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24 Matthew 24:24For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; so that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
American King James Version×
). So great will be their beguiling powers and teachings, said Jesus, that even those firmly grounded in biblical truth would be in danger of being led astray.

Did this great work of deception begin in the Church as Jesus prophesied? Yes, it did. The apostle Paul issued this sad prediction to the leaders of the congregation in Ephesus: “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29-30 Acts 20:29-30 29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
American King James Version×
).

Echoing Jesus’ warnings about those who would distort His words to teach lawlessness—disobedience to the instructions in God’s law—Paul observed that “the mystery of lawlessness [rejection of God’s laws] is already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7 2 Thessalonians 2:7For the mystery of iniquity does already work: only he who now lets will let, until he be taken out of the way.
American King James Version×
) and will continue until Christ puts an end to it at His return (2 Thessalonians 2:8 2 Thessalonians 2:8And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:
American King James Version×
).

The apostle Peter also warned of this deceitful influence at work in the early Church. “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1 2 Peter 2:1But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privately shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.
American King James Version×
).

In the same way the apostle John cautioned the brethren in the Church, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1 1 John 4:1Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
American King James Version×
).

Considering these warnings and statements, we would do well to examine the roots of Christianity and see whether these trends did, in fact, influence those calling themselves Christian—and possibly what you believe!

 


What Did the Early Church Believe and Practice?

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. 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, Pentecost (Acts 2:1 Acts 2:1And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
American King James Version×
), one of the festivals God commanded for His people many centuries before (Leviticus 23). In revealing these festivals, God said, “These are My feasts … the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations” (Leviticus 23:2-4 Leviticus 23:2-4 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.
American King James Version×
). God proclaimed observance of these festivals to be “a statute forever throughout your generations” (Leviticus 23:14 Leviticus 23:14And you shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, until the selfsame day that you have brought an offering to your God: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
American King James Version×
; Leviticus 23:21 Leviticus 23:21And you shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be an holy convocation to you: you shall do no servile work therein: it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.
American King James Version×
; Leviticus 23:31 Leviticus 23:31You shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
American King James Version×
: Leviticus 2341).

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.
American King James Version×
; 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.
American King James Version×
; John 7:37-38 John 7:37-38 37 In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. 38 He that believes on me, as the scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
American King James Version×
). Both the book of Acts and Paul’s letters show the apostles keeping these festivals during the decades after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection (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.
American King James Version×
; Acts 18:21 Acts 18:21But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that comes in Jerusalem: but I will return again to you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus.
American King James Version×
; Acts 20:6 Acts 20:6And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came to them to Troas in five days; where we stayed seven days.
American King James Version×
; Acts 20:16 Acts 20:16For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hurried, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.
American King James Version×
; Acts 27:9 Acts 27:9Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them,
American King James Version×
).

Most churches teach that the festivals were “nailed to the cross,” 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.
American King James Version×
). 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.
American King James Version×
; 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:
American King James Version×
).

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:
American King James Version×
; Leviticus 23:5 Leviticus 23:5In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD’s passover.
American King James Version×
) and gave instructions to these gentile and Jewish believers 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.
American King James Version×
).

The many references in the Gospels, Acts and Paul’s epistles prompt an obvious question: Since Jesus, the apostles and the early Church—Jew and gentile alike—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:
American King James Version×
).

The Gospels and the book of Acts are equally clear that Christ, the disciples and the early Church kept the weekly Sabbath—from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, 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?
American King James Version×
; Luke 4:31-32 Luke 4:31-32 31 And came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days. 32 And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power.
American King James Version×
; Luke 13:10 Luke 13:10And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.
American King James Version×
; 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.
American King James Version×
; Acts 18:4 Acts 18:4And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.
American King James Version×
). Jesus even called Himself “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28 Mark 2:28Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
American King James Version×
).

It was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogue on Sabbath days 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.
American King James Version×
). 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.
American King James Version×
), 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.
American King James Version×
). 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.
American King James Version×
; 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.
American King James Version×
).

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 study guide 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.
American King James Version×
; Matthew 5:17-19 Matthew 5:17-19 17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, Till heaven and earth pass, one stroke or one pronunciation mark shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
American King James Version×
) 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:
American King James Version×
; Acts 25:8 Acts 25:8While he answered for himself, Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended any thing at all.
American King James Version×
; Romans 7:12 Romans 7:12Why the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
American King James Version×
; Romans 7:22 Romans 7:22For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
American King James Version×
; 1 Corinthians 7:19 1 Corinthians 7:19Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.
American King James Version×
; 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.
American King James Version×
).

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.
American King James Version×
; Luke 8:1 Luke 8:1And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him,
American King James Version×
; Luke 21:27 Luke 21:27And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
American King James Version×
; Luke 21:31 Luke 21:31So likewise you, when you see these things come to pass, know you that the kingdom of God is near at hand.
American King James Version×
; 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:
American King James Version×
; Acts 8:12 Acts 8:12But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
American King James Version×
; Acts 14:22 Acts 14:22Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
American King James Version×
; Acts 19:8 Acts 19:8And he went into the synagogue, and spoke boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.
American King James Version×
; Acts 28:23 Acts 28:23And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.
American King James Version×
; Acts 28:31 Acts 28:31Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.
American King James Version×
). 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.
American King James Version×
; 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:
American King James Version×
).

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.
American King James Version×
).

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.
American King James Version×
; 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.
American King James Version×
; Acts 2:34 Acts 2:34For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he said himself, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit you on my right hand,
American King James Version×
), 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.
American King James Version×
; Ezekiel 18:20 Ezekiel 18:20The soul that sins, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be on him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be on him.
American King James Version×
; 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.
American King James Version×
) that would spend eternity in either heaven or hell. (For the truth on these matters, download or request our free study guides 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.
American King James Version×
, King James Version), it is a blatant mistranslation of the Greek word for Passover. Lent and its practices are nowhere found (see our free study guide 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. Download or request your free copies today!

—From our free study guide The Church Jesus Built .