What Did the Early Church Believe and Practice?

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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 of Nazareth.

Many Bible readers are familiar with the miraculous events of that day—of the house in which the disciples met 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 specific day on which these events occurred, the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1), 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 . . . These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations . . ." (Leviticus 23:2-4). God proclaimed these festivals to be "a statute forever throughout your generations" (Leviticus 23:14; Leviticus 23:21; Leviticus 23:31; Leviticus 23:41).

The Gospels show Jesus keeping the same festivals (Matthew 26:17-19; John 7:10-14, John 7:37-38). Both the book of Acts and Paul's letters show the apostles keeping the festivals during the decades after Christ's crucifixion (Acts 2:1-4; Acts 18:21; Acts 20:6, Acts 20:16; Acts 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 congregation 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). Paul was obviously referring to keeping the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6; Deuteronomy 16:16).

Paul explained the significance of the Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7; Leviticus 23:5) and gave instructions on how to properly observe this ceremony (1 Corinthians 11:23-28).

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).

The Gospels and 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; Luke 4:16, Luke 4:31-32; Luke 13:10; Acts 13:14-44; Acts 18:4). Jesus even called Himself "Lord of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28).

It was Jesus' custom to go to the synagogue every Sabbath to worship (Luke 4:16). 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), using the opportunity to teach others about Jesus as Savior and Messiah.

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). It is also included in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15).

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 and the apostles kept?

We 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 5:17-19) and the teaching and practice of the apostles (Acts 24:14; Acts 25:8; Romans 7:12-22; 1 Corinthians 7:19; 2 Timothy 3:15-17).

Following Christ's example, the apostles powerfully preached about His return to establish the Kingdom of God (Luke 4:43; Luke 8:1; Luke 21:27-31; Acts 1:3; Acts 8:12; Acts 14:22; Acts 19:8; Acts 28:23-31). But Paul warned that, even in his day, some already preached "a different gospel" (2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:6).

We see much confusion in churches about what the gospel is. Most view it as a message about Christ's birth, life and death without understanding why He came and why He had to die. Few proclaim the message of God's Kingdom that Jesus Himself taught (Mark 1:14-15).

Similarly, Jesus and the apostles never taught that the righteous ascend to heaven at death (John 3:13; Acts 2:29-34), and they understood that man does not possess an immortal soul (Ezekiel 18:4-20; Matthew 10:28) that would spend eternity in either heaven or hell.

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, King James Version) it is a blatant mistranslation of the Greek word for Passover. Lent and its practices are nowhere found.

The early Church also followed God's instructions regarding which meats were suitable to be eaten (Acts 10:9-14). These clean and unclean meats are listed in Leviticus 11:1-47 (you can learn more on this subject by reading our free booklet What Does the Bible Teach About Clean and Unclean Meats?).

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 and His apostles practiced and taught?

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