What Did the Early Church Believe and Practice?
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This special event began when the place where the apostles and other disciples were gathered was suddenly filled with the sound of a mighty wind and "tongues, as of fire" appeared to alight on them. They then began speaking to the crowds gathered in Jerusalem for the observance that day of the biblical Feast of Pentecost. Miraculously, the apostles' preaching was comprehensible to all people from many lands so that all understood their words in their own language.
Often overlooked in this account is the significance of these events occurring on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1). This was one of the festivals God commanded for His people many centuries before (Leviticus 23). In revealing these festivals, God exclaimed, "These are My feasts ... the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations ..." (Leviticus 23:2, Leviticus 23:4). Then God proclaimed them to be "a statute forever" (verses 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 observing these festivals long after Christ died and was raised (Acts 2:1-4; Acts 18:21; Acts 20:6, Acts 20:16; Acts 27:9). This is the example they set for us.
Today, however, most churches teach that these festivals were somehow annulled by Christ's death. Yet the unmistakable record of the Bible is that the early Church continued to observe them long after His death—but with a 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 biblical Feast of Unleavened Bread (see Leviticus 23:6; Deuteronomy 16:16). Paul similarly explained the Christian significance of the biblical Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7; Leviticus 23:5) and gave instructions on how to properly observe this ceremony in the Church (1 Corinthians 11:23-28).
Such passages 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 on 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). It was Jesus' custom to go to the synagogue on Sabbath days 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 this God-ordained assembly to teach others about Jesus of Nazareth as Savior and Messiah.
Of course, most people and churches ignore the biblical seventh-day Sabbath. But why? Shouldn't we observe a weekly day of rest and worship as God commands (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15), and shouldn't it be the same day that Jesus and His apostles kept?
A closer examination of the Scriptures reveals many other differences between the teachings and practices of Jesus and His apostles and what is commonly taught. For example, the belief that obedience to God's law is unnecessary is directly contrary to Jesus' own words (Matthew 4:4; Matthew 5:17-19) and the teachings and examples of His apostles (Acts 24:14; Acts 25:8; Romans 7:12, 22; 1 Corinthians 7:19; 2 Timothy 3:15-17).
Jesus and the apostles never taught that the righteous ascend consciously to heaven at death (John 3:13; Acts 2:29, 34), and they understood that man does not possess an immortal soul that would spend eternity in either heaven or hell (Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Matthew 10:28). Rather, they followed earlier scriptural passages in referring to death as being like an unconscious sleep from which people will wake in a future resurrection (compare Ecclesiastes 9:5, Ecclesiastes 9:10; Daniel 12:2-3; John 11:11-14; 1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 Corinthians 15:6, 1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17).
Nowhere in the Bible do we find any hint of approval for today's popular religious holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. Though the Greek word pascha is once incorrectly translated "Easter" (Acts 12:4, KJV)—and that only in one Bible translation—this is a flagrant mistranslation. Pascha always means "Passover," never Easter!
Instead of approving such celebrations rooted in paganism, God condemns them even when they are used in attempts to worship Him (compare Deuteronomy 12:29-32; 1 Corinthians 10:19-21).
These are some of the major differences between the Christianity of Jesus and the apostles and the Christianity commonly practiced today. But don't simply take our word for it. We encourage you to follow the example of the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and look into your Bible to see whether today's popular beliefs and practices agree with what Jesus and His apostles practiced and taught.
(To learn more about these subjects, be sure to read the Bible study aids The Church Jesus Built, God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind, Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Really Matter Which Days We Observe?, Sunset to Sunset: God's Sabbath Rest, Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? and What Happens After Death?)