The Book of Acts is an exciting book! Jesus had rose and ascended. The Holy Spirit had been given. Thousands of people were getting saved and baptized. The church was on fire! The apostles were evangelizing everywhere, and even the threat against their lives wouldn't stop them from preaching Christ. It would have been awesome to have lived back then.
The New Testament church is still an exciting thing today, but I fear that many churches that would consider themselves New Testament are anything but! There's a lot of things that go on in so-called "New Testament" churches today that certainly didn't happen in Acts. So the question is, what makes a New Testament church a New Testament church?
Acts tells us lots and lots of things that the early church did. They preached, they fellowshipped, they continued in the apostles doctrine, they broke bread. Acts gives us a pattern for the church to follow. I understand times change. In many people's minds this justifies changing the church too, but I'm not so sure it does. Change can be good, but it can also be bad. For change to be good it MUST not go against the teachings of Scripture. Remember the Bible says, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, to day, and forever (Heb. 13:8). He doesn't change. I also understand that a pattern doesn't necessarily mean an exact replica. It's nearly impossible in this day and age to exactly copy the early church in Acts. I really don't see us getting rid of our cell phones, meeting in houses, and wearing long robes just so we can be like the New Testament Christians. That's not what I'm talking about at all.
Contemporary culture has dramatically changed the face of the church. I'm sure the culture of the early church influenced them too. The fact that most churches have a Sunday morning service around 11am is a cultural thing, and there's nothing unbiblical about that. But, the question is, where does the line get drawn when allowing culture into the church? Does culture ever contradict Scripture? Thankfully, we can answer those questions because we have that pattern in Acts! People want to throw the pattern away, because they say times have changed! Hmmm.... I don't ever remember reading in the Bible that when times changed it was okay to throw away the pattern? Nope... pretty sure that's not there.
The pattern in Acts was simple. Preaching and teaching were the priority. Even a quick read through of the Book of Acts will reveal a major emphasis on preaching Christ. Everywhere the apostles went they preached. Peter preached, Paul preached, Stephen preached. They preached all the time, not just on Sunday. They didn't preach feel good, self help sermons either. They preached hard! Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). Did you catch it? Peter accuses the crowd he is preaching to of crucifying Jesus. He said, "YOU DID IT. You killed Jesus." He didn't sugar coat it. He stated it bluntly. Then he repeats the same thing again in Acts 4:10. Think about it for a minute. If this crowd was the same crowd that killed Jesus, what was to stop them from crucifying Peter too? Peter took a huge risk in making that accusation. He risked his very life! I don't imagine the crowd was too happy with being told that. I daresay there's not a lot of preachers like that around today! Most pastors are too concerned with what people think of them to say anything that inflammatory. A lot of Christians are so afraid of "judging" that they won't stand up for a simple truth! The "judge not" attitude has made us wimps. Someone once said "If you stand for nothing, you'll fall for anything." I even read a blog by a young pastor that stated that a pastor should avoid preaching controversial things from the pulpit like marriage and divorce and such. I don't think he and Peter would have gotten along very well.
The Christians in Acts preached Christ, but they also taught doctrine. The gospel was the foundation, but after that there was more. Paul's letters are loaded with doctrine... LOADED! He frequently taught the believers from the Old Testament. Today we have the wonderful privilege of knowing that Paul's preserved writings are Holy Spirit inspired Scripture. More doctrine. We are blessed to have so much of the Apostle's doctrine preserved for us in the New Testament. Yet, I've been in church services where only a verse of Scripture was read and then the preacher proceeded to tell jokes and stories for the rest of the time. I don't think Paul would be impressed. I don't think the early Christians would have been either. They hungered for the Word. They were well grounded, well taught, Christians who knew what they believed and why. They were people that stood for something. I've talked to a lot of Christians and many times when I ask them about their beliefs they have no idea why they believe them. That's sad.
In many churches today that are supposedly patterned after the New Testament, I find an astonishing lack of doctrine. They have Beth Moore women's studies, Mark Driscoll men's studies, Fireproof marriage seminars, and any and every other popular evangelical teacher. Remember, the early Christians weren't just learning doctrine from whoever, they were learning directly from the Apostles; those who had been with Jesus. God's plan was that the Apostles would teach His doctrine, and that He would record that for us today in the Scripture. Bible teachers are good, but the truth is that most Bible studies today fall FAR short of the Apostle's doctrine. They have elements of truth, but when they are compared with Scripture they also have error. They may teach some biblical principles, but they also promote the opinion of the author. How do I know this? I've read them, and I've compared them to the Bible. Maybe I should be glad people want to use Beth Moore materials, but what Beth Moore says isn't important. What Beth Moore says about the Bible is! Sadly, Beth Moore says things that just aren't biblical. She may say some good and true things, but why use someone's study that mixes truth with error? That is confusion, and God is not the author of confusion.
What are so-called "New Testament" churches emphasizing today? We would be wise to ask ourselves that question, and then discern if our church is really emphasizing what the New Testament church did. Do our churches preach Christ and the gospel? Do they emphasize studying the Bible itself or "Bible studies"? What's the most important part of our church service? Is it the music? Is it the offering? Is it the charismatic personality and theological knowledge of the preacher? Is the service ritual? Is it emotional? Is it intellectual? What's really being exalted? What's really being patterned? When you come to church do you expect that more time will be spent reading, studying, and memorizing Scripture or is it a time to dance to music, socialize with friends, and hear a talk that will make you feel better?