How Did the Early Church View Itself?

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One of the many ways that churches get members is through evangelical campaigns, where people are encouraged to “give their hearts” to the Lord. After all, the reasoning goes, if a person can be helped to see the need for a relationship with Jesus Christ, he or she may take that first step toward Him and thus become saved for life. When this happens, there is great joy among the members of the church because they feel they are saving souls for Christ. 

But is that what the Bible teaches? Jesus Himself gave the answer: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6.44, emphasis added throughout).

This is such an important principle that He repeated it a few verses later: “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father” (verse 65). 

Even in Jesus' time most people didn’t understand His words, however. Nor did the vast majority follow Him, though He was the very Son of God. And that is exactly the point. His words can be understood and acted on only through a calling or a summoning by God the Father. 

Jesus illustrated the point by teaching the multitudes through parables—often-enigmatic stories that illustrate specific principles. After a few parables, His disciples came to Him and asked why He taught in this way.

Jesus replied that it had been given to them (the disciples) “to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” but that the multitudes would not understand what they saw or heard (Matt 13.13–15). So to those whom God had not called Jesus spoke in parables. To His disciples, whom the Father had called, He spoke plainly and explained what the parables meant. He told His followers that they were very blessed to understand what the Scriptures teach, because many people had rigorously sought to understand and could not (Verses 16–17).

When we read the parables in the gospel accounts we see Jesus teaching His disciples truths that the majority of the public could not appreciate—spiritual gems. He also taught that it is the duty of those who do understand to hold on to such truths with all their being (Matt 13.44–52).

But isn’t God calling the entire world right now, trying to save as many as possible before they die and it’s too late?

Most churches teach that this is the only day of salvation, so they are vigorously and understandably trying to save as many people as they can. But if we can’t embark on a relationship with God unless He draws us first, where does that leave the rest of humanity? What about those who never in their life so much as heard the name of Christ? Are they lost? 

The answer is an emphatic no! Everyone will be called, but only in the order that God the Father wants them to be called—and not necessarily in this life. He has a long-term plan that includes every human being ever born. Paul was inspired to write about this in 1 Corinthians 15.22–24:

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.  But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.”

The apostle John also wrote about this. Having been shown the future in a vision, he recorded that he had seen the faithful, who “lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished” (Revelation 20:4–5).

The first-century followers of Jesus understood this and cherished the knowledge they were given. They also knew it was a miracle that they had been called into the body of Jesus Christ, and that the same miracle would be extended to others in God’s own good time.

Jerry de Gier

 

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Tags: early christianity, Early Church History, evangelism

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