If one is a follower of Christ it necessarily follows that knowing Christ and his teachings are critical components. In Acts 8:1 and 11:19 we see that some of the early believers scattered because of the persecution which ensued following Stephen’s death. No one knows what they took with them regarding possessions, but it might be assumed, they took with them a limited knowledge of Christ and the “gospel”. After all, they were mostly new believers and there had been little time for cultivating or strengthening their faith.
When Paul, Barnabas, and John-Mark made their fist journey at the commissioning of the church in Antioch of Syria, they spent much of their time “evangelizing”. Then, after Paul was stoned at Lystra, they began making plans to return to Antioch. They returned to some of the believing groups they had developed in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia. Their message was one intended to strengthen and encourage them to “continue in the faith” since apparently there was or would be “many tribulations.” They must endure in order to “enter into the kingdom of God.” Before leaving the area, they appointed Elders in each of the churches. It does not say what the role of these elders were at this point, just that they were appointed.
In these infant years of the church, what exactly or how exactly, were new believers strengthened and encouraged? There was no Apostle’s Creed, not official documents or “statement of faith”. There was no Sunday School curriculum or discipleship program. I suspect they relied on one another for what they had heard and seen. Therefore, they were dependent on one another for stability and staying power.
Is there little wonder that the early church struggled in its belief system? Does it strike anyone as surprising that Paul, Timothy, Peter, John, and the three evangelists found it necessary, even expedient, to provide a more “corrective” compendium of information?
Perhaps, just perhaps, the whole foundation of these early believers centered around what Jesus offered:
“‘Hear O Israel; the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and will all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Mark 12:29-31)
Nevertheless, they began to drift away from this as the days passed and the tribulations began. Their confusion compounded as insiders and outsiders began chipping away at these foundational principles or even worse, adding to them. They were drifting from their “first love.” (Galatians 1-2, Revelation 2:4)
Developing disciples is not an easy task. It was not then and it is not now. It is hard work and takes a significant investment of time, energy and sometimes dollars. However, the dividends reaped are eternal in many regards.
The church we plan to join is just now embarking on a journey toward “formal” discipleship. I am excited to see what happens and how I might become involved. It should be an interesting journey.