It was the apostle Paul who said, “Be followers or imitators of me, even as also am of Christ. (1 Cor 11:1) Christ commissioned His apostles to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature (Matthew 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15, 16). The apostles were guided by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26 cf; 15:26; 16:7, 13). Hence, they were inspired when they spoke.
After the apostles baptized confessed believers who were repentant, they were to teach these converts to “observe all things” whatsoever the Lord had commanded the apostles. The disciples of the first century, did this: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine, and fellowship and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). Thus, the church of the New Testament is a model or pattern for brethren to go by today.
In considering the cases of conversion, one is immediately impressed with the order or pattern set for obedience. The same form was required of all (Rom. 6:17, 18). The course followed by the disciples in becoming the children of God has served and still serves as a pattern for acceptance into the kingdom of God. The pattern followed was: faith and confession that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God (Jn 8:24 f; Rom 10:9,10); and repentance and baptism in water for the remission of sins ( Lk 13:3 ff; Acts 2:38; 8:36-38; I Peter 3:21). When obeyed, this made one a child of God. Therefore, one must serve as a pattern for acceptable obedience to the plan of salvation.
Upon conversion, the believers were added to the church which Christ built, died for, and is the head thereof. (Mt 16:18 ff; Acts 20:28; In every town where the gospel was preached and obeyed, a local church was established. These congregations had a certain form of government. It consisted of qualified Elders and Deacons. (1 Tim 3:1-13) The Elders were charged with the oversight of the congregation of which they were a member (I Pet 5:1,2). The Deacons were servants to minister to the needs of the saints in any scriptural work planned by the elders (Acts 14:23 ff; I Tim 3:1-7; Acts 20:28; I Pet 5:1,2; Heb 13:17). This form of government was acceptable to God for all the saints to follow then, now, and as long as the world stands.
The Lord’s Supper, the collection of the saints, singing and praying was the order of worship of churches during the days of the apostles. This was done on the first day of the week. Along with this worship there was the preaching of the Gospel. The brethren followed the apostles doctrine when they did this. Therefore, their worship was pleasing to God, and their example would be a worthy one for us to imitate.
The church of the New Testament had an excellent program of work. It consisted of edification, evangelism, and benevolence. No congregation could last long without mutual edification. A great amount of teaching and exhorting was used in the first century to edify the church (I Cor 14:4). The church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch to strengthen the brethren, “Who when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord” (Acts 11: 23). This pattern worthy of being repeated and constitutes a pattern for edification.
The spirit of evangelism prevailed in the early days of the church. This is one reason why the church grew so rapidly. When the church was persecuted, the brethren “went everywhere preaching the word.” Philip went to Samaria; Ananias preached in Damascus; Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, Silas and others went into Macedonia and finally to Rome. (Consider, there were no missionary societies, sponsoring churches or colleges then) The preacher either supported himself with his own hands or he was supported by the church or brethren (Acts 18:3; 20:34 ff; 2 Corinthians 11: 8, Phil. 4: 15; I Thess 1: 9; 2 Thess 3:8). When preaching where the church was not established, churches would send “wages” directly to the man in the field (2 Corinthians ll:8 f; Phil. 4: 15). Brethren, did the disciples “observe” this apostolic doctrine in doing this? If so, it established a pattern in evangelization.
Caring for the needy saints was likewise a work of the apostolic church. When emergencies arose in a congregation, they were remedied by the local congregation. (Acts 2: 44, 45; 4: 34-36 ff; Acts 6: 1-6; Acts 11:27-30, etc.) If the problem was greater than they could bear, then sister congregations would help bear the burden (Acts 11:26 ff; Rom 15:25-31 ff; I Cor 16:1, 2; 2 Cor 8:4; 9:1, 12, 13). Were these churches following or observing the commandments of the apostles? If yes, then there is a pattern in benevolence.
During all their distresses, famines, or calamities, the brethren never worked through man made schemes or organizations. Yet they did their work scripturally. I would that all brethren would accept the pattern established by the church during the 1st century, and return to the simplicity that is in Christ. Like Jeremiah of old said, there is a need for a “return to the old ways, wherein is the good way, and walk therein, and you shall find rest for your souls.” (Jer 6:16)