Pete Phillips explains why being a Christian does not mean magical...
What did the early Church do with converts?
The relevant Hebrew word is talmid and Jesus’s disciples were known as his talmidim. This comes from the root word lamad, which means “to learn”. Interestingly, lamad is also a Hebrew letter, representing a goad, a stick used to train oxen, with the literal meaning of “the thing that teaches”. It also towers over all other letters in the alphabet, it really raises its head above the parapet. What does this all tell us? It tells us the high place of education, of learning and teaching, of how disciples must be prodded and encouraged by their teacher. A verse comes to mind, where Jesus tells his talmidim:
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:29)
We remind ourselves of the key command which Jesus left for his Church.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
This is not about making converts, conveyor-belt evangelism. This is about an ongoing process, nurturing these new creations and acting as spiritual midwives to ensure their transition to this new life is effective and foundational. To do so, the best environment for these new believers is a living Church. And the corollary to this is that the Church is not the best environment in other situations.
The nurturing of these talmidim is not just by teaching but by example. The Greek model for this process takes graduates straight out of seminary and places them in a teaching role. The Hebraic model is to study in order to do and then doing in order to teach. They need to first gain experience of acting on God’s Word before they can teach it to others. Then they must teach this to the talmidim, emphasising the importance of doing the word and not just learning the Word.
Many Church buildings on a Sunday are inhabited by a very varied group of people. There are those who have been there man and boy (and woman and girl) ever since their parents used to drag them there. They have just got used to the place and they enjoy the social aspects of meeting familiar faces. There are those who are currently being dragged there by parents (or wives). And then there are also some Christians there. This is not the original model …
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
The Church gathering was of all believers and was added to by those who were being saved. It was a place for the redeemed, to grow together as the Body of Christ, it wasn’t a seeker-friendly place for evangelism. The early Church did their evangelism elsewhere, after all the Great Commission commanded us to go out and make disciples, not invite them in to meet disciples. Paul and others did their outreaches on the streets, at the marketplaces, in synagogues and at the Temple. All places where people are to be found in their natural state.
Hebraic Church should be a place where like-minded believers grow together, worship together and exercise their gifts. It is also a place of discipleship, as what can be more exciting for a new believer than witnessing the blessings of Christians coming together in expectation, as they did in the Acts passage above. This is not generally going to happen if the fellowship are minded to modify their behaviour because of the presence of those who are not (yet) new creations. Of course there needs to be a place for these people, in order for them to come to an understanding of God, but this will be a different place.
This is an extract from the book, Hebraic Church, available for £10 at http://www.sppublishing.com/hebraic-church-101-p.asp