Can we actually know the basic beliefs and practices of the Book-of-Acts Church? I was astounded to find millions of hits when I googled “Book-of- Acts Church” on the internet. This demonstrates an intense interest in the basic beliefs and practices of the early church. Oddly, in checking many sites, very few came even close to accurately describing those core beliefs and practices. Does it even matter what the early church believed and practiced? If you believe it does matter, I invite you to examine the following Scriptures to find answers to the following questions:
1. What did the early church believe about God?
2. What did the early church believe about Jesus (Yeshua)?
3. What did the early church believe and practice about the kingdom of God and entrance into that kingdom?*
* In this regard, what did the early church teach and practice concerning repentance, baptism in water and the reception of the spirit?
Both Jesus and his disciples expressed themselves simply and plainly. We can easily discover the truth. Many things I read seem to be an attempt to explain away the most clear and obvious statements of both Jesus and his followers. Let me share what I have learned.
The great concern of the early church was the Kingdom of God. This is referred to nearly 70 times in the New Testament. In Romans 14:17 Paul defines that kingdom with these words, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” The following two verses of Scripture clearly define the bedrock beliefs of the early church for entrance into the Kingdom of God:
- Jesus’ prayer to the Father in John 17:3, "And eternal life is this: TO KNOW YOU, the only true God, and HIM WHOM YOU SENT, Yeshua the Messiah."
- Peter’s answer to the question of those who discover the above, “What shall we do?” is found in Acts 2:38 “Repent and be immersed each one of you in the name of Yeshua the Messiah for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost confirms this. In Acts 2:22-24 we read, “You who are Israelites, hear these words. Jesus the Nazorean was a man commended to you by God with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs, which God worked through him in your midst, as you yourselves know. This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him. But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it.”
In verses 32 and 33 he says, “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the holy spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you (both) see and hear.” Then in verse 36, Peter says, “Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified."
When the crowd gathered in Jerusalem that day heard these words, they were cut to the heart and asked, “Men and brothers, what are we to do?” (Acts 2:37) Peter’s answer in Acts 2:38 describes entrance into the Kingdom of God, as practiced throughout the book of Acts and on through the New Testament: "Repent and be immersed, every one of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit.” That this was meant for everyone can be easily understood from verse 39: “For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call."
An unbiased reading of the Acts of the Apostles will clearly demonstrate that the two verses, cited above, are the rock-bottom basic beliefs of the early church. Repentance and the Kingdom of God were preached everywhere. Every time immersion (baptism) was described in the Acts, it was in the name of the Messiah. (It is interesting to note that in the 4th century, Eusebius quotes Matthew 28:19 in the following manner 21 times , “Go ye and make disciples of all the nations in my name.” Also, the Shem Tov Hebrew Matthew simply reads, “19 Go 20 and (teach) them to carry out all the things which I have commanded you forever.” This has led a number of scholars to believe the words, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost,” which the apostles never used, could have been added under Constantine.)
There are enough examples of the reception of the Spirit in the Acts for us to know what to expect when the Spirit is received today. Our modern-day discussions about baptismal regeneration would not be understood by the early church. Does baptism, in and of itself, save anyone? We all know the answer to that. The clear command is for all to repent and be baptized (immersed) in the name of Yeshua (Jesus) the messiah for the remission or forgiveness of sins. That really needs no explanation. It is crystal clear.
John 17:3 is absolutely clear: "And eternal life is this: TO KNOW YOU, the only true God, and HIM WHOM YOU SENT, Yeshua the Messiah." The Father is the only true God. He sent Jesus, the Messiah. To know and love the Father as the only true God and to know and love God’s son, the man Yeshua (Jesus), the Messiah, is eternal life. Everything else in the Bible on the nature of God and his son should be interpreted in the light of Jesus’ clear statement. Acts 2:38 and 39 are equally clear. “Repent and be immersed each one of you in the name of Yeshua the Messiah for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.” With John 17:3 as the foundation, we are to repent and be immersed in the name of Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah for the remission or forgiveness of sins. It is then expected that we consciously receive the Holy Spirit in a way that reflects the receptions of the Spirit described in the Book of Acts.
I conclude with a few passages that show that these really were the core beliefs and practices of the early church. Neither Peter, nor the other apostles, would have understood our Trinitarian, Oneness (Modalist) and Arian creeds. There are other important aspects of the early church, such as fellowship, teaching, prayer and giving, that I have not dealt with, but in reading through the Book of Acts, we see the clear foundation of John 17:3 and Acts 2:38-39. My prayer and passion is for this simple faith to be restored throughout the earth. If this is your desire, I would love to hear from you or receive an email. I am especially interested in knowing of fellowships building on this foundation.
The following Scriptures are a further substantiation of these findings. If you feel anything has been overlooked or is in error, I welcome your input.
Acts 3:11-23 11 While the man (healed lame beggar) held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.
17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22 For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23 Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.’
Acts 7:55-56 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Acts 8:14-16 14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Acts 10:34-38 34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
Acts 19:1-7 1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied.
4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
Acts 22:6-16 6 “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’
8 “‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. “‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 9 My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.
10 “‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked. “ ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.
12 “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him. (In Acts 9:17 “Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”)
14 “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’
To summarize, the early church spoke of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, who glorified his servant Jesus, the God who raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead and he is now at the right hand of God. God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. At Pentecost Peter said, “God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” All of these biblical statements are easy to understand. God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah. God’s raising him from the dead confirms this.
That Yeshua, whom Yahveh raised from the dead, is the one true God’s special anointed one is the heart of the message of the early church. All those who accept this are called to repentance, to be baptized in Jesus’ Name and to consciously receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Repentance, baptism in Jesus’ Name and the reception of the Spirit with the signs enumerated in Acts 2, 10 and 19 are normative. Doing this brings us the living hope and the joy unspeakable and full of glory that Peter speaks about in his first epistle.
The disciples did not modify in any way the Jewish belief in the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Later in their letters they would refer to Him as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us work and pray for a restoration of this foundation everywhere.
God bless you. God bless you. I welcome your input and also any requests for clarification or more information. Rediscovering and boldly proclaiming the core beliefs and practices of the early church can be the spark that ignites a powerful revival. We are open to teach and preach these truths wherever we are invited, as the Lord provides. I can be contacted at 619-368-3206.
William Carey Clark - Updated December, 2016
Springfield, TN - USA
Jesus’ prayer to the Father, "And eternal life is this: TO KNOW YOU, the only true God, and HIM WHOM YOU SENT, Yeshua the Messiah." John 17:3
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus… 1 Timothy 2:5