Part 21 – The First Century Christian Habitat
If we are going to live the highest life, by the life of God Himself, we are going to have to return to the original habitat in which we were intended to live. Unfortunately, what they had in the first three centuries is so foreign to us, that it’s almost impossible to describe.
What was that early habitat like?
Well, being a believer and living in his habitat were synonymous. In fact, it was their commitment to their habitat that defined what Christians were, to the rest of the world. To the world around them, it was not just their belief in Christ that made them different. It was not just the fact, that they had been radically changed by Christ. What really impressed the world around them, was their habitat. It was the way they all stuck together in their habitat.
“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. ….” (1 John 3:19, NIV).
The sign that confirmed that people had become Christians, was not their life for God, but their life for each other! As the old song says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love …”.
They did not try to escape from the sin of man and his civilization. Instead, they set up their habitat in the middle of that civilization, and then they proceeded to ignore it!
The early believer’s habitat had no national structure, every habitat was local in nature … just local gatherings. On occasion, they had contact with other believers from other places, but they were completely autonomous, in each location.
Every believer was found in a habitat, and all were very close to each other. There were no special buildings involved, just interdependence on each other, and on the Lord.
The Christian life will never make complete sense without our habitat. Yet most Christians today, seeking to grow in Christ, have never heard about this habitat, and don’t know they need it, but something inside of them longs for it instinctively.
The life that God planned for us, is a life lived in love and care. It is a life lived in close proximity to others, a life of experiencing Christ together, internally and corporately. That was the Christian life, that was experienced in the first three centuries.
“Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. (Philippians 2:2, NIV).
“One in love, spirit and purpose.” Institutional churches have strived to attain this for centuries. But it was one of the earmarks of the early church.
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. (1 Peter 1:22, NIV).
Loving each other deeply is impossible without community, where we are able to discover, embrace, and serve each other in tangible ways. Deep love cannot exist without a certain degree of self-disclosure.
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:11-12, NIV).
God’s love is made complete or mature in us, as we love each other. Living in community, where we are exposed to each other’s weaknesses, is the crucible in which mature love is developed.
If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21, NIV).
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. (1 John 5:1-2, NIV).
Loving God and loving the family of God are intertwined. They cannot be separated. But this is how we can test our love for the family of God … in the habitat of God, in Christian Community.
(Note: I am indebted to Gene Edwards for many of the concepts in this series.)
… Next time …. Part 22 – What Happened To The First Christian Habitat?