What did the first Christians believe?

Some two thousand years have passed since a Carpenter in Galilee began proclaiming a message that would change the world. He said He would form a fellowship that would last forever (Matthew 16:18). Shortly after His death the church of Christ was established. His teachings were scattered as with the wind to all parts of the world.

But that was long ago. Much has happened since then. Many false teachers have arisen as Jesus predicted. In our time people are confronted with such an array of conflicting doctrines and practices that many do not know what to believe.

Why not go to the source and ask: “What did the first Christians believe? What was the church like in the beginning?”

In the Bible, in the New Testament, the first century church is described.

It is regrettable that in our time many who call themselves Christians do not really believe much of anything! The first Christians had a faith that conquered the world.

What is faith?

By accepting reliable testimony we can know things we did not experience personally. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Have you heard someone say, “I'll only believe that when I see it”? This is not reasonable, because if you see something, faith is not required.

Faith is the acceptance of testimony. For example, how do you know that Socrates was a Greek philosopher? You know this by faith. You believe what Plato and others wrote about him, although Socrates himself did not leave any writings.

Faith in God is based on evidence and testimony. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). The creation proves God's existence. We accept the proof.

If you saw the words, “God is good,” formed with sea shells on the sand by the sea, what would you conclude? Could anyone make you believe that the waves had accidently washed the shells into such a form? No, you would know that someone had been there before you, who formed the words on the sand.

When we observe the intricate systems of life on earth, we know Someone made these things: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:20).

John says that Christian faith rests on testimony: “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son” (1 John 5:9, 10).

We accept many things by faith in the testimony of men. God's testimony is greater. There is no excuse for not accepting the truths to which He testifies. If we reject God's testimony we are calling Him a liar.

Faith is a valid method of gaining knowledge. Some say, “You do not know God exists, you just believe He exists.” They are mistaken. I know God exists. My knowledge is based on faith, that is true. But the testimony is reliable and the evidence is conclusive, irrefutable.

Do you know that Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo? Yes, you know this, but not because you participated in the battle, but by faith in written testimony.

In the same way, we know that Jesus rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Christian faith is based on the testimony of eyewitnesses. Their testimony is recorded in the New Testament.

John testifies: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life - the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us - that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:1-3).

Peter testifies: “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).

The first Christians believed God.

“Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

The first Christians not only believed that God exists, they also believed His testimony, the word of God.

“For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

The first Christians believed the Scriptures.

Jesus taught that the Scriptures are trustworthy. He said. “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

Jesus confirmed events in the Old Testament. He referred to the creation of Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4). He mentions the murder of Abel (Matthew 23:35). He speaks about Noah and the flood (Matthew 24:37, 38). He mentions the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Matthew 10:15; 11:23, 24). He refers to Lot's flight from Sodom and to his wife who became a pillar of salt (Luke 17:28, 29, 32). Jesus refers to the time when it did not rain for three years and six months because of Elijah's prayer (Luke 4:25). He mentions the healing of Naaman the leper (Luke 4:27). He said that “Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish” (Matthew 12:40).

People who deny the truth of these happenings in the Old Testament have no right to call themselves Christians because they do not believe Christ. He taught that these things happened. As He told the Jews: “If you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:46, 47).

The first Christians considered the New Testament writings to be Scripture. Peter refers to the letters of Paul as Scripture (2 Peter 3:14-16). Paul quotes from the gospel of Luke (Luke 10:7) as Scripture (1 Timothy 5:18).

The first Christians believed that the Scriptures were inspired by God: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17), “knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20, 21). The words used came from God: “These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches” (1 Corinthians 2:13). Through “prophetic Scriptures” the gospel would be “made known to all nations” (Romans 16:26).

The first Christians believed Jesus.

They believed that He is “the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 16:16). They believed that He rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-6). They believed that He has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). They believed that He is “the head of the body, the church” (Ephesians 1:22, 23). They believed that He is coming again (Revelation 1:7). They believed that He will “be Judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:39-43).

The first Christians believed there is one faith.

Paul speaks of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). He warns, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Jude writes that Christians must “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

The first Christians believed that Jesus is the Savior of the world.

This message they called 'the gospel', 'the good news'.

They believed that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, 24) and that salvation is only through Christ, “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24), “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). He is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

They viewed faith and confession as essential: “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:10).

They believed that a spiritual rebirth is required. “Unless one is born again ... Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, 5).

The first Christians believed that this spiritual rebirth takes place at baptism from which one rises “to walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-5).

Paul explained that “according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

Peter commanded, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). They believed that sins are washed away at baptism: “Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16) and that baptism “now saves us ... through the resurrection of Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). Jesus declared, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).

What did the first Christians believe?

Based on conclusive evidence and divine testimony, they believed in God, and that He makes His will known through Scriptures. They believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They believed that there is one faith and that Christians must maintain that faith. They taught that faith, repentance, confession and baptism are essential for salvation.

To be saved we must believe what the first Christians believed. Only if we have their faith can we have the salvation and hope they had. Amen.

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers.
Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive