The Myth of the First Century Church

By Justin Johnson

When talking about church history a common myth exists about the first century church.

The myth goes like this: there were no divisions in the early church, because they were so close to the ministry of Jesus.

The myth is more popular among those who deny Paul’s special apostleship. The description of Peter’s Holy Ghost filled remnant at Pentecost helps perpetuate the myth:

“And all that believed were together, and had all things common” – Acts 2:44

The myth manifests itself today when people talk about the “first century church”, or “the early church” as if all were in agreement.

The myth assumes that disagreements and denominations did not begin until much later in Europe and America. Since your mid-Acts Pauline dispensational belief is not the historical teaching of the so-called first century church, you must be wrong.

This is false. There were divisions, heresies, and denominations as early in history as Paul’s ministry.

First Century Divisions

The Corinthians had many divisions and heresies in their city (1 Cor 11:18-19). There were influential groups that were corrupting the word of God teaching another Jesus, and another Christian gospel (2 Cor 2:17; 2 Cor 11:4).

There were false Christian teachers in Rome that Paul advised to avoid (Rom 16:17-18).

The Galatians believed another gospel after hearing Paul’s, and were falling captive to religion instead of standing upon God’s grace (Gal 1:6).

Paul planted churches in Asia minor, but by the end of his ministry said “all they which are in Asia be turned away from me” (2 Tim 1:15).

There were erudite religious talkers who subverted whole houses in Paul’s ministry by their “good words and fair speeches” for the sake of getting more money, status, and control in the first century churches.

Paul wanted their mouths to be shut (Titus 1:10-11).

Which Church?

There were divisions and heresies in church history as far back as the days of Paul.

When someone says, “the early church taught/believed/did this”, your response might be, “which church?”

Nine times out of ten the answer is not a Pauline church, but one of the early divisions that created the high church, Roman church, or the more popular historical churches.

Not everyone in the first century was in agreement, especially about what God had revealed to Paul (Acts 28:25).

Paul was not in agreement with many first century teachers about the direction and doctrine of the church. We who are Pauline today find ourselves in the same boat with Paul in perils of church history.

Paul recognized the divisions and heresies, and tried to correct them. Paul was not popular.

There were always divisions. What matters is that you rightly divide.

If a choice must be made, it is better to be Biblical than to be historical. Better still to be Biblically Pauline than popular when challenged with what “the first century church” taught.

Top of the Page
Article Index
Published: December 27, 2014
Last Modified: December 27, 2014
Receive articles like this in our weekly email update sent free to subscribers.