Early  Christianity began roughly 2,000 years ago, shortly after the death,  resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Acts 11:26b says, “It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.”  “Christians” means “Christ’s people.” Early Christianity consisted of a group of  loosely connected local bodies of believers who gathered together on a regular  basis, usually in each other’s homes to fellowship and worship together (Acts 16:15; 18:7; 21:8; Romans 16:5; Colossians 4:15). These  churches generally had the organization of pastors, elders, and deacons within  each individual congregation.

This early New Testament church lived  communally and often shared resources such as food and money (Acts 2:44-45 and Acts 4:32-36). Their  services consisted mainly of preaching (during which time they might also read  letters from missionaries such as Paul) and the singing of songs. They took  offerings to support the journeys of their missionaries, and they performed  baptisms. Also, they celebrated the Lord’s Supper each time they gathered  together.

But, soon, early Christianity was challenged by Roman  persecution. The majority of the persecution began with the great fire in Rome  that destroyed much of the city and devastated the economy. In an attempt to  absolve himself, the Roman Emperor Nero claimed it was the Christians who tried  to destroy Rome and its pagan gods. From that point on, the Christians were  blamed for many of the misfortunes befalling the Empire. Persecution and  martyrdom was quick to follow. Because of this persecution, the Christians were  forced to meet in the catacombs, which were long, dark galleries under the city  of Rome. There they continued their meetings, baptisms, and even burials for  their dead. As a result of the persecution, many of the early Christians were  scattered throughout the Roman Empire, expediting the cause of evangelism and  fulfilling the Lord’s commands to make disciples of all nations (Acts 8:1, 4-40; 11:19-26; Matthew  28:18-20).

Because the early church was not focused on the  maintenance of a church building, endless programs, and technology, they were  able to concentrate on the study of God’s Word, service and dedication to one  another, hospitality, benevolence, and missions (Romans 1:815:19; 1 Thessalonians  1:7-8; Acts  13:1-26:32). While programs and technology can make some of these things  easier, the early church had a pure, simplistic approach. Compared to the  structured organization of the church today, the early church looked more like  the informal settings of one of our Bible studies or small groups.

Both  early and modern Christianity have good and bad characteristics, and neither can  be idealized. The positives which characterized the early church—a passion for  Christ and His Word and a strong love for one another—are what we should strive  to emulate in the modern church.