the zeal, boldness, and courage of the early church

The Fervor of the Early Saints

One of the outstanding features of the early New Testament church was the zealous spirit of evangelism that seemed to fill the heart of every saint. The same enthusiasm with which Peter preached on the day of Pentecost was a driving force in the lives of the brethren. Even to this day men are impressed by the boldness of Peter and John standing daily in the temple proclaiming Christ. Time and again, the Jews would seize them, imprison them, and even inflict physical beating. And in the midst of such opposition, the Biblical record tells us that the brethren prayed that God would grant them boldness to speak the word. When called before the Jewish council and strictly commanded not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, they responded fearlessly with such comments as “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) and “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). All the threats and abuse from the Jews who understood not God’s plan of redemption through Christ could not deter the brethren from proclaiming the risen Lord. And the effectiveness of their preaching was so felt that even the Sanhedrin despisingly admitted that Jerusalem had been filled with the doctrine of Christ, and the council members marveled at the boldness of the disciples.

When the enemies of truth could not resist the wisdom and the spirit by which Stephen spake, they resorted to disreputable methods of obtaining testimony whereby he might be condemned to death. But the same zeal with which Stephen had preached was displayed even in his death, for he died praying to the Lord in whom he believed and whom he had proclaimed unto them. The killing of Stephen initiated a wave of violent opposition against the church, and the brethren scattered from Jerusalem. Incredible as it may seem, they went everywhere preaching the word. By this unquenchable fervor and zeal, the gospel was spread hastily.

It is most highly improbable that the brethren had any formal system of community evangelism or any predetermined evening set aside for a weekly visitation program. Can you even imagine how absurd it would have seemed to those brethren for someone to suggest a contest to see who could bring the most people to “Sunday school?” They founded no missionary societies, no schools to teach the Bible, and no organizations or institutions other than congregations of the Lord’s church. These were souls on fire for Jesus, just simply telling everyone they could about His love, His power, and His saving grace.

Paul, who formerly had been an opponent of the church, was converted, and the zeal with which he defended the gospel was of the same caliber that he had seen manifested by Stephen and others of the saints. He unflinchingly proclaimed, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). He wrote to Timothy, “Be not thou ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8).

Brethren, the church is still the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) and it is God’s eternal purpose that “by the church” the manifold wisdom of God be made known to all men (Ephesians 3:10). May God help us in these latter days to be salt to season the world, and a light to direct men out of darkness into the glorious way of the Lord.