Ernest Loosely divides his book When the Church was Young into two parts. In the first part, Loosely describes several things that the early church did not have, while in the second part (reviewed in this post) he describes three things that the early church DID have: an experience, a store of teaching from Christ, and a Gospel.
To begin with, Loosely said that the early church had an experience of living with Jesus Christ. This began with the early apostles and disciples who spent three years with Jesus:
With Him through months of success and popularity, with Him through seasons of gloom and apparent failure; with Him in city and village, in the country and by the seashore, on mountain and lake; with Him while He was teaching and working miracles, while He was meeting the arguments of hostile Pharisees, and while He was taking little children in His arms; with Him in the crowds, and afterwards in the silence and the solitude; and all the time the wealth of His soul was being outpoured into their lives. (p. 63-64)
The church continued to experience the presence of Jesus after his ascension through his indwelling presence. This presence gave them “a sense of power, of adequacy, of readiness to cope with any situation that arose.” (p. 66) They presence of Christ also gave them a sense of joy and a desire to share what had happened to them with one another and with others.
In fact, the experience of the abiding presence with Jesus was a replacement (and a better replacement) for the experience of the physical presence of Jesus. In fact, later disciples (Paul, for example) would write about knowing Christ in a way that went beyond the physical. As Loosely explains:
Paul had arrived at a sense of communion with Christ of the deepest and most intimate kind. It is a fellowship far closer than that of mere physical nearness. Far closer! (p. 66)
But, what does Loosely mean by “an experience”? He explains further when he begins to describe the young church’s possession of “a store of teaching from Christ”:
When the church was very young, it also had a store of teaching received from Christ. An “experience” might possibly be thought of as an emotional state, a transient sentiment. Had that been all the church had when it was young, it would quickly have subsided, the members in the movement left flat and spiritless. But Jesus had given to the disciples something so profound, we are thinking about it still, with a growing conviction that there is food for thought not only for their age and ours, but for all those yet to come. (p. 71)
Yes, their experience was more than emotion or sentiment. It was an encounter with the living and risen Christ, and it continued through his indwelling presence.
Simultaneously, they continued to learn from Jesus through one another. They contemplated and meditated on the teachings of Jesus. In the same way, Loosely says that the church today must preserve for ourselves and proclaim to mankind the words of Jesus.
How do we proclaim them? As gospel – “good news”! This is the third possession of the young church according to Loosely. The earliest disciples were amazed at the good news that was proclaimed to them by Jesus and that currently reshaped their lives. Everything was different!
They found that the news was so good that joy flooded all circumstances and situation, such that the good news became better than oppression or suffering.
Eventually, they found that this “good news” also affected people who lived in other cultures with different backgrounds. The gospel became even better news as it reached across cultural, economic, religious, ethnic, and all other barriers to change the lives of people.
Loosely closes this short book with this:
When the church was very young, it had a gospel; and now that the church is no longer young, but tempted to think of itself as entitled to the reliefs and relaxations of advancing years, the church has nothing better than the gospel to give to the world. (p. 78)
I don’t know about you, but this is a reminder that I needed moving into the new year.