Here’s an ill-thought out rant stimulated by a conversation I had in the car today.
There is much talk these days of getting back to the simplicity of being like the church found in the New Testament. If you were to ask an advocate of this view, they might turn, in a rather dreamy eyed fashion, to Acts 2:42:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (NIV)
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Teaching, prayer, communion, real fellowship, sharing possessions, signs and wonders, people becoming Christians. How simple it all was. “How lovely! If only…”, we like to think. Just get rid of the denominations, the structures, the buildings and we could get back to that New Testament idyll: the church as Jesus intended it to be.
The trouble is, I have to zoom out a bit and try and get the broader picture. (It is a habit I picked up from years of good Bible teaching in various places.) Now, what early church do we mean? Do we mean
- the early church in Jerusalem which tried to persuade gentiles to be circumcised and effectively become Jews before they could be called Christians?
- The church in Galatia with a similar problem?
- The church in Colossae with the Jesus-plus gospel?
- The church in Corinth with their factions? their failure to recognise apostolic authority? their incestuous sexual relationships?
- The churches which received John’s letters which were beset by pre-gnostic docetic heresies?
- The wider early church with itinerant false teachers (wolves in sheep’s clothing)? which they had to deal with at a time when no church had yet received all of the New Tesament revelation?
- etc, etc
Is this the church we mean? Do we really want to go back to all that?