Saturday, June 12, 2010

Just Like the Early Church

Is your church just like the early church? And is this the real goal?

If we look at the New Testament, we find the Corinthians, who were divided into factions, the Galatians, who were in danger of denying the gospel, the Philippians, who had problems with unity, the Colossians, who were struggling with a world-denying heresy, the Thessalonians, who were quitting their jobs to wait for the Second Coming. The church of Jerusalem had problems with the gospel going to the Gentiles (Acts 11:1-2; 15:1-5; 21:17-26). Where does the idea of the exceptional spirituality of the early church come from?

There is their success in terms of results (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 17:6). Scripture attributes results not to our spirituality but to the power of God (1 Corinthians 3:5-7; Matthew 16:18; Psalms 127:1,2). A great revival resulted from the preaching of Jonah, who pouted because God showed mercy instead of judgment (see Jonah 3,4). The early church was not exceptionally spiritual, but they had a powerful God who we can trust in, even if we do not see the same results.

Also, there is the description in Acts 2:42-47. Many things listed here are found in the present-day Christian church. But a few things are not necessarily practiced today. There is the performance of miracles, which is a highly controversial issue. I hold that they still happen, but according to God's will (1 Corinthians 12:11-30). But many disagree, and the question is what is the correct position on this issue. Further, they had all things in common. But this was not the general practice of the New Testament (1 Timothy 6:17,18; James 1:10,11), which commands the rich to be generous, but not to contribute their riches into a common store. I take this as a special provision to help those who had lost their jobs due to being thrown out of the synagogue. But if this is a universal command, we need to start obeying it. Also, they met together daily in each other's homes. While the Scripture commands us to meet together, it does not give a required frequency (Hebrews 10:25). This practice reflected their particular situation, including the absence of church buildings. But if this is a commandment we have neglected, we should start obeying it.

Therefore, there is no solid evidence for the exceptional spirituality of the early church. This does not mean we should not work to improve our obedience to God individually and corporately. But the goal needs to be God's commandments, not a hypothetical state of the early church. The commandments of God are an unattainable standard. We must take it seriously, but are not surprised when we do not immediately reach the goal (Philippians 3:12-15). But the early church is an attainable standard, and if we have not met it, something is fundamentally wrong with us. This results in all manner of quick fixes to get us to where we think we need to be. But it is a false goal.

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