Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Golden Age of the Church

It is a mistake to long for some past time when things were better than they are now (Ecclesiastes 7:10). Sometimes as Christians we want to look back to a previous age when Christianity was in better shape. But is this really a realistic expectation?

One time that is seen as the golden age was the New Testament church. But is this really true? There were the Corinthians, who were dividing into factions and indulging in questionable practices. There were the Galatians, who were departing the gospel of grace for salvation by works. There were the Colossians, who were flirting with strange teachings. There were the Thessalonians, who believed the Second Coming was happening immediately and had left their jobs to wait for it. All this sounds pretty much like now. In the ancient church that followed this time period, the church underwent severe persecution. Nonetheless, it struggled with difficult doctrinal issues and divisions which claimed the main body of the Christian church was too lax. Later the church was given peace, which led to complacency and the opportunity to engage in even more severe controversies. Now I do believe it is important to respect the great Christian thinkers of the past. But I also believe that simply because someone lived close to the time of the apostles does not mean they must have been correct in what they believed. The Israelites were worshiping the golden calf while Moses was still on the mountain. I also would put more credence in something that was deliberately discussed and thought through, like the Nicene Creed, than something that may have crept in over time.

There are others who would put special stock in the Protestant Reformation. Now this was a necessary reform of the teaching and practice of the church organization of that time. But this was not done without great strife and governmental involvement, complicating the matter. In the end, neither side came out looking good. Then there was the great era of revivals. This was an attempt to halt the rising tide of secularism. It rightly affirmed the need for individual responsibility, but often ended up advocating extreme experiences rather than a thought-out position. Nor should we try to go back to a pre-sixties state of society, which is sometimes longed for in the United States. The truth is, it was this state of society that led to the sixties. The traditional values of our society had become a thin veneer in many cases, and it is not surprising many decided to throw it off. The truth is, we cannot go back. We need to forget the past and do God's will in the society we find ourselves in now. The only true golden age of the church will be when we stand before God without spot or wrinkle. Every other age has been a mixture of good and evil, of dangers and opportunities, for those who follow Christ.    

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