Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Looking for the Golden Age

It is common to live in longing for some golden age of the Christian church. The most nominated candidate is the time of the apostles. Others might look to  times like the Reformation or the Great Awakening. But the truth is, there never has been such a golden age and will not be until Christ Himself comes back to reign. This is important because it affects how we see the Christian life. My understanding from Scripture is that  Christian growth is a long process that we will not see the end of until we stand before God (Philippians 3:12-16; Hebrews12:1,2; 1 Timothy 4:7,8). But if there was a golden age, then it would imply that there was some simple formula that, if done, would bring about a near-perfect state of the church. Now is there anything historically that supports such a thing? Church history has its ups and downs; sometimes it reminds me of the book of Judges. Things go bad, and then God brings in someone who turns people back to Himself.  Then it goes downhill again. But there is nothing, even at the high points, that looks like a golden age.

What, then, about the time of the apostles? We have the Galatians, who were denying the gospel to adopt a life of keeping the law. The Corinthians were breaking off into factions and accepting immoral practices. The Thessalonians had decided the Second Coming was occurring and had quit their jobs and were living off others. The Colossians dabbled in some strange philosophy based on harsh treatment of the body. Even the Philippians and Ephesians, who come off somewhat better, were marked by strife and division. The church in Jerusalem had problems with Gentiles receiving the gospel. Now they were marked by meeting every day in private houses and having a common fund to help the poor (Acts 2:44,45; 4:32-37; 6:1). We need to ask if these things should be universal practices. But if they should, there are particular commandments of God we are not doing, and we need to start doing them. Now the church of the apostolic age was outwardly successful (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 17:6). But this was due, not to some perfection in the Christians of the time, but the power of God (Acts 2:47; 1 Corinthians 3:6,7; Matthew 16:18),

The problem with looking to recreate a golden age is that it distracts us from the real work of living for Christ even in difficult times. We start believing there is some panacea, which, if we can just find it, will solve most of our problems. But we should rather trust God to accomplish His will through us, even if it means alienating some people (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; 46:10). For it is what God is doing through us that makes   the difference, not the search for some hypothetical golden age (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 1:28,29).

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