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Do I want to recreate the first century church?

Posted by on Jul 14, 2011 in definition | 5 comments

Do I want to recreate the first century church?

On this blog, I usually write about the church as they (church is a group of people, a collective, not an “it”) are described in the New Testament. Sometimes, when I talk to people in person – especially when someone wants to meet me for lunch or coffee or something like that for the first time – they want to talk about my understanding of the church.

Often, I’m asked a question like this: “So, do you want to see the first century church recreated today?”

And, my answer is always the same thing: “No. I think it would be impossible to recreate the first century church today.”

In fact, given my understanding of the church as people, I believe it would be impossible to recreate any other church at any other time, because people are constantly changing.

So, why am I so interested in comparing the church today to the church in the New Testament? Alan, it seems like you DO want to recreate the first century church.

Well, thanks for asking, Alan. I’ll try to explain.

In Scripture, we read about how God interacted with his church during that time period. We also read about how God’s people interacted with one another. We can read what various writers said about the importance of holding fast to certain types of interaction while, at the same time, staying away from other types of interaction.

You can think about the “one anothers” here if you want to. While there are primarily positive “one anothers” (i.e., love one another, build up one another, teach one another, serve one another, encourage one another, consider one another), there are also a few negative “one anothers” (i.e., do not devour one another, do not judge one another, do not provoke one another, do not envy one another). The question is not: “Are we showing love to one another in the same way that first century followers of Jesus Christ would show love to one another?” The question is: “Are we showing love to one another?”

In this way, we can use the examples, principles, and commands of Scripture (both the positive and negative versions) to compare our own lives together in Christ.

In Scripture – as I said before – we can see how God interacts with his people and how his people interact with one another. Is this the way that we are interacting with God and with one another? If not, the answer is not to return to the first century, but to examine which of our relationships (either with God or with one another) are skewed.

When I’m asked that question (you know, “Do you want to recreate the first century church today?”), I usually end my answer – similar to the answer above – with something like this:

The biggest problem in the modern church is not trying to recreate the first century church today. The biggest problem is projecting the modern church back onto the first century church.


5 Comments

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  1. 7-14-2011

    Excellent. I would concur, the goal is not to “recreate” the first century church but to learn from the record of the first century church to help guide how we should interact with one another and serve God today.

  2. 7-14-2011

    I agree also. I like that idea of projecting the modern church back onto the NT church.

    But in light of our culture and modern technology, I sometimes wonder if Jesus, Peter, and Paul would have as much problem with our modern church as some of us do? I sometimes think they would not.

  3. 7-14-2011

    I don’t think its possible to “recreate” the first century church. We need to remember that the Bible does not give us a “model” of church per se. So there really is nothing to recreate. Rather , we need to look at the principles that are clear in the NT and apply those principles to church today. Will it look different to the NT church? Yes of course! A church based on NT principles in South Africa will not look the same as a church based on NT principles in North America. The church will always reflect the culture that it finds itself in and that will be different all over the world. What’s important is that we build the church based on those unchanging principles that we see in the New Testament.

    Jeremy, I think Jesus, Peter and Paul would be appalled by what “church” has become. We have moved so far away from their teachings that I doubt they would even recognize our Christian clubs as churches.

  4. 7-14-2011

    Arthur,

    Yes, exactly.

    Jeremy,

    I’m not sure about how Peter and Paul would respond to all of our traditions and organizations today. I think I know how they would respond to the people (the church) though.

    Nick,

    Yes, and the church that meets in X place today will be different from the church that met in the same place last week.

    -Alan

  5. 7-14-2011

    Alan,

    I often have a chuckle when I think about those who wish to recreate the church of the first century. To be authentic would mean living the very same life in which the first century church existed.

    Nick said it well.