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.