“Preacher, if we could just be a New Testament church, we would be better off.” “Let’s try to be a New Testament church.” “The church in the New Testament knew how church was suppose to be done.” These have been battle cries in the Baptist church for decades if not longer. I still hear this often in my ministry just how awesome the New Testament church was and how that should be our goal.
So many place the New Testament church on such an unbelievably high pedestal without ever really examining just what the New Testament church looked like. When you examine the New Testament, you will learn that the New Testament church was just as messy as the churches and denominations today filled with debate and squabbles. I do not write this to cause you to lose your admiration for the New Testament church or the early church. I write this to raise your admiration for the church today. We are not as far off from the New Testament church as many believe.
First, the New Testament church fought over what should be done by the Christians and the church. These squabbles can be found throughout the New Testament. In Acts 15, the church calls a gathering of church leaders to make some authoritative decisions on controversies in the churches. They discuss circumcision and whether or not it is required of Christians. There were people in the church in support (Acts 15:5) and others against (Acts 15:8ff) circumcision. They also discussed dietary restrictions and sexual restriction in Acts 15. The outcome of this conference was three fold: 1. Circumcision is not required, 2. One should abstain from eating food sacrificed to idols with a few other restrictions, 3. One should be sexually pure.
That sounds great. The New Testament had a controversy, they met, and they settled the issue. Then, read 1 Corinthians 8:1-5, Paul clearly states that eating food sacrificed to idols is not a sin in itself, but it is only a sin if it causes another Christian to stumble. Also, in Romans 14, Paul makes it seem that it is ok to eat food offered to idols. These passages seem to be different than the Acts 15 directive. Now, you can read a many a scholar and preacher that can break down the different situations from Acts to Corinthians to Romans. You can read many different opinions on the subject.
The one thing I notice is, the situation is messy. It wasn’t settled in one meeting. This food debate took time. People are giving different opinions. People were trying to discover the truth. People were in debate over these issues. I would even guess there was heated exchange or two…Does that sound familiar? It sounds like the church today.
Then, in Galatians 2, we learn that Peter was eating and socializing with Gentiles, but when certain men from James came for a visit, Peter withdrew and stopped socializing with Gentiles. Peter was a church leader changing his ministry to fit in with Jame’s people. Church leaders trying to be popular rather than true to the gospel…I see that in the church today. I’m glad Paul confronted Peter, and I hope others will confront me if I do this in my ministry.
In 1 Corinthians 3, we learn of folks that were claiming to follow Paul and others claiming to follow Apollos. Church members choosing to follow church leaders and men instead of choosing to follow Christ. Sounds like those church folks today and their fanaticism with Charles Stanley, Max Lucado, Joel Osteen etc. I’m sure these pastors and Christian writers would have a similar reaction to this as Paul in 1 Coritnthains 3:7, the one who has sown and the one who watered are nothing compared to God who caused the growth.
Read the New Testament epistles. Huge amounts of time and words are used to deal directly with squabbles and conteoversies within the various congregations and church leaders to which they are addressed.
The New Testament church argued over circumcision, food guidelines, had church leaders who messed up, and misguided followers. If you ask me, the church today is doing a fine job of being like the New Testament church.
Again, I don’t share this to lesson your opinion of the early church. The New Testament faced unbelievable challenges and took the gospel from some backwater province in the Roman Emprie throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. They overcame tremendous obstacles and saw amazing growth. The New Testament church deserves our gratitude and respect. If they didn’t tell, then we wouldn’t have heard the gospel.
My point is the church today can be just as amazing. The early church wasn’t filled with men and women with superpowers. The New Testament church was filled with messed up and broken people just like the church today. They just allowed God to use them, and boy did God use them in a mighty way to shake the Roman Empire.
I hope after reading this, you will just be willing to be used by God and have more faith in the church today. We are not that far off from the New Testament church. Let’s let go of our feelings of inadequacies when comparing ourselves to the New Testament church. Let open ourselves to God, and see what God can do with us messed up broken people in the church today. I think we might just be surprised to learn we can shake the world too, just like the New Testament church.