A gracEmail subscriber writes, “I keep hearing from fellow ministers that we need to become a first-century or New Testament church. Does not the New Testament show the first-century churches to be just as fraught with problems as churches today?”
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Throughout church history, various Christian groups have sought to “restore” New Testament Christianity. Insofar as that means proclaiming the original good news of God’s mighty, saving deeds, giving Jesus the place of preeminence the New Testament accords him, relying on the same divine power and leading of the Holy Spirit that characterized first-century believers at their best, and sharing the same fervent love, evangelistic zeal, and persevering joy which we see in those ancient disciples, it must surely be a good thing.
If, on the other hand, we imagine some idealized first-century church that perfectly manifested God’s will for humankind and served as a model for all future generations, we move from history to imagination and slide into a world of fantasy rather than fact. It was the sins, errors and weaknesses of the various New Testament churches that most of our New Testament Scriptures were written to correct. Nor do the external details of the New Testament church provide a basis for Christian conformity, for even believing people have never agreed among themselves which first-century details should be copied universally and which were merely incidental to first-century life in the Near East.
The New Testament itself never tells us to copy the first-century church. Instead, it calls us to preach the same eternal gospel, to faithfully serve God who never changes, and to encounter each new day in company with the living and risen Jesus who is the same yesterday, today and forever. As we focus on those goals, we just might discover that we are experiencing “New Testament Christianity” in ways that are richer and deeper than anything we ever might have imagined.