The First Century Church Wasn’t Trying to be the First Century Church

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Last year at the Spiritual Growth Workshop in our Reaching the 20s & 30s class Eric Brown said this, “The New Testament church was not trying to be the New Testament Church. They were trying to be Jesus.” That hit me right between the eyes. Before we teach these things we have a pretty good idea of what each other are going to say and I had no idea Eric was going to shift my paradigm so quickly right there in the class like that. The Church of Christ has a tradition of trying to recreate the first century church. The thought is that since they were closer to Jesus and the apostles that they must have been exactly how the church is supposed to be (pay no mind to the occassional nature of the epistles and how basically all of them were written to address problems in these churches). If we come along and try to be something they weren’t even trying to be we miss the whole point. When we try to be Jesus, the church thing will happen. When we get caught up trying to imitate people who are trying to imitate someone else, we get one generation away from getting the point of the whole thing.

By the way, Eric’s point is biblical – Romans 8:29, 2 Cor 3:18

6 Responses

  1. The first time I heard someone say “I don’t want to be the 1st century church; I want to be the church in the 21st century” was at Harding and it shook me up too. It also turned about to be one of the most freeing ideas for me. It relieves the pressure of trying to perfectly emulate the 1st century church and frees you up to actually be the church.

    The other paradigm shift that really shook me up was the accusation of bibliolatry in the Churches of Christ. It never occurred to me that you could elevate the Bible too much, but I think the indictment is pretty spot on. I also think it explains why we don’t really talk about/know what to do with the Holy Spirit. If you think all answers are available in the Bible, then the Holy Spirit has no practical purpose in your life. And if you don’t believe the Holy Spirit is active in your life, you have to support all of your decisions with book, chapter, verse which leads to the prevalence of legalism is our churches. So, maybe our theology needs a second look?

    Just a little food for thought. Thanks for the conversation starter!

    1. You are dead on.I have studied churches for years.The Church of Christ has missed the mark and self pride is clouding the mirror.We are far from a unification effort and are viewed as the Pharisees.Ignoring the Holy Spirit is the high point of our error.Jesus had much to say about love,Spirit and Unity yet never bothered to let us know that using an piano during worship would send everyone in the congregation to Hell.Jesus clearly told us which sin was unforgivable and we have pridefully chosen the one.The Trinity is so clearly biblical.

  2. Matt’s post and the comments above are very uplifting and hopeful. I am no longer a memeber of the CoC(I gladly call myself a progressive, a Christian Humanist) but have watched it’s progress and problems from a healthy distance, and always thank God for its growth in the way of Christ .

    My concern, and hope, is that the progressive CoC does not simply become a group of bland, evangelical community churches, but, through study and thought, seeks to be a people of great mind and heart. And that takes stretching both.

  3. I 100% agree with you on becoming bland evangelicals. Honestly, evangelicals have enough baggage on their own, given it’s basically synonymous with right wing Republican at this point.

    I currently attend a progressive CoC and I get the feeling that we have a better sense of what we don’t want to be than what we do want to be. There’s an interest in learning from other traditions but it can result in a sort of grab bag, choose your own adventure style church. I’m not exactly complaining – I’ll take openness and diversity any day over legalism and rigidity. But it does give me pause since it seems to be a movement that’s unsure of its direction.

    I hope there are certain characteristics we keep – autonomous congregations, apolitical (though this probably varies church to church), acapella singing (not exclusively, but as a nod to our tradition), and weekly communion.

    I think our biggest hurdle will be losing our fear of engaging culture, or heck, engaging with Christians with different beliefs! And I’m holding out hope for the full inclusion of women in leadership, though from a realistic stand point, we’re not getting there anytime soon.

  4. The first century church was basically a synagogue that looked to Jesus instead of the rabbis. They did not have the entire Bible and copies of all the letters which now make up most of the new testament. However, if a synagogue (church) got one of those letters, they would have read it in its entirety. All this about going back to 1st century church is a bunch of hot air. For starters, a lot of people would have to surrender power and control. That isn’t going to happen. Best we can do is try to emulate Jesus.

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