Before moving on, I want to touch on one other statement I made last week, one that touched off quite a bit of discussion. I said that I disagree with the idea of restoring the first century church. Even I wrestled with the wording of that, and I may not be expressing it well. I see a difference between seeking to restore New Testament Christianity and seeking to restore the first-century church.
So let me try and dig the hole a little deeper. :-) In last Thursday’s post, I wrote,
We are to attempt to be the church that God wants us to be. We should be a biblical church, seeking to live out the norms of the Bible in a twenty-first century world. The goal of the early church was to be like Jesus. We should imitate that goal. We don’t try to be like the first-century church. We try to be like Jesus.
I see a difference between trying to restore the ideal of the New Testament church and trying to restore the first-century church. The first-century church was trying to be the New Testament church in their own setting. There was much failure. Much humanness. I don’t want to restore that. I do want to strive for the same ideal they were after.
Let me quote myself a bit more (!), from some of the comment thread from last week’s post:
The problem I see is that there is this myth of uniformity among first-century congregations. That’s why, for example, people take the qualities of elders list from 1 Timothy 3 and combine it with the one from Titus 1, rather than recognizing the differences that exist in those lists. They were similar, but not exactly the same, for the needs of the different congregations were not the same.
It was right for the Jerusalem church to continue practicing Judaism. It would have been wrong for the Galatian church to do so. Holding up the portrait of “the first century church” ignores the fact that the church of the first century was quite diverse.
Those Christians were living out the principles of Christ in their situation, both in terms of time and in terms of place. Going back to the elders lists: it was right for the Ephesian church to avoid the appointing of new converts. That church had existed for decades when Paul wrote Timothy. Not so the Cretan church, which is why that qualification doesn’t appear in the list Titus received. By talking about “the first century church,” we overlook those elements and try to create a homogeneity where there was none.
Again, maybe I’m reacting to the connotations around “restore the first-century church” or the misapplication of that idea. What I fear is that people think that the first-century church enjoyed this idyllic pure form of Christianity which led to a golden age of peace and harmony. I’ve grown up hearing, “If we could just restore the first-century church, Christians around the world would be united.” The idea is that if we can restore the exact practices those Christians, we can enjoy a time of unity.
But they didn’t. If we restore their practices precisely, we can expect to have precisely the same types of problems they did.
I see “New Testament Christianity” as describing the ideal, not the flawed human pursuit of that ideal. I’m much more comfortable with pursuing the ideal…
When Josiah found the Book of the Law in the temple, his reform didn’t consist of looking to see how previous generations had lived the Law. It consisted of looking at the Law and studying to see what God expected of people. I think that’s what restoration should be about.
So does any of that make sense anywhere outside of my own mind?