Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Agreement on the Early Church

I find it fascinating that there is much agreement about how the early church functioned. Even among those who would disagree about what the church should/can look like today, there is almost no disagreement over what the early church looked like.

For example, there is agreement that the early church generally met in homes. Early church gatherings were participatory in nature. The early church gathered to celebrate the Lord's Supper as a meal. The early church had non-hierarchical and multiple elder leadership.

The fascinating part of this is that we in the modern church act like there is not agreement about what the early church looked like and how it functioned.

Let me explain. In the modern, Western church we agree that we must follow what is commanded in scripture. We may not always carry this out, but we at least say we agree with it. We do not, however, agree about how the modern church should deal with what is modeled in scripture. Because of this, churches look and function very differently from each other.

If there was great disagreement over what the early church looked like, then it makes sense that modern churches would look so different from one another. Disagreement would naturally lead to this.

But there is agreement! Since there is agreement, it seems logical that we would then agree to try to look like what we see.

Since we see meeting in homes, it seems like we would try to do this at least some of the time. Since we see participatory gatherings, it seems that we would structure our church meetings so everyone could speak. Since we see the Lord's Supper celebrated as a meal, it seems that we would move toward doing the same thing. Since the early church had multiple eldership, it makes sense that we would move toward having more than one pastor.

We are in the odd position in today's institutional church of agreeing on what the early church looked like, but at the same time rejecting much of what is modeled.

Why do we do this? Why do we agree on what came before us, but then act as if we don't agree by not following the NT model?

The reason is that we are comfortable in our traditions. Traditional Christianity in the USA says that we meet in big buildings, only a few people are invited to speak during gatherings, we celebrate the Lord's Supper apart from a meal, and one pastor either serves alone or is the "senior pastor."

In order to be biblical people, we must look at what we see in scripture. We see agreement on the early church. We know what they did well and what they did not. The scriptures have given us a clear picture of what they looked like and did.

The question we have to ask is whether we are willing to change to follow the agreed-upon biblical model. Will scripture or tradition hold sway?

Some people may read this post and say that we have freedom in the church to not follow what is modeled in the early church. They will say that what we see is descriptive but not prescriptive.

I hear that said a lot, but I've never heard a biblical reason for saying that. It strikes me that we have a tradition of doing what we want to do in the modern church as long as it is not forbidden in the bible.

There is agreement on the early church. In light of this agreement, let's stop asking whether or not we are required to follow this model. Instead, let's ask how we can best follow the early church model.

Since we agree on what we see in scripture, let's agree to follow it.

8 comments:

Jessica said...

I (being an all in or all out kinda gal) wholeheartedly agree! when you stop and think about it you're right. It's far easier to look like everyone else. I mean when you have a church service that looks just like the other 50,000 other churches in America (ok so some do things a little different here or there but really it's basically the same) and we know that the bible says very plainly that the road to heaven is narrow, hard and lonely you have to start getting a bit uneasy. if I'm not peculiar that Im not doing something right. and just a side note I was thinking about earlier, this organic house church thing is weird... it's crazy ( probably why i like it so much)and it's Scriptural but christians dont like it..why? i have no idea but this thought gives me comfort, the people who pursecuted Jesus wasn't the unbelivers and the lost. it was the "religious" people.So if it's Scriptural, weird, and the majority of christian Americans dont like it....well, I'm in. (btw sorry for all the little errors... trying to type with a wiggly 5 month old in my arms)

Aussie John said...

Eric,

I am convinced it will take a mighty working of the Holy Spirit on the lives of leadership AND the congregations before we will see this happen.

True revival (not special meetings and conferences)is the bringing to a state of consciousness that which is unconscious or dead. That is the work of God by His Spirit.

We who embrace the doctrines of grace seem to forget the sovereignty of God in these matters, thinking we can, by sheer effort, bring about the changes necessary.

When we, as you say "ask how we can best follow the early church model" AND DO IT, we will have begun.

Eric said...

Jessica,

The difficulty for many people is knowing how to move from where they are now to where they see the bible pointing. Often the move is slow and steady. It is difficult to be patient when we see what the bible teaches. We may have the opportunity to move slowly and help others see what we are seeing.

Eric said...

John,

How ironic it is that the ones who often oppose the biblical model are those - the "leadership" - who cry loudest for sola scriptura.

I'm glad the Lord has opened my eyes. I pray He will do the same with many others who serve as pastors.

marion said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Lucy

http://businesseshome.net

David Rogers said...

Eric,

Here are some thoughts I put together a while back that I believe tie in to what you are saying here:

http://www.sbcimpact.net/2008/12/26/church-reform-and-christian-unity/

Eric said...

Marion,

Thanks for visiting and commenting. I appreciate the input. We can all learn from one another.

Eric said...

David,

Thank you for the link. I'll take a look at it.

I appreciate your input in light of your service overseas.