by David B. Capes
A lot of Protestants I know talk about their church as “a New Testament church.” They fancy themselves as belonging to some group that has successfully recovered a lost and forgotten age of the church when the body of Christ was somehow purer than, better than, holier than, righter than more recent versions. Of course, it just happens to be that version to which they belong.
As a friend of mine quips, “we both believe in one church. You come join mine!”
I understand the impulse and can appreciate it . . . to a certain point. The desire to get back to Jesus teachings and example irrespective of the accumulation of centuries of theological disagreements and divisions is a noble desire. But when you begin to read the Testament carefully you realize that that sort of battle cry presumes way too much. It is inaccurate and frankly naïve to paint the first churches after the resurrection as somehow particularly pure and perfect. Paul’s letters display many of the difficulties the earliest Jesus-followers had. In Corinth, for example, the house churches were meeting separately and probably divisively (1 Cor 2:14–3:1). Some leaders were prone to pride and fits of arrogance (1 Cor 4:6-7). One member was involved in a sexual relationship with his own step mother even as some in the church decided to look the other way (1 Corinthians 5). Yet others were immoral, worshiping pagan gods, drunks and thieves (1 Cor 5:9-12). Too many were too cozy with prostitutes in the city. Rather than working out their differences some fellow Christians were taking each other to court (1 Cor 6:1-8). The have’s and the have-not’s stayed in their own corners, even as some leaders wanted to curry the favor of the wealthly. Sound familiar? Some people died mysteriously because they lied to the church leadership (Acts 5); there were ethnic, racial, and cultural divisions which kept people at arms length (Acts 6).
We could go on and on. My point is that there was no ideal point in church history to which we can and ought to return. No restore point like on a computer after the virus has infected the software. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to know the Scriptures or church history. Indeed, we do. That’s why were teach courses on Bible, hermeneutics (how to read and interpret the Bible), and church history at HGST. Each of those can give us a sense of where we have been and where we need to go.
We are alive now for a reason. In many ways there is no better time to be a follower of Jesus. We have tools and resources today which Paul in his wildest imagination could not have dreamed of.
At HGST we believe we are called to be men and women who are reconciled to God and reconciling the world through Christ. We are called to plant and expand God’s radical reign over the world. Churches, in all their denominational differences, can be a useful tool to reach more.
The problems we face today–division, sexual sins, love of money and power, prejudice, racial discord, self-interest–are the same ones faced by the earliest followers of Jesus. Two thousand years from now, if the Lord doesn’t return, believers will have many of the same struggles.
Our task is to faithfully bear witness to him. It’s unlikely we’ll find the perfect church.