When I was starting out in ministry I remember hearing a common refrain from the pulpit that, “in order to be a Godly body of believers we must conform to the patterns of the New Testament Church.” Fortunately, the church leadership did not see a return to 1st century music as necessary; but rather pushed for a return to similar governance, style and culture as those believed to be practiced by the 1st century church. I have to admit that I still respect this small congregation for having a vision and truly desiring to achieve what they believed was God’s will, but I wholeheartedly disagree with their philosophy.
Why in the world would we want to be like the New Testament church? It was full of half committed failures (read 1 John, 1-2 Corinthians). It got to the point where Paul had to list guidelines for leaders in the church (see 2 Timothy and Titus). It had become common practice for wealthy believers to gorge themselves with food and drink while their brother Christian and his family scraped together crumbs to give thanks for at the Eucharist. So why do we want so badly to return to this time? Are we jealous that we don’t have quarterly remedial visits from Paul?
If we look at the core of what the Apostles wanted for the early church it is found in Acts 2:42 – “They (the community of believers) devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” If we want to honor the New Testament church legacy, may we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teachings (Scripture), to fellowship, to worship (breaking of bread often symbolized the Eucharist), and to prayer.
The lesson to learn from the patterns and methods of the New Testament church is simple; remain faithful to the core purpose of the church and be relevant. The New Testament church was the best possible church for the people it served in the time it existed. We do not need to imitate their style, only their mission. We too must be relevant. This may mean we have to do some things differently than the New Testament church. This isn’t a new idea either; history shows us that many of the church fathers in the 4th century departed from Biblical accounts of baptism, for example. They had a problem with converts being baptized and still sinning (who doesn’t?) so they decided they would put any new convert on a three year waiting list. Sure, the apostles didn’t do it, but in a time where Christians were being judged (who isn’t?) it was pretty important to weed out the crazies and half committed.
So, Church (universal), be challenged to reinvent yourselves as if we need to impact people for Christ today — rather than ten, fifty, or two thousand years ago — because we desperately do.