It’s fashionable today to hate the church. People like to come across as wise sages, decrying the ecclesiology of the western church. Many people note that church is shallow, entertainment-driven, and lukewarm, with worthless shepherds leading clueless goats. Some even go so far as to say that most churches should be closed. They say they love Jesus but hate religion. They say that they love Christ but disparage the church.
You hear more and more that the First Century church is what we should get back to.
Now before I launch into a defense of the present-day church, I want to say that I agree with the sadness with which many people survey the ecclesiastical landscape in western andeastern Christianity and bemoan its pitiable state. Yet none of the things that understandably make us sad make me want to say any such thing like, “Church today stinks, I want the early church.” Here are my reasons.
1. Jesus put us here, now. None of this is a surprise to Him. He put us here in this time and in this nation. To grumble against the 21st century church now and covet the 1st century church is sin.
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, (Acts 17:26)
2. There is nothing different about the churches now or then. We are grappling now with the same things that the 1st century church also grappled with.
Celebrities? They had ’em.
For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, (1 Corinthians 3:4-5).
Sinners and hypocrites? The first century church had them too. Along came Ananias and Sapphira and polluted the church by bringing sin into it. The incident is recorded in Acts 5. Most timelines I looked at place the killing of Ananias and Sapphira within the same year as Pentecost. So within 365 days at most, probably within mere weeks, corrupting sin was exposed in the church. (Acts 5:7-10). Ananias’ sin wasn’t the first sin in the church, because we’re all sinners. It was just the first one that was exposed.
|A Georgia church steeple. EPrata photo|
Not that Paul or Apollos thought themselves as celebrities, but the seeds were there to exalt men beyond their station and/or to follow them unto fractioning. There werefirst century unblieving church celebrities, Diotrephes was named by in 3 John 1:9 as someone who likes to put himself first-
I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.
3. They were plagued with entertainments and distractions too. As far as some people saying they are “fed up with the incessant entertainment and worldly amusements found in the churches,” I dare say there were a few believers in the Corinthian church fed up with Lord’s table orgies. There were some believers – whole families even – not being fed the truth, as well. (2 Timothy 2:18, Titus 1:11).
4. They had weak churches too. Let’s look at more of the reality of that first century church. You’ve arrived at your church in Sardis, expecting in a self-satisfied way that your week of ministry work will be accepted, and you’ll get a heaping dose of theology to go along with that self-satisfaction. As the pastor walks to the front of the room and sits down, he says, “Today I don’t have a sermon. Instead I will read a letter from John, dictated to him by JESUS.”
A shock goes through the congregation. And he begins this way:
‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.” (Revelation 3:1-3)
Dead? Our church is DEAD?! You thought it was alive but the One who knows says it’s dead. Quite a reality check that day for the church at Sardis.
|A Canadian church. EPrata photo|
In this very good article by Mark Jones, “Loving Christ But Hating His Bride?” Mr Jones said,
We must keep firmly in mind just how much Christ loves his church. That fact alone should transform the way in which we think about the church of Christ, which he purchased with his own blood.
The church grass isn’t greener on the other side of the centuries. If Jesus had put me in Rome in 30AD, I’d love the church. Since He put me in Georgia in 2015, I love the church. We do the same things the first century worshipers did: we study, we break bread, we share, we pray. We also sin, we fuss, we stray and get corrected, we worship in truth, we share…we’re the church. And because it’s the way Jesus designed it, I wouldn’t have it any other way.