By Elizabeth Prata
It’s human to look back nostalgically and sepia-tinge away the bad memories, focusing on only the good ones. ‘Ah, the good old days’ we say. ‘Back when I was a kid’ we begin our stories.
And it’s like that when we read Acts. ‘Ah, that first century church. Those were the good old days of church. We should be like them. I wish our church was like them.’
And it’s true. There was a vibrancy and a wonder to that first century church that seems to be absent from many churches today. There was radical giving, fervent fellowship, tremendous sermons, and powerful signs and wonders. Who wouldn’t want that?
But in our sepia-tinged memories, there was also a lot that we don’t want in our church. They struggled, and in the end, faced challenges that many here in America have never faced, not even a whisper. There was hypocrisy leading to death. God killed Ananias and Sapphira in front of the entire church. Killed them for hypocrisy. There was incest, false believers, wild communion, evil teachers, and finally, persecution and dispersion.
The next generation of Church Fathers struggled with thorny theological issues. They had to resolve understandings about the Trinity, Scripture, the Canon, Christology, Ecclesiology, and missions. All the while being looked upon with suspicion as newcomers of this weird cult from the many religious adherents of polytheistic religions.
Let’s do two things: Look around, and look up. Looking around at our own churches, we see many of the same issues as the first century church. Why? Humans populated the church then and now. And humans are sinners. We face false believers, false teachers, misunderstandings about scripture, adultery, fallen leaders, and suspicion. It comfort us to see that we are no better and no worse than the first century church of the Bible. But we also have some advantages, a settled canon, 2000 years of church ecclesiology, many Godly raised-up men we can read from (Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, Edwards, etc), internet access to good teachings, successful missions, and the same Holy Spirit as they had.
We look up. The Holy Spirit inhabits believers just as He always has. He is energizing hearts of the newly converted and transforming minds. He makes the word of God alive and sufficient. And we have the same Jesus as the first century church had. He is Head, sustaining all, giving growth. And we have the same God as they had. Father God is constantly redeeming souls to give His son. The Redeemed Bride, whether in the 1st century church or the current church, is glowing, holy, perfect, and ready to be brought home.
Looking back is helpful, so long as it’s not covetously. Let’s look around, love the ones you’re with, support and pray for your teachers and elders. Look up to Him, the Alpha and Omega, be-all and end-all to this entire proposition called “church”.