Thursday, March 02, 2006


Nostalgia is a yearning for an imagined past, inspired by a dissatisfaction with the present. This attitude can be seen throughout sections of the church. Wherever there is dissatisfaction and desire for change, there is a tendency to turn to the example of the early church to see how we have departed from the “true” blueprint. However, that tendency often includes selective blindness; seeing only those things that confirm a predetermined viewpoint and ignoring those things that don’t support it.

House churches anyone? They are found in accounts of the early church. Apostolic and prophetic ministry? There too! Healings and miracles? Add them to the list. Whatever the present day Christian obsession, it’s usually got a New Testament precedent to add a bit of legitimacy. But don’t forget that selective blindness. We should avoid the desire to pick and choose select examples from the past to support our current interests.

In Acts 2 we get a glimpse at the earliest days of the early church. We can learn that:

They steadfastly persevered, devoting themselves constantly to the instruction and fellowship of the apostles, to the breaking of bread and prayers.

They all experienced a sense of reverential fear, and many signs and wonders were performed through the apostles.

All who believed were united, were together, had everything in common – to the extent of selling their possessions and contributing the proceeds to make sure no remained in need.

And daily they regularly assembled in the temple with united purpose, and they met in their homes to eat together, in remembrance of the Lord and His sacrifice. They shared their meals with gladness, simplicity and generosity.

They constantly praised God, got along well with the people around them, and the Lord kept adding to their numbers daily as more were saved. (Taken from Acts 2:41-47, AMP)

Does this resemble anything we’ve experienced in any of our attempts to play church? Forget about the problems of the mainstream denominational churches, or the spin-off non-denominational fellowships. Forget about the disappointments we constantly had as we religiously joined the organised programmes run in our local church building. Forget about the failings of the pastors and elders we submitted ourselves to.

Does it even slightly resemble anything in our lives, in our experience, in our walk with God?

Those who have moved on from the traditional fellowships and tried some kind of alternative expression of Christian life, whether “house church” or “wilderness” – how close have you been to making THIS example YOUR experience?

I look over this account of the first days and weeks of the first church, and see a vast difference from any form of Christianity I’ve experienced, both corporately and individually. Just look at some the descriptions of their actions and attitudes.

Reverential fear.
Everything in common.
United Purpose.
Constantly praised God.
Favour and goodwill.

In this list I see two separate groupings; words that describe commitment and words that describe relationship. I don’t think it takes a great leap of logic, and it doesn’t take anything out of context to see the importance of commitment to relationship; firstly between us and God, and also between each other.

While we can select parts of this account to support several Christian practices, the overall picture is not one of methods and procedure. These first days of the church point us towards relationship not ritual, fellowship not format.

Friday, February 24, 2006


When we look at the early church, as portrayed throughout the New Testament, what do we see? Do we see a perfect model that we need to emulate? Do we see the church as it should be today? Do we need to do a u-turn and return to Christianity’s roots?

It would be tempting to cultivate a kind of nostalgic “golden days” view. Like yearning for years gone by when we were at the peak of our youth, full of health and vigour; fuelled by promise and optimism. We can imagine the thrill of new discoveries, new opportunities. But in reality we can’t go back. We’ve moved on.

Can we ignore two millennia of change in the world? Can we reverse or erase two thousand years of Church history because of its deviation from the revered “early church”? Is it possible? And if it were, should it necessarily be our goal? Was the church intended to be the fixed unchanging entity this spiritual nostalgia presumes?

Looking at New Testament accounts of Church life we can see that the church wasn’t a perfect role model. There were problems from the beginning. There was uncertainty, fear, and misunderstanding. To a degree there was a sense of “making it up” as they went along; learning through experience and responding to the moment as the Spirit led. A moment that in most recorded cases was also Spirit instigated.
And in this we perhaps find the characteristic that today’s church most needs to emulate. Instead of looking to scripture as a type of “users manual” or instruction book; instead of looking to scripture for “10 Foolproof Steps to Church Success”; it is time to rely on the same Spirit that led them to their success: the Spirit that knows the heart of every individual and understands their here and now circumstances; the Spirit that knows and understands the world and its condition today.
Yes, let scripture be given its rightful importance - but it needs to be scripture breathed with the life of the Spirit, not scripture enforced as the letter of the law.

One of the common analogies used to describe the need for change in the church is the reference Jesus made to putting new wine into new wine skins. So why yearn for a return to the oldest Christian wine skin of all? It was perfectly adequate for the wine of it’s time, but wine skins don’t remain new indefinitely.