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.