We are not the New Testament church, and we aren’t supposed to be

I’ve been awol from the blog this past month, moving house, celebrating the holidays with a huge swath of family, and hunting deer (thank you, my sons, for killing four – the freezer is full!) Now I’m back. Let’s talk theology.

Our job is not to re-create the New Testament church. To do so would be to attempt to recreate the Hellentistic Jewish or Greco-Roman culture of first century Palestine/ Eurasia… which is precisely what the New Testament church chose NOT to do. James’ leadership to the Jerusalem church regarding the cultural practices of Jewish Christianity in Jerusalem was precisely not “recreate us” – it was to allow the Gentile churches to evolve within their cultures, not try to recreate the culture of the Jerusalem church.

So when folks often crank up conversations about whether or not a church practice is “biblical,” what you often find when you peel back the layers, is that they are actually talking about if the NT church actually practiced this or that. That’s utterly beside the point. Of course they didn’t drink coffee in foyers – they had neither coffee nor foyers, (but as soon as Christians discovered both, they latched on!) – they were busy eating communal meals in each others’ homes and selling their landed property to provide for the poor.

Their era was not our era, their context was not our context, their issues were not our issues. (Few people in North America are wondering if they should participate in ancestor worship or give homage sacrifice to the Emperor or figure out the relationship of Christian slaves to Christian masters who worship side by side as brothers in Christ). Their practices were a reflection of the era they lived in. Our task is not to recreate a theme park of first century Jewish or Galatian (et al) religious practices that Christians utilized. These were all drenched in their own culture’s practices so as to make sense of their worship of God.

So one church gets accused of not being Bible-believing for not using the term “born again” while another gets accused because they don’t speak in tongues meanwhile the other church is accused of because they do speak in tongues, while another is on the hook because they ordain women. This is all beside the point. I don’t know if I’ve heard of a church that was literally not Bible-believing. (It almost always translates that the other church doesn’t place as much directive value on, or interpret that particular VERSE, the way my church does!) It’s that we have different cultural practices in our worship, just like Ephesus differed from Antioch. It really doesn’t matter. In fact, the diversity is good – it allows people from diverse cultural backgrounds to choose a church that makes sense to them and nurtures their relationship with God. The Jerusalem elders’ letter to the Gentile churches in Acts is clear: we do not need to all practice church culturally the same.

What matters is that our practices –and God help us: our mission! – are theologically in tune with Jesus. You can do that a zillion different ways (and Christians do, all around the world) and the issue is not whether you light candles when you do it, for goodness sake. Whether it’s a “biblical” practice or not is NOT the question (the New Testament didn’t sacrifice bulls on altars anymore – a quintessential “biblical” practice!) The question is: is this practice utilized in such a way to bring glory to God, to advance His work in the world, to carry on the mission of Jesus in ways that God’s Spirit works through. To make it about whether a particular practice has historical or Scriptural precedent, is simply to fall into the argument going on within fundamentalist Islam today. And that’s not our schtick.

Ours… is (faith, hope, and) love.

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One thought on “We are not the New Testament church, and we aren’t supposed to be

  1. Thought provoking! Please allow me to list some of my thoughts. I’d love to hear what you think.
    The first church I attended asked me to come to a meeting to learn more about their church and possibly become a member. Since I already consider myself a member of Christ’s church, I was skeptical but went anyways as i liked the church and wanted to know more. At the end of the meeting a statement was passed out where people could sign if they wanted to become a member. I silently prayed about it, as the whole membership thing and the fact that they believed women could preach in church was affirmed in the meeting. God gave me a gracious way out so I believe it wasn’t the church for me.
    I then started attending another church. After a year or so a spot opened up in their finance department (they also ran a school) and I ended up filling the role. After two years of learning and seeing how everything worked, I believe God started showing me that things could be better there. Services were more production minded, whereas people were given x amount of minutes to talk, the band was given x amount of songs to sing, etc. I believe He was showing me that it would be better to go back to more of an early church service, where the Spirit dictated time allotments and sermons so that there would not be a need for so many volunteers to run a sound board or set up equipment. It wasn’t a huge church. At the most services filled a smaller gym. The pastors would ask for more volunteers, more money, and more time of people. It just didn’t make sense to me as these things weren’t needed. I was asked to leave and I think it was my time to go anyways. The church still exists today, 8 years later, but they asked the pastor to leave last year so I know things aren’t great there. I know Jesus said that if people are helping spread the gospel we shouldn’t dictate how, but I believe in other ways the bible is specific in how things should be done and that won’t change. Thoughts?

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