Make no mistake: the early church was glorious! She was glorious like a child is glorious. She was but a babe. She breathed, moved, and had her being in God. She was a nursing infant. She had to trust in God from the beginning. But it has become almost a common practice to look to the early church as some paragon of perfection. “If only we could go back!’ The nostalgic sentiments echo through the corridors of sentimentalists. The truth is the early church was a relatively unstable body. Paul strives to offer detailed instructions. Sometimes these instructions are simple: love one another. Sometimes Paul bombards them with rebuke, as in I Corinthians. But if the early church was such a model, why then did Paul chastise and treat them as little children again and again? The answer couldn’t be simpler: because the early church was never meant to be an example to be followed in all ages. She was meant to be a foundational model. She was meant to give us the essential ingredients of life together (Acts 2:42), but not a detailed account for how the 21st century church ought to function.
James Montgomery Boice summarized well this sentiment:
Whole denominations are founded upon the idea that the prime duty of contemporary Christians is to be as much like those who lived in the age of the apostles as possible. But this is a false idealization; it is an attempt to make the early church into something it never was. It is an attempt to escape the problems of our day by looking back to something that exists only in the Christian imagination. a
This prevailing idea opposes strongly the maturational intention of biblical revelation. We were not meant to remain infants, but to grow into mature men, as Paul says. To be sure, Acts provides helpful themes of charity, mercy, communion, and more, but she was a seed, not the tree itself. The tree itself is what God is accomplishing through all ages: to form one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. The Spirit of God, who has hovered over the church throughout the ages, continues to hover even today bringing the Church to greater glory and might; strengthening and building her to be that indestructible rock that will shatter the heads of the enemies.
We are not called to put faith in the Church of the past, but in the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, who reigns over his Church now, world without end, Amen.
- An Expositional Commentary, Boice, 56 (back)