Monday, January 21, 2008

The Witness of the Early Church

As noted in yesterday's post, I have been reading Philip Schaff's "History of the Christian Church." Of course, one will not necessarily agree with every jot and tittle of a historian's writing or perspective, but that doesn't mean there aren't gems to be mined. Schaff's multi-volume work is no different.

We hear a lot these days about the Apostolic Age of the church, timed from Pentecost to the death of the Apostle John. It is not my purpose at this point to enter the fray over the New Apostolic Movement, and yes -- I do have definite viewpoints on that matter. My purpose with this post is to point to the early church during the ministry of the biblical apostles. I love how Schaff describes those days:

The life of Christ is the divine-human fountainhead of the Christian religion; the apostolic age is the fountainhead of the Christian church . . . It is the age of the Holy Spirit, the age of inspiration and legislation for all subsequent ages.

Here springs, in its original freshness and purity, the living water of the new creation. Christianity comes down from heaven as a supernatural fact, yet long predicted and prepared for, and adapted to the deepest wants of human nature. Signs and wonders and extraordinary demonstrations of the Spirit, for the conversion of unbelieving Jews and heathens, attend its entrance into the world of sin. It takes up its permanent abode with our fallen race, to transform it gradually, without war or bloodshed, by a quiet, leaven-like process, into a kingdom of truth and righteousness. Modest and humble, lowly and unseemly in outward appearance, but steadily conscious of its divine origin and its eternal destiny; without silver or gold, but rich in supernatural gifts and powers, strong in faith, fervent in love, and joyful in hope; bearing in earthen vessels the imperishable treasures of heaven, it presents itself upon the stage of history as the only true, the perfect religion, for all the nations of the earth. At first an insignificant and even contemptible sect in the eyes of the carnal mind, hated and persecuted by Jews and heathens, it confounds the wisdom of Greece and the power of Rome, soon plants the standard of the cross in the great cities of Asia, Africa, and Europe, and proves itself the hope of the world.


I might have worded some aspects of this differently, i.e. that Jesus is the hope of the world, and the church His messenger. I would have shied away from the word "religion," preferring instead the word "relationship." But Schaff was writing in the 19th century, and was using worlds common to theological writers at that time. Yet, even with those small differences, Schaff's words are a vivid picture of the glorious mystery revealed by God -- the church, the bride of Christ, Christ in us, the hope of glory. Praise His holy name!

We have much to learn from the early church, and the record (plus instructions) of Jesus and His apostles are given to us in Scripture. What could we accomplish if we would just simply get back to Scripture, leaving the man-made fads and failed human philosophical ideas in the refuse bin where they belong.

9 comments:

Ron said...

I couldn't agree more strongly. The question is how do those churches who've adopted a business model approach to "doing church" (I gag when I hear that) make the changeover from their consumer friendly models without losing customers? Some have been serving milk so long they may have lost the knowledge of meat, if they ever had it. Some are so indebted to their buildings and programs that the fear of losing paying customers, and the financial catastrophes that could result from a declining customer base instill much more fear than the wrath of God ,which obviously wasn't there previously or they wouldn;t have adopted such an approach. Many have been warning these leaders for some time about the willful, purposeful lack of Biblical preaching, and these warnings have largely been ignored.

SolaMeanie said...

I hate to say it, but sometimes I think that it might be for the best that some of these Christian Taj Mahals would go belly up. Numbers (nor income) are not necessarily signs of God's blessing, protest though they may.

Ron said...

These "communities" have cannabilized smaller churches under the mission statements of attracting the unchurched. I have discussed the "bellying up" issue to the dismay of some. But I agree that this may be the only solution apart from some direct intervention from God.

pastorbrianculver said...

I have seen many small country churches go belly-up because of an aging population. The larger churches tend to get transfers from smaller churches. Some of the best biblical preaching I have ever heard have come from churches that had only 25 people in them. The world is wanting to hear and see entertainment. I agree with your comments!

crownring said...

Gentlemen,

A controversial book due to be released to the public next month calls directly into question the methods and mentalities of the megachurches and Christianity in general as it's being practiced now. The book is called: Pagan Christianity, the author is Frank Viola, and it's published by Tyndale. Should you wish more imformation about the book and what people have been saying about it, this website should be helpful.

http://www.ptmin.org/pcobjections.htm

BTW, whatever emotions reading the book stirs up, please do not take it out on me, OK? I may not agree with everything the author expresses and since I am not a member of the Christian or secular press, I have not had a chance to read it myself. I just happen to believe Christians ought to be open to honest questions, even those which make them uncomfortable.

Thank you.

SolaMeanie said...

From the way it sounds from your description, I might well agree with the book, depending on what it is saying.

I've been harping on this for years and I'll keep harping on it. We need to get back to the Bible and stay there.

Ron said...

crownring

Having read all the comments and replies from the site you forwarded, I am, and have always been suspect of the "I don't know the answer, but this isn't it" types of statements as implied. While I completely agree that Christians need to be open to questions, especially those that may be uncomfortable. But as important as the questions may be, one has to look past them and seek why they are being asked.

SolaMeanie said...

Ron,

Seeing your note made me think of our Emergent friends again. "Questions" are deeply loved by the Emergent Church. Only the questions they ask aren't really designed to have answers, but rather to perpetuate doubt. In fact, they disdain anyone who has sound, solid answers. You're "too certain," you see. They also dislike megachurches, but not for the reasons you or I might dislike them.

As an aside, Crownring is not Emergent, so don't think that. Far from it!

Ron said...

Thanks for the clarity. I assumed as much by Crownring's disclaimer.
Besides, that would have been quite uncharitable of me to assume so. :)