Friday, May 22, 2015

The reality of the first century church

We're often reminded that the early church was powerful, pure, and to be emulated. And certainly, the following verse is weighty on our consciences, and it's truly to be emulated. This was the church in its earliest days:

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, (Acts 2:42)

This was the church in its early weeks.

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. (Acts 4:32)

But that purity was fleeting if it ever truly existed. In its earliest days, remember, Ananias and Sapphira were killed for lying to the Holy Spirit in front of the church. Though sin had always been present, because people were present, Ananias and Sapphira's act was the first overt, discoverable perfidy. Yet the myth of the pure church persists.

Now we look at the Church at Corinth. Paul had strongly admonished them, he'd used sarcasm, and he soundly chided the members who had gotten drunk at the Lord's Table, had divided into factions, had sought the 'better' spiritual gifts, had done all manner of things unbecoming to a believing church. And now the worst of all:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:12).


Some Christians were even denying the resurrection! The book of First Corinthians was written in about 55 AD, a mere twenty years after Our Lord's death and resurrection. Paul even mentioned in verse 6 many brethren who were still alive at the time that Jesus appeared to the 500! Yet some in "the early church" denied the verifiable fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ! A "pure" church? Hardly.

When we read that the earliest church in its earliest days were all "of one mind" I think we would be startled to see how fleeting that was. From almost the very the beginning, sin and falsity lurked.

A parallel to this picture of sin crouching at the door can be seen in the Millennium Kingdom. After the Tribulation and Jesus' Second Coming, He sets up a kingdom in fulfillment of His promises to His people Israel. He personally rules on earth, with a rod of iron. The Temple is cleansed and sacrifices are ongoing. People come from all quarters of the earth, finally funneled down the Kings Highway to worship Jesus in person. The Church Saints are given tasks to perform, ruling and reigning with Jesus. Satan and his demons are locked up in the abyss. Ahhh, perfection.

Not so fast.

When satan is let out of the abyss at the end of the 1000 years, he gathers sinful people to his side in a rebellion that starts so fast it makes the head spin. All that while, when it seemed that people were at peace with Jesus, they weren't. They were sinning greatly in their hearts. All it took is the serpent to draw that poison out of them and he uses it to foment a revolution.

And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, (Revelation 20:7-19).

Sin!
So the point is that man's sin, even with satan's influence a total unknown to the people born people in the 1000-year kingdom, thus with satan's temptations completely absent from their lives, sin still lurks strongly in the heart of man- hiding. It's there, just as it was in the earliest church. Ananias and Sapphira tell us this, the believers at Corinth questioning the resurrection tell us this.

Here is Pulpit Commentary on 1 Cor:12-19. Bold & italics are mine.
The resurrection of Christ is the basis of our faith in the general resurrection. Verse 12. - Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead. St. Paul sees that if One has risen from the dead, the fact of that miracle, taken in connection with the rest of the gospel, furnishes Christians with a sufficient proof that they shall rise. "For," he had already said to the Thessalonians, "if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him" (see the same argument in Romans 8:11).

"That there is no resurrection of the dead". These deniers of the resurrection are usually called "the Corinthian Sadducees." After the state of social and moral laxity of which we have been reading, we can scarcely be surprised at the existence of any disorder or anomaly in the Church of Corinth. Yet it comes with something of a shock on our paralyzed sense of astonishment to read that some of these Christians actually denied a resurrection! The fact at once proves remarkable truths, namely,

(1) that the early Christian Church had none of the ideal purity of doctrine which is sometimes ecclesiastically attributed to it;
What does this tell us for today? Well, if your church is in disarray, as the church at Corinth was, you're in good company. Secondly, if we stop comparing our church with an idealized first century church we might be a little more content with our own. Third, being disaffected by or leaving our church for shallow reasons is really bad. No church is perfect, not even the first century church. It still astounds me that there were resurrection-deniers in the same generation witnesses as when Jesus was actually resurrected!

The pure church to emulate is the one where people sometimes sin, sometimes waver on foundational doctrines, love the word, love each other, forgive where necessary, repenting always, submitting to their elders, and worshiping together in in Spirit and in truth. Like the first century church did. 



1 comment :

  1. Hello Elizabeth

    You might be interested in this lecture from Dr. John Kleinig who presented a series of talks in 2013 at a Pastors' Conference in the Michigan District of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. “The Spiritual Disciplines”. I have studied them all but this one may fit in with this topic of the early church. Dr. Kleinig is a Lutheran theologian who is currently working on a commentary on the book of Hebrews which I am quite anxious to read once completed. I am currently reading his book “Grace Upon Grace”.

    6. The Family Altar: The Discipline of Table Devotions for Daily Sanctification

    http://www.johnkleinig.com/index.php/extra/spiritual-disciplines-michigan/

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