Is the church in need of a new reformation? Undeniably, yes. Rife with materialism, sliding toward compromise, and embroiled in selfishness and petty disputes, the Christian church needs a jarring reformation. True reformation is only from God. We must look into his Word to understand what He is like. We must begin thinking like the early church.
Beware. This article is not intended to be unloving or harsh, but it does level some serious charges against an admittedly stereotypical American Christianity.
Over the progress (if that is the right word) of 2,000 years of church history, we must appreciate the advancements that God has allowed. These 2,000 years have provided for vast distribution of the Bible, greater understanding of Biblical data, some refinement of Christian teaching, and valuable lessons from history. At the same time, our long history is also a liability. The farther we are removed, chronologically, from the early church, the less we become like Jesus’ original plan for the church. Here are three ways in which our thinking could use some adjustment in bringing about a New Reformation—thinking like the early church.
We Must Think Like The Early Church about Money
The American church is in a stranglehold. We’re about to go under, not even realizing that we’re about to suffocate. In fact, we are really enjoying it. Few people are clawing to get the crunching grip away from our neck. For that reason, we’re slipping faster into destruction. It’s the stranglehold of money.
I can sense critics lambasting this paragraph before reading it. No, it’s not wrong to have money. No it’s not wrong to receive payment for hard work. No, it’s not wrong to have a good work ethic and be monetarily rewarded. It’s not even wrong to be rich. But before you import the American idealism about work, economy, and an (subversive) understanding of finances, take a long, hard look at Scripture.
• “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
• “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33)
• “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:25)
Jesus said those things—and a whole lot more. The problem with the American church has to do with hearts overwhelmed by materialism. That materialism—that desire to be rich—is a path to destruction. Paul wrote, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Tim. 6:9). The American Dream is a seditious, satanic plot that has plunged millions of would-be disciples into the lullaby-accompanied death of faith. The desire for stuff, the love of comfort, and the tenacious grip on our money is counter-Christian. The early church surely wasn’t totally free from such vices, but they did have an example that we ought to observe. See 2 Cor 8 to read about it. http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/search/?q=2+cor+8
We Must Think Like the Early Church about Church
The word “church” has so much cultural baggage, nowadays. Stained glass windows. Steeples. Pews. Worship bands. Big buildings. Sunday morning. Sunday School. Youth pastors. Youth groups. Etc. None of these are bad, but sometimes we are more devoted to our cultural fixation of “church” than we are to the biblical reality of church. Perhaps that is because there is so little in the Bible about how church was done. Perhaps that is a good thing.
The early church most likely met in houses, not buildings. They probably had smaller groups. They probably had closer fellowship. They probably had more frequent meetings. They probably had more in common from a resources point of view. They probably celebrated the Lord’s Supper frequently. They probably had a more passionate pursuit of lost people. They probably had more aggressive and organic outreach efforts. In essence, they were probably a lot different than we are. Can we, in our minds, strip the cultural accretions away from “church” and return to the essence of the early church—i.e., to the biblical facts?
We Must Think Like the Early Church about Culture
How different was the early church from her surrounding culture? Most likely, she was vastly different. In habits, attitudes, heart, understanding, actions, and priorities—she exhibited disciple-like devotion that transcended cultural mores.
And what about the 2010 church? Are we that different from our culture? According to the chilling data from Barna and Pew Research, not so much. The metrics on divorce rates, Bible reading, and even core doctrinal beliefs differ little between Joe Unbeliever to Joe Christian. Even though some cultural manifestations may be innocuous and apparently harmless, is it right for us to be as devoted as we are to them? Television shows. Music. Movies. Entertainments. Vacations. Houses. Cars. Celebrities. These are the obsessions of people who have a God-shaped void in their hearts. These ought not to be the obsession of world-rejecting disciples of Jesus! Yet as I scan my Facebook feed where my Christian friends broadcast their lives, I see more about the recent Lost episode, the lyrics to a Coldplay song, and pictures from a party. I can’t help but wonder. Why are we so entrenched in our culture? What profit is there? How should “repentance” affect our entrapment by culture?
The scathe could go on.
Rather than continue hurling accusations at the ills of the contemporary church, I will simply encourage two actions:
1. Read your Bible with an eye to learning from and imitating early church. Perhaps not everything that the early church did is prescriptive for the church today, but there is much in the Bible being neglected. What is it? Read, learn, and do.
2. Pray for the reversal of values and a reformation of our contemporary church.