Shekinah Glory

Early Church Envy
April 17, 2007, 12:30 am
Filed under: Christianity, Fundamentalism, God, Grace, Jesus, Religion, Spirituality

I keep reading about people’s desire in getting back into living like the earliest days of the Church. These people scrutinize the gospels and Acts. They hold them up against current organized religion. Books are written to chide the dormant faithful into a faith which is much more “authentic.” Seminars, sermons and blogs extol the virtue of those earliest believers.

I am convinced that this practice is a tremendous waste of time. The idea that those first century converts were somehow more in tune with the meaning of faith is naive and quaint. Inside the texts themselves there are contradictory and competing movements. The difference between the Lukan witness of the Jerusalem council and that of Paul in Galatians is startling. The Pauline letters were obviously not written because the early church was functioning in harmony. We are told in the texts that others did miracles in Jesus name, early Christians fought over whose baptism was more authentic while slaves and women began to assert their new found freedom in Christ. During those formative years it was not long before different factions rose up and the dominant religious leaders were battling attractive “heresies” challenging their exclusive hold on power.

So, I have always been struck by one question. Why is it so difficult for us to be content with our present age? I guess there is always nostalgia for simpler times, but as with most nostalgia those simpler times never really existed. It is my conviction that 2007 is no better or worse that 34 CE. We have just as many opportunities to grow, destroy or redeem ourselves and our planet. I simply must reject that we spend our good days chasing a golden era. The present moment is a beautiful moment which I believe was created by God to live in the fullness of our humanity. So, I am going to enjoy this day and all the grace filled opportunities that it provides.


9 Comments so far
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I have found living in the here-and-now very rewarding, when I can fully manage to do it. “If you have one foot in yesterday and one foot in tomorrow, you are pissing all over today”.

Comment by jesse quam

Hi Brian,

Good point…and I’m glad you brought that to light.

I see this everyday within the city I live. They say they want to grow and expand – but the “conciousness” is still in the past.

I wonder why we do that as human beings? I think it allows us to feel safer.

Anyway, it’s a challenge for me as a member of this city….but I can learn something is EVERY situation!

Thanks for your thoughts Brian!

Be well,

Comment by ron


I love that saying!


Thanks for the comment. The idea that we could actually cross some hermenutical bridge to another time when studying a text is highly suspect. I am not sure we ever read texts without the benefit of seeing them through our own stories and experiences. Plus, I think our creator is pleased when we make full use of the current moment.

I do agree we can learn something in every situation.


Comment by pastorofdisaster

What I find most interesting about most people’s horniness for the early church whom I have talked to is that they seem to be completely unaware of the context that that group operated in… I ask them if they will follow this guideline that was given from Jerusalem:

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.

I then ask about greeting each other with a Holy kiss which was an imperitival command for the early church, sarcastically I ask in all seriousness if they can be like the early church if they do not follow these practices… of course I realize the context of these practices, but I have found that when people start throwing around the words “early church” they usually have very LITTLE understanding of the world view and practices of that church.

Comment by agathos

Thanks for the comment.

“Each gave to each other as they had need.” It sounds like their community was more than about merely getting along with each other.


Comment by pastorofdisaster

PastorofDisaster sez:
“I am convinced that this practice is a tremendous waste of time. The idea that those first century converts were somehow more in tune with the meaning of faith is naive and quaint”

Concur whole-heartedly. Read Ehrman’s ‘Lost Christianities’ or Bauer’s ‘Orthodox and Heresy in Earlist Christianity’ for an idea of just how radically diverse early Christianity really was. It was not a simple, small group of believers boldly travelling about the Roman Empire, converting the faithful at every stop. As you say, that is a quaint view, and dare I say it is naive also. The true story is far more complicated then that, and we will never know it all completely.

Without reading those books, you can still get the flavor of the diversity with a thought experiment. Just think about all the different non-canonical Gospels, Acts of various apostles, homilies, epistles, infancy stories, and other writtings that were floating around during that time. Not that we agree with the teaching of any of it – but *somebody* certainly did.

Comment by HeIsSailing

I am so proud that Ehrman is also a Moody grad. It is also interesting to note that canon formation was much more fluid in those early years than it is currently. The list of what was being read in the church varied geographically.

Thanks for the comment.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Hear, hear! I think that the chase for an early Christian utopia that we can use as our ideal is symptomatic of a growing recognition that we don’t seem to have a model for what the “Kingdom of God” is supposed to look like. Since so many people assume that to mean “the church” or “Christendom,” neither of which can possibly be what the KoG is supposed to be, we have to look for a model that resembles what we think it should be like. But it seems that we can’t get our minds away from the notion that the KoG has to be the church. Alas.

Come to think of it, the apocalyptic expectation of the “end” and the imminent return of the Messiah, largely of contemporary fundamentalist eschatology, is another such strategy of returning to the early church. Ugh.

I like pointing out to my students not only the Varieties of Christian experience in antiquity, but also that the argument of the early church only following “the bible” in some form of pristine interpretation that we can mimick is historically impossible, not just absurd. The “NT church” had a Bible: the Hebrew Scriptures. Students are often scandalized when I tell them that they had no NT telling them how to run a church or even what REALLY happened in Jesus’ history.

Ah well.

Comment by Benedict

It is amazing that people believe that the early followers of Christ had the New Testament. It is like the old fundamentalist arguement for the King James Version “If it was good enough for Paul it is good enough for me.


Comment by pastorofdisaster

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