Returning to 1st Century Church Requires…

Church ReturnIn a blog post by Alan Knox entitled, “Tweaking the particulars without confronting the core assumptions,” he says that “Simply tweaking the particulars without confronting the core assumptions (about what it means to be the church and to gather together as the church) does not help.” I’d encourage you to read that post in full here

I replied this way in the comment section “If there’s one question that has taken up most of my thinking about “church” in the past year, this post approaches it. There is such a strong compulsion to “get back to the way church used to be.” It seems though, that as much energy is being  devoted toward that end, the church simply can not shed its modern-day assumptions. We bring all this stuff with us into the past and contaminate the timeline. It’s like going “back to the future” with the book and messing it all up over and over.

Alan then asked me “What do you think is the answer to this problem?”  I’ve been in somewhat of a mental stutter until now.  Here’s my answer:

If the Church wants to return to its New Testament model, it must first recapture the New Testament’s mode of mission.  

In that answer, I have made couple of assumptions:

1.  A right relationship with the triune God and your neighbor. 

2.  That the mission of the Church is Making Disciples by Preaching the Gospel

Am I correct is saying that “If the Church wants to return to its New Testament model, it must first recapture the New Testament’s mode of mission?” 

For a related post, see:


Are Christians Bound to the Practices of the Primitive Church?


0 thoughts on “Returning to 1st Century Church Requires…

  1. Marc Winter says:

    Hello Brother,
    You cannot fix the devil, he owns church lock stock and barrel. Of course you know I mean the institutional harlot who has stolen the public practice of Christianity for over 1,800 years. There is a very simple answer to this dilemma which those with expensive religious pedigrees will probably always deny. Stop calling God’s children by the name of the harlot of Babylon. Please read “The Torch of the Testimony” by John W. Kennedy. John says the same thing except he feigns calling the harlot the harlot, but instead says the demonic institution is the capitol “C” church. and the body of Christ is the small “c” church. This treatment is wholly inadequate for today (written in 1965) but still makes the valid point.
    My heart goes out to all of those sincere brothers and sisters, who are trapped in the institutional prisons today, because those who have a voice are too cowardly to speak up for the Truth. They love the praise of men more than the praise who is solely from God.
    Count the cost, and pay the price, Jesus did.

  2. Tobie says:

    It depends what you mean with “A right relationship with the triune God and your neighbor.”

    The reason I say this is that every single Christian who reads these words will nod and say “Amen”, yet they will do so without realising to what extent the sentence itself is subject to and defined by their own “core assumptions”. So is the word “mission”. And so we are back to tweaking particulars, albeit under the guise of defining universals.

    The only way to get away from such tweaking is to go deeper than where mere words can take us. Yet we cannot do this without becoming susceptible to subjective impressions, wish dreams, crazy voices in our head and so on.

    So where is the answer? In my opinion, in the majestic sentence “I will build my church”. You are right in saying the church cannot shed its modern-day assumptions, and neither can we (for you and I are that church) shed any single one of our other foolish assumptions. This is why we need something (or Someone) outside of us to override our inabilities in this regard and to build through us without being limited by us.

    If you look at the last two decades of church history you will find exactly this: A shift in consciousness that is not the result of any individual or group’s understanding, sensibilities or efforts. Like the Protestant Reformation it was not planned, foreseen or engineered. Yet it happened and is happening in a way that no one can stop or interfere with. Christ is building, and nothing or no one can thwart his plans. There is an inexplicable growing awareness amongst believers worldwide of what the church is and should be in practice. You merely need to follow a handful of blogs to notice this. This awareness is becoming more refined by the week.

    The answer is upon us, and it will not come from the annals of theological seminaries, from the blogging gurus or from any one of the new streams who have become associated with post-institutional Christianity. Rather, it will come in the same way that it came the first way around. It will be found in the midst of those gathering in His name. Christ will open the eyes of those who belong to him in his own way and his own time, and they will see the mystery of the Ekklesia as they gather faithfully and humbly.

    If there is anything we can learn from the Acts church then it is that they were freely and unexpectedly given the life that they had. It was something stumbled upon, like the parable of the treasure in the field. I hear what you are saying, but I’m not sure that we can say the “model” arises from the “mission”, for our sense of “mission” is too subjective for such a majestic responsibility. Rather, I would say both the mission and the model arise from the continuing revelation of Christ in us as we grow up in him and experientially become one with his multifaceted body through which the mystery of his will is exponentially revealed in these last days.

  3. Marshall says:

    concurring with Tobie, intentional effort to build or repair the ekklesia fail. This is a profound axiom, and in the backdrop of Acts 2; lending to why the Spirit has so arranged to keep me from “planting churches” or “playing doctor” among the small ekklesias here in the USA. We also draw from the Scriptures and the Spirit that there is no “starting over”. Plainly, the ekklesia/church is never itself the “mission”, while Christ’s mission (He in His own) both supports and grows the ekklesia. Humbling even to consider how I/we must continue to appeal to/through the Holy Spirit re: needful works & graces. Not that we are left to inaction or an abstract roll, as that same Spirit is at work in us to cooperation in accomplishing all that He will. [His mission is much grander than English words can convey!]
    Marc, the cowardly will visit the Lake of Fire [Revelation 21:8]. May it be that some of these suffer entrapment viz-a-viz internment of immaturity, rather than all being cowards for Christ? Given opportunity to grow, harvest can follow.

  4. David Woods says:

    To me, returning to the first century church is akin to America picking a fight with the queen of England, and returning to her roots as a fledgling country trying to break free of the tyranny of the monarchy.

    The first century church was commissioned with breaking free of Jewish tradition while spreading the word that the Jew’s God is the real God, that He sent His Son into the world to change the way things were done while preserving the heritage of what needed to be done. As well as spreading the message to those who had never heard such things before. Very simplistic explanation maybe, but it’s only the background, not the main point, so I didn’t spend much time on it.

    Many of today’s churches are more of an Old Testament model. Go “to” church once a week, let one person read the Scriptures to you and tell you what it means, repent for the sins of the week, and go home. Some of these places may have to re-fight that old battle, and go back through what the the first century church went through trying to break away from these old traditions. I’m not saying it’s necessary, just that some people are stubborn enough that the lessons of the past simply CAN’T be learned without being re-lived.

    I think the modern “church” (bride) need to act like these lessons have been learned, and decide what to do with them. I’m not talking about coming up with a program, or a formula, or a production, but figure out how to do what the Lord wanted us to do, and be what He called us to be apart from these things. I’m not talking about the call of missions, these have obviously not changed since the first century as there are always those who haven’t even heard the good news. I’m speaking of those who aren’t missionaries, who go about living everyday life WITH each other. I’m talking about the Unity of the church. The church that knows the good news, and now needs to figure out how to live it out in day-to-day life, and grow, and mature.

    i know no one better to learn these lessons from than one who teaches them every day. I wonder how one commissioned with spreading the good news will suggest we do this. When you teach someone the gospel who has never heard it, how do you suggest THEY go about living it out in day-to-day life? How do you take someone who is not burdened with the baggage of “old time religion” and teach them to encourage one another in the Lord?

    That’s how I decided to approach the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit a number of years ago, as one not burdened with the baggage of the past, but as one who had never heard. As one on a deserted island having a Bible dropped on their head from the sky, and it has changed the way I think about these things drastically.

    This is the kind of advice I would love to get from a missionary who lives this kind of life. Not advice for the “typical American family”, but advice for the unnamed unlearned from the unnamed learned one who has met God, and developed a relationship with Him. I understand the typical missionary response to the typical American. That of course would be “Go”. Plain and simple. “Do what I do, and go out, and make disciples”. I’ve heard this myriad times, but I think we have a lot to learn from someone who meets the unlearned as to how to proceed with this thing called Christian life, and I see no one else better than a missionary, short of the Holy Ghost Himself, to teach us such things.

    So Miguel, what do you say to someone who has decided to live the life, unconditionally, giving God everything? How do you suggest we live this life together in unity of spirit with each other without resorting to the Old Testament way of doing things?

  5. Jonathan says:

    “If the Church wants to return to its New Testament model, it must first recapture the New Testament’s mode of mission.”

    My first thought here is that I’m not sure that the church (meaning, local churches – the only operative expression for “the church” this side of Christ’s return) really wants to return to its roots. Sure, we’ve all heard folks say (and some of us have said) that we want to return to that model but we’d have to shed too much of the identity (baggage) we’ve developed, especially since the Reformation.

    But, if the church really wants to go back…

    “In that answer, I have made couple of assumptions:

    1. A right relationship with the triune God and your neighbor.

    2. That the mission of the Church is Making Disciples by Preaching the Gospel.”

    I would agree with the proposition that there is no going back to the 1st century model unless we recapture the mission of the 1st century model.

    Wholeheartedly agree with #1 (without this, there is neither authority or mission)

    Do not agree with #2. Preaching the Gospel is a normative, specified NT activity for the church, but its has been elevated far beyond the Biblical discussion. You won’t find a single Scripture (or Scripture in its immediate context) that points to the equation “Preaching the Gospel” = “Making Disciples”. Beyond that, I’ll go as far as suggest that no one reading these words has ever either personally experienced actual “making disciples” via “preaching” or has heard of a single credible example of it being done.

    Hmmm….maybe that’s part of the problem. We’ve become so enamored of preaching and preachers over the last half millennium or so that we’ve lost sight of the what prime directive of the church.

  6. Marshall says:

    Jonathan’s query should not be missed, as most of the organized church is not going to be moved from course. Consequently, “confronting the core assumptions” will not be undertaken by the “core”.
    Preaching is for repentance; one does not preach for the making of disciples. Quite true. Seems we’re confronting some of the “assumptions”, even here?

  7. Marc Winter says:

    You cannot solve the problem with the same mind you created it with. -Albert Einstein

    Church as the religious system of Western fallen man, and his fallen institutions of higher biblical education, can not accommodate the revelation of Christ. Many pontificate, postulate, and extrapolate, they which they do not know. For this knowledge is not intellectual, it’s price is far too high for most with pedigrees and degrees.
    When our eyes water, bleary with the tears and wonder of a child, at the revelation, then we are at the doorway of the kingdom.

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