I grew up in a church that proudly said it wanted to be a New Testament Church. It couldn't quite pull it off. Truth is, none of us REALLY wanted to do it. We didn't have the stomach for it. And I don't blame us.
I'm reading Paul Johnson's A History of Christianity. He's my favorite historian, edging out Jacques Barzun. (That Johnson is "my favorite historian" should tell you a couple things: First, Johnson offers incisive analysis in addition to respect for the proper role of the historian, and, second, I had no dates in high school.) You should read it.
People ask me a lot, "Where do you go to church?" and I don't have a real good answer yet. I start to say something about, "Well, we have a community of friends that..." and then they say, "Oh, a home church!" and then offer something nice like, "Yeah, you know, that's the way the early church did it, so there's something to that, I suppose, and..."
Thing is, I don't care about Home Church (TM) really. It's not about the house. Moreeover, I don't really want to re-create the early church, either. We can't. And that's fine. Johnson's account of it will make you a little queasy.
Paul Johnson is a Catholic, it should be pointed out, and one who takes his Catholicism very seriously. Nonetheless, he doesn't try the ol' "Look, the hierarchy was in place from the start," trick. He completely discounts, historically, any idea of true "apostolic succession." It just wasn't happenin'. Instead, we get stuff like this:
"(The Pauline gospel) stood a good chance of surviving and spreading. But it had no organization behind it. Paul did not believe in such a thing. He believed in the Spirit, working through him and others. Why should man regulate when the Spirit would do it for him? And of course he did not want a fixed system with rules and prohibitions...The Church was an inversion of normal society. Its leaders exercised their authority through gifts of the Spirit, not through office...Worship was still completely unorganized and subject to no special control. There was no specific organization to handle funds. And there was no distinction between a clerical class, and laity...Clerical control seemed needless and inappropriate. And the atmosphere in the Pauline churches was reproduced elsewhere, in a rapidly spreading movement."
Johnson says "there were numerous varieties of Christianity, which had little in common, though they centered round belief in the resurrection...Each Church had its own 'Jesus story'..." and no one was making things orderly-like. Paul was getting his way, and his way was a big, uncontrolled, mess.
Me, I love watching order come from chaos. Like from the top of this very small desk, for instance, which currently holds books, receipts, a wheat bread wrapper, CD's, Elmer's Glue, a remote, a guitar pick, glasses, a Curious George hat, a "cassette tape", a newspaper "Salute to Illinois Football", pieces of granola, and here's some hair.
But not everyone's that way, and would prefer order come from...order. And that's perfectly understandable if you're that way, we're all created different, we should celebrate our diversity, and honestly, it's perfectly okay if you have to keep your desk clean, like Hitler did.
We all like our theological trains running on time. Funny thing is: Humans have tried steering the Church, and the Holy Spirit, for some time now, and I'm not sure the result of our orderly attempts at order haven't been chaos.
Anyway, my point is: We shouldn't replicate the early church. What should we be doing, then? I submit, humbly: We love Jesus with everything we have, study him, and love our neighbors, and stay open to what that might look like in our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our cultures, our contexts.
It may turn out that what the best way to be a Jesus movement in your context is by starting a fund drive for a big tract of land, building a multi-million-dollar edifice, and paying someone to talk at everybody, lecture style, in a big theater-type thing at 10 and 11:30 Sunday mornings. But maybe not. My guess? Probably not. But maybe.
By the way, if you think blogs are rough-and-tumble, read about the "Church Fathers" sometime. They blasted each other. Stuff like one bishop saying he was glad another bishop was dead, except he felt sorry for the people in Hell who would have to hear that guy's preaching -- stuff like that. Tertullian blasted some heretics, then joined them.
At least we have Origen: A brilliant, thoughtful man who wrote foundational commentary on scripture. He took it seriously, too. And I'm pretty sure about that, because when he read Matthew 19:12, he up and castrated himself.
I've read that passage before, but have not done that yet.
You can try to be the first century church, but you'll fail, because you're not in first century Corinth right now. (Or, if you are, tell that one guy to quit messing around with his stepmom, and take the "30 day singles challenge".) Point is, my neighbors, co-workers, family, and friends don't need me to be a first century anything. They need me to take Jesus seriously, and they want to see people take Jesus seriously, together.
And they don't need to hear me go on about how much I enjoy the trappings of tradition, either. I do love incense and liturgy, by the way, and beautiful cathedrals give me chills. But they do need me to take Jesus seriously, and they want to see people take Jesus seriously, together.
The first century church was a mess, and we can't replicate it. I won't quote Tolstoy here, but could: Messes take many forms. We have our own particular version here in Jupiter, Florida, in the 21st century. I do take solace from this, though: When God is given control of the mess, big things happen. They did then, and they do now.
He must love messes. He was born in one.