My wife and I recently went to see a stage production of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol with my mom and dad when they were in town for Thanksgiving. While watching the play, I kept thinking about the state of the churches in America. What would the ghosts in A Christmas Carol say to us? For the next little while I’m going to try to answer that question.
We’ll start with the ghost of church past this week. When Ebenezer Scrooge asked the ghost of Christmas past why it was there with him it said that it had come for Scrooge’s welfare and, ultimately, his reclamation. It’s for the same reasons that we gaze back into our past as well!
Let’s begin all the way at the beginning —
The Earliest Church
- Basics — This period begins at the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 and extends until the fourth century. It’s marked by growth and vitality. The early believers in Jesus were not centralized, they tended to meet in homes, and they appear to have taken Jesus’ teachings about caring for the least of these seriously.
- How Leadership Worked — There were a variety of leaders, those who pushed the envelope (like evangelists, prophets, and apostles) and those who provided care for the flock (like teachers and preachers).
- Problems — Before we get too excited, however, these earliest churches had many problems. Their theology was pretty loose, they had to deal with really dangerous persecution, there were unity problems in their churches, and they had the ongoing issues associated with the ethnic drama between Jews and Gentiles.
- Standing in Society — These early believers were pioneers who lived on the edges of their societies. Thus, they tended to stand out from the norm quite a bit, thanks to their moral practices, their care for the poor and the hurting, and their love for one another.
- Great Commission — These churches were sending churches. We this see modeled in Jesus’ own life (Luke 9-10) and then recreated by the early faith communities, such as the church at Antioch (Acts 13). They also appear to have understood that making disciples meant doing life together while always being open to folding in new people (Acts 2.42-47).
Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, the first part of our visit from the ghost of church past is pretty positive. As we look back at the earliest church, there’s lots to like and emulate.
So when you think of the earliest church, what comes to mind? Tell me in the comments below!
(FYI — much of the content of this blog was inspired by Alan Hirsch’s book Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church. I highly recommend it!)