Imagine with me for a moment what our life would be like if we truly abandoned all the traditional trappings of our faith and reverted to only what we read about in the New Testament. If we didn’t see it modeled or explicitly taught in the New Testament, we just wouldn’t bother doing it. I’m not suggesting that we copy cultural issues from that time and place. We don’t need to don togas and throw away our cell phones. I’m suggesting that in our spiritual and corporate practices, we adopt the logic and ways of the early church without stepping out of the 21st Century. Frankly, this requires quite a bit of imagination on our parts.
What would that be like? What do we get rid of and what do we keep? I doubt we could all agree on the little details of this. Nor am I sure that it is essential that we do. But we do know some broad brush stoke issues that are clearly later additions to our way of expressing our faith. They are not required, modeled or even suggested by the New Testament but they have become unquestioned fixtures of the way we express our faith. Let me suggest some of the most clear and obvious.
A special building designed and set aside for Christian worship and ministry is something completely foreign to the New Testament. That didn’t even begin to show up on the radar of history for about 200 years after Christ (an adapted house) and wasn’t really common until Constantine got his hands on the Church. You can read about this briefly in Thank You Chairman Mao. Is a building really necessary to express our faith well? Obviously, the early Christians didn’t seem to think so and many of them were pretty effective Christians.
Order of Worship
Having an order of worship is another idea many of us can’t imagine practicing our faith without. Many of us wouldn’t have any idea what to do if it wasn’t planned, written in a bulletin and lead by worship leaders and clergy. Yet the early Church thrived without any of this traditional routine. The only biblical passage that describes what they did is found in I Cor. 14: 26-32. You can read a bit more about this in: Authority: How Jesus Leads a Church, Redwood Churches and Jesus as Our Capstone. But suffice it to say that it was pretty spontaneous and everyone participated equally.
Clergy and Laity
The idea of having a special class of people who are set aside to do ministry and another class of people who are ministered to is another foreign concept to the New Testament. We can find this concept (priests) in the Old Testament. We can find this in most other religions. But we don’t find this in the New Testament. There is a reason for this. We are all supposed to be ministered to and we are all supposed to minister one to another. We all have the Holy Spirit and we all are gifted by him to do kingdom work.
Was there leadership in the early Church? Yes. Each person was supposed to lead in specific given situations under the leadership of Christ. This was based on maturity level and often giftedness. Those who were particularly noted for their spiritual maturity were called elders. They had no official power or position, it was just a recognition of who they were and with that recognition came authority (but not power, position or control). You can read more about this in: Authority: How Jesus Leads a Church,
I could go on with other issues that don’t reflect what we actually read in the New Testament. I could mention sermons, pastors, tithing and salaries, Sunday school, and ritualized Lord’s supper and baptism, just to name a few. It isn’t necessary to go into detail. My point is this. The early Church not only got by without these, they thrived and were usually more effective than we are without these. Why? Could it be that these things aren’t as helpful and advantageous as we tend to think? Is it possible that these are some of the very things that are keeping our faith from becoming viral? I believe this is true. I explore this in detail in my soon to be published book The Jesus Virus.
- If these practices aren’t necessary, why do we do them?
- Why is it so hard to imagine what church could be like without these traditions?
- Jesus only mentioned two impediments to supernatural power; unbelief and the traditions of men. Why do you think Jesus was so hard on the traditions of men?
- Is it possible to add new traditions to our way of expressing our faith without having unexpected and negative consequences?