The “Ideal” of the New Testament Church

Scripture Focus: 2 Corinthians 2.1-4
So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? I wrote as I did, so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.

Reflection: The “Ideal” of the New Testament Church
By John Tillman

The New Testament church is often held up as an historical ideal. By this, people usually mean that if we only did things the way the New Testament church did, everything would be ideal.

But reading the history of the early church recorded in the New Testament shows us that conflicts, scandals, heresies, and difficulty in dealing with the prevalent sins of the culture were common problems.  

The Apostles, leading the early church, were men and women who saw the actual face of Christ. Christ-in-the-resurrected-flesh breathed on them and said, “receive the Holy Spirit.” They spoke in tongues and had tongues of fire over their heads; they raised the dead; they had prophetic visions and powers of healing. Yet even with all of their spiritual power, gifting, and clarity, the Apostles had problems in every church they planted. They dealt with conflict, personality clashes, arguments about worship styles, arguments about food and drink, arguments about power, arguments about money, arguments about sexual ethics, and arguments about racial divides. 

The Apostles had difficulty leading a diverse population to understand the implications of the gospel. Why then, are we shocked and surprised when this happens to us?

Rather than one “ideal,” when we look at what the different churches actually did, we see many variations. They met in the Temple. They met by the river. They met in homes. They met in the public square. They met every day. They met on “The Lord’s day.” They met in the morning. They met at midday. They met all night long. Their leadership structures seem flexible as well. The shared leadership of multiple churches across a vast area amongst Paul, Barnabas, Priscilla, Aquilla, Apollos, James, Peter, Junia, Timothy, Silas, and many other Christian leaders is unlike church or denominational leadership structures today. Their style of worship seems to be varied with some following orderly Jewish customs of the reading of scripture or of letters from Apostles and some engaging in freewheeling times of multiple impromptu speakers in unplanned succession. 

The one thing we can definitively say about the practices of the local churches in the New Testament is that they were led by the Holy Spirit. And the one thing that the Holy Spirit seems to have inspired in all of them is a spirit of innovation and flexibility in practice, while holding tightly to a strict theological interpretation of the gospel.

This is something we can aspire to in our churches and our lives.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face. — Psalm 105.4

Today’s Readings
Job 32 (Listen -2:12)
2 Corinthians 2 (Listen -2:13)

Read more about The Church of Acts
Acts is not a step-by-step program to cut-and-paste into modernity. It isn’t a start-up handbook

Read more about To the Worst Churches in the Bible
There are many strange and unfamiliar images in Revelation that we have no context for and do not easily understand. But one that has a very familiar ring is the description of scandal-filled churches.

Convicted by Job’s Righteousness :: A Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Job 31.13-14, 28
“If I have denied justice to any of my servants, 
         whether male or female, 
         when they had a grievance against me, 
what will I do when God confronts me? 
         What will I answer when called to account? 
…then these also would be sins to be judged, 
         for I would have been unfaithful to God on high.

Reflection: Convicted by Job’s Righteousness :: A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

There are many lists of sins in the Bible which should give the thoughtful Christian pause and send us to our knees in confession. Job’s list of sins in Chapter 31 contains famous verses, such as “I have made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman,” (verse 1) and several more regarding sexual sins (verses 9-12) that I remember being pounded with as a youth and in college. But the majority of the sins Job lists in his denial have nothing to do with sex and are often skipped or skimmed over by preachers.

May we read verses 13-40 with opened eyes for our own sins and those of our leaders, both religious and political. If Job was defenseless before God, unable to stand before him despite all his blameless actions, what will we do when God confronts us?

May we run to Christ, the mediator that Job prophesied, with this confession.

*What we pray today is not a confession of individual sins, although any of these sins may be committed by one person. Instead, it is a corporate confession, as would be offered by the high priest or a faithful prophet on behalf of the people. As we confess sins of our communities and nations, we step into our role as a kingdom of priests. This does not mean we deny our own culpability. Instead it means that we say that we ARE culpable and confess each one as if it were our own individual sin.

Prayer of Confession
Based on Job 31:13–40

We confess, Lord, we are not like Job. (Job 31.13)
We have denied and delayed justice to servants, workers, women, and outcasts, propping up the reputation of abusive men and staining the reputation of Christ’s church.

We confess, Lord. (Job 31.14-15)
We have dishonored and disenfranchised those in the womb, though they, just like us, are being formed by the hand of God.
And we have discriminated against those who are born, who are our brothers and sisters, born equal before God but treated by our hands as unworthy and spoken of as if they were animals.

We confess, Lord (Job 31.16-23)
We have behaved heartlessly and selfishly toward the poor and the outcasts.
We have blamed them, denied our responsibility, and held them accountable for their deaths caused by our hand.
We have seen those perishing due to lack of bread, lack of clothing, lack of freedom, lack of shelter, and said, “It is their own fault.”

We confess, Lord, (Job 31.24-28)
We have cared more for economic health than spiritual health.
We have trusted more in gains of the stock market, than storing up treasures in Heaven.
We have made success our idol and wealth our god.

We confess, Lord, (Job 31.29-30)
We rejoice in the suffering of our enemies.
We cheer insults, we encourage and participate in violence, we mock our opponents’ tears and laugh to see them suffer.

We confess, Lord, (Job 31.38-40)
That the land and its people cry out against our abuse.
Neither the Earth, nor our brothers and sisters who live on it are more valuable to us than reaping wealth.

We pray for your forgiveness, Lord, but more than that, we pray that you would change the hearts of the oppressors, and may you begin in our hearts.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
Open, Lord, my eyes that I may see.
Open, Lord, my ears that I may hear.
Open, Lord, my heart and my mind that I may understand.
So shall I turn to you and be healed.

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 31 (Listen -4:16)
2 Corinthians 1 (Listen -3:52)

Read more about Righteousness Sets Things Right
Righteousness, as Job describes it, is marked by formidable, positive actions on behalf of justice.

Read more about Christless Forgiveness is the Absence of Justice
Christ is the miracle of justice and forgiveness in one glorified person. He alone is able to complete the cycle of justice.

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