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.

A Christian Response to Offense

Scripture Focus:  2 Corinthians 2.7-8
Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.

Reflection: A Christian Response to Offense
By John Tillman

There is nothing in the Christian faith more strangely counter-cultural, and more practically difficult to live out, than how the New Testament instructs us to deal with offenses and with offenders. 

In today’s culture, the concept of free-speech has been weighed, it has been tested, and it has been found wanting. Words, ideas, beliefs, and pronouns can all cause great offense in today’s dialogue. 

Our culture is unable to bear offense and simultaneously unable to bear forgiveness. A typical response to offenders is to block or unfriend them or to tell them to, “delete your account.” Telling someone to delete their account expresses a belief that the person does not deserve to exist on the same platform, or live in the same world, as the persons he or she offended. It is akin to wishing someone dead.

In response, some grumble about the world being “too sensitive.” These people say we need to “toughen up.” Those who, through ignorance or insensitivity, brandish words that hurt others are like the irresponsible archer of Proverbs, firing flaming arrows as a joke. When we refuse to consider others’ feelings we are burning down the world for our own amusement and ease. “Can’t they take a joke?” is not a biblical defense Christians can lean on. 

Christ did not come to make our hearts tough but tender. When Christ instructed us to turn the other cheek to offense, it was not intended as a show of toughness. Christians not only must be considerate in avoiding offense when possible, we uniquely seek to reconcile offenders as we have been reconciled to God. 

Paul instructed the Corinthians to “reinstate the account” of the offender. Paul knows what he is talking about and knows the difficulty of what he is asking us to do. Paul was an offender who went beyond unkind words. He constantly breathed out murderous threats and acted on them by falsely imprisoning families and putting Christians to death. 

Only through Christ can we bring back into fellowship those who humble themselves regarding their offenses. (Without humility, one cannot be reintegrated.)
May we soften our hearts and our words rather than harden them, avoiding avoidable offense
May the only offensive words we speak be the “foolish” and offensive message of the gospel.
May we practice responsible restoration as described by Paul*, marked by sorrow, humility, repentance, and reintegration.

*Abusive leaders are disqualified from reinstatement to positional authority, such as being pastors, elders, or deacons. But reintegration into the community, based on humility and repentance is vital.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened by debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will come upon you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come down on all those living on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to hold your ground before the Son of man.” — Luke 21.34-36

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 8=9 (Listen – 3:51)
2 Corinthians 2 (Listen – 2:13)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Samuel 10 (Listen – 3:19), 2 Corinthians 3 (Listen – 2:25)
2 Samuel 11 (Listen – 4:25), 2 Corinthians 4 (Listen – 3:02)

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Read more about Avoiding Avoidable Offense
The gospel is offensive and counter-cultural in its nature, but Paul strives to avoid avoidable offense. 

Read more about Crucified, By Nature
It is hard for us to grasp how foolish, offensive and shameful crucifixion was in the ancient world.