Why Adopt the Early Christian Model of Church?

This is a question I've been asked so many times, you'd think I would have a scripted answer for it. I don't, but that isn't because there is no answer. The issue is, there are so many reasons why we should do so that emphasizing one over another isn't doing the question justice. That said, I'll attempt to provide a few justifications herein.

We live in an age when the church is very much on the decline. The influence of Christianity in culture has been depleted to the point of insignificance, churches are struggling financially to remain open, and people have abandoned the standard Catholic and even Evangelical/Protestant models of "doing church". Part of this is the failure of the church to be counter-cultural, indulging itself instead in "culturally relevant" pursuits- adopting the attitudes and behaviors of the surrounding failing cultures. You can only placate people for so long with "worship bands", coffee and doughnut services, potluck dinners, cheerleaders on Easter, confetti cannons, and smoke machines. Sooner or later the discerning seeker sees through the painfully repugnant facade, and leaves the pew, taking his money with him. In short, the church has sold its message out to what it perceived as expedient to get people in the door, even if for a short time. It was all form over content. And you can plan all the "revivals" you wish, if your message isn't the unadulterated gospel, and you're not living consistent with it, without adding your own personal tweaks to it, God isn't likely to give you a revival. 

One of the reasons we need to adopt the early Christian model is that it will significantly strengthen and enrich the church to return to its first principles; that is, the principles of the New Testament and Apostolic era. After all, the Apostles studied directly at the feet of Jesus, so how arrogant can we be to think we somehow know how to do church better than they did? What they established is the model.

Why does the church even exist? It exists to worship God righteously, to be guided by the Holy Spirit into all truth, to share that truth with the world, and to love God and each other. Who knows how to do that best? Martin Luther? John Calvin? Pius X? I'd suggest that those in the unique position of knowing how best to achieve these things is the Apostles, who did leave us with a blueprint, a pattern for how the church should exist. It logically follows that if we follow this model we will be better enabled to demonstrate the love, unity, deep fellowship, and discipleship we're expected to demonstrate as Christians. 

This doesn't mean that everything about the modern church is in error, or that we have to shut down the churches and retreat to catacombs, but it does mean we have to take a long look at what we are doing and evaluate it for faithfulness to the New Testament and witness of the early church. That can be hard to do, since the various denominations are as attached to their traditions as the Pharisees of old were to theirs. We have to be willing to let go of old ways of doing things that are really based on culture, prejudices, etc., and embrace the Apostolic model.

I'd suggest, in concert with Nicolas Gomez Davila, that sometimes the most "progressive" way forward is to go back. 

This will require many to reevaluate some things they've likely taken for granted. They'll have to ask such questions as:
  • What form should Communion take?
  • How often should Communion be observed?
  • What should be the form and model for clergy?
  • What are the unique roles (if any) for men and women?
  • What about tithing?
The questions go on and on. The fortunate part of all this is that we have one primary source document, and one secondary source, which we can rely on. First, we have the New Testament, which is the primary source for all things related to the Faith. It gives us a basic picture of the early church from which we can begin to self-evaluate. We have to admit that the New Testament is limited with regard to what it tells us about the early church, because it wasn't inspired to be a church manual, but to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. To the extent that this purpose required things regarding the church to be included, they are.

We are fortunate that we also have a secondary, although not divinely inspired and infallible, source. That is, we have the writings of the Apostolic and Church Fathers, which provides a great deal more detail on the function and form of the early church. If we prayerfully study both sources, recognizing the limitations of each, led by the Holy Spirit, we can find reasonable, reliable direction. The Apostolic traditions we will find in such a study are always logical and in conformity with the whole of God's Word.

Paul wrote of these traditions he passed on.

"I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church." - 1 Corinthians 4:16-17

Does Paul enumerate or list these traditions somewhere in our New Testament? Some of them yes, and some no. So where do we turn to discover these Apostolic traditions? We turn to our secondary source, the Church Fathers. This process of discovery, and the subsequent adoption of those Apostolic traditions we find, is the most logical and reasonable approach we can take if we're ever to see a true revival.

There's an old saying that form follows function. 

Right now our churches are functioning in ways that simply do not work, and are counter-productive in many instances. Much of this is due to a rejection of tradition, in favor of Modernist novelties. These proponents of Modernity have given us liturgies that are Man centered, rather than God centered, felt banners in place of beautiful artwork and iconography, egalitarian approaches to church function and governance, and a general liberalization of all things related to the faith. As a result, the form is just as dysfunctional. The form of the church is only properly realized when the function of the church is in accordance with the New Testament and the Traditions of the Apostles.

Now, I can hear my fellow Evangelicals saying, "Tradition? We don't need the traditions of men!" Allow me to correct that thinking. We're not talking about mere "traditions of men", but the traditions of the Apostles that were faithfully preserved in the church at least until the 3rd and 4th centuries. And Scripture strongly implies we are to preserve those Apostolic traditions.

"Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you."- 1 Corinthians 11:2

You very likely already observe some of these Apostolic Traditions, such as the Eucharist (Lord's Supper), baptism, and foot washing. These are all traditions (Greek "paradosis") handed down to us from the Apostles themselves, and thus are Apostolic Tradition.

Traditions tend to be passed down orally. Such oral transmission of certain practices was common in 1st century Judaism, and naturally found its way into the bloodstream of the early church. While it is indeed true that some religious traditions violate the Word of God, all Apostolic traditions are in full harmony with the teachings of Jesus and the entirety of both the Old and New Testaments. This would naturally exclude many of the traditions of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, but also equally exclude many of the traditions of Protestantism and Evangelicalism, such as they possess them. 

So, in answer to the opening question, I say: Because the early church was guided by the Apostles themselves, who gave not only teachings, but traditions, it is our only sound model for the church in all times and places. I believe this model is expressed most faithfully in the Anglican (though not Calvinist) stream of Christianity.


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