Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Good Old Days

"Do not long for 'the good old days'. This is not wise"
Ecc. 7:10 (NLT).

Admit it. The past usually looks better than the present when viewed through the rear-view mirror of memory. It's easy to look back to childhood when life was easier and carefree. And for kids it is. There are few to no responsibilities to shoulder. Parents, however, may express a different sentiment about that era if asked.

Christians can fall into the same ditch. Disillusioned with the Church's present condition, they long for the simplicity the first-century believers enjoyed. What parallel universe did these Christians live in anyway? A careful reading of the New Testament doesn't print a problem-free picture of the Church's early beginnings.

Larry Osborne, author of Accidental Pharisees warns of idolizing the past. The early Church faced many of the same issues we do today. Take prejudice for one.

The early church prejudiced? Blasphemy! Sacrilege! Sad, but true, they had their issues. Initially instructed to remain in Jerusalem, when empowered by the Spirit they were to take the Gospel further and further abroad until they reached the "uttermost parts of the earth." They didn't. The uttermost parts were Gentile territories and no self-respecting Jew risked contamination by traversing on pagan soil. These early believers were saved but their mindset toward non-Jews needed redemption.

The New Testament records attempts by the Judaizers to impose the Law on Gentile Christians. The Book of Acts recounts the inequitable distribution of aid between the Jewish and Greek widows. The Greeks were getting the short end of the stick. This accusation was serious enough for the Apostles to appoint a group of spirit-filled men of integrity to ensure that all were treated fairly.

Peter and Paul had a major confrontation concerning Peter's attitude shift toward Gentile believers. Peter, the man with the heavenly vision who paved the way for evangelizing the Gentiles, caved under pressure and withdrew from fellowshipping with non-Jewish believers. Paul publicly called him out on this hypocrisy.

Osborne offers another example of the early Church's problems. The New Testament doesn't contain directives for Christians to sell everything as the Jerusalem church did. Paul wrote that people with means should be generous toward those in need, but he didn't advocate one liquidate all of one's assets. Paul eventually had to take up an offering for the Church in Jerusalem because they were broke.

Believing Christ's return to be imminent, Church members camped out and waited. The current culture of hospitality lent itself to hosting extended stays. Fellowshipping daily together was the norm, but Christ didn't return as anticipated and the money ran out. No wonder Paul reminded the Thessalonians that if you don't work, you don't eat. (2 Thes. 3:10). Once again, our concept of a picture perfect first-century church is flawed.

In all fairness to the first-century believers, they were pioneering new territory without a guidebook or map. For both Jew and Gentile this was a brand new way of relating not only to God, but also to other people. As Christ, the Light of the World, shown in their hearts old mindsets, biases and behaviors were exposed and change was necessary. We all know how difficult that can be.

"Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold I will do something new. Now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it?" Isaiah 43:18-19.

The questions posed to Israel is pertinent to us today. Will we get so caught up in trying to replicate the past and its glory that we'll miss out on the new things God is doing? He's not confined to any single methodology. He mixes things up, and the Church eventually catches on. We need to be alert for change and not hang on to the same-old-same-old.

How about you? Are you open to God re-configuring your concept of the Church and how it should function? He never deviates from His foundational truths, but He'll continuously bring to light where we're operating out of our own ideas of who God is as opposed to His true nature. Are you willing to sacrifice your comfort zone for a deeper relationship with God, your brothers and sisters in Christ, and those who don't yet know Him? Can you bid the good old days a fond farewell and embrace the new things God has in store for us now? 

1 comment:

  1. A dear friend of ours who is now in heaven decided the 'good' old days were not so good. She grew up in what was a coal mining community. It was hard work. Her dad died in a mining accident. She grew up during the Great Depression and was in her late teens at the onset of W. W. 2. Her husband was in the Civilian Conservation Corps and then the Army. I understand her thinking more and more as I age. Another friend preached a sermon about living in the moment.(Not reliving the past and not longing for the future.)