Christian denominations and the church of the first century?

Episcopal Church (Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

Does this thought ever flash through your Christian mind, “Is the church of today anything like the church of the first couple of centuries of the Christian era?” Were there clergy? What about church buildings? When did architecture and cathedrals enter Christianity? They’ve entered my mind many times and I’ve concluded that today’s churches and denominations are a country mile from New Testament Christianity.

Yes, we read about apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11) but their purpose was to work themselves out of a job as they were designed to ‘equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ’ (Eph. 4:12 ESV). How close is that to what is happening in your church? How many of your pastors/teachers/clergy are spending their lives equipping believers for ministry? Or, how many of them are increasing their power through prominent pulpit or mass media ministries?

We should be brave enough to confront the issues. Has the church worldwide drifted from its biblical goals and purpose? How do the 100 million Christians in China compare with what is happening to churches and denominations in the West? What about the persecuted Christians of the Middle East and in countries such as North Korea? Are these churches closer to the biblical model than in my country of Australia?

One Christian Forum has been pondering this question, “What denomination today is closest to First Century Christianity?” That’s a very good question. There have been many responses.

My own contribution has been that I would choose the house church movement. Any church that exalts the clergy is not, in my view, closest to first century Christianity.

First century Christianity had this approach to what happens when the church gathers:

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up (1 Cor. 14:26 NIV).

Every member ministry was the norm of the early church. That is not the approach of the Eastern Orthodox Church. But it is what happens in house churches.

There is evidence of churches meeting in homes prior to AD 70. See Acts 2:46-47; 5:42; 8:3; 12:12; 16:40; 20:7-8, 20; Rom 16:3-5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15; Philemon 2; 2 John 9-11.

The contemporary church is so far removed from this every-member involvement when the church gathers and, sadly, many charismatic-pentecostals are moving away from it when the church gathers on Sunday. Some still maintain this 1 Cor. 14:26 openness to the gifts in small groups.

Why do you think that the church has moved from this norm of what happened in the early church? One standard answer is that many of these gifts have ceased. My understanding of the cessation of these gifts is they will cease when the poor reflection becomes: “We shall see [Him] face to face” and then be fully known (1 Cor. 13:12).  See my articles:

In John Shelby Spong’s book, A New Christianity for a New World (HarperSanFrancisco 2001), he throws out core Christian beliefs such as the atonement (an “offensive idea”, p. 10) and the bodily resurrection of Christ, yet still wants to say: “I am a Christian. I believe that God is real. I call Jesus my Lord. Yet I do not define God as a supernatural being. I believe passionately in God. This God is not identified with doctrines, creeds, and traditions” (Spong 2003:3, 64, 74).

Spong’s primary question to answer in this book is: “Can a person claim with integrity to be a Christian and at the same time dismiss, as I have done, so much of what has traditionally defined the content of the Christian faith?” (p. 7)

Jack Spong was no lightweight in the liberal Episcopalian Church in the USA, being bishop of Newark NJ. For Spong to be able to teach and preach such heresy as a bishop in the Episcopalian church is an indicator of the sickness in that denomination. But other denominations have the same problem as I have indicated with some of the Anglicans and Uniting Church in Australia. Take a look at the theological heresy that is taught in the United Church, Canada.

I’m not sure that people are aware of the theological sickness in many denominations that have departed from the faith.

Take a read of John Dominic Crossan’s theology (The Historical Jesus; Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography; Who Killed Jesus? The Birth of Christianity). He taught biblical studies in the Roman Catholic, DePaul University, Chicago, for 26 years.

One person in this thread stated, “I don’t see denominations as a problem. I see them as a solution”. My response is:

Yep, denominations like:

Right! We need denominations like we need a sore head!



Copyright © 2017 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 27 January 2017.