The following is an email i wrote a while ago. i used to think that every New Testament church
did everything exactly the same way as every other New Testament church. In fact, in a sense,
i needed that to be true, because i took that unchanging and uniform view of the church and
used it as a means to measure whether 21st century churches were engages in good or bad
practices or beliefs. The trouble is, i realized (as i explain below) that the New Testament church
just doesn't match up to that unchanging-and-uniform view:
Something that has occurred to me is that i always assumed that the early church
--the one written about in the New Testament--existed in a sort of static, unchanged, everything fixed and all the details in place sort of way. But i heard a guy on a radio program i listen to say "the church in Acts 2 is not the same as the church in Acts 28," and i had never thought of it that way before. He's not saying that the church is different in identity or kind. What he means is that throughout the life of the early church just in the pages of the New Testament, there is constant change and development. Think about it: In Acts 2, there were the apostles, and 3000 Jewish converts. And they had the apostles' doctrine, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. And the converts had been baptized. Then in Acts 4 and 5, we read that money was pooled--given to the apostles and then distributed charitably. Then in Acts 6, we read that there is some group of widows and the office of deacons is created. Then in Acts 9, another apostle is appointed--Paul. Then in Acts 10-11, the very first non-Jewish people join the church. Before this, the church was only made up of Jewish people. Then in Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas appoint the first elders for churches in 3 different cities. We don't read about elders prior to this. Then in Acts 15, the church holds a council in Jerusalem. There is a division in the church--some people think it's wrong for Gentiles to be allowed to join the church unless those Gentiles are willing to become Jewish proselytes first. The apostles and elders in Jerusalem met together to consider what was the right thing to do about this (15:6). Notice, they didn't sit around and wait for a particular revelation from God--they actually discussed the matter and heard the evidence. Then at the end of the Council, they decided that Gentiles didn't have to become Jews, but they needed to observe certain rules for the sake of Jewish-conscientiousness in the cities where the apostles were trying to convert people (15:19-21). Then later on we read that there are certain formalized requirements for elders and deacons (1Tim 3; Titus 1). And that Timothy and Titus are given authority to go to Ephesus and Crete and appoint elders and deacons for all the churches in those places. Then we later read that not only are there a group of widows, but that they are sort of charged with service type jobs (1Tim 5:9-10). We certainly read that the Jew/Gentile debate continues to be a problem, and Paul has to write more and more bits of his letters about it--especially Galatians in which he says that the Judaizers were teaching damnable false doctrines that could cost people their souls (Gal 5:1ff) But eventually there were people who taught that Jesus couldn't have been real flesh and blood because flesh and blood is bad ("gnostics"). John clearly writes against this idea in 1John, 2John, and his gospel--and he makes clear that this teaching could cost people their souls (2John 9-11). We also read that eventually there was a formalization of a special collection for a special purpose (1Cor 16:1ff). i could go on some more, but i'll stop here and make the point. i think i had always just assumed that when i said something like "i wanna be like the New Testament church"--that there was a sort of snapshot, static, unchanged way that the "New Testament church" did things. But notice, that's not true. The church in Acts 2 didn't have all the offices and trappings right on the first day. We read that those things developed over time, and many of them came about in response to particular situations that arose. It's not like we have a completed blueprint for "how to build the NT church" and we just look at the plans and build. The early church didn't even have a blueprint for itself. It grew and developed and even made changed and additions as it went along, as situations arose, as was necessary. Notice how this is true especially in the case of the gnostics and the Judaizers. Would we even have the book of Galatians if there hadn't been false teachers that came along? Would we even have John's epistles if there hadn't been gnostics? Would we even be able to read that Jesus Christ coming in the flesh is a non-negotiable line in the sand that you're not allowed to cross--would we even have that written down for us if gnostics hadn't come along and claimed that Christ was just a spirit? These teachings we have--they came in response to problems and difficulties that arose as the church went along. And the church--the apostles and elders and workers like Timothy, Titus, Barnabas, and Silas--they wrote letters or created standards or even offices as was needed and as situations arose. There is clear development and change in the church over time even in the New Testament itself.