05 March 2012

The UnSexy Early Church

There seems to be a wide spread feeling of romanticism in many of the minds of modern Christians that the early church was; firing on all cylinders, sharing everything in common, passing the love around to each other and totally committed to God.  I recently heard a well known author say during his sermon “we need to get back to the church in Acts.”   I also just came across a promotion for an Acts 2 themed church training conference.  I think well-meaning Christians have a cleanly-framed early church utopia floating around in their heads as the picture of what community looked like in the early church.

I’m sorry to crumble your picture of the early church but it has to come down.  In the first few chapters in Acts we read about an unbelievable event; the entrance of the Holy Spirit into the lives of those who believe Jesus is the Messiah. You can read those chapters and recount the crazy supernatural manifestations occurring on a large scale. But those early chapters do not give us a correct view of the early church. They do help us understand the opening event of the church that will never be duplicated again; essentially because it was the beginning.   It was the first time the Holy Spirit comes to planet earth to dwell amongst His people, it’s the first time the gospel is given freely to Jews and Gentiles, it’s the first time Jesus is embraced by outsiders that He is truly God.  It’s a succession of firsts.

Fast forward to the end of Acts and we see the intentional planting of a church being talked about. After the wave of the Acts 2 event has passed, a semi-organized initiative is started to plant a church in Acts 18.  That church is in Corinth.

One of the first real church plants is the Corinthian church.
Suddenly the opening event loses its luster in only a few years time.  Jews and Gentiles start finding some distance from that initial Pentecost event and now find themselves in the trenches with each other.   It’s no longer Jesus and I; it’s becoming Jesus and us. Community becomes the great squeeze on the life of Jesus followers.  It’s a little easier to like Jesus than it is to like Jesus in other people.  When passionate Jesus followers are mashed together to become a new family with a mission in the city of Corinth it starts getting messy.  This is the reality of community.  Put people with different personalities and different cultural backgrounds in the same spiritual family, commission them to build for the Kingdom of God together and it starts to get messy real quickly.

Our modern expectations that community is like going back to the Garden of Eden are naive.  I’ve become a bit more understanding of these naive expectations because I believe most Christians have not experienced real tethered-community.  Sure they've had close friends or served on leadership teams or attended a small group of some kind but the covenantal nature of community alluded them.  The bubble of romanticism must be popped to embrace the reality of work required to build community.

Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 sets up a beautiful equation.  Somehow the very mess of community can become the catalyst for Holiness.   Paul pulls out the fire hose and unloads a sermon on the topic of love. In 1 Cor 13:4 this Love-Sermon unearths “envy, arrogance, selfishness, pride over our accomplishments, not speaking well of others, getting miffed too quickly, being easily offended, holding a grudge against someone, not protecting someone’s reputation, not choosing to trust each other, believing the worst about others and giving up on someone’s potential to change.”  All of the pain, pride and anger that community can stir up in the darkness of our flesh now has the possibility in the light to be addressed with scalpel of love.  Authentic community causes us to think deeply about how our ambitions, drive, motives and choices hurt or help those we are in relationship with.

Learn to let go of your expectations on Community that you think are biblical.  Dive into the mess of shared-life and mission with other people.  Let God through others address those parts of you that need the surgery of Divine love. This is the Holy Mess and there's nothing sexy about it.


  1. Hey there! I stumbled across your blog randomly and wanted to say that I think this is spot on. Great insights.

  2. Just taught a lesson yesterday on community, and there is always this tendency I have to want to paint the early church in a primrose color, but Paul's letters to the early churches depict the real tensions and struggles of "growing up" the early churches. Actually, both Acts and the epistles inspire me because they show the reality that those who fellowship together can meet daily, share their goods, grow their numbers exponentially, yet also they will disagree, act according to selfish desires, have trouble figuring out how to "do church" together, etc. It's much like family. It's beautiful and messy, all wrapped together. Thanks for your insight, Dan. I love thinking about this and talking about this because for so long no one did. It's healthy for the "Church" to talk about "Church."

    I see you're a church planter. Based on your post, I am going to assume that you contemplate what a church would look like in the early church rather than the typical "church institution" of today. I would love to know your thoughts on how you plant a church that strives to look like the early church without all the traditions and rituals that came through the (tainted) pipeline of church history. What do you strip out and keep in, in regard to rituals, traditions, etc.?

    Mrs. Gaynor Lubojasky
    (always put the MRS because people think I'm a guy based on my name!) :)

  3. Hi Gaynor,
    Thanks for checking out the blog stuff.

    I am a church planter and trimming the fat off of what it means to be "The People of God" is no easy task. I'm no expert just a practitioner.

    Our church intentionally does not offer a buffet of spiritual-needs-based programs. I know why churches do, I actually worked for a few that did. Still, I do not see them as part of the vision of the early church. It sure is a temptation to want to appeal to cultural wants and people's felt needs to attract and gather them but from my vantage point these need-based-programs have had many damaging unintended consequences.

    We don't do typical preaching. Preaching in the early church did not look like our current style of sermon. The Historical early church would gather in a home, read the letters written to them by Paul, converse about the story of King Jesus and then ask questions about how they could live faithful to the Lordship of Jesus.

    Axiom Church in Syracuse attempts to stay simple. We are a network of midsized communities that eat together regularly, learn from the Scriptures, care for our neighborhoods, strive for shared-life and extend hospitality to those who don't know Jesus love.

    No Bells, no whistle, no buildings, no big services. It's not sexy. It's just building a consistent/habitual rhythm of community and mission. A mid-sized community feels more like an extended family between 20-30 people that gathers together with a purpose to be the "The People of God."

    That's just a quick snapshot, hope that stirs up some thoughts.