By Max Strange 9/20/2010
Project: Make a list of the contrast between the first-century Church experience and the normal 21st century local church.
The Now-Church gives the impression of an individual focused, all-about-me mentality that is quite different from the community focused Then-Church. It may be that Christian opponents have so successfully pushed the Christian faith out of the public sector and have made a community reality into a deeply personal and private matter, called privatization. Secular society has influenced some Christians to turn inward and focus more on a top-secret and classified relationship with Jesus Christ. The termite of privatization has found its way inside the church walls. Whereas the Then-Church, saw a brotherhood of unified people joined under the unilateral preaching of the Word of God and the Gospel of Christ. They were a Scripture investigating community, a prayer-laden community, a new society within the secular society, all bound together as a chosen collection of purchased people under the Jesus banner.
The Then-Church undertook mission and Gospel expansion by the best men the church had to offer (Acts 6, 13). They were sent by local churches and to each were given by public transmission, the authority of elder. The Now-Church work of mission is often carried-out by para-church organizations that work autonomously from the local church. Because of this, the best men are not sent. The best men are those whom mission organization deems to fit the personality type and for those itching to go. Some of our mission men are apparently self-appointed entrepreneurs and business-minded rogues who are looking for ways to avoid the so-called “red tape” of church structure and organization. This individualism is quite different than the Then-Church framework. In Acts, the best and qualified men, with deep character, possessed with a granite Christological understanding of the Scripture, were sent out. They were men who were first under a loving leadership by the Church at Antioch and then given the same-self authority. They went out on behalf of the sending leadership, not as Scripture novices but as skilled craftsmen ready to upbuild Gospel communities.
The Then-Church’s preaching was the Christ-centered message of the Gospel. At the core of the preaching and teaching was the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Now-Church seems to be about human-motivation, good suggestions, great outlines, and the Christian ethic.
The Then-Church trained its own people from their local congregations and grew spiritual in the local context in which they were schooled. The Now-Church farms-out and ships-out the best and brightest to Seminary.
The Then-Church seemed to be under heavy persecution. Though it was ordained of God, it arose because of the bold witness of Gospel messengers, like Stephen, Barnabas, and Paul. The Now-Church, at least in America, seems to enjoy cushions and recliners. It may be that the Now-Church loves comfort and ease and with the loving embrace of tolerance to all worldviews, and as such, the Gospel is not heralded as it should be. Thus, we lack the opposition that motivates the church to move its butt.
The Then-Church had a Christian capitol city called Antioch from which missionaries and financial support were sent to its sister communities. There was a loose but vital inter-dependence between Antioch and the churches that spawned from its hub. The Now-Churches tilt toward complete autonomy and independence, seemingly an island each to themselves.
The Then-Church seemed indicative determined which were followed by the imperatives of Scripture. This has become contorted today in the Now-Church. The Now-Church has either reversed it where the imperatives come first and the indicatives later or unfortunately abandoned altogether. Who God is, what He has done through His Son Jesus Christ, and who we are due to that (Indicatives) are no longer the thrust of modern preaching and teaching. The cry for more application and the ‘tell me what to do’ mentality, artificially slices the way the Scripture has carefully placed the imperatives (commands) flowing from the indicative facts of who God is and what He has done. The Now-Church, if it continues in this muddy track, will eventually lead people into Moralism, law eroding grace, and works salvation.
For me I see quite a difference from the Then-Church to the Now-Church. I do believe there are many Now-Churches that model the Then-Church and are operating from the Biblical framework to the glory of God. We must not forget God’s Word and see in the early stages of God’s work through the Church, how God developed the framework for mission and how it applies for us as a model for present mission in the 21st century. God’s Word keeps on the path to be a people who are unified around the Gospel, working hard to train local leaders for missions, who are inter-dependent with other like-minded Christians, who embrace suffering for God’s glory, and who are indicative-driven in its preaching and teaching.