I have every intention of returning to my series on Love. Yes, really. However, in keeping with my time-honoured tradition of never, ever finishing anything that I start before starting on something different I would like to offer a new series as a hostage to fortune — or perhaps, as is probably more likely, as a hostage to fortuity.
(In other news my cat seems to be unhappy with me and is trying to attack me as I write. Perhaps she’s already fed up with this series or was really looking forward to another post on the topic of love. Actually, I have some evidence to suggest that my cat has joined a secret underground network of Jihadist cats who, I have reason to believe, have issued a catwah threatening permanent distraction if not placated with more cat food. This might also explain why she keeps pulling books in my theology bookcases off their shelves.)
This series will be about what I, in a deliberately contentious move, am choosing to call `New Testament Christianity’ and so I should begin by trying to define what I mean by this term.
It has become clear to me that I often operate with a subtly different hermeneutic than that of many of the Christians I interact with. I would like to emphasise that it really is often only a subtle difference but I would also like to show, in the course of a few posts, that it is no less important for being subtle. This difference manifests itself most often in the realm of ecclesiology and so the bulk of these posts will be focussed in this direction. With this focus in mind I might phrase my own opinion as follows: With regard to church structures, church institutions, the various roles of individuals within the church, the ways in which these individuals relate, etc. the New Testament documents give a reasonably clear picture of what early church practice was and what the teachings of some of the early apostles (especially Paul) were with regard to these issues. Furthermore, the New Testament model is a model to be emulated by Christians today. We can substitute other things for ecclesiology in the above (which is why I am using the phrase NT Christianity) but, as I have said, I will illustrate with regard to ecclesiology.
To expand a little, what do I mean by NT Christianity or NT Ecclesiology? This is a strand of thought — which can be found in various places and in various expressions of contemporary Christianity — that, I feel, is beginning to become more and more common. It is characterised by some of the following:
- The general feeling that the church may have got certain things, especially ecclesiology, very wrong throughout most of its history;
- A suspicion of post-Constantinian institutions;
- The suspicion that biblicism may have replaced revelation and that doctrine may have replaced incarnational living in the life of the Church;
- The suspicion that institution has replaced community in the life of the Church and the feeling that the church should be non-hierarchical in it’s institutions;
- Broadly, the feeling that the church in most of its forms for the past 2000 years has not looked very much like the church we catch glimpses of in the NT and the conviction that this should not be the case.
Now, if you are a Christian of any sort at all I suspect you will find yourself agreeing with some of the above. You may even agree with all of the above. However, I have found that the sort of outlook outlined above is not usually the outlook of the average Christian or if this sort of outlook is professed in theory it very seldom manifests itself as praxis.
To briefly give an example (which I may elaborate upon later) consider the communitarian, almost socialist, church life that we see in Acts 2 and 4. Many a sermon will draw various pious things from these passages but one will seldom find people really advocating for wealthier Christians to begin `selling their property and possessions and distributing the proceeds to everyone, as anyone [has] need’. In fact, these accounts in Acts are often dismissed as the `Jerusalem experiment’ — an interesting product of the enthusiasm of the early believers but not something to be emulated today. This is exactly the sort of thing that the person who is striving to be an `NT Christian’ has trouble with. (As an aside: there are, of course, many obvious examples of people who are in fact selling everything they own, etc., but it is still hard to argue that this is the general practice of the average Christian in the average Church — particularly in the West).
What I would like to do in the next few posts is go through some of the objections that I have heard to this idea of NT Christianity over the last few years. There are some obvious questions that need answering. Some of the objections I want to look at include:
- Isn’t it arrogant to suggest that the church may have or has got it so wrong?;
- What about the fact that the NT churches had obvious problems? Are we wise to try to emulate them?;
- What is the place of the Bible in this framework?
If you have other questions or objections, leave a comment and I’ll try to address these too.