Has Christianity and Church become what it is today simply by people reading and obeying the New Testament alone? Or have influences and inputs other than the NT shaped it?
Just say there was a small tribe of simple folk living on a remote tropical island and someone gives them all a copy of the Bible and they all read it and they all believe that Jesus is the Son of God and are born again. Then, without any further input, without any contact from the outside world or any access to books of Church history, theology, doctrine or whatever, they are left to themselves for a hundred years. They’re just left alone with the Bible and no other influences, no books, no TV preachers, no internet.
What kind of Christianity would you find there one hundred years later?
For example, would you return to find they had all become Roman Catholic simply by reading the Bible alone, without knowing that any such thing exists? Would they have become Lutherans, Baptists or Pentecostals just by reading the Bible alone without having heard of these denominations? Would some become Mormons, some JWs or SDAs simply by reading the Bible and without having read their literature? None of this would happen. But what kind of Church would there be on the island after one hundred years of only reading the Bible?
So you go and airlift one of those believers out and bring him to “civilization” and then ask him, How do you do Church on your island? The man looks puzzled at the question. He takes the Bible out of your hand and opens it to the NT and says, this is how we do Church, this is how we live. We don’t know anything else about the Christian life and the Christian Church than what is written here, so we just do exactly as it is written here in the NT. Let’s go and do likewise.
Many subscribe to the “church evolution” theory, that the early Church was just a new-born infant Church, very primitive and rough, and then slowly over the centuries it matured and evolved into a full-grown sophisticated and mature Church. They look back at the first century believers rather condescendingly or patronizingly, saying, Hey, that’s all they knew at the time! Now we know so much more! This is not true. What happened is that under the Apostles, though the people were not perfect, it reflected the pattern from Heaven, the embodiment of God’s Son, expressing His nature and character. Then progressively there was a falling away. Then, in spurts there was reformation and a calling back to the truth. But restoration is not forward progress; it is to simply restore what has been lost. Revival is not progress; it is simply to bring backsliders back to where they should have been all along. The Reformation was not a great leap forward, it was simply a recovery of certain truths which had been abandoned, but then they mixed it up with the traditions of men so as to dilute the power of any genuine restoration happening.
If you lose your wallet full of money and then two hours later find it you don’t shout, Wow, what a find! I’m rich! You’re just thankful you got back what you had lost. Similarly, there’s things we need to reclaim for the Church which have been lost. There is no new revelation, just recovering the lost one.
We have to ask, have we got where we are now by obeying the Word of God? Has the influence of the New Testament been the main factor in bringing us to where we are now? Or, are we at a place which the NT would never have brought us to, rather we’ve been more influenced by things other than the Living Word of God?
Part 6 of “Reality Church” by Ian Vincent. Used by permission. See Ian’s blog here.