13th February 2011
The Good Old Days
“…But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”
Philippians 3:13-14 (NIV UK)
How many times have you heard someone say that we need to be more like the early church of the first century? Such people seem to think that if we can go back and regain the qualities of the first few years of the New Testament church, we would all be the better for it. And with such a perspective, the past becomes the destination of our spiritual journey.
But these people are looking at the past with rose-coloured glasses. They are like others who think the so-called “Wild West” or “days of Robin Hood” would have been fun and exciting times in which to live. They conveniently forget or overlook that the “days of the apostles” were actually times of great misery and hardship. Another mistake is to think of the early church as a time when Christianity was unpolluted and pure in its faith and practice. On the contrary, the New Testament churches were tainted by legalism and misapplication of Old Testament laws, as well as by pagan philosophies, heresies, counterfeit gospels, infighting, politics and schisms.
Those first generations who accepted Jesus had a lot of lessons to learn, sometimes the hard way. For example, even for Peter, Jesus’ leading apostle, it took many years and eventually a vision from God before he realised that Gentiles could become Christians. And Paul had to send a letter to a Christian slave owner trying to convince him to give a runaway slave his freedom so that he could help Paul in his work.
Wall to wall pristine holiness? Not at all. We see people who struggled with the same problems as we do, with their triumphs and their moments of failure. We can learn from their successes—and also from their mistakes. Jesus Christ never intended that each generation re-invent the wheel. Rather, the church grows over time, moving in the direction of ever-increasing maturity.
Spiritual maturity is not achieved by clinging to or pining for the past, but by following the lead of the Holy Spirit in the present and into the future. When Christianity ceases to seek new insights and new understanding, it risks becoming irrelevant and obsolete. When we’re through changing, we’re through!
The past is rich with resources. We’re here today because of the faithfulness of past generations. Their experience and wisdom can help us today. But not if we look to the past with a sense of nostalgia, wistfully deluding ourselves that “things were better then”.
Christianity is a dynamic faith! Like the early Christians, we today live in a time of great change and challenge. And so, like them, we must ask for God’s guidance and wisdom as we face unprecedented problems. The past is not a destination. Only by living fully in the present, the present God has given us, and looking ahead to the future, the future God has set before us, can we hope to reach the full potential God wants us to achieve.
Heavenly Father, we live in exciting times. Not just in terms of science, but also for religion, for human development. So much is contra-Christianity, but help us use modern advances, such as the computer, to develop ourselves and to promote you, Father. In Jesus’ name we thank you.
Study by Joseph Tkach