When we as Christians think about our modern-day idols, the things that trip up our feet and slow us down, we often list things like money, relationships, or careers. But I think we, as a whole, have a much holier-sounding idol: The Early Church.
In church or in small group or in books, when we talk about how we ought to be or how we're currently failing, so often that hallowed term "The Early Church" comes up. We think of it in hushed tones and reminisce for a time we never knew. We talk about their faith. Their unity. Their sacrifice. Their radical lives. And sometimes we create around it a sense of fairy dust. A bit of the magical. The days gone by 2,000 years ago become that of wonder and myth. And we admonish ourselves to be more like them.
But in the good ol' days, there was no fairy dust. There was the Holy Spirit. And that Holy Spirit is the same Spirit at work today. He is not dissipated, He is not weakened. He is the same now and then.
And our idolization of the Early Church has a very dangerous side effect: When the Early Church becomes the stuff of legend, we consider their faith and acts and heart unattainable. We think of them as the Captains of the Football Team to our slouching misfits who were picked last for dodgeball.
The secret is that the Early Church was just a bunch of goof-ups, like us. The list of their problems that Paul enumerates would cause us to not walk, but run, from their church doors if they existed today...getting drunk during communion...having sex with your stepmother...owning slaves. We probably wouldn't want to associate with that church in our polite society.
The Early Church had its problems - it was filled with people, real people, just like our churches are today. But the Early Church did great things because God did - and does - great things.
The truth is that the glory days aren't over. God is still glorious today and doing glorious things. The Church will always go through an ebb and flow, just as people go through an ebb and flow and high and low. But when we become overly focused on how great the Early Church was and how stinky we are in comparison, the problem is the same as any self-esteem problem: Our eyes are on ourselves and not on God.
Our idol of the Early Church is the lie that there was something magic in the water that we don't have today. It is the lie that their greatness depended on them instead of on God. It is the lie that the story ended with them, instead of continuing on in us.
*Written with thoughts stolen from my husband and small group.