underwhelmed by the early church
I find it depressing when folks project their ideals of the church onto the first couple centuries of its existence followed by claiming that 2nd or 3rd century it lost its way so much that it failed to represent what it initially was?
At least two movements with which I share sympathies look back at that time as a golden era followed by periods of time fully lacking in faithfulness (usually described as either accepting the official role as chaplain to culture or as moving away from a more charismatic orientation).
This is almost always a sort of projection that somehow there was a time of “pure” Christianity, rather than taking a more nuanced view that the church in its various incarnations has always been made up of saints and sinners, usually both at the same time.
Do we not see this same projection whenever we look at communities that seem to embody our ideals, but that we are not part of. In the same way that one ends up underwhelmed when joining that community because it’s never the perfection of the ideals we have about it, I suspect we do a similar trick when looking back at the early church. In this way we would be just as underwhelmed were we to be a part of the church in its earliest days.
Taking a more nuanced approach however gives us neither the frame of reference of “this was the original plan” nor the rhetorical punch to attempt to spread our prescriptions for what ails us, yet I think there is a great need to highlight that throughout time the church in all its incarnations has had both moments of deep faithfulness and great failure.
Is this reality of faithfulness and failure not what it means to say that the kingdom of heaven is like a wheat field in which an enemy has planted tares, or a net that gathers up both good fish and junk fish?