Every so often I read articles about the early church where the author carefully explains how we have fallen from the perfection of the first century church, and relating how messed up the twenty-first century church is by comparison. There once was a Golden Age, but we have long since abandoned it–or so these very serious authors assure us as they list off the past virtues and the current sins.
The people who made up the first century church were first and foremost, people. People with the same virtues and vices that afflict us today. Their knowledge of the Bible, their faith, their love, their devotion to one another and to the faith, their concern with truth, their theology was no better than ours. Their chronological nearness to the Christ who walked on Earth does not make them more spiritual or any nearer to God than us. God is not time bound, after all. We have no less of God’s Holy Spirit sealing us until the day of redemption, no less of the Spirit filling our hearts and minds, no less of Jesus in our midst where two or three have gathered in his name. We do not need to return to the first century in order to live properly in the twenty-first. We instead need only to accept who we are, where we are, and live as the Christians we are in the place—spatially and temporally—where God has put us: part of our world even as we are not quite of it. As Peter wrote, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:3-4). We have everything we need; God has fitted us to our present world. The truth of Peter’s words are not dependent upon how comfortably far from, or fearfully near we were born to the Apocalypse. We belong to God as much as any Christians anywhere or any time. We are not perfect. No Christian ever was. Or ever will be, this side of eternity.