The church in the West is at a crossroads. Beset on every side by dangers from the outside (political and social pressure) and dangers on the inside (immorality, legalism, heresy, etc.), it’s become increasingly clear that we cannot remain where we are and be faithful to Jesus, let alone be effective. If you’re the person arguing that the church in the West needs to stay the same, you are in a small minority.
But how do we change? And what kind of change are we looking for? The discussion typically focuses on two alternatives: A return to more conservative, evangelical Christianity typified by Billy Graham (but possibly with a more Charismatic element) or a move to liberal Christianity typified by Rob Bell or Jim Wallis that is often more acceptable to society as a whole. Frank Viola and others have argued that there is a third way, focused solely on the person of Jesus that leaves the left and right debate behind.
And while I think there is a trap in some of the left vs. right thinking, I would like to argue that there is actually another way available to us. Instead of going left, right, or beyond, we have the option of going back. Going back, you ask? Go back to what? The answer is to go back to the original design Jesus has for His church. The design is not complicated, it is not hidden, but it is often neglected. When we return to Christ and His original design for His church, powerful things begin to happen, both in our lives and the lives of those around us.
The good news is this design isn’t lost to history or buried in some Roman catacomb beneath a thousand years worth of rubble- It’s found on the pages of a book in nearly everyone’s home and latent within the hearts of those who believe in Jesus. The answer God has for us is to go back to the movement Jesus started when He was raised from dead. This design for God’s church is what I call “apostolic Christianity.” Apostolic Christianity is Christianity lived out on the earth in the same spirit as the first century church.
This is the goal- to live out a kind of Christianity the apostles Peter and Paul would recognize where they to meet us. We can never completely return to the first century, but we can be captured by the same Spirit that captured the first followers of Jesus. The culture of our churches should reflect the same vision and values that the church in the book of Acts held.
You should note that apostolic Christianity is not about a person or even a spiritual gift. It’s about a people radically set apart as belonging to God, living sent lives under the power of the Holy Spirit. The goal of apostolic Christianity is to become a church “attain[ing] to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). It’s the church becoming a bride who has “made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7) and presented to Christ “without spot or wrinkle” (Ephesians 5:27). It’s this type of Christianity that Jude references when he says to his readers “I found it necessary to…appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).