We may have lost the simplicity of the early church approach

A letter from Dr James Hardy:

By Dr James Hardy
Sunday, 13th December 2020, 7:48 am
Letter to the editor
Letter to the editor

Rev Ivan Foster helps us profile the New Testament Church as a living fellowship of believers meeting in private homes.

(Rev Foster’s article can be read here ‘Baptist pastor’s reasons for defying Covid indoor church ban are not solid,’ December 8).

The primitive (or early) church worshipped an invisible God, without the use idols or images. They had no professional priesthood, no altars and no temples.

A motley assortment of ordinary people, who were largely uneducated and of lower status, were called by God to spread a radical new teaching which had the power to produce a revolutionary lifestyle change.

They succeeded in turning the ancient world upside down and their influence on the modern world is inestimable. Our laws, human rights and democratic freedoms, have all been shaped by biblical values.

Yet we see traditional churches in Britain retreat from the public square, with congregations diminishing and premises being closed. No amount of property assets, plump pension funds and investments, or professional staff promoting growth, seem able to reverse this trend.

Conferences, committees and mission statements, have all failed to deliver a spiritual revival.

We may have lost the simplicity of the early church approach, where a God who could never be domesticated by people, or comprehended by the brightest of intellects, was paradoxically manifested in humble hearts and dwellings.

We read in Acts of the Apostles: ‘They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts’.

Can a plain dining room table sometimes supplant the grandest church altar?

As a small child I often played at my uncle’s farmyard in Co Tyrone, which included the stone and earthen wall of a crumbling earlier family dwelling, long converted into calf pens. The hay filled manger on the wall was a vivid reminder of the Christmas Nativity story.

The child’s image, of gentle Jesus, meek and mild-’asleep on the hay’-, reminds us of the saviour’s merciful call to repentance and faith. The God at the heart of the Christmas story is Lord of the animal shed, the factory, the hospital ward, the shopping centre and the private home.

Rev Foster is surely right to remind church members of their responsibility to obey temporary government public health directives around Sunday worship in church buildings.

Dr James Hardy, Belfast BT5

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