We don’t know jack about the early church

It seems like nearly every Christian book I’ve ever read that advocates a particular position plays the card of the “early church”.

THIS is how the early church did it. That’s a good reason why you should too. Let me give you a few verses from Acts or Ephesians and explain how they back up what I’m saying.

It doesn’t seem to matter what the position is either. Somehow the pure, spotless apostolic early church did it the right way.

  • House churches? Early church dude!
  • Lots of structure in your big church organization? Early church! (Deacons, bishops, apostles, presbytery meetings in Jerusalem, etc.)
  • Lots of speaking in tongues? Early church. (All over the place.)
  • Long teaching sermons that put people to sleep? Early church! (Paul and the guy who fell out the window)
  • Infant baptism? Early church! (His whole household was baptised…)
  • Immersion baptism? Early church! (They found a place where there was lots of water)
  • Communism? Yes!
  • High view of personal property rights? Yes!
  • etc.

Now, some of these arguments are more dubious than others. Some of them aren’t bad in fact. But here, early on, Wright points out the obvious:

…the problem with all such theories is that they are themselves based on nothing more than elaborate guesswork. We simply do not know very much about the early church, and certainly not enough to make the kind of guesses that are on offer in this area. When traditio-historical study (the examination of hypothetical stages by which the written gospels came into existence) builds castles in the air, the ordinary historian need not feel a second-class citizen for refusing to rent space in them.

-N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, p.19

Wright is one of the brightest NT scholars ever. He knows as much about the early church as anyone you’re going to run into. And what does he know? “not very much”.

So, for example, I’m down with the idea of house churches, but can you really write a whole book (200-300 pages) on how to set up a house church and claim the bible AND history are backing up all your ideas? Seriously? This sort of thing happens all the time though.