We often declare that all Southern Baptist churches strive to be true New Testament churches. I don’t disagree with that aspiration, but I wonder if we give sufficient thought to what that means. It seems to me that we often idealize the New Testament church. That is, when we speak of the “New Testament Church,” we have a perfect, first-century congregation in mind. A careful reading of the New Testament reveals churches that struggled mightily, much like the imperfect churches we serve today.
Note the problems in these churches mentioned in the New Testament.
Jerusalem. The members quarreled over the amount of aid provided to Greek and Hebrew widows (Acts 6:1).
Antioch. The Jewish members at Antioch discriminated against the Gentile members (Gal 2:11-14).
Corinth. Paul rebuked this church for dividing into bickering factions, tolerating immorality (a member was cohabiting with his stepmother, and drunkenness during the Lord’s Supper (1:10, 5:1, 11:21).
Galatia. This church was troubled by false teachers—Judaizers who taught the new Christians that they had to keep the Mosaic Law (1:6).
Philippi. This church dealt with conflict to the point that Paul appealed to Euodia and Syntyche by name to reconcile (4:2-3).
Thessalonica. Some of the members had stopped working to wait for the Second Coming, and they were freeloading off the rest (2 Thess 3:10-11).
Hebrews. Some members had stopped attending worship (10:25).
James. In his letter James criticized affluent members who discriminated against poor members (2:2-4).
3 John. The Apostle John rebuked Diotrephes, who rejected John’s apostolic authority and refused to receive traveling missionaries (9-10).
Jude. False teachers caused division in the churches (16-19).
Ephesus. Jesus reproved this church for losing its first love for Him (Rev 2:4).
Pergamos. This church tolerated false teachers, the Nicolaitans (2:15).
Thyatira. The church in Thyatira allowed Jezebel, a false prophetess, to teach in their meetings (2:19).
Sardis. The church at Sardis was spiritually dead.
Laodicea. This was the infamous “lukewarm” church.
So, do you want your church to be a New Testament church? If so, which one? When we study the churches of the New Testament, they resemble our churches today. Ok, then, what is my point? Actually, I have four points. First, be careful about idealizing the New Testament church. The churches of the New Testament all had their strengths and weaknesses, just like churches today. Second, we should learn from their mistakes. One reason to believe the New Testament is true is that it realistically presents Jesus’ disciples and the churches. You won’t find any sugar coating. Their mistakes are mentioned for our warning and instruction. Third, we should obey Christ’s commands to the church. The churches may not be perfect, but His commands are. And, fourth, Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph 5:25). We should do the same.