Now that I’ve praised part of the impulse lying behind the myth of primitive perfection (that we can be a “New Testament” church), it’s time to address some criticisms of this paradigm.
The first major criticism of this paradigm is that it assumes that the NT church was somehow perfect. It was not. It requires a good deal of blindness to what is actually going on in the NT texts to think that this is the case. From Ananias and Sapphira to Peter’s mistreatment of the Gentiles to the fact that nearly every epistle written by Paul was borne out of a spiritual crisis, the early church most assuredly did not have it all sorted out.
This does not mean that there aren’t valuable lessons for us to learn from the faithfulness and sacrificial witness of the early church. There are many, and I for one am all too slow to learn them. But we do them a disservice by trying to turn them into spiritual superheroes, and we delude ourselves by setting them up as having a level of perfection that we’re supposed to attain, when that level of perfection didn’t exist in the first place. It’s not even consistent with evangelical theology to suppose that any humans in any place or time (other than Christ himself) were able to attain perfection!
Also, keep in mind that the book of Acts is like a “greatest hits,” package, one written primarily to encourage and edify a persecuted church. Of course it’s going to seem like the early church has it all together when you read about their most shining moments. This is why we must also read Paul’s epistles, for a sobering look at the other side of just how many problems existed in the early church.