What Went Wrong with the Jerusalem Model?

The Banqueting TableA helpful e-newsletter from Dr. Traver Dougherty
from the archives
3/15/2010

Since I had the privilege of sharing organic church principles alongside Neil Cole last weekend, I figured now would be a good time to share a little something out of Cole’s recently released book, Church 3.0. Although the book is exemplary, one particular discussion had me turning the pages a little faster than normal.

QUESTION/TOPIC IN FOCUS: If the church (ecclesia) functions best as a decentralized missional force, how do you explain the overtly-centralized Jerusalem church?

What Went Wrong with the Jerusalem Model?
Excerpted from Church 3.0 by Neil Cole
Church3.0 by Neil Cole
Of all the churches in the book of Acts, I personally believe the Jerusalem church to be the poorest model and one we should be cautious about following. Of course, there is much to learn in the opening chapters, and I would not discount the beauty and power that was evident there. The success of the church in Jerusalem is legendary, and I will not take anything away from it. I would add that it was short-lived and localized. Within just a few years, the church plateaued and began its decline; soon it descended into a cesspool of ugly bigotry, gossip, slander, and legalism (Acts 21:20).
What went wrong? One could argue that they quickly centralized and established a hierarchical leadership chain (Acts 6:1-6). They also welcomed in new “converts” from among the priests (Acts 6:7), which of course is not a bad thing (even Paul was one), but something else occurred. They allowed a Judaistic legalism to saturate the church and choke out all health (Acts 21:20) (2010:101).
My Reflections
After the excerpt above, Neil (my friend) continues with this assessment: “I personally do not believe that the demise of the church was strictly because of structural issues or hierarchical development” (2010:101). On this point, Neil and I agree. What I’d like to expand on, however, is the way in which the “legalism” took place (Acts 21:20). Before unpacking the concept, however, consider F.F. Bruce’s take on the downfall of the Jerusalem church (to read the whole article, click here).
  • They were too concerned with cultural uniformity
  • They played it too safe
  • They allowed for the integration of Jewish customs
  • They were too exclusive; that is, they wanted to keep those who didn’t follow Jewish customs out
Now, let’s look at Acts 21:20, 21. Here’s what we need to know. At no time did Paul teach against circumcision or Torah. Paul did, however, fight against the traditions of the Pharisees. As such, notice that F.F. Bruce sites the integration of Jewish customs and not adherence to Torah as that which caused the Jerusalem church’s demise. Thus, following Torah wasn’t the downfall; instead, it was the infiltration, the mixing, of rabbinic tradition with that which is good and true and right that crippled the ecclesia in Jerusalem.
Here’s my point. As disciples of Yeshua (Jesus), we need to have an accurate understanding of cause and effect. While legalism did cripple the Jerusalem ecclesia (which is Neil’s point), it wasn’t a heartfelt adherence to Torah that did the crippling. To press the point even further, consider that the word church means, literally, circus (bounce houses and Easter Bunnies come to mind). And when do things become circuses? Simplistically, it’s when we replace God’s instructions/wisdom with what seems right in our own eyes (Isaiah 5:21).
Hope this was of some benefit to you.
 
Blessings,

Traver Dougherty (bio)
The Banqueting Table

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