5 Unexpected Roots of Contemporary Churches

(U.S. Air Force Photo/Senior Airman Jenifer H. Calhoun/Released)

In this two-part series, we will explore the ten roots of contemporary church models. The following are the first five models:

The Jerusalem Model (mono-cultural)

The first model of the early church was focused on only reaching Jewish people in Jerusalem (read Acts 1-8). This mono-centrality seemed to ignore the Great Commandment that called the disciples to reach all nations and cultures (Matt. 28:19). Unfortunately, even contemporary churches and denominations can fall into a cultural comfort zone and focus on one ethnic group. We are not called to preach an ethnocentric gospel but a Christ-central gospel. God was so displeased at this mono-ethnic model that He allowed horrific persecution to shake up the church in order to disperse believers and spread the gospel (Acts 8, 11).

The Antioch Model (multiethnic, trans-cultural)

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The Antioch church started when Jewish believers were forced to leave Jerusalem. Eventually this church became influenced by the Apostle Paul and became the hub for reaching the nations of the world (Acts 13-28). The leadership of this church was multi-vocational and multiethnic, as we can see in Acts 13:1-2: Barnabas was into real estate, Manaen was a politician, Saul was a religious leader as well as a tent maker, and some leaders were African. Furthermore, according to a historian I heard, walls divided the city to separate ethnic groups, and believers would climb these walls just to get to church because they knew the blood of Christ united all peoples.

Consequently, the Antioch church replaced the Jerusalem church as the primary apostolic model based on the Great Commission mandate. Modern churches and movements that are multiethnic and mission focused instead of ethnically homogeneous are drinking from the fount of the Antioch church.

The Greek Model (individualism)

After the Romans ransacked Jerusalem (AD 70 and 130), believing Jews were dispersed, and the church became primarily non-Jewish. Apologists like Justin Martyr (2nd Century) wore the attire of a Greek philosopher and applied the gospel to the Hellenistic (Greek) culture. Consequently, the church went from a corporate, holistic, Hebraic mindset to an individualistic, Eastern mindset. (The Jews looked for the perfect city as in Isaiah 65:17-25, and the Greeks were looking for the perfect human as per the writings of the classical Greek philosophers.)

In the next century, the great Church father, Origen of Alexandria, wrote the first ever systematic theological treatise and introduced a subjective form of biblical interpretation called the allegorical method (that there is a hidden, spiritual meaning behind the plain text of Scripture).

The Eastern Orthodox church is still influenced by some of these developments and the modern evangelical / charismatic church still reeks of rampant individualism and subjective private interpretation of Scripture 1,900 years later!

The Creedal Model (consensus faith)

To battle the heresies of Arianism (similar to modern day Jehovah's Witnesses) and Gnosticism, the church was forced to articulate their beliefs regarding the nature of the Godhead, the church and the gospel, in the form of creeds (e.g., the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds). This was done through ecumenical gatherings of several hundred Bishops who wrestled with Scripture together until they could reach a consensus.

To keep the unity of the faith and to differentiate true believers from false, the creeds were to be recited every Lord's day during congregational assemblies. Contemporary ecumenical efforts to reach an ecclesial consensus in theology and practice have been influenced by this model in church history.

The Roman Model (institutional / Papal)

After the conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine (around 312 AD), the church went from being the persecuted to the privileged elite—resulting in ecclesial institutionalism. Through a series of events after the Barbarian invasion of Rome (the latter part of the 4th century), the bishop of Rome ascended to power (to the throne of Peter, as the Vatican states) above the bishops of other prominent cities. Hence, the church went from leadership through consensus (through the ecumenical councils of Bishops) to bishops and prelates submitting to Papal rule.

The contemporary Roman Catholic church is still unpacking the implications of this 1,600 years later.

Next week we will continue to explore the next five roots of contemporary church models.

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