A recent blog post about toilet paper made me think about the early church. I know that sentence is a non sequitur at first glance, but bear with me. It’s not as big a leap as you may believe.
Todd Rhodes writes an informative and fun blog for church leaders and he postulated that if the toilet paper in a church is low quality, then there are probably other areas where the church is struggling to welcome guests. Most commenters enjoyed the light-hearted nature of evaluating the quality of churches via bathroom tissue.
Then that guy commented. You know the type; a Christian “Debbie Downer,” complete with denim jumper and an ichthys on the bumper. The response said people should be like “the early church” and want to come to church simply to worship God, not because the bathroom was nice nor the high quality “paper.” It was your classic “the early church didn’t do that” trump card.
Being like the early church is admirable theologically, but not often helpful in modern church practice because we don’t share many cultural similarities with the early church. If the argument is that being like the “early church” is best, then church gatherings would look very different.
We should meet only in homes or a Jewish synagogue or maybe the temple in Jerusalem (Acts 2:46)? Those homes need to be within walking distance. Hosts should turn off the AC and heat. You study Christ with no reference to a commentary, hymnal, or any printed book and remove all modern songs and instruments. Don’t even think about an iPod.
As for teaching, get rid of all copies of the New Testament. You need the Apostles to tell you about Christ (Acts 2:42), or maybe someone who learned from them. You may use hand-written copies of letters written to other churches, or maybe a gospel or two…but don’t get attached. Other churches will need to borrow them (Col 4:16) so they can learn about Christ. Since you probably can’t read the languages the Bible was written in, it may help to have a translator and someone who can provide acculturation; know anyone from first century Palestine?
Discussion should be like the first century church too, so we would argue about the nature of the Trinity, if men must be circumcised to follow the way (Acts 15:5), and if shellfish should be on the lunch menu (Deut 14:9-10, Rom 14:14). When we finish our jaunt through the first-century, idolizing a primitive culture rather than the truth they had, we haven’t solved anything.
Or we could accept that by God’s common grace, we live in a different world with many conveniences and choices, including multiple toilet paper and even Bible translations! In this different world, people who are far from God decide on where they will go based on convenience,cleanliness, value, and safety. They need some depth of their connection to the people there. And If they don’t like the experience, they won’t come back, ever.
Because those are our neighbors, we need nice bathrooms…until they find faith in Jesus. With Christ, eventually rough toilet paper won’t dissuade them from fellowship and worship. Those would be “dung” in comparison to the surpassing value of knowing Jesus (Phil 3:8).
But then if Christ has transformed their lives, they’ll want to invite their friends who are far from God. And “those people” will want nice bathrooms and comfortable seating too.
It’s a vicious cycle, so let’s stock up on quality paper.