I’m often bewildered by the statement: “we need to be a New Testament church”. My question in response is which New Testament church are you referring to? The beauty of the New testament is that we get a glimpse of a diverse array of churches, with a variety of issues, and a variety of solutions. Revelation ch.2-3 shows this diversity with 7 churches, some of which are mentioned in former books. The only church, however, that we see from birth to a mention in revelation is the church in Ephesus.
Ephesus was an important port town within the Roman empire, becoming the 4th largest by 2 BC. Situated in Asia Minor on the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea, it was famous for the temple of Artemis, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. A busy and bustling city, Ephesus was famous for the Library of Celsus and its medical school. It remained a prominent town up to the crusades. Today it lies in ruins, with the port drying up by river silt, earthquakes, and loss of commercial viability.
We first encounter Ephesus in Acts 18-19. At the end of Acts 18 we read about Apollos preaching Christianity, but not baptising in the name of Jesus. Priscilla and Aquila take him under their wing and mentor him before Paul arrives somewhere around 52 AD. Paul baptises the small Christian community in the name of Jesus, before spending 3 months in the synagogue preaching about Jesus. He eventually relocates due to disagreement and continues his ministry among them for another 2 years. There is an interesting side story about the sons of Sceva, before Paul begins planning to move on. There is a riot that ensues as local merchants criticise the Christians of damaging their trade in religious trinkets to Artemis. It eventually dies down as the local town clerk warned them of the consequence of riots under Roman rule. Shortly after that Paul leaves.
Around 60 AD Paul writes to the church in Ephesus. The letter to the Ephesians is an intimate and heart felt encouragement to remain true to the theological truths Paul had imparted with them while he was there. It deals with the relationship between Jewish and Gentile Christians, unity, Baptism, the sufficiency of Christ, avoidance of man made commandments, and how to then live this out in practice.
We next encounter Ephesus in Paul’s letters to the young Pastor at Ephesus, Timothy around 65 Ad. These pastoral letters deal with how a church should be lead. The things that should occur, and the things that should not. He reminds Timothy of his call to ministry and offers pastoral counsel for Timothy’s development as a church leader.
Finally, we find the church at Ephesus mentioned in Revelation 2. Here John sees a vision of Jesus reminding the church of who they were, and what they had become. He points out the joy and enthusiasm of their founding years, but then points out they have lost their first love. He encourages them to rediscover it or Jesus will remove his Spirit from them. But if they return, they will eat of the tree of life in paradise.
The church at Ephesus is a fascinating story of a New Testament church from birth to maturity. It is a reminder that we as church are always on a journey, facing the world and all its opposition head on, in confidence in the one whose body is the church. But we too, like Ephesus, can struggle, we can lose our first love. We need to remind ourselves daily that we are part of Christ’s body, and it is Christ we present to the world around us.