Learning from and knowing about the early church is not the same as imitating the early church. Krista Dalton thinks about our relationship with Scripture, particularly the communities behind them.
Were they recording an ideal past or imaging an ideal future?
She writes in her blog:
I was recently talking with my friend Guy, who is serving his first rabbinate position in my neighborhood, and I asked him how he would approach the historicity of the Seder in this first public Pesachim services. And he replied,
“I generally teach that historicity is not the only kind of truth, i.e., these are “True Stories” and some parts of them may or may not have actually happened. Stories like the Exodus are True in that they are sacred master narratives that shape our lives as a people and as individuals, True in that they are deeply complex and challenging and resonate with the human condition in its encounter with the divine. So even if the Exodus never “happened,” it is still happening to us and for us, and to live inside of a sacred narrative is a gift and a rich way to live one’s life. Finally, the non-historicity of the stories is, in a sense, exactly what allows the Rabbis and we today to tell and retell them through midrash that only deepens and extends the stories’ truth.”
In the same way, we can approach the Early Church master narrative as a rich gift to help us shape our lives. This does not mean I need to be like the historical members of the Early Church, attempting to return to a pristine historical core. Their members think and act differently than I, they treat women and persons of color differently, their worship looks and sounds distinct, and their cultural values do not always mirror my own. Instead, I can hear the ancient hope of the Christian community, and I can participate in that stream.
In the Christian community, we share a memory and an idyllic hope for the future. This shared memory allows each of us to come with our stories, fears, and despairs, and to not feel that we don’t have a place in the community; in fact, those shared stories sustain the community. And our goal in creating liturgical spaces and using religious ritual is to remember our master narratives, not to recreate a literal history.
We don’t need to be the Early Church; its memory is powerful enough.