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16. The early church

16-1 A Taste Of The First Century: The Positive : 16-1-1 " With one accord" || 16-1-2 The Early Church Our Example || 16-1-3 Prayer Meetings || 16-1-4 Christ-centredness || 16-1-5 Radical Preaching || 16-1-6 Women In The Early Church || 16-1-7 The Joy Of Faith || 16-2 A Taste Of The First Century: The Negative: 16-2-1 Division In The Church || 16-2-2 Politics In The Church || 16-3 Unity And Division In The First Century : 16-3-1 Unity And Division In The First Century Church || 16-3-2 Oikonomia And Household Fellowships || 16-3-3 Rich And Poor In The First Century || 16-3-4 Unity In The Church || 16-4 The Obstacles : 16-4-1 The Obstacles To The Growth Of Christianity || 16-4-2 The offence of the cross || 16-4-3 The rejection of Caesar || 16-4-4 Women And Slaves In The First Century || 16-4-5 The Roman Empire And Christianity || 16-4-6 The Attraction Of Judaism || 16-4-7 Other First Century Objections To Christianity || 16-5 How They Succeeded: 16-5-1 Why Christianity Spread In The First Century  || 16-5-2 The Example Of The Community || 16-5-3 House Meetings In The First Century || 16-5-4 Witness In The Workplace || 16-5-5 The Witness Of Christian Unity In The First Century || 16-5-6 The Role Of Women   In The First Century || 16-5-7 Style Of PreachingIn The First Century || 16-5-8 Christian Ethics In The First Century || 16-5-9 The Exclusivity Of Christianity || 16-5-10 Early Christian Doctrine || 16-6 Where Things Went Wrong: 16-6-1 Doctrinal Apostacy || 16-6-2 The Rise Of Traditions || 16-6-3 Legalism In The Church || 16-6-4 Social Tensions In The Church || 16-6-5 Wealth In The Church || 16-6-6 Worldliness In The Church || 16-6-7 Lost Emphasis Upon Grace || 16-6-8 Loss Of Faith In The Church || 16-6-9 Poor Church Leadership || 16-6-10 Dogmatism And Legalists


16-4-6 The Attraction Of Judaism

It is apparent from letters like Romans and Galatians that there was a strong tendency for Gentile Christians to join Judaism. And we also know that many Jewish converts soon returned to Judaism. Humanity lacks faith; it was far easier to believe that the system of altar, temple, sacrifice and priest could grant forgiveness than to believe that the work of this man Jesus, whom many had never seen, had already obtained all this, and there was nothing else required than a deep internal acceptance and belief of this as historical reality, and living a life in response to it. It also needs to be understood that the Romans didn’t tolerate the exclusive nature of the Christian religion; it wasn’t registered as a religion, and the exclusiveness of it was an affront on the Roman concept of religio, whereby any religion was tolerated so long as the worshipper also worshipped Caesar as Lord. Yet Christianity denied this: there was only one Lord, Jesus. “One Lord, one faith” was therefore a radical, defiant statement. And it seems that new converts were requested to state that “Jesus is Lord” at their confession of faith at baptism. The only  religion that was officially tolerated in the empire which didn’t accept Caesar as Lord was Judaism. Jews were not conscripted for the Roman army; Dolabella expressly exempted them from military service (1). This was a major attraction of Judaism. They were allowed their own gerousia or senate, and they had their own courts of justice. Their economic and social advantages often provoked riots in cities like Alexandria where there were many Jews. The synagogues welcomed proselytes [circumcised Gentiles] and also “God fearers” [uncircumcised Gentiles], and on this basis Gentile Christians could easily associate with them. Yet Christianity enjoyed none of these advantages. The Lord had taught that His true people would be thrown out of the synagogues rather than welcomed into them.  

The apostles had every disadvantage when they set about trying to convert Jewry to Christ. A handful of men without formal rabbinical training were trying to correct the theology and religious practice of the professional religious leaders; in a religious environment where tradition and eldership were so highly regarded. And yet, “a great company of the priests” was obedient to their preaching. Their understanding of Messiah was directly opposite to that of the Jews, who were seeking a warrior king to deliver them from the Romans and establish a Kingdom. In any case, the Jews didn’t understand Messiah as the Son of God, exalted to the level Jesus was. They failed to appreciate His spiritual achievements and the saving necessity of them. They saw Messiah as the embodiment and triumph of everything Jewish, rather than as a universal Saviour from sin. Yet the Christians presented a crucified carpenter-teacher as the summit of Israel’s development, in the face of all these attractions of Judaism. They defined Messiah as a deliverer, e.g. in Psalms of Solomon 17 (written about 50 BC):

“Behold, O Lord, and raise up for them their King, the Son of David

And gird him with strength to shatter unrighteous rulers,

And to purge Jerusalem from Gentiles that trample her down to destruction”.  

Further, there were elements of Christian teaching which were a direct affront to Judaism. Part of being  a Christian was to expect to be treated by the Jews in just the same way as they had treated Jesus. The Sabbath was replaced with keeping the first day of the week for worship; the food laws were reduced by Paul’s inspired teaching to parts of “the weak and beggarly elements”. The Jewish hatred of the Christians is revealed by the riots that ensued when the Gospel was preached in the synagogues, and in the persecution of the Christians at the hands of the Jews in Jerusalem, Damascus and in the Asian cities (according to the letters in Rev. 2,3). The insistence that Jewish converts be baptized would have been hard of acceptance; for Gentiles took just such a ritual bath when they converted to Judaism.  

One major obstacle for Jewish minds would have been their perception that prayer and worship were to be carried out in the Jerusalem temple. This would have been a particular barrier for the many Jews in Jerusalem who converted to Christ. Whilst initially it appears the believers did attend the temple services, it is also significant that Acts repeatedly brings out the parallels between prayers and worship performed in the temple, and those performed in the ordinary homes of believers. Some passages about worship in the temple appear to be in parallel with others about such worship in homes. Luke seems to emphasize how important was the home as a place for prayer. Cornelius is presented as praying at home at the ninth hour, which was the hour of temple prayer (Acts 10:3,30). The prayer of Acts 4:24-31 speaks of the God who made heaven and earth and the sea and everything in it- a classic Jewish liturgy used in the temple prayers. The point being, such prayers didn’t have to be made in the temple through the Jewish priests. Further, there is extra-Biblical evidence (from Tertullian, Origen and Cyprian) that the third, sixth and ninth hours were the times for prayer amongst the early Christians- but these were the very hours of prayer in the temple! This would have been so hard to accept to the Jewish mind- that your own humble home [hence Luke stresses meetings and prayers in homes so much] was the house of God. It had been so drummed into the Jewish mind that the temple was “the house of prayer” (Is. 56:7; 60:7 LXX)- but now they were faced with the wonderful reality that their own home was that house of prayer. Only those brave enough to really reach out for a personal relationship with the God of Heaven would have risen up to this challenging idea. And yet the very height and thrill of the challenge inspired so many to do so.


(1) Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 14.10.8