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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


16-6 Where Things Went Wrong

We are also helped in understanding why the early preachers were so successful by considering how the Truth stopped growing in the 2nd century. Of course, an apostate Christianity appeared to be growing, but the Truth itself stopped growing. Why was this? Reading through the writings of men like Ignatius and Polycarp, it is apparent that they all pretended to Paul. Yet clearly their writing and preaching lacked the reality and sparkle of the early brethren, quite apart from their doctrinal errors. And we ask ourselves: has there arisen a mindset in our community which merely aspires to the grandeur of earlier brethren? Is there not a tendency for brethren especially to perceive themselves as the lone champions of Truth, justified in theological gladiatorship with their brethren, the saviours of a generation, after the imagined pattern of those brethren?

16-6-1 Doctrinal Apostacy

The second century writers made everything so abstract- faith became mere ‘belief’, allegiance to a denomination; grace and justification become theology rather than a gratefully, desperately accepted reality as they were in the true ecclesia. The reality of the human Jesus became lost in a mess of theology and vague thinking about Him in an abstract sense. By contrast, the early preachers didn’t see any disjunction between the historical Jesus and the ‘Christ’ in whom they invited faith. Even for those who had never seen Jesus or been to Palestine, the preachers closed the distance between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. I have shown elsewhere that the four Gospels were transcripts of the preaching of the Gospel; and the preaching of Paul and Peter is saturated with reference to them. They clearly regarded the words and deeds of the historical Jesus, the Man from Nazareth, as crucial to their proclamation of Him. And they earnestly preached the return of this same Jesus who had been taken up from them into Heaven.  Reading through second century writings, it seems that no longer was the second coming important because it meant we would see Jesus personally. Instead the focus came to be put on Christ’s return being for the reward of the virtuous, and for the punishment of the wicked- a punishment which the virtuous were to gloat over, quite forgetting that God Himself takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. This kind of error is found in things like The Apocalypse Of Peter, and lead finally to the nonsense of Dante’s Inferno, where the most awful torture of the world is imagined as coming at the return of Christ, to be ministered by gloating saints. And we ask: has our community’s focus on prophecy and the evil of this world led us to not love the appearing of Jesus, but rather, to love a day we perceive as our justification and a time when we will express our passive anger against this world? When I hear of brethren rejoicing at how they think we will rush round the world smashing up Catholic churches, I fear I see the same essential mistake. We should eagerly await the Lord’s return because we love Him, because the focus of our living is upon that Man, the one who loved us so much more than we love Him…