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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

 


16-6-5 Wealth In The Church

The early church started undeniably poor, meeting in homes, funded by the few wealthy converts. There was a lay ministry- there is no hint that salaries were paid nor tithes raised from the converts. However, over time, Christianity became more socially acceptable. The overall wealth of the members increased. The socially marginal no longer comprised the majority of congregations. By the 3rd century, churches started to own buildings and then land. Initially of course, Christianity as an illegal religion had no right or opportunity or even desire to own buildings or to meet in a permanent place. Salaries started to be paid to the ministers. Cyprian of Carthage and other writers point out how there developed a dichotomy between the ministers of poor rural areas, who lived on very little, and those salaried church workers of the urban areas, who became very wealthy. They began to spend their wealth on lavish clothing and church buildings, and to flaunt these things, justifying them in the name of Christís service. There also developed in Syria and Asia Minor especially almost a dogma that one must leave their wealth and property to the church. And thus the churches grew wealthy. And with it came politics, division, doctrinal and moral apostasy, endless concern about church funding issues even though the church had never been richer, and a loss of focus on the man Christ Jesus, who though He was rich became poor [Gk. Ďa pauperí] for our sakes.

The Western Christian world  cannot deny that all this hits close to home. Those in the poorer world must also beware of where things could develop for them too, if the Lord delays His return. Brother Alan Eyre concludes his classic study The Protesters by saying that the Truth has not usually been lost purely and solely by false teachers or wholesale doctrinal apostasy; but rather by the inroads of materialism leading to these things. In Contra Celsum we read Origen justifying the Christian church against Celsus’ criticisms that it is a church of poor, simple people. That the majority of Christians would be poor and simple was indeed the expectation of both the Lord Jesus and Paul. Yet Origen seeks to justify the Christian church as middle class and respectable, with respected intellectuals amongst its membership. It was and is this desire to be seen as worldly-wise and ‘normal’ which is the death-knoll for any revival of Christianity. It was this which led to the acceptance of the Trinity; and it is this which robs true Christianity of its radical nature and appeal today. Perhaps in our last days this lesson needs to be learnt as never before. The Lord’s picture of the world of the last days is of a household eating and drinking, absorbed with being normal (Mt. 24:38; Lk. 17:27). But the Lord’s point is that this very ‘normal’ behaviour is what He finds so wrong.

 


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