TFI #14

14. Be able to list and explain the six major developments in the history of the Early Church

1.  The Formation of the Early Church:  The formation of the early Church is seen in the book of the Acts of the Apostles.  Pentecost is particularly seen as the birthday of the Church.  The Holy Spirit effected a radical change upon the men in the Upper Room.  Peter was suddenly speaking eloquently instead of in his usual foot-in-mouth way.  They were transformed from a group of men who were scared and hiding to men who were no longer afraid and even went about preaching in front of the large crowds gathered for this Jewish celebration.  The Church relies utterly upon the Spirit and the Spirit provides the Church what it needs.  At Pentecost, a) the people of God gathered, b) they were inspired by the Holy Spirit and c) they were sent forth in mission.  Pentecost was the Big Bang — from there, they were sent out.  The mission was to baptize and to form Christian communities.  The emphasis was on communal life, worship and evangelization.

2.  The Separation from Judaism:  In the beginning, the Christians saw themselves not as a separate faith, but as Jews who have embraced the messiah.  Because they believed that the Gospel was meant for God’s chosen people, they were quite zealous in their preaching, which made the Jewish leadership uncomfortable.  They had been going to synagogue service and then celebrating the Lord’s Supper on Sundays; however, they were eventually kicked out of the synagogues by the authorities, who felt that their preaching was heresy.  This eventually led to the long, painful divorce of the two cultures.  It was very divisive to society.

3.  Paul and the Tension of Gentile Christians:  Paul was uniquely equipped to bridge between the Jewish world and the Gentile world because he was a Jew with Roman citizenship, was the only apostle who did not follow Christ in His earthly ministry, and went from being a persecutor to an evangelizer.  Paul is insistent, boisterous, smart (and knows it) and rigorous.  Paul gets legitimacy in his claim of being an apostle by virtue of how God intervened on the road to Damascus.  Barnabas had to bring some legitimacy to this for the Twelve, since there was tension between Paul and the Twelve.  The question of the Gentiles arose because they were not following the Mosaic law — do they have to become Jewish in order to be Christian?  Paul bridges a) the tension of the Gentile Christians and the Jewish Christians, b) the various early Churches by his missionary activity and c) the institutional and charismatic dimensions of the Church.  Peter orders Paul (brings order to charism); Paul inspires Peter (vivifies the institution).

4.  The Tension of “Already But Not Yet”:  The early Church believed that Christ would be coming back immediately, so there was a sense of urgency to evangelization.  Eventually, they came to realize that they needed to make plans for the continuance of the Church and learn how to live a long life of grace.  Because of this initial sense of urgency, the lapsi were only given one chance to come back.  Over time, reconciliation as developed to understand repeated sin.  In order to construct the Church to last throughout the ages, they began to adopt some structures and practices from the Romans, such as a more centralized form of governance and ministries.  They adopted the basilica as a model for a place of worship and many Roman “trappings” can be found in the liturgy, such as candles, incense and ornate vestments.  Whatever of the culture was found useful for spreading the Gospel was Christianized and used.  If it was effective, it was adopted.  There was nothing which was so profane that it could not be Christianized.

5.  Persecution:  The Romans were generally tolerant towards the plurality of religions within their jurisdiction.  Problems arose due to the Christians’ insistence on worshipping God alone and rejecting state worship, and the fact that they were successful in organizing.  Emperor Nero in particular singled out the Christians to be the scapegoats to deflect criticism after the burning of Rome.  He made it illegal to be a Christian.  The persecutions were sporadic until the reign of Constantine I and the Edict of Milan in 313.

6.  Early Doctrinal Controversies:  Some of the early doctrinal controversies were:

a) Christian duty to follow the Mosaic law, especially as regards circumcision (to settle the issue, Peter makes a statement)
b) Gnosticism: the Gnostics believed that there was a good and a bad God. The good God was associated with the spiritual realm and the bad God was associated with the material realm. You needed to have the secret knowledge in order to live forever with the good God. Their goal was a rejection of everything material and ascendancy.
c) Montanism: this is a variant of Gnosticism; embraced asceticism
d) Celsus: culture attacks Christianity; “His “True Discourse” is the oldest literary attack on Christianity. He criticized much in biblical history for its miracles and absurdities, and expressed his repugnance to the Christian doctrines of the Incarnation and Crucifixion. Objecting that Christians, by refusing to conform to the State, undermined its strength and powers of resistance, he made an impassioned appeal to them to abandon their religious and political intolerance.” (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church 314)

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