Early Church History and You
June 4, 2012 2 Comments
Wow! It has been a busy spring for me. How about you? I had been very active in ministry activities up until the past few years when we moved to the California desert. Here, God’s priority assignment for me has taken on a different look. I am now very active in my role as a grandma to my now fourteen-year old grandson. Our first year here, he finished up the school year in public school, but this year, I have been a home-schooling grandma! We just were not happy with what was being taught in the public school. And our grandson, Alex, wasn’t happy about it either, so he has been blessed to have us here. We have two more weeks left to finish up our year. For all of you homeschooling moms, dads, grandmas and papas, I now appreciate you more than ever! It is a blessing, but it is also a sacrifice. I do pray that you all enjoy your summer break, if you have one.
Although I will have a six-week break from homeschooling Alex, I will still be doing school work. I am hoping to complete my master’s of divinity over the next two years; so, my summer break is officially full. One of the classes I am in is a Church History course. I thought I would share a summary of my first reading assignment and my resulting thoughts. The book is called, The Story of Christianity, by Justo L. Gonzalez. His manner of writing on this subject, by the way, enlivened history and the character of major figures from the first 1,500 years of the church’s existence. I find it to be a great read, not just for adult church education, but also for personal reading. It is available on Amazon.
It was interesting to look at the elements involved in the spread of early Christianity, the effect of those elements on the church, and how they may also affect us today. The dispersion of the Jews throughout the Roman Empire by the time of Jesus’ birth was definitely a gateway for church growth, especially since the first Christians were Jews who believed that Christianity was the fulfillment of Judaism. The strength, unity and order of the Roman Empire enabled Christians to travel by land with many paved roads leading from one area to another; and by sea with increased safety from a few centuries earlier when pirate attacks were common. Then, of course, there was the Hellenistic culture that was open to hear about other gods and religions, that although presented its dangers, also presented an open door for the Christian message. We also see from history, however, that as syncretism grew, the atmosphere eventually created hostility towards the Jews and Christians who were seen as unbending fanatics regarding their monotheistic worship. We see that the early Christians also tapped into the teachings of some of the great Greek philosophers of the time such as Plato and Socrates. They used some of these popular philosophical ideas to respond to the charges that Christians were ignorant and unbelieving. Sadly, however, these traditions soon moved from their use in influencing outsiders to influencing the Christian’s understanding of their own faith which later led to intense and sometimes angry theological debates in the church. These debates were in addition to those held by the Jewish Christians who struggled to leave behind their traditions into the new covenant life of Christianity.
Realizing the influence of all these elements as Christianity spread in the ancient world, and the debates that arose from some of them, we begin to understand how we have come to have the diverse beliefs within today’s church that have resulted in so many denominations. Gonzalez’s statement made in the introduction warns all Christians: “The notion that we read the New Testament exactly as the early Christians did, without any weight of tradition coloring our interpretation, is an illusion. It is also a dangerous illusion, for it tends to absolutize our interpretation, confusing it with the Word of God.”
It is humbling to consider that we are not always right, and that as fallen humans, we are impacted by the traditions of men throughout history and even in our present. May we by the grace of God be diligent to identify the traditions and cultural trends that influence our thinking, and abandon them as the Holy Spirit leads us into truth; for it is not what we believe that sets us free, but it is believing truth that liberates us to walk in the blessings of God’s grace found in Christ.
Until next time, happy reading!
Love in Christ,