Early Christianity IV

In those times there were no churches or steeples, no pews, no altars, as we know them. The Christmas holiday did not exist yet. Many things, like the date when Jesus was born, were totally uncertain throughout the second, and into the third century. It finally appears for the first time on a Christian calendar in the fourth century as December 25. One cannot help but feel that the real beginning of Christianity is well over two hundred years after the death of Jesus

While the New Testament mention the idea of a church, using the Greek word “ecclesia,” early Christians didn’t worship in magnificent cathedrals.  The early Christian followers of Jesus would have mostly met in private homes.  Who presided over these rituals was at the time is an open question.

The early Christian churches were not organized as we might think of today, where there might be a pope in the Catholic Church, or priests, or even pastors leading the churches.  The early Christian communities were completely egalitarian.

But a hierarchy finally begins to emerge, taking on the form of the society around this young church. As these congregations and community continue to grow, there is a need for more and more structure. With that structure there came a power struggle.

As Christian communities were taking hold around the Mediterranean, women were crucial in spreading and nourishing the new faith. But when at the beginning of the second century, a hierarchy begins to develop…its face is male. Eventually, Christianity would come to oppress and silence women. So throughout most of its history, Christianity has been known as a male religion. Only the men can be leaders of the church. Only men can be elders, priests, pastors, or the pope.

How do you baptize? Do you immerse, or do you sprinkle? What do you do if there’s not enough water? How do you celebrate communion? How do you break the bread? What should you say when you have the Lord’s Supper?  The Didache provided structure for the earliest Christians.

The Didache is a composition that is titled “The Teaching of the 12 Apostles to the Gentiles.”  This is part of the legacy of the Jerusalem and Jewish Christian community to help the gentile Christian community’s structure themselves.  In Jerusalem lies the single surviving copy of the Didache. It was written about 100 A.D., and is a type of How-To manual for early Christians.

With this structure came power. And with that power came the final foundation stone of what we recognize today as the church, the authority to define what is sacred scripture and what is heresy.

By the end of the first century, the letters of Paul have been collected. The Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, had been written. But it would take another several centuries before the official canon of the church took shape. Different Christian communities had different gospels that they read during worship services. Eventually, of course, only four Gospels made it into the New Testament. Scholars are fairly convinced that these four are the earliest Gospels.

The church leaders ensured the survival of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John by discouraging the reading of other books in services and not reproducing them, which was the easiest way to destroy a book.  That’s probably what happened to most of the gospels that didn’t make it into the New Testament.

Armed with an organized hierarchy, a distinct set of beliefs and rituals, and canon of sacred texts, the Christian church had structure and power. Christianity was attracting millions of followers and growing in influence. It presented a clear and present danger to the Roman Empire.

Rome in the second century was the center of a very vast empire. It was now confronted with the growing threat of Christianity.  But the empire itself helped Christianity spread by virtue of its roads, bridges, and trade.  Some of the earliest writings of the New Testament and in the writings of Paul Christians are told to obey the emperor, they should be good citizens, and pay their taxes. The empire is seen as beneficial to Christians.  But later, as a mark of their defiance, Christians refused to bow down to the Roman emperor, and by the time you get to the Book of Revelation, the empire is the enemy. The antichrist is the Roman emperor.

In the ancient world, there was no divide between religion and politics. Religion was part of social life. It was part of political life. This made Christianity unusual because all other religions could participate in imperial worship, the worship of the Roman emperor. This did not set well with the Emperor so throughout the empire, Christians were tortured and slaughtered. Leaders had their eyes gouged out, were horribly crippled and killed, but throughout it all they refused to renounce their religion.

These actions by the Romans created an army of Christian martyrs.

But Christianity was also addressing the needs of this life.  Some scholars have thought that the Christians attention to social needs is what initially attracted people to this faith. Here was a community of people that treated one another as brothers and sisters.  They gathered together for worship every week and took care of the needs of one another.

In the late second century a plague wiped out a third of the Roman Empire.  Christians stayed behind to help the sick and dying and gave them food and drink. Many of the dying people recovered and were destined to join the ranks of their helpers.  Also many who stayed behind were women, and they came to embody the nurturing and healing quality of Christianity.

Christianity claims to be the only right religion, but in the Roman Empire this was a unique phenomenon. Christianity was monotheistic to the extent that it claimed that if you worship YHWH you have to give up all the other gods. As soon as Christianity converted somebody to this new faith, it destroyed the other religions.

Christianity not only survived, but thrived in the Roman Empire. By the end of the third century, Emperor Diocletian, whose own wife and daughter had converted to the religion, was so threatened by the growing power of Christianity, that he launched another campaign to wipe it out.

The empire at this time was probably over 60 million people and there were probably around 3 million Christians at the time. They were known to be a problem throughout the empire. So Diocletian decided to try and persecute the Christians.  A religion, whose very founder told the people to turn the other cheek, saw its followers slaughtered by the thousands in public.

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About the word of me
Interested in family and friends,grandchildren, photography, darkrooms, history, archaeology, scuba diving, computers, software, fast cars, journalism, writing, travel, ecology, news, science, and probably most other subjects you could think of. Did I mention family and friends?? I require iced tea or cold brewed coffee and a internet connection to be fully functional. Sometimes there are just so many words in my head they spill out.

7 Responses to Early Christianity IV

  1. Would you at least agree with the fact that Christians were frequently denied the right to own any property in the first 3 centuries and therefore may have been the root cause as to why there were not many churche structures?

  2. thewordofme says:

    Hi quickbeamoffangorn, how nice to hear from you again. I hope you are doing well and have a nice year ahead.

    I agree of course, I know that Christianity had a pretty rocky start. A large part of the early religions, other than Christianity, had the power structure with them so were treated better, but then the Christians also were pretty stiff necked about their religious observances or practices.

    It’s pretty interesting that a lot of religions had their actual start in the times from around 1700 BC onward. I wonder where God was when the cave people were living in Europe, or the San people were living and spreading around Africa?

  3. Well I take a guess and say He was around, we just didn’t have many written languages or materials to preserve it.

    I always thought it interesting that Christians were killed by pagans for being atheists.

  4. thewordofme says:

    Hi again,

    Several of the early civilizations were writing from about 3200 to 3100 BC.Nothing I’ve ever read so far has mentioned that Babylon or the Indus people or the Egyptians were writing of ‘The one God’. Minoans, I don’t think, were writing of or knew of Him either.

    The Chinese heard of this God only when Catholic missionary’s traveled into the country a thousand or so years after Jesus. I don’t think the aborigines of Australia heard of Him until nearly 1800 years later than Jesus.

    I suppose if I were a practicing Druid and I tried to tell a Muslin about my religion or to convert him…he would try to kill me…die infidel. 🙂

  5. Well early civilizations held some truth about God. The Egyptians built pyramids to protect the body for the afterlife. Other civilizations made sacrifices to appease the “gods”. Their info was simply incomplete.

    So do you think it valid to base a denial of God based on the lack of written evidence of the One True God prior to say 2500 BC? If we discover such evidence in the next 25 years would that then prove that there is one?

  6. thewordofme says:

    Hello quickbeamoffangorn,

    The people were running around looking for-or making up- gods. The gods that Egypt came up with are sometimes mentioned as possible precursors of the Hebrew god. I seem to remember a book that theorized many of the Hebrew myths came directly from Egypt, and of course the myth of the ‘Biblical Flood’ came from the Babylonians.

    Perhaps you could help me here. I am looking for a source for the Catholic rejection of Noah’s flood…the reasoning or thinking behind it. If you know of some info and have the time.

    I was thinking that there was not any written mention of the Christian God prior to 1700 BC or even later…or earlier…anyway…towards 1500 BC 🙂

    Is there any *real* proof that the Pentateuch was written down earlier than about 700 to 500 BC? Or that Moses actually wrote it?

    If all that is found is more Hebrew mythical writings in the future, I don’t think that would constitute any proof. I don’t think there are any actual ‘proofs’ for His existence…never has been.

    I am continually amazed that the people who believe in the Christian God think that the word/stories of ancient sheep (goat?) herders about a god that bothers himself with day to day activities of said people, could possibly be anything more than a fantasy. Do they not realize that such a God, as imagined by them, would have infinitely better things to do??

    It just seems to me that this is the height of vanity and narcissism on their part.

    Men made God in their image, I think…just my opinion.

    Good ‘talking’ with you.

  7. Global Flooding is a relevant term. Six thousand years ago the world consisted of the Fertile Cresent; two thousand years ago the world consisted of the Mediteranean basin; one thousand years ago the world consisted of Europe and Asia Minor; etc

    Certainly there is evidence that a “widespread” flood occured in the middle east based on the writings in Ur, Babylon, and Egypt.

    As a catholic you are free to hold to the traditional view of the whole earth or a regional or localized one.

    Its doubtful that scripture was written down prior to 1200 BC. Oral tradition carried it through time until then. I am use to hearing about the idea of placing 10 people in a rooma and one person quotes a line and each person in line repeats it until the last person says something completely different. However the ancients weren’t that dumb. They used mnemonic early on to maintain an accurate history.

    Documentary theory was all the rage and is still taugh in many school but has loss favor for a number of reasons I won’t bore you with. Most of this stuff was heavily influenced by Hegel and is based on a historical scheme established by Julius Wellhausen (a Lutherian) rather than on scientific criteria.

    Authorship is much different in ancient times then it is today. “Raymond Brown, “Canonicity,” The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968), II, 531-532 lists five levels of authorship in antiquity: (1) actual inscription; (2) dictation; (3) supplying of ideas to a “secretary”; (4) composition by a disciple whose ideas are guided by his master’s words and spirit; (5) writing in the tradition which a man was famous, e.g., Moses and law, David and poetry, etc”

    I believe that many other conservative christian traditions would disagree and claim that Moses actually wrote the Torah. The catholic is free to accept any of the five positions above and still hold to Moses as the author.

    “Men made God in their image, I think…just my opinion.”

    Blaise Pascal once wrote: “God made man in his own image and man returned the compliment”

    I think the latter point is much more accurate, but not conclusive.

    My personnal belief is based on scripture and the lived experience of the church and my prayer life.

    Good talking with you as well.

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