1ST CENTURY CHURCH PRACTICE Reality vs Cultural Guesses

We all believe the Holy Spirit guides and empowers the church. There are reasons why Christians have done things in certain ways over the centuries. What were their reasons? Present day Christians are slow to ask that question unless they are part of churches which appreciate and incorporate Christian history. Anglicans (non-Canterbury types mostly), Catholics of various streams, and Orthodox churches all take history seriously. Protestants usually take into account their own church body’s history with more detailed looks at those prior events and reasons in history which gave rise to their denomination’s establishment. Then a brief glimpse  at the rest of earlier history. The same is true for the Anglicans, Catholics, and Orthodox too, but their church histories span Christianity’s history, almost 2000 years. (Anglicans do often give less attention to their catholic heritage and focus on developments since Henry the Eighth.)

Whatever present day Christians think were the practices of the earliest church, that becomes their model. Since there are no descriptions available from the earliest decades, we guess at what must have happened based on our 21st century images and readings of history. Usually that is based on what we would have done if we had been there.

The main reason there is so little written information on those years was the circumstances surrounding the earliest church.  In most places the new Christians were either outlawed or persecuted.  They avoided publicity in favor of small private quiet meetings, often in homes. Romans favored the dank tunnels and catacomb beneath the city for their meetings.

European and North American Christians of today can only relate to this by head knowledge. We have not experienced such direct persecution, rather just comparatively mild harassment or social disfavor.  Our social history make those earliest years very dim and unclear.

There are Christians today who do understand the paranoia of the earliest Christians (people really were after them). Some of these present day Christians become our modern Christian martyrs. We read about them in magazines and updates in Christian news outlets. Since few of us here can give direct testimony about such persecution, we guess at what it might be like.

Decades of church practice passed before any written records survived the passage of time. Even the New Testament books including the Gospels have a time gap, and were never intended to be inclusive descriptions of church activity for every church, at all times, and in all places. Often, they deal with problems rather than the regular flow of life.

Since I first went to seminary almost 50 years ago, the estimates on when books of the New Testament were finally fixed in written form has varied greatly.  Regularly  both earlier and later dates are offered, with loud disagreements among academics common.  This pattern almost certainly will continue to emerge in the next few decades.  Many academics make their careers on such efforts.

Other histories we do have trace back to a period of Christian history decades or centuries after the earliest times. It is from this era, though, that we find historical practices and principles passed down. Spiritual authority, governance, and accountability evolved by usage and agreement. They became clearly defined.

Whenever humanity is involved, disagreements occur. The details may differ. Who excommunicated whom, for example, will depend on whether you ask Rome or Orthodoxy. The weight given Holy Tradition varies similarly. Spiritual authority and accountability, however, are clearly defined, if different in fine detail. Each group today has its own interpretation of such historical precedents. There is more agreement among them than there is argument. Yet it is in the fine detail that walls are built.

About Fr. Orthohippo

The blog of a retired Anglican priest (MSJ), his musings, journey, humor, wonderment, and comments on today's scene.
This entry was posted in Anglican, authority, catholic, cultural blinders, culture differences, episcopal, history, History & eyeball remembrances, Lutheran, orthodox, Protestantism, reformed, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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