Ages and Change in the Church – Part 1

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Working with new generations (Gen Z) – Series

We are always looking for stability, especially as it supports our valued beliefs and identity. Churches offer a piece of both. We fear change, especially if it compromises financial security.

Stability
Image by Geralt from Pixabay

“When he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, a great storm arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered by the waves; but Jesus himself was sleeping.

“And they came to him and awoke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we perish! He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith? Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and everything became perfectly still. The men were amazed and said, “What kind of man does even the winds and the sea obey him?” – Matthew 8:23–27 (NASB)

For the slightest change in the church, it is as if the very foundations of our faith were shaken. Can’t we hold on God is love and depend on that? Or is our faith so weak that Jesus must appear and calm the storms?

End of the Church Age?

This could very well be the end of this age of the church. Religion has times. We tend to think of the church as a monolithic structure throughout history. In reality, it followed the path of ancient Judaism as a story of change, and with these changes came different beliefs.

Jesus was a reformer who helped people understand what was important in Judaism and brought about essential changes such as the end of sacrifices and the need for priests. If Jesus came today and said let’s get rid of pastors, priests, Lent, Easter, Christmas, confession and the need to go to church, you can understand the kind of uproar he would create for the establishment who would instantly reject him. For example, it is incomprehensible to many that religious services can be online.

Were the changes in church history deserved? What I’m going to do is ask you to use the stricter standard of law that asks, “Beyond a reasonable doubt? Or at least appeal to the lesser civil law standard, “more likely than not”. The standard of belief and conduct for Christianity is love.

The first centuries of Christianity – the Apostles

Was there a real person called Jesus, and were there really apostles? Judge for yourself from the history we know. (There are references from the time such as Tatian, Polycarp, Eusebius and others, but I won’t list them.)

Jesus had his followers (disciples) but there was no “church”. He sent his twelve apostles (not disciples) into the world to create his “ecclesia,” which means assembly. The thought may have come from synagoguewhich was a place of Jewish religious education present in most of the cities of Galilee.

There were Jewish teachers who became known as “rabbis”, who were mostly Pharisees who taught in villages and synagogues. We know of no church building from this period, nor organizational structure. People met where they could.

Jesus’ disciples (disciples) tended to be much less mobile in general than the apostles, although some sometimes accompanied them. Both men and women felt the call to service and the apostle Paul called certain women (Junia and Andronicus) “apostles”, which was a very unusual role for women and even men of that time. The apostles were formally the twelve appointed by Jesus.

First church meetings

During the first two centuries, Christians met mainly in people’s homes. They talked and solved local problems, and read the letters of the apostles. There was no building and few leaders, with departments run by individuals. Often many people would talk (praising God) during the services.

The Origins of Christian Morality: The First Two Centuriesby Wayne A. Meeks, covers the very first era and is an interesting read.

Later, as the church grew, there were priests and bishops, and in today’s church the priest or pastor is often the only speaker and is paid.

The end of the age of the apostles was about the year 100. There were no more letters of notice from the apostles, and the Book of John was the cornerstone of that time, having been written from the collective memory of several apostles. For a time others may have taken the reins of leadership and written letters to the churches in the tradition of one apostle or another they knew.

The first churches of the first centuries

Christianity started in Jerusalem, but they were driven out and they moved 300 miles north to Antioch in Syria, which became the missionary base of the apostles. Antioch was a large and prosperous city stemming mainly from Hellenistic (Greek) advances dating back 300 years before the time of Jesus. Antioch contained Greeks and Jews. The first disciples of Jesus in Antioch were called “Disciples of the Way”, but they quickly became Christians.

Several divisions emerged as the church grew

“The Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East is an Eastern Orthodox Church with an autocephalous patriarchate founded by Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the 1st century, according to its tradition. The Syriac Orthodox Church is part of Eastern Orthodoxy, a distinct communion of churches claiming to continue the patristic and apostolic Christology…”. – AntiochWikipedia

Don’t worry, I don’t understand what the church lingo “patriarchy” and “autocephalous” mean either. One sounds anti-feminist and the other looks like encephalitis or hydrocephalus to me and they’re not fun diseases.

the Eastern Orthodox Church, which cites the Apostles Peter and Paul as founders, comes from apostles going east from Syria-Turkey. They went to areas now known as Russia and Slovakia.

the Eastern Orthodox Church is more on the African continent. He also cites the apostolic beginnings. It separated from the Roman Church on the 5and Century, on the divine-human nature of Christ.

The Church of Rome, which became the Roman Church or a Roman Catholic churchwas started by Peter and Paul.

There have been significant differences between the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity, such as certain elements of the Nicene Creed in 325 CE. Eastern Orthodoxy finally separated from the Church of Rome in the 10and Century as disagreements grew over such things as the authority of the pope, with Easterners and Westerners claiming direct apostolic succession through bishops. Most likely, all groups of this time could claim that they belonged to the original apostles.

The apostle John went to congregation at Ephesus with other apostles. He continued there until his death in 100 CE. This church survived until about 200 CE.

Saint Mark brought the word of Jesus to Egypt. His teachings were the foundation of the coptic church which developed there. the Church of Martyrs Sergius and Bacchus in the Grotto, also known as Abu Serga, dates back to the early 4th century. The Coptic Church split from the Roman Church in 425 CE due to differences in theology, and remained divided.

Other countries

Christianity quickly grew in other countries, such as France. In the first century (before 100 AD), Christian communities were already developing rapidly in France and later in Germany. “According to long-standing legendMarried [Mary Magdalene. Jesus’ mother reportedly went with the Apostle John to Ephesus], Marthe, Lazare and a few companions, driven from the Holy Land by the persecutions, crossed the Mediterranean in a frail boat without rudder or mast and landed at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer near Arles. Provençal tradition designates Lazare as the first bishop of Marseille, while Marthe would then have tamed a terrible beast in the nearby town of Tarascon. Pilgrims visited their graves at the Abbey of Vézelay in Burgundy.

It’s easy for people to say that Jesus and Christianity were just myths. Jesus-like movements were started by his apostles in many areas soon after Jesus’ death. These were organized and exchanged letters, starting slowly and nurturing communities of faith. The writings of the Apostles remain to this day as books in the Bible. Polycarp really knew the Apostles. As the church grew, it gained bishops and historical figures such as Tatian, Eusebiusand Origin, which are historically linked to the early church and the apostles. This is a small insight into the history of the early church.

Questions: Do you think the preponderance of evidence supports that Jesus and the apostles were historical figures without a doubt, or are more likely than not, or maybe just a myth? Do you think Christianity would have replaced other religions so quickly if it didn’t have meaning and power for the people?

There are other traditions influenced by the Apostles

Christian’s discovery documents in a cave at Nag Hammadi in Egypt, near Cairo and the first Coptic church, include The Gospel of Mary (probably Mary Magdalene), the gospel of thomas, the Apocrypha of John, Sophia of Jesus Christ, and a summary of act of stone. They date from as early as 90 CE. These seem to have a Gnostic influence. Gnostics emphasized personal spiritual knowledge above orthodox (straight) teachings.

It is unknown if any of these writings were known at the time of the Canon’s creation in ~400 CE. Some of them may have been linked to Gnosticism, which the church banned as heretical (not just in the head). The writings have different pictures of Christian belief than in the official canon.

Various traditions, sometimes supported by minimal evidence, have the apostles travel to Spain, England, India, and many other countries, with churches there pointing to relics of their ministry or citing the apostles as founders. Most of the apostles, with the exception of John, met violent deaths because of their ministry.

What happened to the twelve apostles? – Christianity.com

Dispersion of the Apostles. – Wikipedia

Take home points

The Church had been divided in its opinions from the earliest times. There have always been minor and major differences. Just like today, some of the early churches believed they were and are the only true church because they came from certain apostles (Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox).

There were many different traditions about Jesus and his teachings. These are reflected in Gnostic teachings and documents found at Nag Hammadi. Others are mentioned by early church leaders.

Christianity and Jesus were very unlikely to have been myths. They were highly organized movements led by apostles that pointed to the teachings of Jesus. People like Polycarp are quoted by others in the literature of the time, and he knew the apostles.

The standard of belief and conduct for Christianity is love. Legal standard.

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Our answer is God. God’s answer is us. Together we make the world a better place.

– Dorian

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