Thursday, September 6, 2012

Early Christianity: One Church

            God promised Abraham that he would bless all the families of the earth through him (Genesis 12:1-3). God then raised up, from the loins of Abraham, a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). Though they were a nation set apart, they were not totally exclusive. Others were welcome to fully join – as long as they were willing to adopt the religion of the Jews (Exodus 12:48, etc.).
            Though the earliest Christians met in house-churches, they still considered themselves members of one catholic (meaning universal) church (Acts 2:46; 5:42; 8:3; 20:20; Romans 12:5; 16:5; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 12:12-13; 16:19; Ephesians 4:4-6). After all, they read the Gospel record of Jesus’ strong plea for unity among his followers (John 17:23). The church was so separate from the sinful world that some were afraid to join them (Acts 5:13). Yet the church was continually proclaiming a message of inclusivity – “whosoever will” could repent and join them. Anyone who caused division in the church was considered a threat to the precious unity of the church and was to be avoided (Romans 16:17; Jude 1:19).
            Christian pastors continued to issue strong pleas for unity and warnings against schism in the church.[1] The leaders of the church were to be obeyed and respected. They, in turn, were to protect the church from schism and false teachers.[2] No matter where they were from, every Christian in the world was a fellow traveler with a common destination – members of the one catholic and apostolic church.[3]

[1] “Why are there strifes, and tumults, and divisions, and schisms, and wars among you? Have we not [all] one God and one Christ? Is there not one Spirit of grace poured out upon us? And have we not one calling in Christ? Why do we divide and tear in pieces the members of Christ, and raise up strife against our own body, and have reached such a height of madness as to forget that “we are members one of another?”” 1 Clement XLVI, ANF I p. 17; “And thou shalt seek out day by day the faces of the saints, in order that thou mayest rest upon their words. Thou shalt not long for division, but shalt bring those who contend to peace.” Didache IV, ANF VII p. 378; “He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, “God resisteth the proud.” Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.” Ignatius to the Ephesians V, ANF I p. 51
[2] “Keep yourselves from those evil plants which Jesus Christ does not tend, because they are not the planting of the Father. Not that I have found division among you, but exceeding purity. For as many are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of repentance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If any one walks according to a strange opinion, he agrees not with the passion [of Christ].” Ignatius to the Philadelphians III, ANF I p. 80; “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.” Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans VIII, ANF I p. 90
[3] “The Church of God which sojourns at Smyrna, to the Church of God sojourning in Pilomelium, and to all the congregations of the Hoy and Catholic Church in every place: Mercy, peace, and love from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, be multiplied.” Martyrdom of Polycarp I, ANF I p. 39; “…our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of our souls, the Governor of our bodies, and the Shepherd of the Catholic Church throughout the world.” Ibid. XIX, ANF I p. 43