How Faith Changed….

This will probably be my last post about the early christians for a while. Next time I will begin to concentrate on some of the early theologians,bishops/historians/leaders or whatever you want to call them, and how they influenced the direction of the church. Closing this chapter, at least for now, it is important for you to remember what “faith” was to the early Christians. Here are a couple of quotes from Harvey Cox in his book The Future of Faith that I think summarizes this important topic.

At its outset “faith” meant a dynamic lifestyle sustained by fellowships that were guided by both men and women and that reflected hope for the coming of the Reign of God. But when Christianity became swollen into an elaborate code of prescribed beliefs and ritual obligations policed by a hierarchy, the meaning of “faith” was warped almost beyond recognition….

Initially faith had meant a primary life orientation, but the evolving clerical class now equated “faith” with “belief in” certain specified doctrines and patterns of authority, which, in any case, themselves changed periodically depending on who held the ecclesial scepter. The result was a disaster for dissent and open discussion. Yesterday’s heretic may be tomorrow’s saint, but the heretic is still dead…..

If the people of the Way were to see what became of their church I think they would be totally shocked!! To them faith meant a primary life orientation, a way of life, not strict obedience to a fixed set of belief about Jesus. Most of those belief were solidified long after Jesus left the earth. They would also be confused as to why women were pushed out of leadership roles in the church.

The people of the Way would be very disheartened to find that it is very difficult to discern  today’s Christians from those others around them! To them their faith meant following a very dynamic lifestyle that was generally in conflict with the empire around them.  How did the church come to be much more like the empire than a foreign group called the Way?

The People of the Way would be devastated to see how today’s Christians seem to ignore those around them that are struggling for their very existence! The very cornerstone of the people of the Way was to take care of these unfortunates as Jesus taught them. How could they now be more likely a target of church goer’s venom as “those people who are takers instead of producers”. How could the church of Jesus Christ have devolved into what we see today?

The People of the Way were more about living the life that Christ taught them and about the coming  Reign of God on earth as well as heaven rather than prescribed beliefs and ritual obligations to be forced upon them. They deemed their faith as a way of life rather an altar called that instantly secured a path to an afterlife that they generally cared little about.

What happened to make such a dramatic change.  That is what we will be studying next.

Just Ordinary People….

For the month of July we will be studying just how the early Christians went about practicing their faith.

As will be typical of many of my posts I will start them out with quotes from one of my many sources that got me to thinking about the current post.  This quote comes from a book by Robin Myers entitled The Underground Church – Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus.

We forget to distinguish between history as a record of the elites and history as a record of the people. While most academics concentrate on the theologians who wrote the treatises and on the bishops who argued about questions of authority, the most important constituency of all gets left out: the vast majority of ordinary people whose lives were dramatically changed by the Jesus Movement. This included women, peasants, and slaves.

It is important to understand just how diverse the early church was. For the first three centuries there were no creeds or lists of beliefs that you had to follow to call yourself a follower of the Way. For the most part  these early Christian groups were just ordinary people who had banded together around their trust in the teachings of Jesus.  One common practice was that they would sell their possessions and turn the proceeds over to the leader of their group to be used for the benefit of all. This was part of their core beliefs of hospitality. We will get into that in a future post.

Because, almost all the people of The Way were illiterate they left little behind in the way of written documents. There were some documents being passed around during this period, some of them by the Apostle Paul among others, but for the first hundred years or they were simply unavailable to many. But in recent years artifacts of their existence have been found to let us know a little more about them.  We also know more about them from the study of tax law, and organizational documents from the Roman military of the times. We know that they were a big enough perceived threat to the Roman empire that many of their leaders, but only a small percentage of followers, were executed in the Coliseum.

We know that they lived their daily lives around their faith to an infinitely greater degree than do today’s Christians. But faith to them was not citing a creed, they just didn’t exist for the most part for several hundred more years, but instead faith was defined as a trust in the teaching and wisdom of Jesus Christ. They trusted in what Jesus did and said. Christians were centuries away from putting beliefs ahead of actions.