You are hereReasons NOT to look like the early church

Reasons NOT to look like the early church

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By Ransom - Posted on 04 February 2010

[Cynics and Christians] divide and upset the household, and bring into collision those inside with each other, and tell them the worst ways to manage their household. They never say, find, or do anything socially productive. They do not participate in panegyrics (festal assemblies), nor worship the gods, nor help govern the cities, nor comfort the sorrowing, nor make reconciliation with those of opposing persuasions, nor arouse the young – or anyone else for that matter – to the affairs of the world.
–Aelius Aristides in The Defense of the Four, as cited by Frances Margaret Young in The theology of the pastoral letters, p. 17.

This was written by an orator who is associated mostly with Asia Minor but who was certainly well travelled. It’s difficult to say how widely his observations applied to Christian communities throughout the world at the time, or whether he was taking just a few bad apples and making gross overgeneralizations. I point it out because 1) much of what Aristides described then seems to correspond to various visible factions of Christianity today and because 2) to the consternation of a wide range of critics both ancient and modern, those commonalities are probably indicative of what a significant constituency of the early church thought was proper.


Virgil's picture

The issue with imminency is that the first century folks were somewhat justified in approaching society cautiously (as they supposedly did). The contemporary church is not at all justified, so now we are living trough a backlash they cannot explain or deal with.

As far as Aristides' observations, I would both take them with a grain of salt but also ask the question: did the Church lose it that soon after AD 70? Could it be that we are seeing a progressive understanding of the Kingdom starting in AD 70 up to today? My answer would be a tentative yes, but again...history doesn't tell us that much about the early church, with just a few exceptions.

Ransom's picture

I should point out that Aristides wasn't the only one to make critical assessments of some of these aspects of Christianity. Beyond secular sources, looking at extra-canonical Christian writings (such as the Acts of Paul and Thecla that I mentioned in the full blog post), we see that there was much more diversity prior to the concept of "orthodoxy". And when we see different sects competing in later centuries, we have no reason not to - and good reasons to - surmise that these competing Christianities were as ancient, and in certain ways more ancient, than what became "orthodoxy" following the councils.

I do suspect that the first century was a starting point, not so much a pristine ideal to be recovered. It wouldn't bother me at all if we discovered that none of the first century believers understood what AD 70 was about even after it happened. With time comes greater understanding. What we see is an unfolding of the idea of Christian mission, the value of which we are uniquely in the position of seeing and implementing.

Virgil's picture

"It wouldn't bother me at all if we discovered that none of the first century believers understood what AD 70 was about even after it happened."

I agree with that; but assuming that many of these guys met people like Paul in person, it could be something as simple as lack of written account of their opinions that's a problem for us. Either way, I am not bothered at all with it. If understanding of the Kingdom is contextually relevant to each believer in each generation that had lived since, then the applications are infinite. The presence of God among us and within us has many facets and can affect each culture, people, generation differently.

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