A New Adventure
In this second installment of An Expedition Adventure in the Bible, we are investigating why there are so many Christians in the world today. Our purported role is that of an anthropologist researching the early Church to understand why Christians were so disliked by so many leaders, yet through Christians God began a transformation of the whole world, upending the Roman empire and creating a cohesive, moral standard that launched universities, the sciences, hospitals, and so much more.
The First Christians and the Birth of the Church
As you may remember, the first Christians were the 11 apostles. We know exactly when they became born-again believers in Jesus. The event was recorded by the apostle John:
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”John 20:22 (ESV)
The Holy Spirit had descended upon Jesus and remained. (John 1:32) But when Jesus breathed upon His apostles this was the first time that God lived in a child of “Adam,” other than Jesus (Colossians 2:9). Then, in the 2nd chapter of Acts, the Holy Spirit came upon everyone that was gathered together (Acts 2:1-4) in obedience to Christ’s command (Acts 1:4).
The Ministry of John the Baptist
Please allow me to take a moment to address the ministry of John the Baptist. Sometimes people think that the Jews baptized by John the Baptist were “saved.”
John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets. Jesus said of him, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11a) Still, the baptism that John the Baptist performed was under the Old Testament. Jesus had not yet died, buried, and risen from the grave. There wasn’t any “born-again salvation” available for the people baptized by John.
The Birth of the Church
The event recorded in the 2nd chapter of Acts is the birth of the Church. Now they were Christians and they were the first church community. However, they had no “statement of faith”, no catechism, no Church ordinances, no lay ministry. Still, they were disciples of Jesus and they had the Holy Spirit within them, so they were “equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:17)
The Jewishness of Christianity
What we see after the birth of the Church is what I call God’s baby bubble for the Church. God gave His children some time to jell. Let’s remember that Christianity is undeniably Jewish. Jesus was born a Jew, raised a Jew, and fulfilled the prophecy of Moses and other Jewish prophets regarding the “Seed” of Abraham and the Messiah. As the apostle Paul wrote:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.Romans 1:16 (ESV)
Gentiles are grafted into the True Vine. Therefore, the early Church was not without the Scriptures (Old Testament) or a large body of work that provided cultural norms that helped them begin the process of becoming the Bride of Christ “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” (Ephesians 5:25) However, when Stephen was martyred then the “baby bubble” was popped and the 1st century Christians were dispersed by rapid persecution from the Jewish leadership (Acts 8:1) because the Jewish Leaders saw the Gospel of Jesus as a Jewish heresy.
This dispersion was God’s will for Christians to carry the good news of Jesus with them wherever they went. One of the very first locations that received the Good News was Egypt and North Africa. We will come back to North Africa on a future blog.
As Christianity began to take root, their (our) morality that came from the Truth that abided within them (and us) often collided with the reprobate Roman empire. We need to remember that we are not just looking at the clash of cultures. We are viewing the collision of a moving object (the Roman society) with an immovable force (Christ’s Truth).
The 1st Century Church’s Moral Impact
We may think that the first century Christians were so distracted by persecution that they did not have a public message about social ills within society. In fact, it is just the opposite. It was morality built from the substance of Christ’s commands that caused a moral impact which put a spotlight on Christians. As an example, let’s consider the 1st century Church’s stand against abortion. Yep, the Church has been wrestling with the world over this issue for 2,000 years.
The following are a few excerpts from “ABC Religion & Ethics“:
Exposure should be understood as “the rejection of a neonate (new born baby) in the first week of life, before it was accepted into the family and undergone rituals of purification and naming.”
While the New Testament is silent on the issues of infanticide and exposure, the writings of the early church are replete with condemnations of Graeco-Roman practices that they felt ran counter to the commitments of the early Christians. These included gladiatorial battles, public executions and abortion, as well as infanticide and exposure. Indeed, their opposition was so vehement that they labeled not only infanticide but also exposure and even abortion as “parricide.”
Parricide was a term that was known and used in the Graeco-Roman world to refer to the killing of a close relative, but it was not a term usually used in connection with the death of an infant. The early Christians, however, considered “conception, gestation, birth, and nurture as a continuous process” and therefore considered the termination of life at any point through this process as an act of murder. As a result, many of the early Christian texts openly condemned infanticide, exposure and abortion. The Didache, for example, which is a Christian treatise dated from the late first to the early second century, states:
There are two ways — the way of life and the way of death, and the difference between these two ways is great. Therefore, do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant.
In a chilling and astonishingly callous statement, some modern bioethicists suggest, “Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life.” So, just as it was for the 1st century Church, so it is today; we are at moral loggerheads with the society within which we live.
With this moral chasm being the case, how did the early Church, by 340 AD, persuade the Roman Emperor Valentinian I, to enact the first law requiring parents to rear their children? Valentinian I also decreed that the killing of an infant was a capital offense.
We will begin to dig into the details of the early Church next time!
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
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