The Early Believers
Whilst we have read of Ignatius of Antioch setting up bishops and the like, there was another stream of Christianity which retained its New Testament roots. Due to its mode of operation it was somewhat like an underground organisation (kind of helpful in times of intense persecution) and yet by the year AD 300 it had pretty much taken over half the Roman empire.
There are not a lot of records about this body of Christ in the period AD 80-300, but we have enough to know it worked. Using Christ’s requirements of Matt 7:16, I will let their fruits speak for themselves.
In AD 112 the Roman author Pliny wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan. In this letter, he complained that that in his province of Asia Minor where Ephesus was, “…temples to the [pagan] gods are almost totally forsaken and Christians are everywhere a multitude.” This was about 80 years after Pentecost.
Irenaeus (writing around AD 195) says that in his day prophetic words, tongues and miracles of healing were common. He adds that the church frequently saw people raised from the dead through the prayers of the saints.
Early in his faith, Augustine expressed doubts about the miraculous. However after witnessing many examples of miraculous healing in his own church, he publicly retracted his earlier statements and devoted much of his life to a ministry of healing. He commented, “Miracles have no purpose but to help men believe that Christ is Lord.”
It was common for pagans to heal the sick and raise the dead within days of becoming Christians, and this continued for several centuries. In fact what we would call revival today was just normal Christianity and it only stopped after centuries of intense persecution (by the church). We have lost something over the centuries and we need to go back and pick it up. We have a long way to go with the Reformation if we are to get back to what was “normal” (and sustainable over centuries) early Christianity.
The ekklesia was very different to how it looks today. The easiest way to know what it did, is to see what Rome made illegal as it tightened its grip on the church.
As Constantine and Catholicism reinvented Christianity, it:
- outlawed “houses of prayer” - house churches (Rome couldn’t control them) and forced them to meet in church buildings;
- spent large sums of money building churches – the “church” soon became the single most important land owner in Italy (the early believers had no capital tied up in religious buildings);
- set bishops on a throne at the front of the church (there were no leaders in house churches);
- modelled the church layout, the basilica, on the throne room in his imperial palace;
- had paid leaders perform rituals whilst the laity was kept at bay (vs priesthood of all believers – i.e. all participating in/leading worship, all being led by the Spirit);
- made solemn public worship (rather than the joyous singing and dancing of the early believers);
- developed written forms of worship (as opposed to worship lead by Yeshua through His Holy Spirit);
- divorced the church from anything “Jewish” (biblical)
- cancelled the biblical feasts eg Passover, Pentecost, Trumpets, Day of Atonement & Tabernacles;
- made observing the Sabbath illegal;
- instituted “Christianised” pagan feasts, Lent, Easter, Christmas & Sunday;
- tried to marry the church to paganism eg Isis became Mary;
- Introduced Tammuz (Teitan’s) pagan symbol the cross (the early believers had no known symbolism – even the fish is thought to be pagan);
- made Sunday “the venerable day of the sun” - the day to attend church (early Christians met in homes on Saturday nights). Sunday rest was now obligatory for all and Sabbath rest was illegal, people were made to work on Saturdays;
- made Mithras’ birthday December 25th, Jesus’ birthday (early Christians never celebrated this);
- pagan temples were “Christianised” including the priests;
- gave “Christian” names to the pagan gods e.g. Isis became Mary, or renamed them as saints and carried on with the pagan worship (the early Christians did not venerate or pray to Mary, nor did they pray to saints).
What the Ekklesia Lost
- moved from a family to a building (even with congregations in the tens of thousands in a city, the ekklesia still met in homes, large congregational gatherings were the exception, not the rule);
- lost its biblical (Jewish) roots;
- lost its biblical festivals (God’s appointed times for meeting with mankind);
- lost its indigenous Hebrew world view and adopted a Greek world view. It went from “believing in” to “believing that.” A disaster that has launched 1700 years of intense doctrinal speculation, divisions and bloodletting;
- lost the Hebraic attitude towards God – God became a subject for analysis, not a person to be treated with great respect and loving worship and obedience. We moved from discovering what God wants us to do, to trying to describe His essence. This also launched the church into many centuries of unproductive theological debate;
- lost the Hebraic attitude towards the bible. Jews are taught it is the duty of everyone who walks with God to read and study scripture for themselves. The Greek mentality was that the average Christian doesn’t need to know the bible, serious study was reserved for the professionals, the clergy. Those who wish to read the bible must be trained first so they don’t come to any undesirable conclusions, ahem.
- lost the Judaic emphasis on the home. 20th Century Western Christianity is primarily a church activity. Most of the activities require little more than for you to show up. In the Jewish mentality, the primary place for spiritual development was the home. Biblically most of the major feasts and celebrations were not corporate gatherings at the synagogue or Temple, but family gatherings presided over by the father who acted as the elder and priest of his family.
- lost the Hebraic attitude to life. When stoic and Greek ascetism were merged with biblical teaching, the result was a joyless Christianity where poverty and suffering were seen as virtues. Most times of Jewish worship were times of joy and thankfulness for God’s goodness. The Jews viewed all of life as a gracious gift from God and taught that God desires His children to enjoy His blessings. It is not more spiritual to be joyless.
- lost the priesthood of all believers. Instead of everyone having a responsibility to hear from God and contribute to a gathering, we now wait for paid professionals to deliver the goods as we sit in our pews.
- lost our sovereignty before God. Instead of everyone having a responsibility to hear from God when a decision is to be made, we have abdicated to “church leadership” to decide for us. We have no input into our spiritual destinies other than to leave whatever fellowship we happen to be attending if we don’t like the decision they have made. If we are not “under someone’s covering” we are seen as suspect.
- constantly performs pagan ceremonies and rituals and expects God to show up and bless this behaviour, eg Lent, eastre, crosses, hot cross buns etc, etc.
And not surprisingly the presence and power of God has left us. The church was left with state sponsorship, money and political power, but it lost its real power, the power of God, the power to heal, to raise the dead, to bring God’s love to a hurting world.
It is little wonder non-Christians and Jews alike want nothing to do with our current expression of Christianity. It has so little to offer.
It’s time we got the mojo back…