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CHAPTER 1 From Jesus Christ to the Church (MID-FIRST TO MID-SECOND CENTURIES)
“Those who welcomed [Peter’s] message were baptized. … They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. … All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2.41– 7). So Luke describes the reaction to Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost. Although many particular aspects of Luke’s narrative have been challenged, the words above are probably a reasonable description of the general character of the earliest Christian community. It was based in Jerusalem and centered around the teaching and leadership of those who had been closest to Jesus before his death.
Despite Jesus’ crucifixion, his followers shared a strong belief that his death was not the end; some of them had had vivid experiences of the living Jesus, and many felt that they were possessors of the special gift of God’s Spirit or power. The followers of Jesus were full of optimism and hope for a divinely given new life, and the community was growing. The group was marked not only by its beliefs about Jesus but by common worship, prayer, and a shared community meal. Its members also shared their possessions in order to help fellow-believers who were in need. They believed that their community signified a new departure for its members – each believer’s new beginning was marked by baptism – yet they continued to worship in the Temple.
The undivided fellowship depicted in this account appears not to have lasted long. Perhaps it never exhibited the Paradise-like state that Luke appears to evoke in his narrative. To some, the 500 years that followed might seem to be characterized more by fracture, schism, and disagreement than the spirit of loving fellowship.
Nevertheless, throughout the period covered by this book, Christian communities continued to be united – however loosely – by the same elements: by their hope in what God had worked for them through Jesus Christ; by gathering around certain individuals who were seen as continuing the work of the Apostles; by baptism, the sharing of bread and wine, and the offering of prayers and hymns; by the aspiration to an ethic that supported the poor and needy, both in their communities and beyond. The earliest evidence for all these factors will be examined in this chapter. There were, however, obvious differences between the earliest Christian community differences in Jerusalem and the communities of later centuries.
Jesus’ earliest followers were all Jews: they unquestioningly accepted a monotheistic belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and they would have considered their faith in Jesus’ teaching to be largely continuous with that. The degree of continuity between the beliefs of the first Christians and contemporary Judaism is highly contested by New Testament scholars. It certainly differed somewhat from person to person, not least because the Judaism of the first century was not a monolithic or uniform religion.
Jews differed, for example, in their interpretations of the Law, and in the degree to which they were affected by Hellenic culture. Nevertheless, one can assume that for many Christians, baptism probably marked a renewed commitment to God or a new understanding of God’s relationship to Israel, rather than a ‘conversion’ in the modern sense. Even the descriptions of Paul’s ‘conversion experience’, which seem to indicate a dramatic break with his past, may best be understood as an experience of a new, albeit life-changing, calling rather than a conversion from one set of religious beliefs to another.
Ludlow, Morwenna. The Early Church : The I. B. Tauris History of the Christian Church, I. B. Tauris & Company, Limited, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ths-akademie/detail.action?docID=1814133. Created from ths-akademie on 2021-11-01 20:06:46.