The Early Church
Unity & Division in the Early Church
 
Spreading the Faith
From Jews to Gentiles
 
The Apostle Paul

 
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (NIV: Matthew 5:17-20)

Romans 3 What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew[?] ... Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. ... 19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. ...  28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (NIV: Romans 3:1-31)
  • What is the relationship between faith and salvation? If salvation depends on faith alone, then why should one bother with Jesus’ moral teachings? On the other hand, if salvation depends on faith “apart from works of the law,” then how can Paul conclude that he isnt nullifying the law, but rather upholding it?
A Qualification
Galatians 5 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (NIV: Galatians 5:1-26)

  • Can “faith” and “works” be reconciled? Are they fundamentally connected ... or ultimately distinct?
  • What are the implications of this debate for contemporary Christianity?
 

Reflecting on the life of Jesus and their experience of the risen Christ, Christians believed that the transcendent and invisible God had become immanent and visible in Jesus. This led to the early development of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which speaks of three equal “persons” within one divine being: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is the one who sends the Son to become incarnate in Jesus with the mission to reveal God’s love to the world. The Son or Word manifests God in the world in many ways, but the incarnation in Jesus is a culmination of that revelation. The Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost, who Jesus promises will be sent after his death, is the power and presence of God, actively guiding and sustaining the faithful.

Although Jesus had spoken in parables, the evolving Church found it necessary to articulate some of its beliefs more openly and systematically. A number of creeds, or professions of faith, were composed for use in religious instruction and baptism, to define who Jesus was and his relationship to God, and to provide clear stands in the face of various controversies. One major controversy concerned the teachings of Arius, a leader of the congregation in Alexandria. The issue was the relationship between God and Jesus. The Christians worshipped Jesus, but at the same time came from monotheistic Jewish tradition, in which God alone is worshiped. Was Jesus therefore somehow the same as God? To Arius, God the Father pre-existed God the Son, whereas opponents of this belief insisted that the Son of God was equally eternal with God the Father.
Constantine convened a general council of the bishops of all area churches in Nicea in 325 CE to settle this critical issue. Arius’s beliefs were rejected at the Council of Nicaea and again at the Council of Constantinople in 381 CE. The Nicene Creed, as it is known today, is a compilation of the statements of faith from both of these councils. It is still the basic profession of faith for many Christian denominations and has been proposed as a basis for unifying all Christians:
 
We believe in one God, the Father, the almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and from the Son]. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen. (Living Religions, 325)
  • How did the decision to emphasize “dogma” shape the development of Christianity? How might Christianity be different today had Arius been allowed to maintain a different interpretation of the relation between Jesus and God?
 
 
The First Schism
The Eastern Orthodox Church
Politically, late in the third century CE, the Roman Empire had been divided into two: an eastern section and a western section. ... While religious power in the west became more and more centralized in the Roman pope [i.e. the bishop of Rome], the eastern sees had no equivalent centralization, nor did they recognize the Roman pope’s claim to universal authority over the Church. ... By the early Middle Ages, there were also doctrinal disagreements. In its version of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, for example, the Western Church added the filioque, a formula professing that the Holy Spirit came from the Father “and from the Son”; the Eastern Church retained what is considered the more original text, professing that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father.
In 1054, leaders of the eastern and western factions excommunicated each other over the disagreement about the Holy Spirit, the papal claim, and whether the Eucharistic bread should be leavened or unleavened. To the Eastern Church, the last straw was its treatment by crusaders. (Living Religions, 327-8)
 
  • To what extent was the division between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches based on dogmatic” issues ... and to what extent was it a question of politics and power?
Over the centuries, the individual Orthodox Churches have probably changed less than have the many descendants of the early Western Church. There is a strong conservative tradition, attempting to preserve the pattern of early Christianity. Even though the religious leaders can make local adaptations suited to their region and people, they are united in doctrine and sacramental observances. Any change that will affect all churches is decided by a synod — a council of officials trying to reach common agreements, as did the early Church. ...
A central practice is called “unceasing prayer”: the continual remembrance of Jesus or God, often through repetition of a verbal formula that gradually impresses itself on the heart. The most common petition is the “Jesus prayer”: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The repetition of the name of Jesus brings purification of heart and singularity of desire. To call upon Jesus is to experience his presence in oneself and in all things.
       The Orthodox Church has affirmed that humans can approach God directly through faith, as opposed to intellectual knowledge. ... Some may even see the light of God and be utterly transformed by it:

 
He who participates in the divine energy, himself becomes, to some extent, light: he is united to the light, and by that light he sees in full awareness all that remains hidden to those who have not this grace; … for the pure in heart see God … who, being Light, dwells in them and reveals Himself to those who love Him, to His beloved.
 
Another distinctive feature of Orthodox Christianity is its veneration of icons. These are stylized paintings of Jesus, his mother Mary, and the saints. They are created by artists who prepare for their work by prayer and ascetical training. There is no attempt at earthly realism, for icons are representations of the reality of the divine world. They are beloved as windows to the eternal. In addition to their devotional and instructional functions, some icons are reported to have great spiritual powers, to heal illnesses, and to transmit the holy presence. Believers enter into the grace of this power by kissing the icon reverently and praying before it. (Living Religions, 341-3)