For some years I was, like most American evangelicals, almost completely ignorant of the pulse of Christianity between the close of the Book of Acts (~62 A.D.) and the appearance of the full-fledged medieval Roman Catholic church. Although there were some admirable individuals and practices associated with it, the Roman Catholic Church of say 1200 A.D. or 1500 A.D. was characterized by legalism, ritualism, coercion, and corruption. (I like today’s Roman Catholic church a lot better.) Since Roman Catholics claim a strong link of succession back to the early church fathers, I assumed that the church fell away from the New Testament spirituality basically as soon as the last apostle passed away.
In actually reading the writings of the second-century Christians, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was wrong: their beliefs and their way of life were very much like what is found in the New Testament. It wasn’t until centuries later, when the Roman empire had fallen in the West, politics became entwined with church affairs, and being a church leader meant power and wealth instead of martyrdom, that the bishop of Rome acquired such a commanding position.
I have been personally edified by reading the works of Clement, Ignatius, Aristides, Justin, etc. Justin provides a description of their Sunday worship services. I have collected excerpts of their writings, along with some explanatory notes, into a document, and placed it on this blog so others can see what these early Christians were about. In keeping with the faith/science theme of this blog, I added a paragraph on how they worked observations from the natural world into their discussions. This document can be accessed by clicking the “Church Fathers” tab at the upper right of the blog window, or just click here. Two shorter excerpts are given below, to whet your appetite.
HOW EARLY CHRISTIANS LIVED – – From the Apology (“Defense”) of Aristides of Athens, presented to the Roman emperor, Antoninus Pius, circa 125 AD. I was impressed by the casual reference to not eating for two or three days in order to provide food for someone else.
Christians know and believe in God as the Creator of heaven and earth in whom and from whom all things exist. They have learned God’s commandments and they live by them in hope of the world to come! For this reason, they do not commit adultery or engage in sexual immorality; they do not give false testimony in court or withhold someone’s deposit or envy another person’s possessions. They honor their father and mother, they are helpful to their neighbors and as judges, they make decisions with justice and mercy.
Christians do not worship idols. Anything they do not want others to do to them, they do not do to others. Christian men do not enter into illegal marriages or engage in sexual promiscuity. Out of love for their slaves and children, if they have any, they encourage them to become Christians, and if they do so, they are called brothers and sisters without distinction.
Christians do not lie. They love one another and take care of their widows; orphans are protected from those who would harm them. They willingly share what they have with those in need. They bring strangers into their homes and welcome them as true brothers and sisters. Christians, as they are able, provide for the burial of their poor when they die. They provide help to those among them who are imprisoned or oppressed because of their faith in Christ.
When there is a person in poverty or need among them and they do not have the resources at hand to help, they will fast for two or three days in order to provide the food needed. The good works they do are not made public to impress others, but, rather, are done unnoticed so that they may hide their deeds as one who finds a treasure and then hides it.
Every morning and at all hours they give praise and thanks to God for the gifts they have received; for food and drink also they give thanks to God. This is the content of the Christian’s law and the way they live their lives.
[This is a modern but loose translation, Copyright 2010 Saint Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church, Irvine, CA http://www.stpaulsirvine.org/html/howchristianslive.htm ]
WHAT EARLY CHRISTIANS BELIEVED – – Excerpted from THE EPISTLE OF MATHETES TO DIOGNETUS . This is another letter explaining Christianity to an outsider. The date of writing is likely between 130 and 200 A.D. The author has a high view of God’s goodness and an “evangelical” presentation of the work of Christ.
[THE MANIFESTATION OF CHRIST. GOD SEEKS TO PERSUADE, NOT COMPEL US.]
This was no mere earthly invention which was delivered to them, nor is it a mere human system of opinion, but truly God Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven, and placed among men Him who is the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts.
He did not, as one might have imagined, send to men any angel or other heavenly ruler…, but the very Creator and Fashioner of all things…
Was it then, as one might suppose, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror? By no means, but in mercy and meekness, as a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him.
As God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Savior He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God. As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us.
[ AFTER THE SERIOUSNESS OF SIN BECAME CLEAR, THE SON WAS SENT AS A GRACIOUS RANSOM]
When the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power… God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great patience, and bore with us, He Himself taking on Him the burden of our iniquities.
He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for sinners, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal.
For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!
Having therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life, and having now revealed the Savior who is able to save even those things which it was formerly impossible to save, by both these facts He desired to lead us to trust in His kindness – – to esteem Him as our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counselor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honor, Glory, Power, and Life, so that we should not be anxious concerning clothing and food.
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