"The Early Church" - Is it a myth?

Over at Read Mor Ded Peepl, I began what will hopefully be a string of posts on The Didache. An interesting discussion has arisen from it. I would love to hear from more of you on this subject. Am I way off base?

It began with my comments in the post:

A pet peeve of mine is when people talk about the early church with very broad strokes and as a way of saying “this is how it necessarily ought to be.” In other words, “This is how things should be done because this is how it was done in the early church.” This gets me for a few reasons. First, it presupposes there was a way the early church did it. I don’t believe there was. Second, there is no clarity as to how early we have to go and when things went wrong. In other words, some people say the golden age was the time before Constantine (i.e., the first three centuries), others while the apostles were still alive (the first century), and others the first few days. Third, it is theologically dubious. If Paul says that the church should be maturing as a man, should we always be going back to childhood to find out what to be like? And if we were more mature 2000 years ago, what does it say about the truthfulness of Paul’s theology? Fourth, it is usually a matter of authority and institutionalism. Thus, we are fed up with the authority structures and institutional order of things, and so we look to the day when things were supposedly so much more free and egalitarian. Fifth, the early church is usually interpreted through our own prejudices. In other words, we see what we want in the early church and thus rationalize our own biases.

The comments that have ensued:

Blogger Travis said...

....If the early church didn't set an example or a model even, and the 'mature' church was what the church became through the past 2000 years a hierarchical structure, then we all should repent and go back to the...oh wait, which one is the original? One might say the Roman Catholic Church, but is that the closest to the main stream of Christian community? or would it be eastern orthodox, or what? And then what of these 'mature' forms having so much involved that seems to contradict Jesus' irreligious theology?

Just some initial reactions of how pivotal this topic is. If I became convinced that the hierarchical institutional structure of church was good and valid, and the way the church "matured" then I am just a lone arrogant renegade here in this catholic town. And I'd have to repent and go to catholic or orthodox seminary, and divorce my wife...yikes...

So this topic obviously has HUGE implications...

Blogger BAB said...

So here is how I see it. I don't think that we have necessarily matured as we ought to have. Today's church - I don't think - the picture of perfection. I am just saying that what the church ought to do or be - I think - is to be determined by its future and not its past. Acts gives us the highlights of the early movement, and I think it does so for us to learn and in some way imitate. It is not the early church.

The question is: what is the church to become? And not what was the church like?

Blogger Travis said...

Did you mean to make the distinction between "the early church acts-300, vs early church as in "acts". That would be a good distinction. I usually think of Acts when I'm talking about the early church. A lot of people are probably including the first couple of centuries in that?

I really am interested in grappling with this question as I have been intently studying this for over 3 or 4 years now.

Blogger BAB said...

I haven't made the distinction simply because no matter what people mean, there is an error that is made. This may sound weird for you to hear me say, but even the church in Acts, cannot be accurately said to be the "early church". Like I said it is a highlight reel. I think it is as much a presentation of what the church should be as it is what it actually was.

So, what do you think? Add to the conversation!

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