Early Church Challenges – Modern Helps
Continuing on with the theme of discernment, we must remember that we have to read the Word of God and understand how the earliest leaders, namely the Apostles were navigating views of the Christian faith that included “too much” or “too little.” Part of this can be seen in the two kinds of groups that they often encountered. Much of each of these groups tendencies are to be avoided in our own day.
Judaizers – This first group was constantly advocating for Christian converts to practice the Mosaic Law in a way that determined their identity. We might consider these the groups that added requirements to salvation that simply were not there. Even more so, that certain external badges (circumcision, food laws, etc) could somehow define people’s racial identity as superior. A quick read through Galatians sees these groups as the target. They are packaging their heritage, even racial heritage, and calling that salvation. There are groups that do this today. I am a bit hesitant to call out such examples, but let me say this. Any group, that makes Christian identity upon something other than Jesus Christ (and the Rule of Faith), is committing something similar to these groups. As Christians, our identity if found in Jesus Christ, the one who gave his life as a ransom for many.
The Gnostics – As the Church began to grow into the Gentile regions, the challenge became progressively more from Gnostic groups rather than the Judaizers (See 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). In fact, these groups were a problem for the first several hundred years of the church, and there are some who still live with gnostic tendencies in the churches of today.
The Gnostics were groups that thought that special knowledge was required for salvation (usually whatever they deemed as special). They denied the goodness of the body. They had a heavy dualism between spirituality and physicality. There dualism was so heavy that in their view, many could do whatever they wanted with their bodies (sin) and it would not effect their spiritual lives.
Now, those who trust in Christ as the truly God-Man are not Gnostics by definition. But, there are still Christians who have more gnostic-like influence on their view of God and spirituality, at least more so than an authentic Christian spirituality. There are some who go around proclaiming their special knowledge. Or, that only spiritual things are to be our focus. It is these groups that have to search out a fuller view of what it meant for God to add flesh to his divinity. What does that divine unity mean to the value of every day earthly life and physical existence?
Paul was simply not letting these groups take root in the Christian communities. His own view of leadership in these letters is fairly high, and he outlaws these gnostic groups from taking over. In a sense, much of the history of the early church in the Bible, as well as the centuries afterward, was how to protect against false spiritualities. For us as Christians, spirituality is not so clouded. Moreover, it is not so spiritual.
What I mean by this is that Christianity is the most material religion. It is the most physical religion. Therefore, as Christians we are to enjoy the physical world. We are to see our bodies as vessels for God’s honor, rather than something that is evil and to be avoided. Moreover, the world we live in is good, even if fallen. Therefore, our interaction with it is truly a good thing to enjoy.
Anyway…a late night reflection on some of the challenges of the early church that we can use to navigate our own challenges today.