Apostles and Early Church

Polycarp of Smyrna
Polycarp of Smyrna

There is often much scepticism by agnostics and atheists alike in terms of the authenticity of the New Testament. Largely because complete versions are not existent from before the 4th Century. There are fragments that exist from the 2nd century just decades after the originals were written.

One of the main reasons for this is that the Bible itself was not officially decided until the 4th century. Until then the early Church and its churches based their teachings on the teachings of the Apostles and their disciples. The letters of the Apostles, the witness accounts and the records of them were in circulation but they had not yet decided on a universal document. It became important to record these documents.

What is undeniable is that the Early Church stood for the central message to Christianity -Jesus Christ’s message to the world in his death and resurrection. Established by the Apostles who new Christ themselves – there are many which stand still today.

These institutions existed before the completed Gospel. They developed and discipled the Early Church fathers, many who directly succeeded the Apostles themselves. Characters such Polycarp, Ignatius and Clement of Rome or Iranaeus to name a few, many of whom real copies of their writings exist today.

In fact we should praise God for the overwhelming and awesome existence of such an evident and authentic Gospel. A historic New Testament is comparably strong to any other documents of the time. The fact of the evidence for the lives of God’s apostles, the churches they established, their recorded ordinances and martyrdoms stand to show why Christianity has stood and what for.

Questions over the ages of complete documents isn’t going to defeat the truth of the message that the Church has, in all essence stood for since the time of Christ. Indeed the culture of Judaism from before then also stands to reason.

Distorting the Love of God 2

lov82Not only do we find that ideals of God’s love have become factiously reduced to meet one’s expectations of softness but also we encounter a pompousness and discriminatory sentiment by those who look onto those outside of the Church as unloved. Carson points out that focusing merely on one aspect of God’s love, like the five he gives distinction (part one) will simply distort the whole truth, ‘The love of God is more complex and nuanced than what is allowed by mere sloganeering.’

Considering an overly unconditional love can create notions of, ‘a God so insipid he can neither intervene to save us nor deploy his chastening rod against us’. Whilst his providential and salvific stance can be considered unconditional, as in the love he offers for his creation, the loving relationship with him cannot.

Whilst in God’s love and having entered a relationship with him obedience is necessary for growth. Elementary factors can be cemented down as a more solid foundation is raised. It can easily be forgotten that those who have not yet entered in are still loved, as Carson puts it the attitude that, ‘God loves the elect and hates the reprobate’. They too may at anytime come to enter into the relationship with him and grow.

Matthew 20 tells of Jesus giving the parable about the Kingdom of Heaven being like a landowner going out to hire workers for his vineyard. Those recruited in the morning are offered a Denarius to work and then as the day goes on more workers are recruited – some mid morning, lunch and afternoon. At the end of the day, the morning workers see those hired late in the day receiving a Denarius for their work and so expect more but when they are paid the same amount they complain and say we have worked for much longer.

The message is that we will be called when we are called, saved when we are saved. If one person is saved early on in his life he should not then presume that others will never enter into the relationship with God’s love or that they are any less deserved of it. We should keep an open and wise heart.

Distorting the Love of God 1

lov82“The Love of God” is a term we can use without having considered its fullness. The term can be distorted and in today’s culture we can see many reasons why. As D. A Carson puts it, ‘the entire framework in which it is set in Scripture has been replaced’ and many aspects of God are disbelieved.

They are disbelieved because of an age of expectancy where people purge God’s love to conform to their most ideal views. Carson notes the Western trend of epistemology where many start to believe all religions as one and the same. He describes the misconception of, ‘a God who is predictable, regular, patterned… conformist to “Love”.’

‘Such a mix can mean for people to miss the real message. Western missionaries may have mis-preached.’

Does this factiously reduced ideal of God’s love stand to reason with the demanding questions posed by modern culture?

Carson sees there are distinctions in God’s love of which, ‘not one should be used in exclusivity or absolution.’ He highlights five though not exhaustively.

1. Trinitarian – the sacred love of the Father for the son and of the son for the Father. Different terms such as agapao and philieo are used and John insists that the world must learn that Jesus loves the Father.

2. Providential – God’s providence of everything and for every living creature. Genesis accounts for creation and for God’s good intentions as do many other chapters reference this fact. Matthew describes how not a sparrow falls from the sky without the Lord’s sanction as well 10:30 ‘And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.’

3. Salvific – God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. The salvation is intended for everybody. The Lord orders people to the farthest corners of the world to carry his gospel. ‘As surely as I live, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn!’ Ezekiel 33:11.

4. Selecting – particular selecting love towards the elect. For example, ‘I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.’ Mal 1:2-3. Towards Israel – Carson says, ‘Allow all the room you like for Semitic nature of this contrast’. There are several specific references towards solely the Church in the new Testament.

5. Conditional – directed towards his own people in a provisional or conditional way – on obedience. Several references to “staying in the Lord’s love” exist throughout scripture. ‘The Lord’s love is with those who fear him…with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.’ PS103:9-11, 13, 17-18.

Jesus Christ and the Political Climate

When Jesus Christ was first living Rome was politically dominant in the lands of Jerusalem and Judea. Its Empire had been growing steadily from the third century BC. Roman culture adopted much of the Hellenistic (Ancient Greek) culture and structures that had existed in the regions before it. Much of that culture was adopted for the legacy of Alexander the Great (356-323BC).

In 31BC Octavius Caesar had redeemed his uncle Julius in coming to power over the Empire and was named ‘Augustus’. At the time there were many who would have believed in one way or another that he was God. Emperor worship was not uncommon and some believed that he was God or others believed that the power of God was behind him. Traditional pagan religions still existed which believed in Gods of war and love, originating from Greek Myth and the likes of the famous ancient poet, Homer. They preferred to see the Emperor as a High Priest.

Homer

‘Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid.’. -Homer-

To talk up in the way Jesus and the apostles eventually did, including the written accounts they publicised was to challenge the very notion of the Emperor’s great divinity aside from the obvious challenges that it presented to the Jewish section of the same society.

Aside from these beliefs, Eastern Mysticism still carried some prevalence and personal worship and rituals were not uncommon particularly dedicating themselves to worshipping such gods as Mithras, Isis, Serapis or Cybel.

Philosophy was also a commonality particularly amongst the educated classes with the chief three schools originating from Athens: Platonism – an eternal soul linked to an eternal God who’s mind is the ultimate reality, Epicureanism – no after life, living with self control and Stoicism – materialist, everything made from fire, fulfilment is harmony with reason, God only a particular power, Fate and Providence also powers working separate from God.

It was a nostalgic time where there were diverse opinions on God. With no television or radio, people would spend time to discuss their thoughts on faith. This is well exemplified from with in the various sects of Judaism of which there were many. The four outstanding groups being:

The Sadducees: Centred on Jerusalem and the temple, they were almost all priests from the Jewish aristocracy. They accepted the authority of the Pentateuch alone and did not believe in life after death or resurrection.

The Pharisees: The largest group, meaning, ‘the pure ones’ referring to the high moral code of conduct they observed. The believed in obedience to God’s law based around teachings of every day life and not just the temple. They accepted the whole of the Old Testament, the reality of the spiritual world, life after death and resurrection.

The Zealots: They were a terrorist group who thought that it was sinful to pay tax to Rome. They were concerned with fighting free from Roman rule often killing those they regarded as national enemies. This is because they believed that they should be living under God’s authority.

The Essenes: Breakaway groups who chose to live in small religious communities sharing all that they had. They practiced celibacy refused to swear oaths, underwent frequent washing rituals and spent much time studying the Old Testament and Prophets. They expected God to intervene in history through one or more Messiah figures.

The Way of the Truth and the Life

‘Christ is no religion. We are not talking about religion… religion is repressive to a certain degree, it is another form of bondage which man invents to get himself to God. That’s why Christ came. Christ didn’t preach religion he preached the way of the truth and life, he came to give life and light more abundantly.’ -Bob Dylan-

The Great Birth: Genesis

Genesis 1:1

Many people debate over the biblical story of creation in Genesis. Some people would say it is only a myth or a philosophical guide others would rigidly cling to its perimeters, others rubbish it completely.

The main debate is currently on the age of the Earth. Biblically it would appear to be 6000 years old approximately but Evolutionists would claim it to be 4.54 Billion years old – Some difference! Radio Carbon dating has been proven to be wildly inaccurate even void especially considering the effect of severe floods.

The name Genesis it self comes from the Greek word which means origin or birth. Gregor Mendel was a Catholic scientist who discovered ‘Genes’ and it was his motivations to name them. Gene Systems are currently the most complex way of understanding the human body.