The Early Church
In the style of Jesus
For quite a while after the Crucifixion, Christians kept a pretty low profile – so much so that no significant written accounts have been discovered about the religion's first 300 years.
The notable exception is the writings of Pliny, an influential Roman statesman of the 1st century. 'Pliny the Younger' may have been upset by such a puny-sounding name, and in addition to being a writer of ancient Greek, could have been an ancient geek.
He was an enthusiastic blogger and his surviving scribbles give us the earliest and most useful information, albeit from a perspective of somebody who detested Christians and similar dangerous cults. (As Mark Twain said; "The very ink with which history is written, is merely fluid prejudice.")
In reporting their nefarious deeds to the emperor as justification for persecution, he gives us valuable information for today. These included the following points, and their associated assumed meanings. It describes a structured and organised religion for people with deep convictions:.
- Christians would assemble on a specific day each week before dawn.
It is not known whether the time of day was religiously significant, or whether it was just to keep the meeting secret from adversaries, or both.
- Meetings were not held in a designated place, such as a temple.
Again, we can only conjecture that it was either an important part of worship not to mimic existing practices of using 'holy' places, or whether it was to hide, or both.
- They were Christians in the literal sense, in that they worshipped Christ as God.
Not "a god", as some people now believe.
- When they assembled they ate together (Agape feast).
Perhaps this was for the same bonding purpose of communal meals at contemporary House Church meetings.
- The intensity of their worship was ascribed by Pliny to be ridiculous superstition, and they were intensely zealous in spreading the Gospel.
In other words, following the examples set by Jesus; simple yet intense.
Where did the liturgical mumbo jumbo come from?
Jesus must have been familiar with the Law of Moses, as were his disciples. It is of no surprise therefore that these form the basis of some Christian liturgy. As with the Jews, Christians were wary of tainting the formula by adopting Pagan rites.
But things began to change when Christianity became the state religion, which had formerly been strongly influenced by Paganism. We all know today that our Dear Leaders, whether elected or heirs to thrones, know better than the rest of us and follow the dictums that "Change is good; change is progress; life isn't perfect at the moment, so let's change things." And it seems the development of Christianity was no exception.
Introducing a religious hierarchy was an opportunity for people in power to be even more dominant. For leaders who already had stunningly powerful control of society through civil laws, the opportunity to add divine authority was just too great to ignore.
In addition, a tenet of Christianity is that salvation is available for all people, irrespective of race. Consequently the religion became tailored to suit different nations and cultures to gain acceptance; ergo the Church today is spread over innumerable denominations.
But we shouldn't be too hasty to blame the kings and emperors for destroying the Church Foundation. Supremacism is an animal instinct and seen in all walks of life; politics, business, sport, military, science, education, and religion. If the civil rulers had not corrupted the Early Church, then it's highly likely that today's religious cult leaders, televangelists, etc., would have done so by now.
It's impossible for us here, in the 21st–century, to know what life was like 1,700 years ago; indeed, it's extremely difficult to even imagine it.
Today we (or rather, the lucky few of us) benefit from inventions such as electricity, clean water on tap and effective sanitation. We take them for granted, use them and control them as much as we wish. Our ancestors had nothing but the uncontrollable weather.
Contemporary building materials protect us in homes that can endure earthquake, wind, fire and flood, much better than dung and wattle huts. Shelter, or lack of it, has a profound effect on people's health and strength.
Now there's a choice of different modes of efficient, safe and rapid transportation. Then, people with the same comparative wealth as ourselves had only mules.
Knowledge expanded exponentially thanks to the printing press and more recently the instant communication of the internet. In the past, basic schooling was available only for boys of the most privileged families.
Today's advanced medicine can detect and treat disease before symptoms even appear, replacing the dubious efficacy of herbs and sorcery.
Our way of living has changed shape so much, we see things differently and we value things differently. It's of no surprise therefore that many aspects of our religion have also changed.
Today's Christianity has evolved from the foundations laid by the Early Church. And those founders in turn were influenced by the religions they already knew; for example, Judaism.
And Jews also inherited many traits from the Paganism that had been followed by people for millennia.
What is most surprising is the unchanged central belief for the past 2,000 years that Salvation through Christ is the same today as it's ever been.