2. Origin of the Christian Church
Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER I. A General View of the Organization and Worship of the Primitive Church
2. Origin of the Christian Church
Christianity, after the lapse of several centuries, assumed an intermediate character between other forms of religion. But it was at first a substitute for the religion of the Jews, or rather it was only a modified and improved form of the same. The author of this system was himself obedient in all things to the law of Moses, out of which he also taught his disciples, and, undeniably, derived from the same source the rites of initiation and fellowship, baptism and the Lord's supper.
This affinity between the Jewish and christian religion, was well understood by intelligent heathen, and by the ancient apologists of Christianity it was not denied. Chrysostom complained that the Christians, even of the fourth century, were half Jews.
On the contrary, scarcely the remotest trace of paganism can be found in the christian church as originally constituted. Whatever has been adduced in favor of such a resemblance, is only uncertain conjecture, or gratuitous hypothesis. The apostle of the gentiles remonstrates against the incorporating of any part of their religion with the Christian, Gal. 2:14,15; and the apostle Peter accords with him on this point, 1 Pet. 4:3. Neither can anything be drawn from the apostolic fathers and early defenders of the christian religion which, with any appearance of truth, can be made to harmonize with the religion of the gentiles. But they uniformly manifest the strongest aversion to any connection with idolaters and their religious rites.
Basil, of Seleucia, has indeed affirmed that there is paganism disguised under the form of Christianity. But this can be said with truth only after the establishment of the system of secret discipline, and when the jealousy of the church for the purity of her faith and the integrity of her discipline had, in a measure, abated. Even the most celebrated Roman Catholic writers find much difficulty in the attempt to trace this blending of two systems back to a remote antiquity. Protestant writers, on the other hand, labor to show that the decline of the church dates its origin from the introduction of paganism into Christianity; and that papacy is little else than a disguised system of pagan superstition. The truth is, that the primitive church was at first established on the principles and in the spirit of the Jewish church; the domestic rites of the Jews, and their levitical priesthood being strictly excluded. But when, in process of time Christianity became the state religion, this alliance of church and state, it was thought, would acquire more honor and respect by blending with it a priesthood and a ritual like that of the Old Testament. This, therefore, became the basis of a new church-service; and the same office was transformed into a priesthood the elements of which were derived both from Jew and gentile systems of religion.
The rules and institutions of the primitive church are chiefly valuable to show what Christ and his apostles taught and approved. They have not, with us, the form of a law any further than they are founded on the Scriptures. Accordingly, different religious denominations have, from time to time, varied at pleasure from their original form, not only the less important and common institutions of religion, but even the characteristic ordinances of the church – baptism and the Lord's supper – and that too, without laying any sacrilegious hand upon the ancient church of Christ.
The law of the Christian church is the law of liberty. The truth, says Christ, shall make you free, with evident reference to the freedom of religious worship under the Christian dispensation. To this the sacred writers frequently refer, John 4:24; Rom. 6:18, 22; 1 Cor. 7:22; Gal. 5:1 seq. 4:9 seq.; Col. 2:16–20; Jas. 1:25 comp. 2:12. Not only do the several writers of the New Testament declare the unrestrained freedom of christian worship; but the earliest and most venerable fathers harmonize with this sentiment, which again is confirmed by the symbolical books, and many other writings of indisputable authority.
Christianity accordingly rejected from the religion of the Jews all that related to them as a separate and peculiar people, and modified that religious system, so that it might become the religion of all nations. At the same time it rejected with abhorrence every other form of religion. In this way it sought to retain whatever might best promote the kingdom of God, and the edification of his people. On the same principle did the reformers, Luther, Melancthon, Zuinglius and Calvin proceed. They confessedly retained much that pertained to the Catholic religion, and yet they were actuated by the most enlarged views of religious freedom and independence.
Franc. Croii, Heidnisches Papsthum. Basel, 1607. 1613.8; Dav. Meir de Papatu Romano per Ethnicismum impraegnalo et refermentato. 1634.4; Jo. Valkenier, Roma paganizans. 1656. 4; Nic. Hunnil, De Apostasia Romanae ecclesiae, -c. 4; Mussardi, Vorstellung der vor Zeiten aus dem Heidenthume in die Kirche eingeführten Gebräuche und Ceremonien. Aus dem Franzos. mit Anmerk. von Sigism. Hosmann. Leipz. 1695; Conyers Middleton, A Letter from Rome, shewing an exact conformity between Popery and Paganism, edit. 5. 1741. 8. edit. 6. 1825.8; J. J. Blunt, Ursprung relig. Ceremonien und Gebrauche der rdm. kathol. Kirche, bes. in Italien und Sicilien. Aus dem Engl. Darmst. 1826. 8,