Finding Church (Conclusions): Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

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17 Responses

  1. CM says:

    Duane,

    A very good series. Thank you for doing it. From the writings of the Church Fathers in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, plus the archaeology, and what Scripture says, one can reconstruct how churches and services were organized and set up.

    I would presume that as the individual church grew and a new fellowship was created, elders from the parent church would be appointed to lead the new fellowship (perhaps some had been deacons in the parent fellowship for some time?).

  2. Duane Arnold says:

    CM

    Many thanks. We don’t have certain knowledge as to how the leadership was established. In the first generations, however, great weight was placed on actually having had interaction with the apostles or their immediate followers…

  3. richard says:

    your article describes baptism as a lengthy process that included multiple teachings.

    Why do you think it was done in the early church that way, when in Acts we have multiple instances of immediate baptism after conversion ?

  4. Duane Arnold says:

    richard

    I thought of that as I was writing. You’re correct about examples in Acts, yet we see this period of catechesis in the immediate post-apostolic age. My guess is it had to do with two things. First, the dispersion (Christians as well as Jews) after the destruction of Jerusalem as this created issues of identity. Secondly, from the 60s on, persecution became increasingly systematic requiring a sense of trust in the person standing next to you in church. Additionally, by the third and fourth century, the 40 days before Easter increasingly became the time for instruction and Easter became the time for baptism, for obvious theological reasons…

  5. CM says:

    Duane,

    True. If Irenaeus or Polycarp recommended an elder for a new congregation, then I am sure that carried great weight. Ironically it was the persecutions of the early Christians (mostly Jewish converts) by the Jews and their authorities that resulted in their dispersal away from Jerusalem. This spared them in the destruction of 70 AD.

  6. richard says:

    thank you for your response.

    if I may, I have another question concerning the early church, that has been on my mind for a while.
    I apologize in advance for it’s length.

    during Jesus’s time on earth, His ministry appears to me to have little organization and repetition.
    We know he made a specific point to attend passover in Jerusalem during the 3 years of his active ministry, that He picked the 12, that He sent out the 70, but He also did things on the Sabbath that were considered contrary to the religious teachings of His day, and His travels throughout the region did not appear to follow a pattern – sometimes through Samaria, sometimes not. I know and believe that all He did and does has a purpose and is done at the perfect time, but to my earthly and uneducated self many of his travels appear somewhat random or not having a specific order.
    fast forward to after His Ascension and Pentecost, and the 11 thought it important to re-establish their number back to 12 (by picking straws, no less) and shortly after that (months/years) the 12 thought that serving food to their flock in a fair manner was less important than them studying the scriptures and preaching.

    Isn’t that attitude somewhat contrary to Christ’s teaching of serving others, to put oneself last, to not seek “being special” ?

    Was not James, the brother of Jesus, considered more of the head of the early church than Peter ?

    Did Paul’s background in Jewish religious hierarchy influence his writings in “organizing” the early church into elders, pastors/priests, deacons, and bishops ?

    is it a fleshly desire to want to “organize” ?
    is a certain amount of irregularity a good thing ?
    why didn’t Jesus dwell more on organization if that was His plan ?
    as Jesus during His ministry appears to have frequently done things quite differently from the norm, why is the church, early church and church today, so structured with pray/sing/pray/listen/pray/sing ?
    sometimes it seems that we are infatuated with order and can quench the Holy Spirit all too often.

    Can sometimes not having a plan be the best ?

  7. CM says:

    richard,

    Of course, there is also a tendency for disorder and chaos, so much so that Paul had to call the Church in Corinth on the carpet early on (50s AD). In fact, whatever organization was set up early on. The letters to the Corinthians are some of the oldest books of the NT (older than the 4 gospels actually).

    Of course, when Christ walked the earth, there was already a tradition, precedence, and “typical” organization (what little there was) for a wandering itinerant Rabbi in Judaism. Same thing with organized synagogues/

    Second, I am sure there was an order linked to OT prophesies about him in his travels. Likewise, there is a pattern to the specific groups added to the church in the book of Acts, reflecting the beginning early stages of the fulfillment of the Great Commission (much like how a ripple expands in a pond when a rock is dropped into it). The event in the Upper Room at Pentecost is tied into OT Jewish feasts and holy days. And so on.

  8. richard says:

    thank you.

  9. Duane Arnold says:

    Richard

    “Can sometimes not having a plan be the best ?”

    There is always something to be said for the spontaneous! That being said, it seems clear that even in the apostolic age, there was a need for order. Much of this “ordering” of the apostolic church is seen between the lines, as it is simply taken for granted. This would include the bringing in of Matthias, the appointing of the deacons, Paul appearing before the “Council of Jerusalem” (which became an example for later councils), etc. Some issues of church order are explicit, as CM mentioned, Corinth comes to mind. My own position is that the apostles were not only eyewitnesses, but were also the direct communicators of Christ’s desires for the Church. They were dependent on the Holy Spirit, but also made informed judgements – “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” Now, we could second guess the apostles and say they were wrong. If we do, however, then do we also second guess the Gospels themselves? At that point we are left with a Jesus of our own imagining.

    As I said in the first article of the series, there is a direct link from the early Church to the Apostles to Christ himself. When we break that connection we are left with a void that we have to attempt to fill, with entertainment, with politics, with our own egos and self invention. Not a road I can go down…

  10. richard says:

    thank you again

  11. CM says:

    Duane,

    Thanks for the piggyback off of my reply. Also, the appointment of the first deacons in Acts (and the specific qualifications for them in the Pauls pastoral epistles). The early rule on Gentiles in Acts was an interim decision made at the time. The specific doctrines were fully developed in Paul’s epistles later on.

    One thing people forget is that it is not like someone was dictating all this stuff as it happened. And its not that all the books of the NT were instantly and readily available everywhere either. This is why one cannot use the Book of Acts as a didactic book as Pentecostals are prone to do for example and why we no longer choose leaders by lot (as how Matthias was picked). Even in a spiritual and theological sense it was the New Convenant era, but the first 30-40 years after Christ was a transition time here in the physical world, which the Book of Acts covers and never to be repeated. The exclamation point on the end of this transition era was the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.

  12. Jean says:

    “The early rule on Gentiles in Acts was an interim decision made at the time. The specific doctrines were fully developed in Paul’s epistles later on.”

    Paul’s epistles were not developed later on. Paul wrote his letters within the historical period covered in Acts.

  13. CM says:

    Jean,

    To clarify, not all of Paul’s epistles were written at the time of the Jerusalem decision regarding gentiles. The book of Acts covers many years (around 30 or so). I was referring the that specific events within the book of Acts

  14. Duane Arnold says:

    CM/Jean

    I’m not sure about others, but in that Luke-Acts quotes Mark, I tend towards a later dating of the 80s or even the early 90s…

  15. CM says:

    Duane,

    Oh Ok. But do we know when the decision regarding the gentiles was made (even though the event may have been recorded in Acts decades after the fact)?

  16. Duane Arnold says:

    CM

    Based on the chronology, a good estimate would be c. 50. Again, this points to the importance of the early oral tradition. We’re in 2020 and I remember what took place in 1970 very well – Cambodia, Kent State, The Beatles breaking up, etc. The writer of the Didache, Ignatius, and the other Apostolic Fathers were no more distant from the events of the apostles in the Book of Acts…

  17. CM says:

    Duane,

    Oh Ok. This would mean that Paul’s earliest epistles (1 Corinthians ?) was at most 5-10 years afterwards. Which would also mean that this interim policy would have only been in effect for at most 10-20 years based upon Paul’s letters to the Galatians, etc. (assuming previous guidance from Paul that is now lost to history was not provided earlier).

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