Sunday, 30 June 2013

Unity between denominations? Part III: The Witness of the Early Church in the New Testament

Part I: The Problem
Part II: What kind of unity are we called to?

The next two posts will attempt to sketch the continuity between the Church as depicted in the New Testament and in the writings of the Church Fathers.

Characteristics of the New Testament Church:

  • There is one universal Church:
    • Mt. 16:18: " And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it."
    • Mt. 18:17: "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."
    • 1 Tim. 3:15: "you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth."
    • Gal. 1:13: "For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it."
  • There are local churches:
    • e.g. The church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2), the church in Ephesus (Rev. 2:1)
  • It is visible: [for a detailed discussion of the visibility of the Church, Called to Communion does an excellent job]
    • the only way persecution of the early Church could happen was if the community of people professing faith in Christ was identifiable, and it was most certainly persecuted
    • Jesus reprimands Saul for persecuting Him, as the Church is His (visible) Body
  • Part of its visibility is found in its hierarchical nature:
    • The Apostles had authority over the Church, and what individual churches believed and did:
    • The Election by Lottery of the Apostle Matthias
      • 3 Jn. 1:9: "I have written something to the church; but Diot'rephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge my authority." John here implies that he does actually have authority, and it ought to be recognised
      • This authority is rooted in the power to bind and loose conferred on them by Christ (Mt. 16:19; Mt. 18:18)
      • Being an apostle was an office: when Judas left them there was an office left empty, which they filled with Matthias (Acts 1:25-26)
      • The special gift of the Holy Spirit received by the Apostles who led them "into all truth" was passed on by them through the laying on of hands, in continuity with the Old Testament ordinations (CCC 1536- 1600; Acts 1:8; 24; Jn 20:22-23; 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6-7.) These folk were the bishops, the heads of local churches (1 Tim 3:1-2; Phil. 1:1; Tit. 1:7)
    • Under bishops were priests, and under priests, deacons (1 Tim. 3:8-13; Phil. 1:7; Jas. 5:13-15) [See here for a discussion on the technicalities regarding translation of the various terms]
    • Heb. 13:17: "Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account."
    • People were not free to dissent from the Apostles' teaching:
      • Acts 2:42: "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."
      • 1 Tim. 6:3: "If any one teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness,  he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing"
      • 2 Tim 4:3-4: "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths."
      • Heb. 13:8-9: " Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings"
      • Rev. 2:14-15: "But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality. So you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicola'itans."
      • 2 Cor. 11:3-4,13-14: "But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if some one comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough...  For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light."
      • Rom. 16:17: "I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them."
      • Tit. 1:7-9: "For a bishop, as God's steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled;  he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
  • The Church is sacramental:
    • Eph. 5:32: "This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." Mystery is translated in the Vulgate as mysterium when emphasising the hidden reality behind a visible sign, and as sacramentum when emphasising the visible sign of the hidden reality. The latter is one such instance, thus the Douay- Rheims translates this verse as "This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the church."
    • Thus, one can say that the Church is the Sacrament of Salvation, in that She makes "all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose which he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Mystery is here also translated as sacramentum.)
    • 1 Cor. 10:6-7: " The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread."
    • Mt. 28:19: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
    • Ordination as mentioned above

This list is by no means exhaustive, the New Testament is very clear that adherence to the Apostles' teaching is essential for communion with the Church. Those who teach other things are to be rejected. 

Part IV: The Witness of the Early Church in the Church Fathers


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