Thursday, September 11, 2014

The "Law" of First-Century Christianity, Part 1

In responding to someone who objected to my claim that "there is no command as to how exactly all Christians of all times are to observe the Lord's Supper", I wrote the following:

In the very earliest days, the church was steadfast in the apostles' teaching: they met daily in the Temple (big group) and in homes (small groups; each led by a shepherd?), they broke bread together daily, and they lived as communists, with no one claiming private ownership of property but contributing their stuff to the group for distribution as needed.

In later times and other places, the "steadfastness" abated somewhat, necessitating the writing of much of the New Testament as a corrective.

Along the way, the church changed as time passed:
  • it was originally composed of Jews only, who remained observant of the law of Moses, and later accepted non-Moses-observing non-Jews into the fold as a distinct sub-group (i.e. "denomination", which "seemed good" to the Holy Spirit and to the church leaders), to an even later change wherein observance of the law of Moses was rejected almost entirely, along with an overall rejection of Jews;
  • ownership of private property was re-established, leading to the need for fund-raising appeals/drives;
  • the organizational structure was modified, adding deacons;
  • the political structure was modified, moving from a centralized government in Jerusalem making decisions binding on the entire church to a distributed localized autonomy led by local elders;
  • the Lord's Suppers morphed from being a full-blown daily evening meal which fed the hungry into a simpler ritual of a nip-and-a-sip morning Lord's Brunch;
  • there was a move from a daily everyone-participates meeting where the focus was horizontally on one-another to a weekly passive sit&listen-to-a-lecture format which became focused vertically on "worship";
  • there was a shift from the Law of Christ being fulfilled by bearing one another's burdens to it being fulfilled by a system of doctrine & practices (which, by the way, isn't spelled out clearly like the Old Covenant system was, but must be "discovered" between the lines by using the correct hermeneutic);
  • there was a shift from being known as disciples because of their love for one another to being known as disciples because of correct doctrine and practices;
  • there was a shift from being filled with the spirit and fanning that flame, to a quenching of the spirit so that his activity is reduced to only the effects which are produced by words on paper.
Depending where along the time-line you take your snapshot of "the first-century church", you'll get different pictures.

It would have been much clearer if God had simply given us a list of rules to keep, the way he did in the old covenant, but he had promised that the new would not be like the old, with its rules written down on stone and papyrus, but one of relationship where God would be with us and we wouldn't need someone to teach us rules, one which Paul says we keep in spirit rather than by the letter of the law.

So keeping to his promise, God did not give us a bunch of rules. But we have such a need to have them, like children, we find the rules anyway by focusing on this example or that inference, and condemn anyone who discerns different rules than what we've found.

The fact remains that "there is no command as to how exactly all Christians of all times are to observe the Lord's Supper".

Go to Part 2

Originally published at:

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