The Early Church had some pretty Good News

This is a brief follow up to my last post, ‘whats so good about the good news?’

In my recent reading, I was fascinated to discover that the mainstream view of salvation and hell held by the early Christians (prior to the 6th century) was an inclusivist/universalist one.. that is, they believed that the majority (not a small minority) of the human race will be reconciled by the amazing work Jesus did on the cross. Our more severe ideas about eternal damnation and a ‘select few’ entering heaven came once the Church had been romanised, and was helped along by the theology of Augustine and Calvin (who also had a lot of great things to say, I must add).

This blew me away, because the beliefs, lifestyles and achievements of the early Church are so often held up as the prime example of Christian life for all believers to learn from.. indeed, the majority of the New Testament follows the early church, the things they said and did.

According to Neal Punt, a minister and biblical scholar from the US, says this:

“The leading early church fathers taught that the “good news” was that all persons will be saved (Origin 185 – 254 AD) or that all persons will be saved except those who reject the salvation that had already been given to them (Athanasius (293 – 373 AD). The early church accepted such inclusive views of the plan of salvation for a period of more than 350 years immediately following the writing of the New Testament.

A change came in the later part of the fourth century when Pelagius (about 350-418 AD) began to teach that all persons will be finally lost except those who live in obedience to the law of God following the example of Christ. To avoid the obvious “works righteousness” found in Pelagianism Augustine (354-430 AD) taught that all will be lost except those who were chosen (elected) to salvation. Ever since then mainline theologians have followed their example.”

Anyways, you can check out more here, here or here. Happy reading!

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~ by humblemonkey on August 9, 2008.

2 Responses to “The Early Church had some pretty Good News”

  1. It’s amazing how much the church has changed over the years. From a beginning point of nonviolent, conscientious objection to all state sanctioned violence, to now embracing so much of the violence. If I recall correctly the change happened when Constantine made Christianity the state religion. Just another good reason to keep religion and state issues seperate. The state will use God as a weapon and the religion will lose its founding beliefs and take up the cause of the state. We see that the same applies to Islam all too clearly.
    Thanks for the informative post.
    I’ve added you to my blogroll, hope that meets with your approval.

  2. I agree with you Terri, especially when it comes to the Church and the state. =)

    But I think it’s also important to clarify what we mean by ‘the church’. It is not, except perhaps in the hearts of its most noble members, a single entity. Even the very first communities of Christians had their differences, and looked to different leaders or schools of thought for direction depending on their nationality (there were Roman, Greek, Jewish, and even Ethiopian Christians very early on). Of course, when Constantine made it the official religion of what was a powerful empire, he cemented one particular interpretation of Christianity as the most dominant. He also ‘married’ the Church to the State, giving it an the kind of power that made it so easily susceptible to corruption.

    Since then of course, Christianity has been institutionalized in various other forms, most of them claiming to be either the ‘true church’ or at least a Church that followed the meaning of Jesus’ teachings more clearly than the rest. From these commmunities, movements and institutions have emerged people who have done many beautiful things – including many who, and still are, committed to peace and non-violence (Gandhi himself was deeply influenced by Leo Tolstoy’s beliefs on non-violence, derived from Jesus’ teachings). Mother Theresa, St Francis of Assisi, and Martin Luther King are notable examples.

    But from these communities, movements and institutions have also emerged people who have done a great many evil things, and this is a great tragedy, albeit an understandable one… after all, Churches are not God.. they are communities of flawed human beings.

    When we take a step back and look at all this from a birds-eye view, we see two things – a teacher and His message, and then the people who have tried throughout history to interpret and follow that message. The two things are very different indeed, and it is unfortunate that many people’s ideas of the first thing are negatively coloured by the second. It would be hoped that the bulk of the activities of the second would be an example that led people to investigate the first, and often this is the case…but as in all philosophies and worldviews, we find people who steadfastly try to follow them, and also those who pervert them for their own ends. Interestingly, Jesus hardly spoke of the Church at all (twice that I can find, and both times in Matthew). He seemed to spend a lot more time talking about life, peoples attitudes, and the ‘Kingdom of God’… that is, the presence of the divine that can dwell in all of us (Luke 17:21).

    As someone who loves Jesus and tries to follow Him, I am not particularly proud or particularly disillusioned with the Church.. I think of myself more as a realist. The Church (or, more accurately, the Churches) consist of human beings, each of whom makes their choices deep in their heart as to what takes priority in their life. Most of the time these communities are a helpful and encouraging thing to be part of – there is strength to be found in sharing a lifestyle and worldview with others. But when these communities get too big for their boots, and imagine themselves more important then they are – that is, they decide it is their mission to go around removing specks from peoples eyes (especially those other Christians down the road who just don’t get it!) rather than focusing on the planks in their own – that people dismiss them as hypocritical and irrelevant. I have been guilty of this in the past as much as anyone. I hope we Christians both corporately and individually can look back on our past mistakes with due humility, and move forward. Until we do, no-one will take us as seriously as we might take ourselves. =)

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