Christianity: The New Thing!
Christianity spread throughout the known world after the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
This is remarkable, because it happened without a central plan, planning agency, or any consistently controlled message.
Significant difficulties had to be overcome in:
- Social position
The conflicting and opposing societal norms and pressures were enormous. Paul’s epistles, especially First Corinthians and Galatians are just a hint of the difficulties in integrating slave and master, non-Christian spouses, the timing and content of common meals, and a consistent principle message of the Gospel.
The earliest descriptions are from Paul’s letters to the early churches. These were small house churches in various cities around the Mediterranean. Interestingly, the Acts of the Apostles depicts Paul approaching the synagogues first, and then, or separately, addressing the Gentiles, but always in cities, some large and some small.
The Acts of the Apostles, attributed to Luke, give an orderly and idealized view of early Christianity and its spread, originating in Jerusalem. From there it spreads to Palestine, to modern Turkey, into modern Greece, and then to Italy in Rome itself, the seat of power in the Mediterranean and most of Europe.
However, there is no accounting of its spread to:
- India and points eastward : as far as China.
- Northern Africa: particularly to Alexandria, a great city and a center of academics for centuries.
Most remarkably, there is no accounting for church leadership after the sequential death of the early apostolic leaders: Stephen, Peter, James, and Paul. And yet, the church continues its growth.
Most our knowledge of the early church come from the evangelists’ recorded stories and letters. The diverse nature of the surviving canon of writings, which we call the New Testament, reflect different and often conflicting views of Jesus of Nazareth, the Risen Jesus as Christ, and the facts about the early church.
This reflects the lack of central control on the message and content- it is like the Diaspora of the Jews, spreading in small groups
Christianity was likely a rural religion in its earliest form. It became an urban religion as the Gentile movement gained favor and support
Religious ritual took on importance and became a distinguishing feature for the early church. These center on forms of Divine Power:
- Speaking in tongues (from the Holy Spirit) = Glossolalia
- Common meals
- Prayer and visions
A Jewish Christian church survived in Jerusalem until the city’s destruction in the 1st century CE. Without the spread of Christianity, the new religion might have died. Instead, it flourishes among a Greco-Roman culture that appears to prepared to embrace its story of profound religious experience and life-changing belief.’
We will be looking at this in more detail from our video lecturer, Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson.