The Ancient and Modern Church

The below post was for an assignment regarding the separation engaged in by the ancient church. To what extent should a church separate from certain practices? Is there anything in culture a Christian abstain from? Please share your thoughts below!

Separation Based on Acceptance

When Constantine granted freedom to the Christian religion, many people would have rejoiced. The terrible persecutions ended, and now practicing Christians could enjoy open worship of God.[1] Austin notes the detrimental effect Constantine’s decision had on the church, “While Christianity converted the world, the world also converted Christianity. The natural impulses of pagan humanity were openly displayed among professing Christians. Doubtless tens of thousands had followed their emperor into the fold of the church without ever experiencing true regeneration or new birth.”[2] Because Christianity was legal, everyone wanted to join. Whereas the illegal religion was once looked upon as a blessed protection, it was now enjoyed by all.[3]

There is a similarity between the legalization of Christianity in ancient Rome and the once, wide-acceptance of Christianity in the United States. Though there is a decline at the moment, there are cultural benefits to “being Christian.”[4] One might place their involvement in a leadership position in a youth group on a resume. One may say that he is a Christian in order to be well received at work.[5] However, these people may not be true Christians. They reject the commandments of God and live as if He does not exist.[6] The Ancient Church would have rejected the inclusion of these professed believers, individuals who may look and act the part but not truly be Christians.

Separation Based on Culture

The early church received persecution for many reasons, but one of the reasons for their persecution was their refusal to engage in the cultural norms of the day. One group of authors note, “Christians gathered in private, and their exclusive monotheism compelled them to refuse all participation in pagan religious observances….they were marked out as a small group of willful dissenters from the very basis of communal life.”[7] Roman culture was anything but Christian.[8] The early Christians, then, separated from the social norms of the day.[9] They separated from the culture, though it cost them everything.[10]

The modern church, however, has allowed much of the American culture to infiltrate and devastate the church. Views of music, dress, and personal sanctification are cast aside in order to “by all means save some.”[11] The Ancient Church would separate from the culture, not embrace it.

Separation Based on Methodology

The Ancient Church experienced a traumatic event in AD 313. The Edict of Milan provided unparalleled freedom to the Christians, in addition to many financial and political advancements.[12] This changed everything. One group of writes discuss this monumental shift, “Thus the church passed from persecution to privilege. In an amazingly short time, its prospects changed completely. After centuries as a counter-culture movement, the church had to learn how to deal with power.”[13] There were many advantages to becoming a Christian after the Edict of Milan.[14] The Church, then, was able to utilize many methods (including financial gain) to gather people into her membership. The Ancient Church, no doubt, rejected these underhanded methods, ultimately bringing further persecution.[15]

The modern church would do well to follow their example. The variety of unbiblical and downright sinful methods utilized in churches today is sickening.[16] The Ancient Church would have separated from this, following Paul’s example of “preach[ing] Christ crucified.”[17]

 

[1] This is a highly simplified description of the events. For more information, see Bill Austin, Austin’s Topical History of Christianity (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1983), 85-93.

[2] Austin, Austin’s Topical History, 90.

[3] “Rome, the imperial order, was perceived not as the real source of the evil by which Christians were afflicted but rather as a power which, in God’s providence, kept things from getting much worse—and this was a judgment which, no doubt in a very rough way, reflected the actual state of affairs.” Williston Walker, Richard A. Norris, David W. Lotz, and Robert T. Handy, A History of the Christian Church 4th Edition (New York, NY: Scribener’s Sons, 1985), 53.

[4] David Kinnaman, UnChristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007.

[5] This is the idea that Mark Dever discusses briefly in, Mark Dever, Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 14-16.

[6] For a deeper treatment of this, see John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith? Revise & Expanded Anniversary Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 9-11.

[7] Walker, et. al, History of the Christian Church, 51.

[8] Cynthia Long Westfall, “Roman Religions and the Imperial Cult,” Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder, The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[9] Jonathan Hill, Zondervan Handbook to the History of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 54-57.

[10] J. Hebert Kane notes the differences between Christian and Roman culture, and the cost of following Christ. See J. Herbert Kane, A Concise History of the Christian World Mission: A Panoramic View of Missions from Pentecost to the Present Revised Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1982),24-33.

[11] 1 Corinthians 9:22, KJV.

[12] Hill, Handbook to the Christian Church, 74-77.

[13] A. Kenneth Curtis, J. Stephen Lang, and Randy Petersen, The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1998), 34.

[14] Walker, et. al, History of the Christian, 129-130.

[15] The space does not allow a full discussion on this topic. The reader should consult the following materials for additional information: Walker, et. al, History of the Christian, 130-131; William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism Third Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996); and Henry C. Vedder, A Short History of the Baptists: New and Illustrated Edition Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication, 1958)

[16] For one example, see Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Megachurch pastor Steven Furtick’s ‘spontaneous baptisms’ not so spontaneous,” Religious News Service (24 February 2014, https://religionnews.com/2014/02/24/megachurch-pastor-steven-furticks-spontaneous-baptisms-spontaneous/ accessed 30 November 2018).

[17] 1 Corinthians 1:23, KJV.

 

Photo by Justin Luebke on Unsplash

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