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institutional church #3 – the early church March 31, 2007

Posted by Cobus in church, Emerging Church, Emerging Culture, Journal, theology.

I’ve been working on an assignment on Psalm 24 the past two days, except for Thursday evening when the library was closed. But since Maryke flew to Cape Town on Friday morning, and since I had to finish some stuff at res before leaving on Friday morning, I decided not to spend that time blogging. But, the assignment is almost done, again I kind of didn’t keep to the way I think we are supposed to do exegesis*, but saw something interesting, and then worked on that. But I’m happy with what I did, will see what the lecturer think. Just some finishing touches, most formatting, that I’ll do in the next two days somewhere.

I’m back with some thoughts on the institutional church. I’ve been struggling to decide which post to do first, this one of the next one. Well, obviously this one won:-) After I’ve done the next one, I would like to know which one you think make more sense to do first.

The early church. What a HUGE topic. And one that a lot of very easy claims are made about. People would easily say things like “In the early church they did it like this … or like that” etc. You might remember, this is the kind of comment that got me going on the thread.

So, now I’m going to make some comments like “In the early church they did it like …” and I won’t give myself out to be an expert on the early church. But this is the way I see it. At least, this is one possible way of seeing it, and the one I’m seeing at the moment.

Did Jesus start the institution called “church”. No. I’m not going to go into trying to explain this. But no, I don’t think Jesus started the church. But since this is a mayor question, and will take a lot of space, I’m not going to go into this at the moment. If you think I should, just leave a note.

So, you have a lot of Jesus followers roundabout 30 ad, but they are not part of a church Jesus started. Are they simply part of some friendship? No, they are Jews. They meet in the temple (Acts 2:46), and only much later, and not in Jerusalem, or Israel for that matter, are Christians called Christians (Acts 11:26). Luke (author of Acts ) write about Christians meeting in the temple, Christians being part of the Jewish community, at roundabout 80 ad (maybe little earlier). As far as I can recall, didn’t try checking this fact, Christians were only banned from the Jewish community by 86 ad!

Christianity doesn’t develop in some kind of empty space. I don’t even believe it developed initially with the intension to start a new religion. But it developed as part of the Jewish religion. Believing that the Jewish religion need to change, need to reorientate themselves around Jesus. They started out with some ideas on what an institution looked like, because that was where their roots lay.

No, they didn’t keep to this. And times of persecution forced the church to become deinstitutionalized (PS, no, the church were not persecuted for the first 300 years permanently, but from time to time they were, sometimes officially, sometimes unofficially, and sometimes just in certain places, in Rome more than at the outskirts of the Roman empire).

By roundabout 120 ad you have elders, bishops, churches, sects, accepted teachings and rejected teachings. You have the roots of some kind of institution forming. By the 3rd century you have guys saying stuff like “extra ecclesia nulla salus” (outside the church there is no salvation), although you don’t have a pope that can make it official.

But if we consider the institution the church as institution to be that thing were people meet in official buildings, have official, ordained, leadership, and can decide who is in and who is out, then that did exist in the early church. I don’t know if it’s the ideal, but we should be more careful when claiming the early church as our model for a deinstitutionalized (non-institutional) church. That doesn’t mean that our institution called church is Biblical, or that it is OK.

OK, this is just some thoughts. I didn’t really have time trying to find my references again. It’s all been written somewhere, maybe I got some of it wrong, then let me know. Join in on the discussion any time. What are your thoughts on the institutional church? What do you think can we learn from the early church?

first post : institutional church #1 – posting the question

previous post : institutional church #2 – the internet and blog-o-sphere

next post : institutional church #4 – something from the NT

notes *exegesis can be described as the process of understanding what a text, or other medium of carrying over information, meant. Theologians do it with the Bible, the guys in the law profession do it on acient law texts etc.This is an interesting website on Early Christian writings I found.


1. Glenn - April 1, 2007

Cobus- Very interesting! It totally amazes me that most people who talk about the church are usually referring to the institution and not what Jesus started. Check out, This Present Future by Reggie McNeal.

2. cobus - April 1, 2007

Definitely. But maybe we should be very very cautious when talking about what Jesus started. In the end all of us are just doing something that is different from that, but maybe that’s OK. The disciples were translating what they learned from Jesus into there own context the whole time. Working out the new ways of making this community work as it grew, it couldn’t just stay the same, but that was OK as well, I think…

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