5b: WHAT IS CHURCH? The Christian Church Sequence

See the previous post:

5a: WHAT IS CHURCH? Christ, Church, and Community

A Brief Overview of the Focus of Jesus Christ …. The Kingdom of God:

Jesus calls us into a new community with Himself initially as a vertical spirituality ….. He gives us a new identity as children in the Kingdom of Heaven. Through this new identity, we can then be in a relationship with others of like mind in a horizontal spirituality. This is the final meaning of the cross with its two members, a strong vertical member with God and us and a horizontal member, us with everyone else linked together. Jesus set out a basic ground of verbal teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5), for His new Kingdom Order where he taught His disciples principles like:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit
  • Blessed are those who morn
  • Blessed are the meek
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • Blessed are the merciful
  • Blessed are the pure in heart
  • Blessed are the peacemakers
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteous sake
  • Blessed are these who are reviled and persecuted

…… not strong qualities to take over the world …… but when applied by Jesus followers, actually worked and turned the world upside down when outworked with the preaching of the Gospel. Before He left us, He prayed for you and I in: John 17:20 ‘Neither, pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe, on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.

O, righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.

And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.’

In Jesus’s prayer, there are only two kinds of people: those for Him and those against Him. A few points in Jesus’s prayer:

  • that they all may be one: There is only one group …. His followers called from the world ….. not many different followers of all different churches ….. followers of Him alone as the Lord Jesus Christ
  • as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: the degree of togetherness was to be the same degree that Jesus was with His Father = the standard
  • that the world may believe that thou hast sent me: Our degree of unity would result in the world believing in Jesus Christ.

The present Christian is caught between the historical legacy of two alternatives, that of the early Christian Church and the influence of later centuries. There is a tension between the Church as relationships and the Church as a rigid organisation. The first leads to a warm, open, and communal approach but not necessarily with organisational direction. The second leads to a more corporate approach, more formal but not communal. It is Christianity as God’s Community with Spirituality versus Church-ianity as Religion or God’s Corporation.

Jesus didn’t start an organisation but developed relationships with a small core of people. These then multiplied around the then known world into small committed fellowships. In the New Testament Greek, ‘Church’ is translated from the word ‘Ecclesia’ which is simply a gathering or community of relationships. It had no religious connotations at all ….. it could even mean a political gathering.

In the first century came a major change for Christians. Ken & Harriet have personally witnessed what this major change for Christians actually meant. They saw a catacomb in 2005 on their Italy holiday, one of the six catacombs from ancient 3rd century Rome.  Emperor Nero made a law in the Roman Empire law against all Christians in 64 AD. He blamed  Christians for the great fire of Rome.  The Apostle Paul was put in prison in 64 AD. and beheaded in 67 AD. Emperor Nero died in 69 AD. See the website:  Nero Caesar and the Christian Faith

Emperor Nero began to implement persecutions against Christians in the Roman Empire. The law was in full force right up to the signing of the Edict of Milan in the year 313, when the persecution of Christians ceased.  See the website:  Constantine the Great and Christianity

Ken & Harriet’s on their Italy holiday in  2005  saw a catacomb, one of the six catacombs from ancient 3rd century Rome. They saw that Christians didn’t agree with the pagan custom of burning the bodies of their dead, for which reason to solve problems created from a lack of space and the high price of land they decided to create these large underground cemeteries.

  • The catacombs possess a large number of subterranean passageways that form real labyrinths that are several kilometres long, along which rows of rectangular niches were dug out.
  • The corpses were wrapped in a sheet and placed in the niches, which were then covered with gravestones made of marble or, more commonly, baked clay. Subsequently, the name of the deceased was carved on the cover accompanied by a Christian symbol.
  • We caught a bus out to one of these catacombs. We were on a timetable  for when we could go and see it, there were so many people there to see it.
  • The background of this catacomb that it was the land of this wealthy Christian lady. As  Christians they  did not agree with the pagan custom of burning the bodies of their dead, they decided to create this underground cemetery on this lady’s land as one of many around ancient 3rd century Rome.
  • There were Christian men who dug down through soft volcanic rock  and carefully carried out the dugout material in sacks and carefully spread it on the ground.
  • See this website to see what this catacomb like:  Catacombs of Rome
  • The tunnels were lighted with olive oil lights and were about 2.5 metres high. They dug out rows of rectangular niches for corpses.
  • When they came to family members, they dug out a rounded room with a row of rectangular niches. This was the catacomb.
  • One day the wealthy lady was down  in the catacomb  praying with four men from her church. A Roman legion heard they were down there and went running  down and caught the five of them. They  took  the  four men upstairs and killed them straight away  and came back the wealthy lady. They said for her to leave her Christianity behind and come back to their gods.
  • She held out three fingers meaning Father, Son and Holy Spirit. She wasn’t going to leave Jesus behind. They slit her throat so that she bled slowly to death on the rock.
  • The church grew on to blood of the martyrs. You and I are here because of what they went through.

See the website:  Persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire

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The one thing really missing in our Postmodern World is the loss of community. This is not a geographic community but a relational one. It is building people together into a new unity = New Earth Community (my application of it) and if necessary facilitating them into an appropriate fellowship.

In the 2nd & 3rd Century came a Christian heresy of Gnosticism. This was a synthesis of Christianity, Eastern Mysticism, and Spirituality of various Roman Mystery Cults which led to a syncretistic approach. This belief system was firmly put to death by the real teaching of Jesus Christ in this period. Gnosticism lay dead for 1500 years then was brought to life again. It has become Neo-Gnosticism in this present century in New Age teaching. This began to occur in 1945 when 50 original Gnostic texts were discovered in Egypt in clay pots in the Nile delta. These were translated into English by very liberal Christian scholars who saw them as a valid alternative to orthodox Christianity. This gave rise to the New Age Movement and the bigger groundswell of what I call the New Spirituality Movement.

In the history of the Christian Church, there was a major change in the 2nd Century from a Hebrew view of life to a view influenced by Greek thinking. The Hebrew view of life was very wholistic (whole) whereby all aspects of life were unified and were very important to God.

It is not a matter of saying that our worldview as Christians is biblical and that is that. The clear facts of history reveal that our reading of the Bible has always had the most to do with the dominant worldview (our design specifications) of a particular period in history.

Down through the centuries, the Western and Christian world has for the greater part, drawn its worldview from the Greek view on creation. Some of the consequences of this influence are detailed in the following hyperlinks.

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See the next post:

5c.1: The Change From Church as a Community to the Church as a Corporation

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