Wednesday, February 12, 2014

One-Gospel Christians

Many Christians idealize the early Church of the apostles. In mainline Churches this admiration and focus extends beyond the original followers of Jesus into the next few generations. Theologians in these Churches have an entire branch of theology dedicated to the early Church called patristics meaning roughly "study of the fathers." The focus being, of course, on those individuals that would call themselves the Church Fathers.

Evangelicals idealize the early Church as well, but only the community of those original apostles. Given this, I don't understand the prevalence of fundamentalism among Evangelicals. For this early church didn't even include a canon. Much of what the evangelical and pentecostal movement holds as purely Biblical, cannot possibly be in line with the activities of the earliest church. And their own version of 'patristics', tight and conservative as it is, seems to speak against their Biblicism.

For the early churches certainly did not have all of the New Testament material we have. In fact, each community likely had it's own Gospel, one particular version of the four Jesus stories we have in our Bibles that they worshiped from, studies, read from, and centered their lives around. And for the original Apostles and the Churches that predate the writing of the Gospels, it is doubtful they had even that. At best they had a collection of oral traditions that would've looked very dissimilar to the Gospel accounts we have today.

This also would've led to a plurality of beliefs, worship styles, and communities that seem anathema to any doctrinally fundamentalist movement. The community that had the Gospel of John or the oral tradition from which it sprang wouldn't have had any account of the Last Supper, and the Eucharist was believed to be established after the feeding of the five thousand. The penultimate act of Jesus would have been, for these people, not the Last Supper but the Washing of the Feet. How different such a community would've been from a Lukan community where the Passover loomed heavy in the breaking of bread and drinking of wine. And both would have differed greatly from a Markan community where no origin of Jesus is given at all.

The reliance of the Bible as the sole or even primary source of one's community demands, I think, consideration of all the Church Fathers leading up to canonization, for until this point a truly CATHOLIC (in terms of being inclusive of the entirety of all the Gospels) faith was nonexistent. The plurality of views is evident in the various Biblical epistles. Such a plurality is a natural outgrowth of a community that had multiple and disparate textual sources from which it was working. In fact, to truly rediscover the Church of the Apostles one would have to eschew multiple Gospel sources altogether and adopt just one particular account as authoritative. That kind of move would, of course, be short sighted and stupid. But to continue a focus on the overall Gospel message one must admit a reliance on the broader Patristic period, and admit that one cannot and probably should not seek a pure "Church of the Apostles", as if such a thing were possible today.

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