Category Archives: First Century Christians

THE STRUGGLES OF THE CHURCH

APOSTOLIC INSIGHT ~ What can the Apostles and Church Fathers tell us about our times? What advice do they have for our problems? Here are some of their thoughts—

St. Ambrose of Milan

In 1968 at least 50% of the public were in a church every Sunday. Today that number has fallen to less that 30%. At the same time, serious questions are being raised about public morality and the lack of truthfulness in politics. The Roman Catholic Church is fighting for its life around the world in the midst of sexual abuse scandals. Once called Protestant mainline denominations have now become sidelined. Congregations continue to struggle and many are disconnected from historic denominations.

How can contemporary Christians view this situation? We need help from the first Church Fathers to keep the struggle in perspective. Here are some of the comments they made when the ancient church was first beginning.

St. Hilary
The Church is like a ship, outside of which it is impossible to understand the Word of God.

St. Cyprian
Do not think that you maintain the true Gospel of Christ, if you separate yourself from the flock of Christ.

II Peter 1:21
Know this first: No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit may speak from God.

St. Cyprian
He who does not have the Church as his mother cannot have God for his Father.

St. Jerome
If the soul is not clothed with the teachings of the Church, it cannot have Jesus enthroned inside it.

St. John of Damascus
Even though the “gates of hell” will rise up against the church … the mouth of heretics, the tools of the demons, they will not conquer the Church, even though they will arm themselves, they will not defeat her.

St. Ambrose of Milan
“The Kingdom of the Church will abide unto the ages,” since God founded the Church and has foreordained to extend her existence unto the ages.

St. Hippolytus
Even though the Church will be exposed to cruel persecution, she will not cease to exist.

EVIL AND THE DEMONIC

APOSTOLIC INSIGHT ~ What can the Apostles and Church Fathers tell us about our times? What advice do they have for our problems? Here are some of their thoughts—

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While evil or an Evil One is not a popular subject today, we are being inundated by the demonic far beyond what society knew in previous decades. Insidious and degrading circumstances surround us daily from Washington, D.C., to the nightly news appear to give us endless accounts of murders, car wrecks, and mass killings in schools and bars. Do all of these catastrophes happen by themselves? Do they simply pop up like weeds in the Spring? Or, is there a motivating force lurking in the shadows?

The earliest Church Fathers had no misgivings. They knew that what the scripture called Satan and evil spirits were facts in human experience. These earliest believers knew that the Evil One had to be rebuked for anyone to have spiritual freedom and success. The word “devil” actually meant “slander.” His role in creating guilt, personal devaluation, impaired self-understanding, and inadequacy were great in the past, but have become even more omnipresent in contemporary society. If Satan dared to tempt Jesus, how much more so will he tempt us.

Here is what the Fathers said…

St. Ambrose
Sin comes from the evil one; Satan has, as it were, these riches in his patrimony. Just as the riches of Christ are virtues, so crimes are the devil’s wealth.

St. Gregory of Nyssa
If we are but instruments of heavenly rotations, then we do not have free will. And if mankind loses freedom, it loses everything.

St. John Cassian
The demons have no means if taking possession of a man’s spirit or body, no power to forcibly enter his soul, unless they first deprive him of all holy thought and make him empty and devoid of spiritual contemplation and prayer.

Tertullian
Satan … we call the angel of evil is the contriver of all error, the corrupter of the whole world.

St. Ignatius of Antioch
Be eager for more frequent gatherings for thanksgiving to God and his glory, for when you meet thus, the forces of Satan are annulled and his destructive power is cancelled in the concord of your faith.

Justin, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew
The clear insight I drew from scriptures and my trust in them have only been confirmed by the deceitful mimicking that the so-called Devil has circulated among the Greeks, and by all that he did likewise through Egyptian sorcerers and false prophets at the time of Elijah.

REPENTANCE

APOSTOLIC INSIGHT ~ What can the Apostles and Church Fathers tell us about our times? What advice do they have for our problems? Here are some of their thoughts—

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We live in a time of moral indiscretion that happens everywhere from Washington, D.C., to your home town. While people may feel they can get away with these transgressions, the truth is they are building a burden in their own souls. Sooner or later, they must seek relief. No matter how much they kid themselves, they will eventually know they need to find forgiveness. Everyone needs insight and direction in finding help. Here is some of what the first spiritual guides offer us in seeking direction.

St. Ephraim the Syrian
The sins of those who ask for pardon are forgiven. But see that you do not harbor hatred for your brothers when you ask for forgiveness of your sins.

St. Thalassios
As wax melts before fire, so does an impure thought before the fear of God.

St. Basil the Great
Repentance consists in no longer doing the same things. For he who reverts to the same sin is like a dog returning to its vomit. (II Peter 2:22), and like the person who cards wool into the fire, or pours water into a container full of holes.

A Desert Father
It was said of an old man that when his thoughts said to him “Relax today and repent tomorrow,” he retorted, “No, I am going to repent today. And may the will of God be done tomorrow.”

St. Isaac the Syrian
Repentance is the ship, and fear is its helmsman, while love is the divine harbor. Fear leads us aboard the ship of repentance, takes us across the fetid sea of life, and guides us to the divine harbor, which is love.

St. Clement of Rome
For whatever our transgressions, and whatever we have done through the attacks of the adversary, let us pray that we may be forgiven… for it is good for a man to confess his failings rather than harden his heart.

THE EUCHARIST – HOLY COMMUNION

APOSTOLIC INSIGHT ~ What can the Apostles and Church Fathers tell us about our times? What advice do they have for our problems? Here are some of their thoughts—

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The central act of worship in the first church was what Jesus prescribed in  the Gospels. The Eucharist (meaning the Great Thanksgiving) was observed in virtually every service because it was considered the apex of worship. In the earliest church, it was sometimes referred to as the Agape Feast. As the Gospels tell us, participation meant experiencing the risen Christ and participating in his life. As the church came into existence in Egypt, Antioch, Rome, large cities and small villages, the believers gathered around the bread and the cup.

We do well to remember and emulate their example. Here is what the Church Fathers said:

St. Bail the Great of Caesarea
Daily Communion and participation in the holy Body and Blood of Christ is a good and helpful practice. Christ clearly says, “He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood has eternal life.” Who doubts that to partake of life continually is really to have life in abundance? For myself, I communicate four times a week … on the Lord’s Day, on Wednesday, on Friday, and on Saturday, and on the other days if there is a commemoration of a martyr.

St. John Chrysostom
Moses raised his hands to heaven and brought down manna, the bread of angels; the new Moses raises His hands to heaven and gives us the food of eternal life. Moses struck the rock and brought forth streams of water; Christ touches his table, strikes the spiritual rock of the new covenant, and draws forth streams of living water of the Spirit. This rock is like a fountain in the midst of Christ’s table, so that on all sides the flocks may draw near to this living spring and refresh themselves in the waters of salvation.

St. Ambrose
It is wonderful that God rained manna on our fathers and they were fed with daily food from heaven. An so it is written: Man ate the bread of angels. Yet those who ate that bread all died in the desert. But the food that you receive, that living breach which came down from heaven, supplies the very substance of eternal life, and whoever will eat it will never die, for it is the Body of Christ.

St. Athanasius
As long as the prayers and invocations have not yet been made, it is mere bread and a mere cup. But when the great and wondrous prayers have been recited, then the bread becomes the Body and the cup the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ …. The word descends on the bread and cup and it becomes His Body and Blood.

St. Justin Martyr
The Bread is not ordinary bread, nor the Wine ordinary wine, but … through the word of prayer…. they are the Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ.

St. Cyprian of Carthage
“Give us this day our daily bread.” We ask that this bread be given us daily so that we who are in Christ and daily receive the Eucharist as the food of salvation may not, by falling into some more grievous sin, and then in abstaining from communication be withheld from the heavenly Bread and be separated from Christ’s Body … He himself warns us saying, “Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you.” Therefore we do ask that our Bread, which is Christ, be given to us daily, so that we who abide and live in Christ may not withdraw from His sanctification and from His Body.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT AUTHORITY?

EARLY CHURCH ISSUES #13

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How do we know what is the right source for our faith? The right direction? The right authority we can depend on? The earliest church had to struggle with these exact questions.  During the first two centuries, the canon of scripture was still in formation. The writings of the apostles and Paul were out there, but much was not consolidated. How did they find their way with so few road signs?

We get some important clues when we look at Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians.  Polycarp had been a student of the Apostle John and a link to the first Christians who followed Jesus. When the Church in Rome was recovering from the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, there was great confusion and fear. Polycarp appeared on the scene and helped the Romans find new stability and recovery of their sense of direction. He also was on hand to rebuke Marcion when the heretic attempted to persuade the Romans to follow his heresy. Polycarp had always been a person they could turn to.

In his Letter to the Philippians, Polycarp had large chunks of material taken directly from Christians behind him. He acknowledged his indebtedness to these earlier authorities.  The way in which he used the sources allows us to discover how Christians had begun to use the written form as an authoritative guide for building their faith and practices.

While this is more than acceptable in the 21st century, the practice was unheard of in the Roman world.  The pagan cults had never used religious texts in this manner. The ancient cults were polytheistic and were about behaviors that pleased the gods. Because they were practice oriented, doing whatever the correct procedure was took care of the matter. Specific beliefs or writing were not important to them.

Because of their commitment to the Torah, the Jews were the exception to this practice.

. Of course, the first Christians were Jews and this carried the custom forward. Jesus interpreted the Torah and laid the groundwork for the first Christians to do the same. Whether the Romans understood it or not, the ancient writings were basic and became their guides.

In time, the early Christians developed four guidelines to determine what they would consider as authentic scripture. The book had to be ancient from the time of Jesus. Only what was written by an apostle or a companion of an apostle was acceptable. A manuscript had to have the approval of the entire church and not just some segment of believers. Finally, the viewpoint had to reflect correct belief that was accepted by their entire church.

In time, such writings became the canon or law of the church. Today when we turn to The Bible, we are reading what the first Christians affirmed as true and authorities for all believers. Twenty centuries are behind us saying, “It’s the truth!”

Contributed by: The Most Rev. Robert L.Wise

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