The church of almost 2000 years ago
Many times we think of an idealized version of the early community as presented in the second chapter Acts 2:42 and repeated in the fourth chapter Acts 4:32 to highlight the importance for St. Luke.
… they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.
At some level, I knew that there were many conflicts. Recently I came across an article by David McCluster, “Life in Local Churches: Patterns in Acts.” It really laid out a more realistic view and the sources of conflicts.
As the community grew people who were attracted to the early Christian community brought with them many different mindsets and cultural practices.
- Some churches were made up completely of converted Jews who still lived according to Jewish customs
- Other churches were made up mostly, if not completely, of converted Gentiles.
- Yet other churches were a mixture of the two groups.
- Some churches were known for their affluent membership, others were dirt poor.
- Some were located in big cities, others in the backwoods.
When I think of this… I marvel at the unity highlighted by St. Luke.
The miracle of the Early Church
I marvel especially when I dig deeper into various mindsets and cultural practices. Among the early Christians there were people of various levels of wealth, education, age, talents, and zeal, and in many of them there was a mixture of Jews and Gentiles.
It might have been relatively easy to maintain a church where every member was Jewish, wealthy, and mature. How did such unity in diversity come about and how was it maintained? This unity with such diversity seems to be a miracle in itself. In fact, it is one of the most amazing and astonishing things to people living in other centuries… especially in our highly polarized society.
Generally speaking, there was no place in the ancient world where you could go to see, on a regular basis, Jews and Gentiles associating together.
You certainly could not go somewhere to see them worshiping together (unless the Gentiles had converted to Judaism, but in that case, they are no longer typical Gentiles). There was no place you could go where you would see rich people and poor people eating together.
The only place you would have seen these things, and all of them being done at the same time, was in one of the churches of the Christians. What accounted for this? With Mary we might ask “How can this be?” It involved major shifts in thinking and living, letting go, and adapting to a common vision.
How could this be?
He offers the following insights. Life in the early church was marked by
- speaking truth,
- practicing love,
- following spiritual guidance,
- pursuing harmony, and
May our churches be like them!
May we look deeper into the Acts of Apostles to learn lessons for today.
- How relevant are these insights for today?
- What changes in my way of thinking need I consider?
Yes, it’s good to open our eyes to our own weaknesses and strengths as Church: conflicts and causes of conflicts (the Hellenists’ complaints against the Hebrews, the “careerism” of those who thought it below them to serve on tables, the ambition, pride, arrogance and abuse of power that plague many an institute and organization [see (https://www.ncronline.org/news/accountability/signs-times/abolishing-priesthood-will-not-save-catholic-church%5D); the virtues not a few in our midst exude (effective love, simplicity, humility, meekness, mortification, zeal). Seeing our faults clearly in the light, we at least know what we should fight against. And the good examples draws us and builds up faith.
The correct link is: https://www.ncronline.org/news/accountability/signs-times/abolishing-priesthood-will-not-save-catholic-church.