Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Insights from the Early Church

Whether in time or in physical proximity, those who were closest to Jesus had a once-in-eternity opportunity to tell humanity the most essential information that is needed in order to build a proper understanding of the Christian faith. Due to their positioning within time and history, it is fascinating to acknowledge that their writings will continue to be referenced and widely consulted for the remainder of the time that humankind will reside upon this earth. While the collection of retained works from the first few centuries is not as large as the texts and writings that would eventually be written during the centuries that followed, two early Christian works in particular stand out as noteworthy and exceptional when capturing a glimpse into the teachings of the early Church: The Didache, and The Shepherd of Hermas.

The Didache
Along with its catechistic tone in providing guidance on items like how to appoint bishops and deacons, how to pray over the Eucharist, and how to confirm when a prophet is genuine, The Didache calls heavily upon an amplified interpretation of the Ten Commandments and the two commandments that Jesus gives us in Matthew 22:37-39. After a brief read, it becomes evident that the Church was convicted during this time to maintain a level of morality that was in stark opposition to the cultural climate of the time. Indeed, the author(s) of Didache comments on the end times in a way that harkens to Matthew 24:22-30 and 2 Timothy 4:3-5, saying “For in the last days the false prophets and corrupters will abound…and love will be turned into hate…as lawlessness increases, they will hate and persecute and betray one another. And then the deceiver of the world will appear as a son of God and will perform signs and wonders.”  However, all hope is not lost, as the text reassures its readers that “those who endure in their faith will be saved by the accursed one himself” (Jesus).  Considering this somber message that was written so long ago, one can’t help but wonder if we as a world have made much progress in knowing what it means to love one another, these past 2,000 years.

The Shepherd of Hermas
Yet The Didache wasn’t the only writing from this period that was concerned about making an intentional effort to love one another. To help emphasize the generous nature that Christians were called to pursue, The Shepherd of Hermas also exhorts us to “not hesitate to give, nor grumble when giving,” and to “give generously to all who are in need, not debating to whom you will give and to whom you will not…for God wishes that from his own gifts, gifts should be given to all.”  Until we Christians do this, the text makes note that we will effectively be rendered “useless” for the kingdom of God until we make the choice to exhibit a spirit of community that benefits those who do not have.  In fact, according to the author of Shepherd, we were made rich by the Father for that sole purpose: to be able to utilize our spiritual gifts and pursue the calling that the Lord has impressed upon each and every one of our lives.

Upon reading these two works, I was impressed by how well they spoke to the responsibilities that God extends to us (even to this day). These texts from so long ago embolden us to be courageous when carrying out our respective ministries. They help to give us confidence when introducing others to Jesus, the only person who is able to rescue individuals from the deep anguishes of life that they may be experiencing. Let us not walk in uncertainty. If we fear the devil, then that means we believe that the devil has authority over us and it gives him permission to admit more evil and/or sin into our lives. Instead, if we fear the Lord (who actually has real authority and power), it is here where we are able to tap into the power of the Lord and stand against the attempted advances of the devil. Let us walk in alignment with the Holy Spirit and confidently proclaim the Lord’s name in everything that we do.  Amen.

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