Were Christian churches in AD 30-70 basically unified, e.g. in their leaders, doctrine, & history?
Instead of diversity being the norm among AD 30-40 Christians (Bauer’s famous 1934 thesis), were they largely unified? More specifically was it a chaotic diversity without the ability to regulate and protect the integrity of apostolic gospel preaching? Was there only one Christianity as opposed to several competing Christianities?
What historians say
- Andreas Köstenberger: “The New Testament writings do not merely reflect an underlying doctrinal unity, especially with regard to the confession of Jesus as Messiah and Lord; they also display a certain degree of legitimate or acceptable diversity, that is, diversity that does not compromise its underlying doctrinal unity but merely reflects different, mutually reconcilable perspectives that are a function of the individuality of the New Testament writers.” [The Heresy of Orthodoxy (Crossway, 2010), 81.]
- Arland Hultgren: “All three areas investigated [i.e. the Palestinian churches, Pauline churches, and hypothetical Q community], for example, continue the Jewish heritage of belief in the God of Israel as Creator, the Father of Jesus, and the Father of humanity. All affirm the essential humanity of Jesus, on the one hand, and his role in redemption made possible by his crucifixion and exaltation/resurrection by God. All understand that a new era has been inaugurated in consequence of the cross and resurrection, attested by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. And in each case the believers constitute communities of faith that are marked by an ethos in which the individual gives himself or herself over to others in love and service, which is inspired by and modeled on Jesus' own giving himself over... [These are] remarkable achievements of communities of faith and life in their infancy. They are marks of a normative tradition that resonates elsewhere in the writings of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.” [The Rise of Normative Christianity (Fortress, 1994), 53.]
- Robin Lane Fox: “In the West, in short, early Christianity has lost its history, but there is one general point on which we can be more confident. An older view that heretical types of Christianity arrived in many places before the orthodox faith has nothing in its favor, except perhaps in the one Syrian city of Edessa. In Lyons and North Africa, there is no evidence of this first heretical phase and the likelier origins are all against it. In Egypt, the argument has been decisively refuted from the evidence of the papyri. Details of practice and leadership did differ widely, but the later existence of so many heresies must not obscure the common core of history and basic teaching throughout the Christian world.” [Pagans and Christians (HarperCollins, 1988), 276.]
Arguments that will be discussed:
Among the evidences this page will go into:
- They were an hierarchically organized (e.g. well-networked, universally meeting on Sundays, sharing teachers and letters, reciting identical creeds).
- The church fathers say and presuppose it.
- The book of Acts says and presupposes it.
- Paul's letters say and presuppose it.
- The author 1 Peter 2:17 suggests it.1
- Early Christians saw the apostolic/Jerusalem church as the authoritative nexus (forthcoming at /early-christians/believe/1st-church/are-authorities).2
- 1 Peter 2:17 -- Honor all people, love the brotherhood (Note: we see verbiage like this often, but while there is evidence of false teachers, there are no qualifiers here or hints suggesting other churches as a whole are not included.)
- In defense of this, we will argue that Christians all largely saw the 1st church as their headquarters (authority), the saw the 12 apostles as authorities (who were headquartered at that church), Paul likewise held them as authorities, and the Jerusalem church is where it all started, had eschatological significance, and the 12 apostles there were seen as God's official mouthpieces (so it would carry authority). We can see it is where the councils took place [cf. Acts 10:11, Acts 15], decision of which held for all of Christendom [Acts 15:19-23]. It was through this church that everyone worshipped on Sunday, which is no small matter. We see specifical examples, like Antioch patterning itself themselves after Peter when he came. In general, we can see the apostolic church regulating and exerting control over the daughter churches.