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An Introduction to the New Testament by Richard Heard


Richard Heard, M.A., M.B.E., M.C., was a Fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge and University lecturer in Divinity at Cambridge (1950). Published by Harper & Brothers, New York, 1950. This material prepared for Religion-Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


Chapter 14: The Growth of the Church


The Scantiness of Our Information

We know too little of the history of the Christian Church for the first century of its existence to enable us to reconstruct the details of its growth with any completeness. It is just this lack of knowledge, and our dependence on isolated fragments of information, not always consistent with each other, which have led to so many different interpretations of the available evidence and to such varying estimates of the development of primitive Christian doctrine and organisation.

From pagan writers of the early second century A.D. it can be gleaned that Christianity had spread from Judaea to Rome, possibly before A.D. 50,(Suetonius, in his Life of Clandius, says that Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome for continual rioting ‘at the instigation of Chrestus’, a phrase which has been variously interpreted, but may refer to trouble between Jews and Christians.) and that Nero had put the blame for the great fire of Rome in A.D. 64 upon the followers of ‘this detestable superstition’. (Tacitus, Annales, 15:44.) Pliny, the governor of Bithyria, asked and received advice from the Emperor Trajan, c. A.D. 112, as to how he was to deal with numerous Christians who had practised their religion there for some time: he had heard that they met before daylight and offered hymns to Christ as a God, that they bound themselves with an oath not to steal or commit adultery, not to break their word or deny a deposit when demanded, and that they had also been in the habit of taking common meals until he had issued an edict forbidding the existence of clubs. Some of these Christians he had put to death: others had denied their faith, recited a prayer to the gods, and offered incense and libation to Trajan’s statue; some of the persons interrogated had stated that they had already given up their Christian faith many years before.(Pliny’s Letters, 10, 96, and 97.) These few passages exhaust the evidence of value that pagan literature affords for the early growth of Christianity.

Jewish writings are not much more informative. Josephus, (Antiquities, 20, 9,1) in a text whose authenticity has been questioned by some scholars, tells of the stoning at Jerusalem in A.D. 60 of James ‘the brother of Jesus who was called Christ’ and some others ‘as breakers of the Law’, an act that aroused the displeasure of the more fair-minded of the Jews. The evidence of the Rabbinical literature, which is mostly of late date and uniformly hostile to Christianity, adds little of historical worth, but confirms that Jews who became Christians formed a community to some extent separate from other Jews, and by the end of the first century at least were regarded as heretics.

The Christian documents of the second and later centuries which contained information about the Apostolic age handed down by tradition, must also be regarded as providing a very limited help for the reconstruction of the history of the earliest period. A certain number of facts have been preserved in the work of the fourth-century historian Eusebius who drew on earlier sources not now available to us. He tells of the withdrawal of the Jerusalem Christians from the city before the siege of A.D. 70 to the little town of Pella beyond Jordan, and of the appointment of Symeon, son of Clopas, a cousin of the Lord, to succeed the murdered James. He has also handed down, on the authority of Papias (cf. Chap. 7), some information about the early days of Christianity in Asia Minor. But it is the meagreness of the knowledge available even in his time which is most striking.

While Eusebius can be regarded as a serious, though by no means always an accurate historian, the numerous Christian Acts of various apostles, none of them earlier than the middle of the second century, are for the most part fictional romances, full of pious legend, but of little or no use as history. Only occasionally does some piece of personal description raise our hopes that it may conceivably be based on a true reminiscence, e.g. that Justus Barsabas (cf. Acts 1:23) was flatfooted, and that Paul was ‘a man short of stature, thin-haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, well-built, with eyebrows joining, and nose somewhat hooked, full of grace’ (Acts of Paul).

For the early history of the Church, as for the life and teaching of Jesus, the books of the New Testament are virtually our sole important sources. Only one of these books, the Acts of the Apostles, is in any sense a history of the Church, and that to only a limited degree and for certain phases only of its development (cf. Chap. 13). The epistles of Paul contain passages of great value historically, and the incidental allusions of the other epistles and of Revelation add a little to our knowledge, but the total sum of our information is very small, and we shall never know, for example, how Christianity spread to Egypt, or what became of the majority of the apostles.

It is possible, however, to exaggerate the effects of this lack of material. The evidence of Luke and Paul, although sometimes in need of reconciliation, indicates the main lines of Christian development towards the north-west. Much of the detail is obscure, but certain stages of progress can be traced with a fair degree of certainty. And it was the ‘Pauline’ branch of the infant shrub that was to develop into the main trunk of the full-grown tree when the early Jerusalem ‘leader’ had atrophied into a withered twig after the calamities that swept over Palestine in A.D. 70 and 135.

The Geographical Spread

The extension of the Church from its beginnings as a single small fellowship at Jerusalem (with possibly sister-fellowships in Galilee) to a chain of communities extending from Babylonia to Rome was accomplished within a single generation, while many of the apostles were still alive. This period of the Church’s development can be divided into three main stages. (1) For the first few years the Church grew primarily among Jews and within Palestine; the Jerusalem community was both the seat of apostolic authority and the scene of most intensive missionary effort. (2) Following a wave of persecution a number of Christian missionaries then carried the gospel farther afield, notably to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch (Acts 11:19); at Antioch, the capital of Syria and a city which ranked with Alexandria as second only to Rome in size and importance, Gentiles were for the, first time admitted into the Church in large numbers, apparently without becoming Jewish proselytes in any full sense. Jerusalem remained the headquarters of the Church as a whole, and the authority of its leaders seems to have been accepted without question by the new churches which had been established outside Palestine. Barnabas, who had been sent down from Jerusalem to inspect the new community at Antioch, brought Paul from Tarsus to help with the work which prospered exceedingly (Acts 11:22-26). It must be considered likely that Christianity was spreading simultaneously in other directions outside Palestine, e.g. to Egypt and Babylonia, although perhaps success was not so outstanding and the approach was still confined to Jews; the evidence for such developments, however, is lacking.

It is difficult to give precise dates for these two stages. Paul’s conversion is usually dated before A.D. 36, and by that time Christianity seems to have been well-established at Damascus. Probably the Church at Antioch had already become a vigorous and important community by A.D. 40. (3) At Antioch the Gentile Christians were numerous but the Church contained also a fair number of Jewish Christians, among them many of the Church leaders (Acts 42:1, Gal 2:13). The churches which were set up by Paul and his companions on a series of lengthy journeys from Antioch, and which extended the range of Christianity throughout southern Asia Minor and Greece, were to be, some of them from their foundation, predominantly Gentile. In a period of some ten years, from c. A.D. 47 to c. 56, the Gentile wing of Christianity became, in all probability, numerically stronger than the Jewish wing. Acts and the Pauline epistles focus our attention on the individual part played in this development by Paul, but, outstanding as he was, the spread of Christianity in a Gentile environment did not depend on his work alone. Many of the Pauline churches were to become the centres of further missionary effort and expansion (cf. the foundation of the Church at Colossae, Chap. 18), and Paul’s companions in travel seem to have continued his work when he himself was isolated by imprisonment at Caesarea and Rome. The opening verse of I Peter bears witness to the establishment within this period by unknown missionaries of Christian churches in many parts of Asia Minor that Paul had left untouched (Chap. 17), and it cannot be doubted that similar expansion was proceeding in other regions too. Even in Palestine the expansion of the Church seems to have gone on with considerable success among the Jews during the period covered by Acts (Acts 21:20).

Acts closes with Paul in prison in Rome c. A.D. 60. Christian tradition for centuries affirmed that both Paul and Peter perished in the Neronian persecution of A.D. 64, and, though this tradition may well be incorrect (cf. Chap. 17), there are reasonable grounds for assuming that both were dead before A.D. 70. James, too, had suffered martyrdom in A.D. 62, and death must have begun to take its toll among the rest of the apostles by the time that the Jewish revolt and the final capture of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 by the Romans had disorganised the life of Palestine for a generation.

The events of A.D. 60-70 must inevitably have transformed the Christian Church. With the great leaders of the first generation for the most part dead or in extreme old age, and Jerusalem in ruins, the Judaean church ceased to occupy the centre of the stage, and the new and by now overwhelmingly Gentile churches entered upon a period of consolidation and further expansion in which guidance and authority had to be sought elsewhere. Unfortunately, for the next half-century it is only through occasional glimpses given us by the later books of the New Testament and a few other Christian writings that we can conjecture the processes of development.

The Earliest Days

That Jerusalem was the effective centre of the earliest Christian Church is certain. Even if Luke has selected his material in portraying the early days, as he has suppressed the Marcan hint of resurrection appearances in Galilee (cf. Chap. 9), the Galilean communities appear to have played little part in the development of the Church, and the apostles and brethren of Jesus seem either to have remained in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem from the time of the crucifixion or to have taken up residence there within a comparatively short time. Nor is there any adequate reason for doubting that Luke’s account of the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost, confused as it is, describes the decisive moment in the history of the Church, which first started it on its work of proclaiming the faith which it had learned to others.

The nature of the earliest community stands out clearly in the narrative of Acts. Bound together in fellowship by their common possession of the Spirit (Acts 2:38) and their common belief in the Messiahship of Jesus (Acts 2:36), they came naturally to worship and to ‘break bread’ as a united body (Acts 2:42), and

‘had all things common’ (Acts 4:32). They continued to live as pious Jews, to frequent the Temple and to keep the Law, but knew themselves to be also set apart as true believers. Entrance to the community was by a rite of baptism, probably modelled on John’s baptism but with the additional invocation of Jesus’ name, whose saving power was shown by its efficacy in healing (Acts 3:6). The leaders of the community were the apostles whom Jesus himself had chosen, and who had known both the Jesus of the earthly ministry and the Jesus who had appeared to them after his resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). They showed themselves eager to make converts, though, living as they did in a predominantly Jewish environment, it was to their fellow-Jews that they first proclaimed the Messiahship of Jesus, the coming judgement (Acts 3:23), and the teaching that Jesus had given on how men should live.

In the course of time the community was naturally subject to development. The Church grew in numbers, and new problems were created by this growth. Not all the converts maintained their first enthusiasm, and there were cases of deceit (Acts 5:1-11) and of grumbling (Acts 6:1). The apostles, busy as they were with the ‘ministry of the word’ (Acts 6:4), had to delegate some of their functions to seven deacons. Persecution hampered the work and led to the death of Stephen and the dispersion of many Christians through Palestine, where they found new opportunities of evangelism among both Jews and Samaritans (8:1).

This latter mission marked an important step, as the Samaritans held the Law of Moses as a sacred book but were bitter enemies of the Jewish nation: the Christians in admitting them to the Church were already on the way to acceptance of Gentiles. It is possible that in isolated cases Gentiles had already been accepted in special circumstances. Some scholars hold that the Hellenist Christians of Acts 6:1 were Gentiles, and not, as has been generally assumed, Greek-speaking Jews; neither the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26 ff.) nor Cornelius, the centurion of Caesarea (Acts 10:1 ff.) were proselytes to Judaism, though both were clearly sympathetic to its teachings.

In considering the acceptance of these ‘outsiders’, it is essential to remember the part played in the Christian community by the Spirit (cf. Chap. 26 for the place of prophets in the Church). The authority of the apostles was real, but the guidance of the Spirit was unhesitatingly accepted by them as by other Christians. In this matter the teaching of Jesus, as we have seen (Chap. 11), gave support to the teaching of the Spirit, and the problems about the terms on which Gentiles could be admitted had yet to become acute.

The Conversion of Paul and the Church of Antioch

The conversion of Paul on the Damascus road was, as we know, an event of tremendous significance for the future of Christianity, but at the time it probably made little more than a fleeting impression upon the Church, which had many converts from among the Pharisees (Acts 15:5) and the priests (Acts 6:7). It was only when he emerged as a leader of the Church at Antioch that he began to exert an important influence upon the Church as a whole.

The formation in the great pagan city of Antioch of a Christian community to which Gentiles were admitted in large numbers, was in itself an important development in the history of the Church. It was inevitable that the conditions on which Gentiles were to be admitted would eventually have to be settled, once the number of Gentile converts became considerable. The occasion for a dispute to arise was a superficial one, a matter of whether Jewish and Gentile Christians could eat together without the Jews incurring defilement (Gal.2:11-16), but Paul at once raised the real and profound question whether the Law had not been superseded by the new and universal gospel that men can be saved by faith in Jesus Christ.

The question was remitted to the Council of Jerusalem (c. A.D. 49), where Peter, convinced by Paul’s attack upon his conduct at Antioch, took Paul’s side (Gal. 2:14, Acts 15:7-11). The text of the final decree of the Council is uncertain (cf. Chap. 13), but permission was given for Gentiles to become Christians without becoming Jewish proselytes as well, and subject only to certain ritual or moral conditions. The decision was a vital one which was to lead in time to the complete severance of the Christian Church from the Jews. Its immediate effect was to leave Paul and those who shared his view free to continue the Gentile mission with the support of the leaders of the Jerusalem church, but with an interpretation of Jesus’ life and teaching different in some important respects from their own (cf. Chap. 13)

Paul’s Later Journeys

Paul had already established a number of churches in Galatia on a journey with Barnabas; he now proceeded on an extended journey with Silas which took him across Asia Minor to Greece. The missionary methods which he employed on this and on his third journey which covered much of the same ground were to determine the main lines of Christian development that followed his imprisonment and death, and through the later circulation of his epistles to have a permanent influence upon the form of Christian organisation and belief.

In the first place he effected a virtually complete separation of the Christian Church from the Jewish synagogue. Although he made use of any available synagogue, as he had done on his first journey, for preaching to the local Jews and such Gentiles as

‘feared God’ (Acts 13:16) and were allowed to attend, Acts makes it clear that Paul’s words always led to an early breach with the majority of the Jews and the setting up by Paul of a separate Christian Church (e.g. Acts 19:8-9). Some Jews might be converted, but the majority of church members would be Gentiles, and with the passage of time and the expansion of the community the Gentile part of the community tended more and more to predominate.

Upon these Gentile Christian churches Paul impressed the mark of his own strong personality. By his insistence on his apostleship (Gal. 1:1, II Cor. 11:5) and the authority of his gospel (Gal. 1:11) be established a pattern of belief and conduct for Christians that could be changed, as it was in many respects, when he was no longer alive to reinforce it by his presence, but which for a vital fifteen years, at the close of which Judaistic Christianity was overwhelmed with troubles of its own, could be maintained against any attempt to bring it into closer conformity with the legalistic views of other Christian missionaries (II Cor. 9:2-4).

When Paul returned from his third missionary journey to pay his last visit to Jerusalem he still retained the confidence of James and the Jerusalem elders (Acts 21:18-20), but the smouldering dislike of many of the church members for his teaching is apparent (Acts 21:21). His arrest and trial were to mark the beginning of yet another conflict for Christians with the power of the State.

As long as Christianity remained recognised by the State as a sect of Judaism (cf. Acts 18:14), the Church had only to fear mob violence and the limited powers of Jewish religious authorities. The separation so largely brought about by Paul was to result in Gentile Christians becoming subject to the drastic Roman laws against ‘illegal superstitions’, often in abeyance, but always liable to be put into effect. It seems probable that Nero’s implication of the Christians in the fire of Rome was the first occasion on which such an imperial edict was specifically applied to Christians; once issued, the edict, put into force only sporadically and in particular regions during the next century, was to menace Christians with persecution whenever they grew strong or incurred the enmity of pagan or Jewish neighbours.

The Post-Apostolic Age, A.D. 70-100

We know from the subsequent history of the Church that this period too must have been one of great and sustained advance, but only occasionally can we glimpse the details of this advance. The seven churches of the Apocalypses, like the Asia Minor churches to which Ignatius writes early in the second century, and the missionary journeys of 3 John, are examples of the way in which the Church was growing, but for the most part the growth is hidden from us.

With growth went persecution and a new emphasis on discipline. For the most part the persecution seems to have taken the form of the enmity of the surrounding population finding vent in isolated cases of violence. Such would appear to be the persecutions referred to in I Peter and the Epistle to the Hebrews, and possibly even ‘Antipas, my witness’ of Revel. 2:13, but the allusions are guarded and only guesswork is possible. It is certain, however, that the Church found it necessary to strengthen its organisation and its discipline to meet such attacks whether from the populace or the State authorities. The problem of authority was bound in any event to arise in a period when the Jerusalem Church had ceased to be an effective force and the apostles had passed away; the development of a stable form of church government had become a matter of urgency, and in settled churches where the first enthusiasm had often become lukewarm (Revel. 3:15) the temptation to reinforce the authority of the Spirit by a code of Law was often irresistible. There is at least a hint of this in Matthew’s arrangement of his gospel, and in some of its contents, e.g. Mt. 18: 15-17, and the Pastoral epistles illustrate the way in which Paul’s successors attempted to deal with some of their problems in such a ‘legal’ way, e.g. I Tim. 5:1-25.

The Development Of Organisation And Worship

Jerusalem

The acknowledged leaders of the first Christian community at Jerusalem were the eleven apostles: they added Matthias to their number from among those who had been disciples of Jesus during his ministry and witnesses of his resurrection (Acts 1:21-26). The brethren of the Lord seem to have ranked as leaders with the apostles (I Cor. 9:5, Gal. 1:19), and one of them, James, became the first man of the Church within a few years of the resurrection (Gal. 2: 9, Acts 15:13 ff.). Luke significantly only twice extends the title to Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:4,14), and seems to regard James and the twelve apostles as the holders of supreme authority in the Church; Peter and John, for example, are sent by the apostles to lay hands on the Samaritans that they may receive the Spirit (Acts 8:14 f.), and Paul is ‘brought to the apostles’ by Barnabas (Acts 9:27).

At Jerusalem itself the continued presence of the majority of the apostles simplified the question of authority, because they seem to have acted on all important questions as a body which sought and obtained the consent of the Church as a whole (Acts 6: 12-16, 15:22) under the joint guidance of the Spirit (Acts 15:28, cf. 6:3). As the Jerusalem community grew, special deacons (Greek Diakonos = servant) were appointed for the day to day work of charity, and elders (= Greek Presbyteroi) are mentioned (Acts 11:30, 15:2) who probably corresponded to the elders of the normal Jewish synagogue (cf. Lk. 7:3). The deacons had hands laid on them by the apostles (Acts 6:6), and it is probable that the elders were similarly appointed by the apostles with the consent of the Christian community as a whole; their functions included the control of finance (Acts11:30) and must also have involved the arrangement of worship.

Christian worship at Jerusalem centred round the Temple (Acts 2: 46, 3:1, 21:20-24), but Christians also shared a separate communal worship of their own in each other’s homes. Any twelve Jews were allowed to form a synagogue, and, although many Christians may have continued at least for a time as members of normal Jewish synagogues (Acts 6:9, 9:29), they probably established house-synagogues of their own as well; to the usual scripture-reading and interpretation, followed by prayer and praise to God, they brought a new and special unity of purpose.

Two features, in particular, marked the Christian assembly for prayer. ‘They continued stedfastly . . . in the breaking of bread and prayers’ (Acts 2: 42, 46). Whether this means that they celebrated the eucharist as a fulfillment of Jesus’ command (I Cor. 11:24-25), or only that they continued Jesus’ practice of a fellowship-meal with his disciples, is much disputed, but the testimony of Paul (I Cor.11:23) taken in conjunction with the firm tradition that Jesus had given to bread and wine a new significance at the Last Supper, support the view that from the very earliest days Christians repeated the substance of that rite. The second mark of a Christian assembly was the open manifestation of the Spirit in the utterances of those who spoke.

‘Prophets’ appear in the narrative of Acts ‘from Jerusalem ‘(11:27, cf. 21:8) and the nature of such prophecy can be estimated from the messages of Agabus (Acts 11:28, 21: I 11) and from Paul’s discussion of prophecy and speaking with tongues (I Cor. 14: 1-19). The ecstatic utterance of sounds nonsensical to those who heard them but full of meaning to those who spoke them and to those who had the gift of interpretation (I Cor. 12:10) was probably a constantly recurring phenomenon in Christian worship from Pentecost to the time when I Corinthians was written, but more important was the intelligible prophecy in which the understanding of the speaker contrived to interpret the purport of his experience and to ‘edify the church’ (I Cor.14:4. For the effect of prophecy on the apocalyptic distortion of Jesus’ teaching cf. Chap. 26.)

The Multiplication of Churches

As new communities were started, the need for organisation both to connect Christian churches together and to meet internal problems came slowly to the front, but the methods of organisation adopted were highly flexible and did not conform to a single pattern.

All churches were linked with the mother-church of Jerusalem by a feeling of gratitude, which showed itself in the voluntary contribution of alms (e.g. Acts 11:29-30, Rom.15:26-27), and by a recognition of the authority attaching to the original community which contained the acknowledged leaders of the Church (Gal. 2:2, Acts 15:2). Letters (e.g. the Epistle of James, cf. Acts 15:23 ff.) and visits by delegates of the Jerusalem church to the newer communities helped to reinforce both the bond of unity (Acts 15: 31-33) and the acceptance of that authority (Acts 8:14 ff., Gal. 2: 11-12); it is noteworthy that Paul, in spite of his insistence upon his own independence of man (Gal. 1:11-12), continued to pay periodical visits to Jerusalem and to consult with James and others about his plans (Gal.1:19, 2:2, Acts 21:19, 22 ff.). As the expansion of the Church created new Gentile communities at a great distance from Palestine the difficulties of communication increased, but the journeys of Silas (cf. Chap. 17) and the possible presence at Corinth of ‘unofficial ‘representatives of the Jerusalem church (cf. Chap.18) indicate that attempts were made to keep in touch with new developments as far as possible.

For a time the new Christian churches were started within the Jewish synagogues and contained a large proportion of Jews; the form of organisation adopted for each community seems to have followed, within limits, the Jerusalem pattern. The missionaries for the most part seem to have worked in groups and to have formed around them a nucleus of new believers, amongst whom some would be appointed, probably with the consent of the whole body of believers, as elders (Acts 14:23, Ja. 5:14), while some would display the gifts of prophecy or teaching (Acts 13:1). The laying on of hands to confer the gift of the Spirit after baptism or as the prelude to the undertaking of some special task had at Jerusalem been apparently the prerogative of the apostles (Acts 6:6, 8:17), but this power had now been extended to others (Acts 13:3). In the early years of any community the personal influence of its founders must have been very great and their authority, if available, decisive in matters of discipline.

New problems were created as the Gentile element in the churches increased, notably because of their defective sense of morality and their lack of previous religious discipline; I Corinthians throws a lurid light on the low standards of Christians who had not been brought up to keep the Law and attend the synagogue (cf. Chap.18) Yet there are few traces of any changes in the existing simple methods of organisation while Paul and Peter were still active. Elders seem to have been appointed and to be in charge of churches in the absence of their founders (e.g. I Thess. 5:12, Acts 20:17, 28 ff., I Pet. 5:1); deacons (Phil. 1:1) and a deaconess (Rom. 16:1) are also mentioned. Entrance to the Church was by baptism (I Cor.1:13-16), and the laying on of hands for the conferment of the Spirit is referred to in connection with baptism (Acts 19:5-6). Prophets were active (I Cor.12:28, 14:29) and speaking with tongues continued (I Cor. 14:2 ff.); here Paul attempted to lay down regulations (I Cor. 14:26-33).

Later Developments

With the deaths of Paul and Peter and the engulfing of the Jerusalem church in the Jewish War, never to reemerge as the headquarters of Gentile Christianity, a new situation arose. In the absence of any recognised central authority the leaders of the local churches were faced with greater responsibilities. Here and there an ‘apostolic man’, one of the followers of Paul like Timothy or Titus, or the unknown elder who wrote the epistles of ‘John’ exerted a personal influence over a number of communities, but we know from 3 John (Chap. 22) that their authority was sometimes challenged. It is not surprising that for the next fifty years great variations in forms of church-government and of worship are encountered. The evidence of the New Testament books themselves can now be supplemented by that of other Christian writings which are dated from the end of the first and the beginning of the second century, notably by the so-called

‘Teaching of the Twelve Apostles’, possibly written in Syria before A.D. 100, ‘The First Epistle of Clement’, written from Rome c. A.D. 96, and the epistles of Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, written c. A.D. 112.

In general the presbyterate seems to have established itself firmly as a method of government within the community. It is perhaps symptomatic that Paul towards the close of his life twice calls the elders ‘episkopoi’ (Acts 20-28, Phil. 1:1); the Greek word means ‘overseers ‘, but its interpretation was eventually to be ‘bishops’. From this committee-rule emerged by the beginning of the second century in some churches government by one bishop, supported by a number of elders and deacons. In other churches the joint rule of several presbyters seems to have persisted for a while longer. The prophets began to decline in importance; the Revelation provides evidence for the continuation of prophecy as an effective force in the life of the Church in Asia, but the ‘Teaching of the Twelve Apostles’, while treating genuine prophets, with respect, applies rules to their conduct which suggest that in Syria by the end of the first century prophecy was on the wane. This development of ecclesiastical organisation was accompanied by a new stress on conduct and on the holding of right doctrine; the rise of heresy in a period when apostolic guidance was no longer readily available was probably one of the main causes for this tightening up of discipline.

The independence of the individual community, which is a feature of this period, was not to endure. Signs are not lacking that the larger churches were already strongly influencing their neighbours; the First Epistle of Clement is in effect a demand by the church of Rome that the church of Corinth should restore to office presbyters who had been wrongly deposed.

For the details of Christian worship as it developed in these years there is little information available. Ignatius’ epistles show that the Eucharist was the central rite of Christian worship at the beginning of the second century. It is significant that for him as for the author of the ‘Teaching of the Twelve Apostles’ its celebration was now an ecclesiastical prerogative. There is some evidence that by the end of the first century the Eucharist was celebrated on ‘the Lord’s day’, and that Gentile Christians did not observe the Sabbath. Yet Jewish influence upon Christian worship was still very great. We hear of fast-days on the Jewish model, but on different days, and the adoption by the Church of the Old Testament as a sacred book played a large part in forming the prayers as well as the instruction of Christians.

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