Lecture 2 – Challenges of the 2nd and 3rd Centuries (John Karanja)

  1. Recognize aspects of the Roman persecution of the early church before 250 AD. (Sect. 9)
    9.1. Persecution was intermittent for the church’s first 250 yearsIn the early 2nd century the Emperor Trajan told his governor of Bithynia (Pliny the Younger whose letters survive) Christians should not be hunted down but when otherwise in custody should be expected to sacrifice to the gods like all others in the Roman Empire; death was the expected penalty for noncompliance; it was not a formal “policy” but became the usual way the Roman government dealt withChristians; their conduct (refusing to sacrifice) was illegal but, in times of economic prosperity, noncompliance was overlooked.

    • 9.2. Despite its irregularity, by the end of the 2nd century Tertullian can write that the blood of the martyrs is seed (often rendered “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”)
    • Heroism of Christian martyrs led many unbelievers to faith in Christ (including Justin Martyr in the early 2nd century).

    9.3. Two of the most infamous examples of martyrdom

    9.3.1. The martyrdom of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, in 155 AD

    9.3.2. The martyrdom of the Christians in Lyon/Lugdunum in 177 AD

    Both illustrate the heroism of early Christian martyrs, all of whom remain examples for us today.

    9.4. Until 250 AD, Christians were martyred mainly during bad economic times. Ancient pagans believed the gods had to placated periodically; when drought came, when the harvest failed, when the river flooded, when natural disasters (like earthquakes) occurred, or when pestilence and disease struck, pagans naturally flooded into the temples to sacrifice to the gods; Christians refused; hence, the rest of the populace persecuted them in the hope of forcing them to sacrifice so the gods would turn back their anger; the reason Christians were persecuted was mainly economic, not due to any dislike of the tenets of Christianity.

    9.5. Ironically, in the 2nd century the most aggressive emperor to persecute the church was Marcus Aurelius

    Ironic because pagans (and many modern historians) felthis was the golden age of Rome; but philosophically Marcus Aurelius’ stoicism had little sympathy with the philosophy called Christianity.

    9.6. In the ancient world Christianity was the only religion with no animal sacrifice in its religious services; hence, it was often considered aphilosophy, not a religion.

    9.7. There were two eras of systematic persecution in the church’s first 250 years

    9.7.1. One by the Emperor Decius beginning in 250 AD,and one by the Emperor Diocletian beginning in 303AD;

    9.7.2. Each emphasized: 1) destruction of books used by Christians, and 2) identifying and eliminating leaders of Christians; the 303 AD persecution was the mostextensive and severe of the persecutions prior to the legalization of Christianity by the EmperorConstantine in 312 AD.
  2. Recognize the heresies that created the need for a Christian canon. (Sect. 10 underlined text and Conclusion)
    What factors led to the formation of a Christian Canon? One major factor was the growth of heresy.

    10.1.1. Gnosticism

    • A system arising from Greek philosophy that taught cosmic redemption of the spirit viaknowledge (gnosis).
    • • Presupposition: All physical matter is evil or at best unreal or an illusion.
    • • Human beings are eternal spirits (or part of the eternal spirit) imprisoned in bodies.
    • • The final goal is to escape the body and the material world.
    • • A spiritual messenger must come to the world, bring liberating gnosis (secretknowledge) and call people to struggle against their incarceration.
    • • Dualism has a split between the spirit (superior) and the body (inferior); the body is bad; suffering is worse! The material world is bad, the spiritual world is good.

    • 10.1.2. Marcionitism
    • • Marcion’s teachings (Marcionitism) included asceticism, rejection of the Old Testament, editing of the fourfold Gospel and the writings of Paul; and a Gnostic view of reality.

    • 10.1.3. Montanism
    • • the orthodox (non-heretical) church (which began to be known as the Great Church)
    • • Montanus judged the Great Church and its leaders as spiritually dead; he called for aNew Prophecy or a New Revelation and a new asceticism of rigorous self-denial.

    • The Great Church’s reaction to Montanism
    • The bishops of the Great Church reacted to the Montanists
    • • A group of Great Church bishops in the region met privately and drafted a document excommunicating Montanus, his colleagues and their followers.
  3. Recognize  the church’s initial attempts to form a canon, (Sect. 10 underlined text and Conclusion)
    A canon is a list of books considered to be authoritatively God’s Word.

    • Responding to Marcion’s incomplete canon, the Great Church chose to:
    • • Retain Paul’s pastoral letters and the letters of the other apostles, and to link these letters to four Gospels by using the Acts of the Apostles as the bridge.
    • • Keep the OT — thus retaining: a) the combination of the wrath and love of God, b) the necessity of history for the Christian faith, and c) the apostolic concept of the continuity between Israel in the OT and the church.

    10.2.2. The stimulus of heresy was a dynamic tool to accomplish God’s purposes: the heretical push from Marcion expedited the Great Church’s recognition/formation of the legitimate canon and the shove from Montanus and his heresy forced the issue of closing the legitimate canon.
  4. Recognize the emerging consensus regarding the canon (Sect. 10 underlined text and Conclusion)
    10.3.2. Athanasius (ca 367; 397 AD)

    See Noll, Turning Points, 37:

    • In his Easter letter (367 AD) Athanasius listed all 22 Hebrew OT books and all 27 NT books as the authoritative canon (all the books in today’s Protestant Bible); Athanasius did not create the canon; he simply listed the books accepted as God’s Word by the whole church in the Mediterranean world.

    • A synod in Carthage in 397 AD listed the 27 NT books as standard (397 AD); also published att he Synod of Hippo in 393 AD.
  5. Recognize conclusion regarding the Canon's formation. (Sect. 10 underlined text and Conclusion)
    The Great Church did not create the canon, rather the authoritative witness of the canon created the Great Church; the early church aimed primarily to submit fully to the Apostles’ teaching which the Apostles got directly from Jesus.
  6. Recognize the three “pillars” adopted by the Early Church Fathers and why they were adopted. (Sect. 11 introduction)
    The Early Church Fathers (leaders in the early Great Church) adopted three “pillars” (creeds, episcopacy and canon) for this purpose: to settle disputes and distinguish between orthodox and heretical beliefs and practices.
  7. Recognize the description and purpose of a “creed.” (Sect. 11.1 introduction)
    A creed is a short statement of belief that summarizes authoritative Christian teaching; a creed is the bull’s eye on the target of what Scriptures teach; the purpose of a creed is to: a) introduce the faith; b) prepare and train a person for baptism; c) know whom we worship; and d) counter heresy.
  8. Recognize the description of a canon. (Sect. 11.3 introduction)
    • • Canon = “norm, measuring rod, ruler, rule or standard.”
    • • Summarizes the authoritative account of the originating events of Christian faith (Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection).
    • • The standard of faith and practice.
  9. Recognize the need for a canon (Sect. 11.3.1) From very early times, no living apostles remained to arbitrate disputes regarding faith and practice. The question: What literature is permitted to reflect the correct interpretation of the Great Church and its originating events? This literature is the lens that form sthe focus for the true faith taught by Jesus to His apostles, (i.e., the apostolic faith).
  10. Recognize the four criteria the church used to select the books of the canon. (Sect. 11.3.2)
    • Criteria of Orthodoxy
    • • Orthodoxy = “right belief.”
    • • Does the book conform to and comply with the Great Church’s creeds and rules of faith?

    • Criteria of Apostolicity
    • • Is the book directly associated with an apostle or someone in the circle of people with direct access to an apostle? Using this criterion, Luke qualifies as an associate of an apostle.
    • • Eyewitness accounts or direct access to eyewitness accounts were extremely important criteria.

    • Criteria of Catholicity
    • • Catholic, catholicity = “Universal, universality” — “What is believed everywhere, always, by everyone.”
    • • Did the Great Church throughout the Mediterranean world accept the author’s apostolicity? Did the book contain ecumenical core beliefs?
    • • A book’s catholicity arose from the Great Church’s progressive discernment and consensus that the book was God’s authoritative word; other books may be helpful but not authoritative (such as the letters of Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, written ca 110 AD).

    • Criteria of Performance
    • Is the book transformative?
    • • Does the book change lives? Does God speak through it uniquely? Is it practically and existentially authoritative?
    • Is it fireproof?
    • • Can the book withstand persecution? Which books were the early followers of Jesus willing to die for?
  11. Match the 2nd century Church Fathers with their contributions regarding how truth is acquired. (Sect. 12.6–Summary)  Justin Martyr ca 100 – 165 AD
       • A great apologist of his era who tried to build a bridge between Greek philosophy and the Christian faith.

    • Christians withhold worship from demons and reserve it for Father, Son, and Spirit.

    • Any truth is traceable to Christ.

    •Compared Christian morality to that of Greek philosophers.

    • Sought common ground with Greek philosophy.

    • Christians believe the best of Greek philosophy and more.

    • Charges against Christians should be investigated. • Wrote Dialogue with Trypho (an apologetic discussion with a Jew).

    • Argued how OT prophecies were fulfilled in the NT.
  12. Match the 2nd century Church Fathers with their contributions regarding how truth is acquired. (Sect. 12.6–Summary)

    Clement of Alexandria  ca 150–215 AD
    • Another Church Father who built a bridge between philosophy and the Christian faith. He believed that just as Jews have the Law to lead them to Christ, so Greeks have philosophy to lead them to Christ.

    • Man has a spark of the divine which Scripture fans into flame.

    • Philosophy is illuminated by the light, which is Christ.
  13. Match the 2nd century Church Fathers with their contributions regarding how truth is acquired. (Sect. 12.6–Summary)
    Irenaeus      ca 115–200 AD
    • Considered by many as the first real Christian theologian who stated the broad, thematic concepts of the Christian faith

    • • Suggested three criteria for distinguishing Christian doctrine from heresy:
    • 1. Scripture contains our plan of salvation.
    • 2. Tradition, originating in apostles, has been preserved through succession ofpresbyters in the churches.
    • 3. A continual succession of bishops was instituted by the apostles.

    • Irenaeus was one of the most internationally influential leaders of the 2ndcentury church.

    • Led the church from issue-based apology to systematic theology. • Defined principles of apologetics.

    • Wrote his magisterial five-volume Against Heresies to combat Gnosticheresies.
  14. Match the 2nd century Church Fathers with their contributions regarding how truth is acquired. (Sect. 12.6–Summary)

    Origen of Alexandria     ca 185–254 AD
    • Focused on reason (typical, Greek speculative reason).

    • Point by point rebuttal of the polemics of Celsus in Against Celsus.

    • A Universalist – believed the entire world would eventually be saved.

    • Christians investigate truth.

    • Christ is the savior of the wise and the foolish.
  15. Match the 2nd century Church Fathers with their contributions regarding how truth is acquired. (Sect. 12.6–Summary)

    Tertullian of Carthage     ca 160–220 AD
    • Rhetorician and lawyer (a typical, Latin practical).

    • Believed philosophy was bad and every philosopher was a heretic.

    • Christianity can gain nothing from philosophy.

    • Christianity is true because it is not a product of human imagination.

    • Heretics draw their ideas from philosophers.

    • Uninstructed soul knows the truth intuitively.

    • Coined the term “Trinity.”

    • Montanist in later life.

    • Wrote Testimony of the Soul, Prescription Against Heretics, and Against Praxeas.
  16. Recognize what caused the Protestant Church (since 1650) to ignore the miraculous experience of early Christians and how the early Christian experience of miraculous power was an apologetic. (Sect. 13 Introduction)
    The demonstration of God’s power is an apologetic to the world, a defense for the divine origin and authority of Christianity. Modernism has profoundly affected the Protestant church; since 1650 it has ignored the miraculous power experienced by the early Christians. Sadly, Protestant church history books omit reports of this power.  Miracles did not die with the last apostle.

      Ramsey MacMullen, the Roman historian, in Christianizing the Roman Empire, claims the early Christians won their world to a large degree through exorcisms and healings.
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Lecture 2 – Challenges of the 2nd and 3rd Centuries (John Karanja)
Lecture 2 – Challenges of the 2nd and 3rd Centuries (John Karanja), VLI, Summer 2012, History Christian Church Theology