Early Christian Values — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Early Christian Values

The Early Christian Church

Early Christian Values
Monday, April 27, 2015

Much of what Jesus taught seems to have been followed closely during the first several hundred years after his death and resurrection. As long as Jesus’ followers were on the bottom and the edge of empire, as long as they shared the rejected and betrayed status of Jesus, they could grasp his teaching more readily. Values like nonparticipation in war, simple living, inclusivity, and love of enemies could be more easily understood when Christians were gathering secretly in the catacombs, when their faith was untouched by empire, rationalization, and compromise.

Several early writings illustrate this early commitment to Jesus’ teachings on simplicity and generosity. The Didache, written around AD 90, says: “Share all things with your brother; and do not say that they are your own. If you are sharers in what is imperishable, how much more in things which perish.”

The Shepherd of Hermas, written around AD 120, gives the image of the church as a tower to be built of white round stones. Many of the stones are not suitable for use in construction; those stones are not rejected, but they are put away to one side. These stones represent believers who are still relying upon their wealth and success and, therefore, cannot build this new community. They cannot be used until they have been reshaped by the Gospel, and their reliance upon money and success has been taken from them.

Around the year AD 175, St. Clement of Alexandria wrote a letter entitled “Can a Rich Man Be Saved?” The very fact that it was posed as a question lets us know that Jesus’ teaching was still taken seriously. St. Clement concludes that it is not necessary to renounce all your worldly possessions to be a believer, but it is surely questionable and dangerous to be rich. If greed is not warned against, it almost always takes over. Usury, the taking of interest on loans, remains a “mortal sin” until well into 12th century when the first middle class tradesmen begin to emerge.

Tertullian, another recognized “Father of the Church,” writes around the year 200: “If anyone is worried by his family possessions, we advise him, as do many biblical texts, to scorn worldly things. There can be no better exhortation to the abandonment of wealth than the example of our Jesus who had no material possessions. He always defended the poor and he always condemned the rich.”

I am not making a political-economic judgment here, but illustrating how Christianity has indeed changed with the times; there are both good and bad aspects to these changes. Let’s try to hear the important truth that is presented, and read such statements from the early Christians with wisdom, prayer, and a non-dualistic mind. They can only make us wiser and more discerning.

Gateway to Silence:
Teach me Your way.

Adapted from Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer, pp. 48-49

Image credit: 6th c. mosaic (detail), Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes, Tabgha, Israel.
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