Paul

I have been particularly interested in the first generations of the Church, those immediately following Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The most prominent individual during this period is undoubtedly Saul of Tarsus, who later became known as the apostle Paul.

Paul is a very interesting figure.  It has been said that Jesus founded Christianity, but Paul founded the Church.  He poured his life into his missionary journeys, starting churches, and writing letters to Christians across the known world.  Many of his letters are now included in our Bibles.  We literally have accepted them as gospel.

But consider a quote from Saving Jesus from the Church, by Robin Meyers:

“We know that Saul of Tarsus, who never met Jesus, became the apostle Paul through a completely mystical experience and seemed to care nothing for the earthly teachings of Jesus, only his “adoption” as the Son of God through the resurrection. Not only did he alter the nature of the gospel from a story to an argument, but his letters and those written by others in his name are the earliest Christian documents we have, written long before the gospels.”

If it weren’t for the fact that the other apostles eventually accepted Paul as a true apostle with corresponding authority, it would be easy to question whether his writings even belong in our Bibles.  I have noticed that Paul hardly ever refers to Jesus’ life on earth or his teachings.  In fact, not only had he never met Jesus, it seems that he had little contact with the eleven disciples who had actually walked with Jesus.  And he apparently did not have benefit of the four gospels yet either.  So he preaches about Jesus as Son of God and Savior, but includes very little of the teaching that Jesus gave the world directly.

In my own Bible reading I need to go back through the gospels, and then through the writings of Peter and John.  I want to make sure that I understand the teachings of Jesus and how they have been incorporated into Christian faith and practice, aside from the extraordinary influence of Paul.

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This post can also be found on my other blog at http://pathsofchristianity.com/paul/

 

 

 

 

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The Earliest Christians

What were Christians like during the first centuries after Christ and the Apostles?  As I have been reading “A People’s History of Christianity” and other books, a clear picture is emerging.  Those earliest Christians were rooted in the same basic faith that we hold today, but the focus of their daily lives was really quite different.

Early Christianity developed across the world in many diverse regions and cultures.  It cut across the barriers of social class, race and gender as well.  Christians stood out from their nonchristian neighbors by their humility, love, and service to others.  Christianity was understood primarily as a way of life, not a doctrinal system or just a means to eternal salvation.  Their common focus was the Great Command to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.

The earliest Christians were called “The People of the Way”.  This Way, and the dramatic transformation that it brought into the lives of believers, challenged the status quo and infuriated the adherents of the various pagan religions.  The awful persecutions that these early believers endured were not due to doctrine or ideology, but rather to the radical difference in their lifestyle that raised misunderstanding and suspicion among their neighbors.  They stood out because they did not pursue power or possessions.  They weren’t out to change the world or to “win” in some sense.  They just wanted to follow Jesus.  And their numbers grew because others could see how The Way provided a practical spiritual pathway that changed and improved their lives.

The earliest Christians had no church buildings, no elite clergy, no political agenda, and no fundraising except to give to the poor.  All of that came later as Christianity “progressed” toward what we experience today.  We would do well to consider the example of our first Christian forefathers, and reexamine our own spiritual priorities.  Can our neighbors recognize that we follow The Way without reading our bumper stickers?