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Laurie Guy: Introducing Early Christianity

 

In Chapter Six, “Radical Discipleship,” Guy goes over the rise of “Asceticism and Monasticism”. Chapter Seven is on “Women in the Early Church” through the categorical question of “Liberated or Confined?” Chapters Eight and Nine, “The Emerging Shape of Worship: Eucharist and Liturgy” and “Getting In and Staying In: Baptism and Penance” examine how pastoral needs contributed to early sacramental developments. Chapter Ten, “Exploring the Paths: The Development of Early Christian Doctrine,” and Chapter Eleven, “Mapping the Mind of the Church: Orthodoxy Defined,” focus on how debate and controversy contributed to the formation of what came to be accepted as standard Christian beliefs. A very brief Conclusion sums up Guys main observations.

Essentially, Guy emphasizes that the first several centuries of Christianity’s history were times of “dramatic change”. These changes include movement from a charismatic dynamism to a hierarchical institutionalism, from a fundamental simplicity of faith to an increasingly complex and sophisticated doctrinal system, from a largely lay movement to specialized classification of clergy and ascetic and monastic separatism. For Guy, these and other changes largely illuminate the Church’s legitimate attempt to develop and clarify its boundaries. They “point back to the original gospel as well as on from the original gospel.” Yet they also remind Christians of subsequent centuries of the need to “always be reforming if it is to remain true to its beginnings.” Here one can easily get an impression that Guy is suggesting something like an unchanging standard in Christianity’s earliest roots that is nevertheless constantly changing in its fruitful application in each unfolding age. If so, perhaps the chief lesson to be learned of early Christian history would thus be something like: Christianity should always be faithful to its origins but flexible in its applications.

Pentecostals and Charismatics in particular may find Guy’s treatment of charismatic dynamism and hierarchical institutionalism especially interesting. Transition from a primarily charismatic mode of being to a more institutional ethos is a key theme, and affects all of the Church’s faith and life, notably including leadership and worship. Guy concludes that a “sense of direct Spirit inspiration persisted in the postapostolic church alongside increasing institutionalization.” However, Church leadership eventually resolved these conflicting values in favor of the latter by making bishops “arbiters” of the Spirit’s power. The “domestication of charismatic leadership” observes Guy, is part of a repetitive pattern for religious movements—at least for those that last. A certain amount of institutionalism is inevitable for survival. Plainly put, coherence and influence demand central direction. Guy insightfully opines that the challenge for institutionalized religion is to weld the “earlier vitality and vision” into “a stable organization.” Not surprisingly, vitality and stability are both necessary for the Church’s continued growth and good health.

Yet is it really as simple as affirming both the charismatic and the administrative? This welding together can be incredibly problematic. The two are so often in tension. Unchecked charisma can careen out of control. Authority tends to dominate all else. Thus, in actual practice Christianity historically seems to go through alternate, unending cycles of empowering but disruptive charismatic activity and calming but cooling hierarchal interventionism. Freedom and order are always at odds. Do the modern Pentecostal and Charismatic movement offer a potential resolution of this enduring dilemma? Can a movement intentionally founded on rediscovery of charisma mature into institutional status without loss of its initial energy? Or will Pentecostalism retrace the erroneous path of the Early Church, reenacting its eventual diminishment of charisma in favor of safer roads? In other words, will Pentecostalism “burn out?” Or, conversely, will it “burn up”? Will it eventually consume itself out of existence with repetitive, and, increasingly, radical attempts to duplicate, or orchestrate, earlier religious experiences? The final verdict is still out. The movement has become huge and influential, but is still, in a sense, immature and impressionable. In any case, apparently contemporary Pentecostals and Charismatics would do well to refuse a false choice between gifts and government, but rather attempt to integrate both for a balanced and powerful Church (cf. 1 Co 12-14).

 

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Category: Church History, Fall 2009

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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