Jesus, and His early followers were predominantly Jewish, therefore, their authority came from what is called the Old Testament. God had revealed Himself to His special people giving them His instructions on life and practice in His Kingdom.
Jesus’ coming on the scene was a game changer. One was to worship the Old Testament God who chose a new means of self-revelation, Jesus of Nazareth. Much can and will be said eventually about the relationship between the Father and the Son, but now just know that Jesus claimed to be and ended up proving He was/is God. This meant followers of God no longer were to exclusively follow the Old Testament but now they were to follow what Jesus said and what He taught. Nothing was written down to document what He said and did until after His death and resurrection.
So the question then is, where did followers of Jesus get their theological authority after Jesus ascended into heaven? Still very little was written down so they needed to figure out how to make decisions of religion without their Messiah. I am asserting that the followers of Jesus talked to and wrote letters to the Disciples in order to get their theological questions answered. So I believe the next step in the ‘theological authority’ concept is THE APOSTLES.
Jesus taught, lived with, and trained these 12 men while He was ministering in Israel. He was training them to take the mantle of authority after His departure. Therefore I believe the earliest of Christians asked the Apostles to assist them in their inquiries. The Apostles were special people only because Jesus had chosen them and given them at Pentecost the Holy Spirit to empower them to do His work and fulfill His commission. Some of them were also given the task of writing down not only accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus, but words of wisdom and authority to churches on how to live a life pleasing to the Father. Early Christianity saw the special role the Apostles were given, therefore they asked the Apostles for clarity in the pursuit of serving their Messiah.
Simply put: the first theological authority was Jesus, then when he was gone the next authority was the Apostles. The tricky issue will come when the last of the Apostles die (John around AD 100) and NOW WHAT DO THE CHRISTIANS TO GET THEIR THEOLOGY QUESTIONS ANSWER. I’ll take up the next authority next time.
Having reread my earlier posts I came to the conclusion that I never addressed the SO WHAT of the discussion on showing or proving one’s allegiance to Jesus. The SO WHAT for us (or at least for me) is ‘how do I show Jesus my allegiance and devotion today, in America AD 2015? I believe this is a question all followers of Jesus (and for that matter all followers of any spiritual leader) must ask. I do not think it is a one time question either. It seems to me to be something that should be asked over and over throughout one’s life.
I know that when this question is asked in Sunday School (do churches still have Sunday School?) the typical grade school answers are: read your Bible and pray every day, and go to church at least three times per week. And the next question I have to ask is, is this all I have to do to show my allegiance to Jesus? Should there not be something else? What about sharing my faith? Or being more holy (for God is holy)? Or increasing in my knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? Or helping the disenfranchised? Or selling all I have to give to the poor? Or praying and fasting? Or does true, pure Christianity include ALL of these but is much, much more????
I am still working on this one, but it seems to me allegiance to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ means AT LEAST these mentioned above, plus other things, that I will ponder and contemplate.
So the SO WHAT for the discussion of tracing Jesus’ followers’ concepts of devotion and allegiance to their Savior is that we need to comprehend the biblical understanding of devotion and assess whether we are conforming to what the Bible says. Or are we simply doing what we THINK is correct and not getting stressed about the difficult part because God loves us and I am going to heaven anyway, so who cares. How important is it to live a pleasing life for our creator and redeemer????
As we have traced some major thinking and attitudes in particular eras of the definition and subsequent actions to prove ones allegiance to Jesus, there is one other theme that I have noticed takes place throughout the history of Christianity that changes over time. That theme would be from where does ones theological authority emanate? Who is the ‘final authority’ when it comes to theological matters. Do I just answer ‘God’ questions from my own mind? Does it matter how accurate this authority is, or is it basically whatever works for me?
As in the previous posts this subject will take several postings.
First and foremost it is understood by all that when Jesus walked on the earth the theological authority came from Him, He is the God/man, the Word became flesh, ‘the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature’ (Hebrews 1:3). Everything Jesus did and said was in total sync with God (for He is God). So when the Apostles and others had questions about how to please God, they asked Jesus or one of His disciples.
I know this sounds simplistic to say that the first Christians’ religious authority came from God, but there will be a shift soon to where there is a debate between well meaning followers of Him as to who holds the final say in life and practice.
The initial followers of The Way listened to Jesus and put into practice (as best they could) what he taught.
So far and in summary we have looked at 4 ways that Christians in particular era showed the predominant expression of dedication to Jesus: Martyrdom, Monasticism, Murder (The Crusades), and Scholasticism. The final one that takes place after the Protestant Reformation and can still be seen today is what I call ‘Pietism’.
Their seems to have been a shift after Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis on the door at Wittenburg from immersing oneself in endless study of theology to a less academic emphasis to a more personal piety. Scholasticism appeared to have stressed more of the learning and writing aspect of Christianity and less of the transformation of the sinner to saint. I understand this is very much an oversimplification, but the point hear is the decrease of emphasis by the pietists of academics. They were lesson concerned with how much you know and more concerned with how much you have changed your living. It almost can be seen as more stress on orthopraxy and less stress on orthodoxy.
I will admit that this era is a lot more vague, but I still see it as a real area where followers of Jesus expressed their allegiance by ‘being holy’ instead of ‘thinking holy’.
How did those in the Middle Ages (roughly AD 500 to 1500) show THEIR allegiance to Jesus. As we have seen, different eras show dedication to Jesus in different ways. Obviously each era has various ways of showing allegiance to God (not all people followed in the predominant idea), but there are somewhat overriding ways that can be seen by a large portion of the Christian community. Not everyone did the same thing, but many did.
During the Middle Ages there was an increase in studying the Bible and researching the writings of the early Christian writers. This movement was called Scholasticism. Christians were now able to read more, study more, speculate more, and write more on the the topics of religion. Many people entered a monastery or convent in order to separate themselves so they could spend hours per day reading scripture and the early thinkers. They were convinced (correctly I might add) that God wanted them to study, and study, and study.
In this era we get the great thinkers and writers for Christianity like: Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm and many others. Most of these will be written about later, but the point is that many people had the passion for research and reading to unravel the mysteries of the Christian faith. There are seemingly endless writings to propose the biblical ideas. Great strides were made in theology and philosophy that are read and ponder even to our day.
During the Middle Ages (I HATE calling them the Dark Ages) followers of Jesus went to great lengths (some dedicating all of their adult lives) to studying, and reasoning to show allegiance and dedication to Jesus.