The Church Before the Bible

Discussion in 'Faith, Devotion & Formation' started by bwallac2335, Jul 5, 2020.

  1. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Well-Known Member

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    Ok so this is something of a conversation my wife and I had this weekend. In the Anglican Church we hold scripture highest, as we should but there was a time when there was the church before we had the Bible. We had scripture yes but it was not codified by the church yet. Of course the Holy Spirit led the codification of the Bible but before that tradition had to help lead the church more than it does even now or am I misunderstanding this a bit.
     
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  2. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    Well of course, even though the canon of the OT had not been closed, or especially codified as such, there was an accepted collection which most would have understood in the context of the LXX.

    Initially of course there were the Apostles, and those with the immediate and direct accounts of Jesus, and fairly soon there began to emerge written accounts. Mark may actually have existed from the mid 4o's and many of the letters. The New Testament sources, if not documents, had some shape by the end of the 1st Century.

    The Church has lived all of its life with some scripture. Mohammed referred to Christians as the people of the book.

    I think you are understanding this correctly. In all cultures with a written tradition most accounts begin from an oral tradition. The benefit of capturing the oral tradition in writing is that it helps stop diverse strands of the tradition springing up. In communities which do not have a written tradition there is however a great deal more attention paid to the oral tradition and keeping the story straight, often with the use of poetry.

    And Miriam sang to them:
    ‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
    horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’
    Exodus 15

    This is probably the earliest part of the tradition preserved in song, although recorded after the account of Moses dividing the Sea in Exodus 14.

    Some of the New Testament as we have it was written within 25 years of Jesus life, and all of it within 75 years of his life. We may rely on the documents of the New Testament in terms of historical veracity with a great deal of confidence.
     
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  3. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Well-Known Member

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    I guess what I am saying is that tradition had to be a guide because while we had all the writings there were other writings that were considered scripture by some and some areas did not have all the scriptures. It had to be tradition that kept things in line and the Holy Spirit.
     
  4. Symphorian

    Symphorian Well-Known Member

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    Timeline of The Early Church and the NT

    c. AD 100

    Different parts of the NT were written by this time but not yet collected and defined as scripture. Writers of the period quote from the Gospels and St Paul's letters as well as other Christian writings and oral sources.

    c. AD 200, (the Muratorian Canon):
    The 4 Gospels
    Acts
    Romans
    1 & 2 Corinthians
    Galatians
    Ephesians
    Philippians
    Colossians
    1 & 2 Thessalonians
    1 & 2 Timothy
    Titus
    Philemon
    James
    1 & 2 John
    Jude
    Revelation of John
    Revelation of Peter
    Wisdom of Solomon
    Shephard of Hermas (not used in worship, could be read privately.)

    c. AD 250, as used by Origen:
    As used by Origen
    The 4 Gospels
    Acts
    Romans
    1 & 2 Corinthians
    Galatians
    Ephesians
    Philippians
    Colossians
    1 & 2 Thessalonians
    1 & 2 Timothy
    Titus
    Philemon
    1 Peter
    1 John
    Revelation of John

    Disputed:
    Hebrews
    James
    2 Peter
    2 & 3 John
    Jude
    Shepherd of Hermas
    Letter of Barnabas
    Teaching of Twelve
    Apostles
    Gospel of the Hebrews

    c. AD 300, as used by Eusebius:

    The 4 Gospels
    Acts
    Romans
    1 & 2 Corinthians
    Galatians
    Ephesians
    Philippians
    Colossians
    1 & 2 Thessalonians
    1 & 2 Timothy
    Titus
    Philemon
    1 Peter
    1 John
    Revelation of John (authorship in doubt.)

    Disputed:
    James
    2 Peter
    2 & 3 John
    Jude
    Excluded:
    Shepherd of Hermas
    Letter of Barnabas
    Gospel of the Hebrews
    Revelation of Peter
    Acts of Peter
    Didache

    c. AD 400, as defined by the Council of Carthage:
    The 4 Gospels
    Acts
    Romans
    1 & 2 Galatians
    Galatians
    Ephesians
    Philippians
    Colossians
    1 & 2 Thessalonians
    1 & 2 Timothy
    Titus
    Philemon
    Hebrews
    James
    1 & 2 Peter
    1, 2 & 3 John
    Jude
    Revelation
     
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  5. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Let’s remember, that the Church existed in the Old Testament as well. I know that sounds perplexing given some of today’s apologetics, but that is the view I’ve seen repeatedly stated in Anglican Theologians. John Jewel calls Aaron a “bishop” and the 1606 Convocation book traces the founding of the Catholic Church to Noah and Aaron. Lancelot Andrews made a direct equivalence between Levite/Priest/High Priest with Deacon/Priest/Bishop.

    If the Church is defined as a visible organization dedicated to God’s kingdom, consisting of deacons/priests/bishops, then there’s no reason for disqualifying the OT church from being church. (Obviously the NT priesthood is not a successor to the OT sacrificial priesthood, but all it means is that the church was “re-constituted” at Pentecost; not “constituted”.)

    Moreover try to think of why Roman Catholics insist so much that the Church is created in the New Testament: it’s because of Peter. Its their core belief that there couldn’t possibly be a Church before or without Peter to give it approval. Should that stricture apply to us?

    And finally, look back on the New Testament, are these people running around sharing hearsay with each other, OR, are they citing “the Scriptures” with one another? Yup it’s the latter, they’re already always citing “the Scriptures”! The Old Testament is as much scriptures as the New, 100% valid and relevant. It has the Gospel there and Jesus there; the NT just does it in a different way, based on a new reality (the coming of the Messiah.)


    During the lifetime of Jesus the guide was him. During the lifetime of the Apostles, the guide was their direct eyewitness of him. That puts us at 100AD. By this point all of the Gospels and the Epistles were already written. The earliest record of the canon comes as early as ~150AD.

    Thats a very small window for Tradition to be operative and extolled onto the same level as the Scriptures.
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2020
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  6. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Sorry to run this off onto a side track, however I can't help but feel that this is an extraordinarily broad definition of 'the Church.' If, as you point out, the RCC did not take this view, can you point to any writings from the early fathers to support this view that the Church began with Noah or with Aaron? In other words, where did it originate?

    I'm trying to understand why the Anglicans of Jewel's day took this view (i.e., what authoritative backing did they have). It doesn't make sense to me. A huge portion of Christianity takes the view that the Church (ekklesia) is the body of Jesus' followers, of His disciples. Jesus had no disciples prior to the start of His earthly ministry.

    When Jesus said, "upon this rock I will build my church," there is a difference of opinion between Romans and the rest as to whether the rock was Peter, or was Christ Himself and His identity as Messiah (the truth of which Peter had just stated aloud); but no Christian would dispute that the Church must have been built upon one or the other. So think about this with me for a moment: Peter didn't exist in the B.C. era, and the identity of the Messiah was not revealed in the B.C. era, so in neither case was there was anything in the B.C. era upon which Christ could have built His church. Nor did Jesus' statement seem to suggest in any way that He would be "continuing to build" a pre-existing Church; His words, "I will build," sounds like 'future tense' to me. Besides, it seems significant that Jesus never mentioned the existence a church until this point, which was well along in His earthly ministry and at the very significant event when someone finally spoke the belief that He is the Messiah and Son of God.

    Ekklesia
    was (at that time) a common term for an assembly of people called out as members of a free state, and it most literally meant, "the called people." It is rightly applied to the people whom Jesus has called unto Himself as disciples (and such are we). The word ekklesia is applied to the N.T. community of the redeemed in every instance but one: that instance being Acts 7:38, which refers to the Israelites; but although the Israelites were a called-out group, they were not called out by Jesus Christ unto Himself but were instead led out of Egypt by Moses (and Moses is the explicit subject of that passage, which was spoken by Stephen just before he was stoned). I can see where Noah's family and the Israelites could be viewed as a type and a foreshadowing of the Church, but I can't really see them being the beginnings of the Church Jesus said He "will build."
     
  7. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Lancelot Andrewes may have made such an equivalence but if he was actually equating the New Covenant Christian Priesthood with the Old Covenant Levitical priesthood, he could not have been further from the truth of the matter. I am not convinced, (though I have not studied what Lancelot wrote on the issue), that he was making a 'direct equivalence'. Perhaps that is an exaggeration but if I am wrong about that then the author of Hebrews would seem to disagree with the 'direct equivalence' notion and actually laboured the point at some length. Heb. 5:6, 5:10, 6:20, 7:11, 7:17, 7:21. It is certainly true theologically that the Christian church is a continuation of the OT church and not a distinct innovation. Gentiles are 'grafted into' an already existing 'church' not planted out in a field of their own. (Rom.11 the whole chapter). That already existing 'church' is the faithful of the offspring of Abraham, according to St Paul and the defining characteristic of the profession of those that are 'grafted in', is FAITH and in particular faith in Christ.

    I have a lot of respect for Lancelot Andrewes and his wisdom. Indeed I grew up from age 7 and a half years, and spent most of my life worshipping in a church for which he wrote the dedication service, and which he in person performed conducted its dedication service, (The first ever purpose built Anglican Church in the world), so I have particular reason to hold him in high regard. However The Christian priesthood, though organically connected to the 'Church ie ekklesia / assembly' of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses has no essential bloodline from Aaron and the Levitical priesthood, a necessary requirement for succession under the OT and still a requirement in the Jewish (ekklesia / assembly) today. The Christian priesthood is entirely of the line of David through Christ, and stems from the order of Melchisedec. Heb. 5:6, 5:10, 6:20, 7:11, 7:17, 7:21. So the New Testament priesthood does not get its succession or legitimacy from Levi but directly from Jesus Christ who is its High Priest.
    .
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2020
  8. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    "We believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church..."

    If we use the term "church" to describe people in Noahs' day, Abraham's day, or Moses' day, then we should ask:
    Was that "church" apostolic?

    I don't believe in a pre-apostolic church. I believe in only one church, and that church is holy, universal, and apostolic. The one church is based upon the teachings of the apostles regarding Jesus Christ, and ultimately upon Jesus Christ Himself. No "church" established prior to the apostolic age and Christ's advent fits this description.
     
  9. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Well-Known Member

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    During the lifetime of Jesus the guide was him. During the lifetime of the Apostles, the guide was their direct eyewitness of him. That puts us at 100AD. By this point all of the Gospels and the Epistles were already written. The earliest record of the canon comes as early as ~150AD.

    Thats a very small window for Tradition to be operative and extolled onto the same level as the Scriptures.[/QUOTE]

    But at that time the Canon was not defined as it is today. There were books that did not make the cut but were in use. Some of the books that are in the Bible were in question so there had to be tradition backing up things to keep people on the narrow path until the Bible was formed. Scripture is the highest authority but tradition has played and plays a stronger role than people give it credit for most of the time. I do believe the Holy Spirit guided people in deciding the Bible and in using tradition to keep the church together and defined until the Bible New Testament was codified.
     
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  10. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    If I'm not mistaken, what you're stating is the very reason for the Anglicans' belief that the 1st 4 Councils & 500 years serve to inform our understanding of the N.T. This is the "tradition" you speak of, and it is deemed very relevant. (I have stated elsewhere, though, my opinion that the strength of that tradition declines with the passage of time, such that the best and strongest understanding of the early church was closest in time to the apostolic age.) At the close of the apostolic age, dependence upon oral tradition to establish and maintain orthodox doctrine would have been pretty strong; letters and gospels would have been circulating and being copied, but the written 'snapshot' may not have been as available in some places as the oral tradition was. As time passed, however, the number of copies of each gospel & epistle grew and availability became greater, and the weight of oral tradition would have begun to be lessened as the weight of the writings was gained. By the time the Peshitta was written around 100 A.D., already those writings were being quoted or referred to in a manner that indicated deference and an authoritative weight. (But certain other writings were rarely or never so referred to, and I think our Canon reflects that fact today.)
     
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  11. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    I haven't studied this issue at length, so you'll have to ask better men than me. My only other point on this would be to say that the Reformers certainly didn't appear to be the originators of this idea, because they cite it in passing, seemingly uncontroversially. If indeed the entire Western Church was taken with the assumption that the Church first saw the light of day at Pentecost (and even needed Peter's approval in order to become "church"), then this would've been a major bone of contention at the Reformation, which it didn't seem to have been. My only conclusion therefore is that this was a pretty uncontroversial medieval (and possibly patristic) point of theology, probably not the only view, but easily one of the several options available to theologians.

    As to, whether the idea has merit; I think its greatest benefit is that it avoids the error of Dispensations/Dispensationalism; namely, that God has different 'eras', which means that God changes his mind; which means that there is change in God, which is heterodox. God has divine simplicity, there are no parts, and no change in Him from eternity. The one plan he has had, always was, is, and ever will be. To say that he created the Church at some point would seem to introduce change, and different forms of salvation into his divine ordinance. It would also seem to introduce a huge division and distinction between the Old and New Testaments (which is also heterodox). Thus, we cannot say that there is anything substantially different in God's plan in the New Testament; the NT is not substantially a new or different book. We have to affirm that the OT and the NT are functionally equivalent, and express the same truth in different forms.

    This is why theologians at least since St. Augustine have affirmed that the Gospel is in the OT as well as in the NT. The whole OT (according to the fathers) is dedicated to explaining and pointing to Christ.

    And along this way of thinking, there was nothing 'new' in the Church either; it was always there to offer grace, sacraments, preaching, and to build the kingdom of heaven. The OT Church was Christian before the coming of the Messiah; and the NT Church is Christian after the coming of the Messiah.



    I'm curious why you think that the NT Christians had to have the complete and perfect canon available to them. From everything I know, the early NT Church was completely dwarfed and engulfed in heresies, perhaps far greater than anything today. Surely you've heard of gnosticism, a heresy that absorbed huge portions of the church and arose immediately with the publishing of the gospels. Irenaeus dedicates a whole book about all the early heresies. I would say that before the canon was authoritatively established, the Church was floundering, and many people were lost for the lack of knowledge of what was the correct and accurate teaching.
     
  12. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Well-Known Member

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    I'm curious why you think that the NT Christians had to have the complete and perfect canon available to them. From everything I know, the early NT Church was completely dwarfed and engulfed in heresies, perhaps far greater than anything today. Surely you've heard of gnosticism, a heresy that absorbed huge portions of the church and arose immediately with the publishing of the gospels. Irenaeus dedicates a whole book about all the early heresies. I would say that before the canon was authoritatively established, the Church was floundering, and many people were lost for the lack of knowledge of what was the correct and accurate teaching.[/QUOTE]

    The church was floundering but the truth was preserved also.
     
  13. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    The evidence seems to suggest that before the Canon was widely known, the Church was in a deep decline, if not outright disintegration. The canon was already beginning to assembled in the 2nd century as we discussed, but many still did not know of it, which continued to tear and distort the Church, until the succeeding centuries brought on more frequent (and more consistent) assertions of the canon, which finally made it known widely enough to make it established.

    It is an analogous situation now: are all churches disintegrating right now, before some stronger stand (unseen now) will bring us all together in the future? Yes, the Christian world is collapsing, at least in the West. And yet, can you still find people in various churches who will affirm the truth? You sure can. Does their existence mean that we are surviving just fine without that "stronger stand"? Not at all. Our existence right now is of a rapid collapse, just as it was in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The nominal amount of Christian churches in the Roman Empire was growing, but the catholic church was dying. The Arians were holding their own 'councils' and even counted most of the Christian bishops on their side. It is only through providence that the catholic Church was able to persevere, hold its own council of Nicea, and navigate the politics of the Empire to come out on top in the end.

    My point is that the Church's existence prior to the assemblage of the Canon was far from secure or 'just fine'. The 'Tradition' that existed was far from sufficient from keeping the Church from a headlong disintegration of that era.
     
  14. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Short answer = No, its leaders were not called Apostles, but that would be altogether too simplistic:

    Longer and more sensible answer = Yes! So you have got me labouring on your behalf to bring you up to speed on this, it seems.

    You are trying to work God's progressive plan of salvation backwards in time if you ask the question in that way and tacitly suggesting there was no salvation for the ecclesia before Pentecost. That would be interpreting one section of scripture to make another section of it repugnant and as Anglicans we are forbidden to do that.

    "Was that Old Testament ecclesia on earth led by servants of the living God, who were themselves led by God"? is the question you should ask, and of course, YES it was, is the obvious answer.

    "Was the visible church on earth ever totally obedient to it's Apostolic leaders in the years after Pentecost" and of course the Letters of Paul and Acts of the Apostles testify to the irrefutable fact that it most certainly wasn't, otherwise there would have been no need for those letters to have been ever written, (particularly the ones to Corinth we now possess, let alone the ones we probably don't). Almost all of Paul's letters are addressed to churches within which some of the leadership opposed Paul and his legitimacy as an Apostle, he writes long paragraphs on the fact.

    It should be no surprise to us therefore that the ecclesia in the New testament is as inclined to err as was the ecclesia in the Old Testament and it is only through the Grace of God that it continues to exist, since it is God's one and only plan of redemption through the very same and only Covenant Head, Jesus Christ. So the atonement was not a last ditch effort by God to rescue a plan that had all gone wrong, so that a 'Church' could finally be established to put everything right at last. The atonement was a crucial and essential event which was the culmination of God's Old Testament Plan of Redemption, and also the continuance of that redemptive plan with the added impetus of The outpouring of The Holy Spirit upon the ecclesia, (the people of God), thus enabling it to be what God had always intended from it, from the start.

    It is certainly by your reckoning and criteria though, no different in essence than was the old testament ecclesia.

    The principle Old Testament word for church is derived from a verb meaning 'to call' and the principle New Testament word from a verb meaning 'to call out'. Both denote the church as an assembly called by God. Matt.22:14. Isa.41:8-10.

    It's a rare and beautiful thing for we two to agree on something at last Stalwart. Ps.133:1.

    God has always only had a single Church in the world. The God of the Old Testament is our Lord : The God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob is the God of our covenant and our Father. Our Saviour was the Saviour of the saints who lived before his coming in the flesh. The divine person who brought the Israelites out of Egypt and led them through the wilderness, who appeared in all His glory to Isaiah in the temple, and towards whose coming the eyes of the people of God have from the beginning been turned in faith and hope, is the same whom we acknowledge as God manifest in the flesh, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Consequently He who was head of the Theocracy must also be He who is Head of the Church. The blood which he shed for us has been shed from the foundation of the world, as well to atone for the transgressions committed under the first testament (Heb.9:15) as for us and our salvation. The promise, whose fulfilment the twelve tribes who fervently served God night and day awaited, (Acts 26:7) is precisely the promise upon which we now rest. The faith which saved Abraham was, as far as its nature and object were concerned, the very same as that which is the condition of salvation under the Gospel.

    So Rexlion you may not "believe in a pre-apostolic church", that of course is your privilege, but you are exercising a privilege that the author of the Book of Hebrews abjectly denied himself, apparently. Perhaps you need to rethink this privilege and see if you are truly entitled to it. I'd say not if you intend to remain in agreement with the Apostles themselves, particularly Paul. Of course if you know better than they did then you can by all means go on believing as you do.

    My guess is that the founding members of the Anglican Church agreed with the Apostles on the matter of there ever only being one 'church' in both old and new testaments. That's why they assumed everyone else had no problem with the notion.
    .
     
  15. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    It strikes me that if things were really as bad as you seem to believe, then there would have been no church left to authoritively decide what should be included in the canon of scripture, but there were obviously enough right thinkers and knowers to do the job, because the evidence is, we have the canon. WE must assume though that it was chosen by the knowledgeable chosen and not by the heretics. :hmm:

    Sure there were abundant heresies but most were known by the saints by then to be heresies and so an agreed stack of books which contained the truth of The Faith once delivered to the saints, obviously seemed a good idea among those who were in agreement about it. The main mover and shifter being The Emperor Constantine who had his own reasons for thinking it a really good idea.
    .
     
  16. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Well-Known Member

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    I think we have misunderstood each other. I am not saying that Tradition is fine in securing the church. If that was the case why the need for scripture. As an Anglican Scripture is the highest authority. I am saying that there was a true and sacred Tradition, guided by the Holy Spirit, that kept the church alive and served it to preserve the truth until Scripture was formed and put out there.
     
  17. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    I think the scripture was there all along, at least by 365 AD. It didn't come into existence only after the various canons were compiled.
     
  18. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Only in as much as you seem to be under the mistaken impression that the church had no scriptures until the Bible was complied. Most of the Bible, more than half of it, was written and existed long before Jesus was born. 59.09% of the Bible we now consider canonised was known to Jesus and his followers even before Christians were ever called Christians. Acts 11:26. Acts 17:11. And there were other sciptures that we Protestants and Reformed types no longer consider as such, which were considered by many of them to be as much scripture as the 39 Old Testament books we have selected out of those available for establishing doctrine, refutation of error and training in righteousness.
    .
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2020
  19. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Well-Known Member

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    I am not sure what you are saying. You are quoting me saying we had the Bible but it was not codified yet.That led to people using or accepting books that did not make it into the New Testament or not accepting all of the New Testament but as I wrote there was scripture out there but tradition had to be a guide because it was still a bit of a free for all when it came to New Testament Canon for 300 years.
     
  20. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    What I'm saying is that the church both before and after Christ's incarnaton, life, death, resurrection and ascension had access to the scriptures and also the guidance of teachers, leaders and apostles after Pentecost. We wrongly imagine that in order to BE the church everybody has to have the same doctrine. But that was never the case. To be the church one simply has to believe that one's salvation has been won by Christ and that by believing and doing what he taught concerning our conduct before God and our fellow human beings we would be acceptable to God. You don't need New Testament scripture for that it's all there already in the Old Testament, which they had. The only problem was getting access to it, most could not read it for themselves even if they could access a scroll, (which most could not). Teaching was by word of mouth and churches met in each other's houses. The Gospel was in fact very simple. God loves you, so love God and your neighbour as you would care for yourself. There is surprisingly little theology or doctrine in the New Testament. A huge amount of discourse, story, history and greetings and a great deal of advice for those who are not living as if, God loves them, having love for one another, or caring for others as Christ taught us we should do for each other.

    We don't need doctrine if we are getting right what Christ taught; only if we are getting it wrong do we need doctrine or codification.

    The church was pressured into tidying up the scriptures and agreeing on doctrine by the Emperor Constantine, mostly because he wanted unification across his empire. He only became a nominal believer at the end of his reign but saw a unified church with an agreed set of scriptures and doctrinal formulas of belief as greatly advantageous in securing peace throughout his realm. And he was right and the church prospered.
    .
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2020