Early Christianity was "decentralized"

I am in a debate on another board where people are claiming that early Christianity consisted of a bunch of groups who all taught “sort of” different things, that the Gnostics were just another sect of Christianity, and that it stayed this way for hundreds of years until the “Roman Catholic Church” took control. I know this not to be true, but I am having a hard time coming up with authoritative sources to demonstrate what the early Church was like. These people are not fundamentalists, so I think if I could show them a source or sources that were objective, they’d accept my argument. Can anyone help out?

The problem with their argument is that it ignores St. Paul’s letters which contain talks about Bishops, Deacons, and Priests. Check out Titus 1:5. Then also check out 1 Tm 4:14 and 2 Tm 1:6. These talk about the hierarchical make up of the early Church. It has a definite power structure. The priests gets their authority from the laying on of hands.

1 Tm 4:14 actually talks of a “council of elders” and Acts shows St. Peter’s primacy during the Council of Jerusalem.

These are a few of many points you can make. :wink:

Oooh, thanks! Although I have a feeling these guys will say that the canon of the New Testament is just what the “Roman Catholic” church wants us to know, and that there were many other Christians and texts in circulation which prove that there were many forms of Christianity. In other words, they won’t be quick to accept the Bible as authoritative. But I will give it a shot, thanks again!

As well as Paul’s chastizement of the Corinthians (1 Cor) for aligning themselves to particular tearchers rather than the Gospel.

Any alternative that has to posit a conspiracy theory…let’s just say you might want to extract yourself from this before you get sucked dry.

Get the book “Four Witnesses - The Early Church in Her Own Words”, by Rod Bennett. It uses the Early Church Fathers to explain the first 200 years of Christianity in a very clear manner. (This book really should be required reading for all Catholics, IMO.)

What sort of people are these then? It would shape the materials I would use when arguing them.

They are former Christians, one of them formerly Catholic, now agnostic or atheist, and pretty well-educated, generally speaking, but lacking depth in Christian historical knowledge. One of them was raised as a fundamentalist, and even though he is not religious now, his perceptions are certainly influenced by what he learned as a child about the Catholic Church. They are not conspiracy theorist types - in past discussions with them on other topics they have always been pretty reasonable. They are tossing out simple generalities: for instance, since there are a lot of early Christian writings that didn’t make it into the Bible, that must mean there was no cohesion among early Christians.

Well, you’re going to need to get them familiar with the Early Church Fathers. First, discuss with them the “alternate” forms of Christianity out there, specifically, Gnosticism, Docetism, and Arianism, and describe to them what precisely they believed. Especially with the first two, you need to show that most of their sources are written well after those that are codified into the Bible. Next, you need to show how their beliefs are radically different than anything around today. These were not Protestant groups, but groups with beliefs more akin to the Scientologists. You then need to quote Early Church Fathers that demonstrate that many regions were concerned about these heretical groups and their radically wrong beliefs, and also show how the structure of Bishops was clearly around very early on. This crisis of alternative beliefs finally leads the church to decide on the “minimum” requirements to be considered Christian (The Nicene Creed developed at the Council of Nicaea). They also decide to codify the Bible, to make it clear that there are very valid reasons why other books are NOT included. (You’ll want to investigate those reasons, btw.) You also want to demonstrate how thoroughly organized the church was BEFORE Constantine, so that they know that he wasn’t the one coming up with all of this.

I would related their last example to a really good rock band who gets big. I would then point out that in a little while you get a whole bunch of ****** bands trying to sound legit and stinking up the place.
Would that take away from the good band? No.

Just because they were knockoffs doesn’t mean that they were ever in the good band in the first place, let along recognized as being a good band.

I would call them out on making simply generalities.

I would probably also say that I will pray for your soul line… call them a bunch of communists… social fascists… infidels…intelligencia wannabes wearing black drinking starbucks driving prius’ dancing like sprokets window lickers. But that’s just cause I have such a great sense of humor. :wink:

Unfortunately, this is a topic where it is probably going to be very hard to convince your opponents. There were other groups that claimed to be the true followers of what Jesus taught. The ebionites, gnostics and others all claimed to represent the true teachings of Jesus. So to some extent, they are right. That being said, the only real answer is to look at the fact that most of these other denominations never really gained a significant following. Indeed, most of them virtually ceased to exist by the time of Constantine.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.