Beyond the radical and unprecedented physical change involved in a growth spurt, there is the basic new awareness and crisis of identity. High school represents more than the threshold of bodily change and a new bedtime. A new understanding, mood, character, and outlook sweep over the soul. This inner change is necessary if one is to avoid becoming a modern Baby Huey- internal aptitude at odds with external developments.
The church in the first centuries after Christ underwent a similar transformation. The world that the first Christians had preached an early end to, did not after all come to an end. The apocalyptic horizon dipped and was subsumed under a new understanding of the church’s mission.
Apocalyptic ideas began to assume the role of inherited furniture, handed down to believers and not to be discarded, but no longer treasured.
–David J Bosch
The postponement of the parousia produced a crisis whereby the early church experienced a paradigm shift. The Jews had anticipated the coming of Christ, but didn’t discern the twofold nature of it in Old Testament prophecies. Christ who was to be the end of history now came to be understood as the center of history, and the preoccupation with eschatology turned to protology- Christ’s eternal pre-existence.
The earlier emphasized truth of the coming kingdom of God was not negated, but within the changing paradigm it was re-seen in a new light. God’s kingdom DID in fact come, but not in the way some (particularly the Zealots) had anticipated, i.e. the emancipation of Palestine from Roman occupation and the installment of the Davidic kingdom in Jerusalem.
The parable of the four types of soils (Matt. 13, Mark 4), unveils that the kingdom of God came in the way of the divine life sown into the human heart and will grow until harvest when the kingdom of God will come manifestly on earth.
Greek Help and Hindrance
The early affinity with Judaism (cf. Acts 15 and 21) was gradually replaced by an affinity and susceptibility to Hellenism. This new context was both a help and a hindrance.
From the Greeks came a wealth of terms and concepts which were imported and appropriated by the Christian community. Euangelion, musterion, logos, ekklesia were all highly charged, technical terms that were appropriated by the New Testament authors. The Greek assisted vocabulary would only increase with the christological and trinitarian debates in the 5th century.
Hans Küng describes how a new paradigm is often accompanied by new vocabulary. “In times of epochal upheavals theology thus acquires a new shape, even in its literary expression.”
The Greek linguistic heritage became a powerful tool to drill with into the bedrock of the biblical revelation. The lasting legacy is the clarification of the person and work of Christ, the Trinity, and salvation as the organic process of deification.
The early Christians did not simply express in Greek thought what they already knew; rather, they discovered, through Greek religious and philosophical insights, what had been revealed to them.
To understand the actions of the church one must understand the convictions of the church. We must understand the church’s view of itself before we can understand it’s view of the world.
Borsch selects John 3:16 as THE missionary text that exemplifies the Eastern understanding of mission. He sums it up as:
The motive of mission was the divine love, the goal of mission was the divine life, and the result of mission was the church.
The eastern church understood salvation more as a divine and mystical process (theosis) rather than a judicial event. Thus emphasis was placed more on Christ’s incarnation than on His crucifixion. Based on the experience of God’s love and life (for them, in the liturgy), Christians were supplied to live godly and ethical lives expressing the image of God within the structures of society to inspire others to become part of the church. At the same time, doctrinal clarity and polemics advanced and preserved the church within the culture of Hellenistic philosophy.