Monday, 25 May 2015

Pauline Christianity

Here are some characteristics of the churches which Paul founded and ministered to, as gleaned from his letters:
  • The Christians regarded themselves as the "called" (kl├ętoi) or "chosen" (eklektoi) of God and Jesus Christ (Rom 1.6, 8.33).  Paul warned them not to associate with non-Christians (2 Cor 6.14-15), nor to sue each other in the civil courts (1 Cor 6.1-7).  He told them: "do not conform yourselves to this generation" (Rom 12.2).
  • The Christians worshipped in house churches (Rom 16.5, Philem 2).  There was no very clear hierarchy of leadership.  The eucharist was celebrated (1 Cor 10-11).
  • Celibacy was recommended by Paul, but not mandated (1 Cor 7.1-8).
  • Miracles were performed among believers (2 Cor 12.12; Gal 3.5).  These included healing, prophesying and speaking in foreign tongues (1 Cor 12-14; 1 Thess 5.20).
  • There was a pronounced apocalyptic streak in the Christians' beliefs.  The present time was one of evil and tribulation (Rom 8.18-22; 2 Cor 5.2-4; Gal 1.4).  However, the end of the world was soon to come (Rom 13.11-12; 1 Cor 7.29-31; Phil 4.5; 1 Thess 3-5), on the "day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 1.8; 2 Cor 1.14; Phil 1.6-10).  There would be some kind of judgement through fire (1 Cor 3.13-15; 2 Cor 5.10), and the wrath of God would be visited on sinners (Rom 1.18, 2.5; 1 Thess 1.10, 5.9).  The Christians would participate in judging the world (1 Cor 6.2-3).
  • The resurrection of Jesus was seen in this context.  At the end of the world, the dead would be raised back to life and the living Christians would receive immortal bodies (1 Cor 15.51-53; Phil 3.21; 1 Thess 1.13, 4.14-17).  The resurrection of Jesus was the "first fruits" of this coming general resurrection (1 Cor 15.20-23).
A preoccupation with eschatology seems to be a recurring feature of new religious movements.  It has been seen more recently in Mormonism and the Jehovah's Witness movement, and it was a major theme of the Qur'an.

Interestingly, a significantly different picture emerges in the later, pseduo-Pauline epistles: the belief in the imminent return of Jesus has diminished and an institutional church leadership is emerging.