Life within the Church

The intellectual effort of the early church was at the service of a much loftier goal than giving conceptual form to Christian belief. Its mission was to win the hearts and minds of men and women and to change their lives. Christian thinkers appealed to a much deeper level of human experience than had the religious institutions of society or the doctrines of the philosophers. phers. In this endeavor the Bible was a central factor. It narrated a history that reached back into antiquity even to the beginning of the world, it was filled with stories of unforgettable men and women (not all admirable) who were actual historical persons rather than mythical figures, and it poured forth a thesaurus of words that created a new religious vocabulary and a cornucopia of scenes and images that stirred literary and artistic imagination as well as theological thought. God, the self, human community, the beginning and ending of things became interwoven with biblical history, biblical language, and biblical imagery.

The church gave men and women a new love, Jesus Christ, a person who inspired their actions and held their affections. This was a love unlike others. For it was not only that Jesus was a wise teacher, or a compassionate human being who reached out to the sick and needy or even that he patiently suffered abuse and calumny and died a cruel death, but that after his death God had raised him from the dead to a new life. He who once was dead now lives. The Resurrection of Jesus is the central fact of Christian devotion and the ground of all Christian thinking. The Resurrection was not a solitary occurrence, a prodigious miracle, cle, but an event within the framework of Jewish history, and it brought into being a new community, the church. Christianity enters history not only as a message but also as a communal life, a society or city, whose inner discipline and practices, rituals and creeds, and institutions and traditions were the setting for Christian tian thinking.