Ecumenism, Christian Origins, and the Practice of Communion

By Nicholas Sagovsky | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Little communities and the Catholic church

THE COMMUNITY OF JESUS

Shortly after the death of Jesus, the Galilean prophet, little communities which looked to him as a living Lord sprang up in Jerusalem, in Damascus, and other cities of the region. These were initially groups of Jews, who, despite his crucifixion, accepted the messianic status of Jesus and the proclamation of his earliest followers that he had been raised from the dead. From the earliest days of the community in Jerusalem, there were members who were Hellenised Jews and before long, in cities like Antioch, Gentiles were included within the groups of those who began to be known as 'Christians'.

The origins of the form taken by community life in these little groups were complex. Those in the house churches that were 'the basic cells'1 of the growing movement would have been members of local synagogues2 and Temple-worshippers. Their practice may well have been indebted to particular groups within Judaism like the Jerusalem haberoth: societies of men who banded together in strict keeping of the law, eating meals together in a state of ritual cleanliness.3 Their practice re¯ected

____________________
1
J. E. Stambaugh and D. L. Balch, The New Testament in its Social Environment (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986), p. 140.
2
J. T. Burtchaell argues for the continuity in organisation between Hellenistic Jewish synagogues and the early Christian churches in From Synagogue to Church (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), especially pp. 339–52. He describes how, 'Each community exist(ed) in a network that comprise(d) all others … A local community was bound by adhesions in many directions, through correspondence, embassies, hospitality and disaster relief ' (pp. 339–40).
3
The Jewish Encyclopedia (New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls, 1906), vol. vi, 121b–124a; J. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus (London: SCM, 1969), pp. 247–52.

The close link made by Jeremias between the haberim and the Pharisees is strongly criticised by E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (London: SCM, 1977), pp. 152–4.

-116-

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