Spiritual Life in the Early Church: The Witness of Acts and Ephesians

Spiritual Life in the Early Church: The Witness of Acts and Ephesians

Spiritual Life in the Early Church: The Witness of Acts and Ephesians

Spiritual Life in the Early Church: The Witness of Acts and Ephesians


Common is the assumption that the piety of the earliest Christians is determinative for the church of all ages. But what were the basic features of this spirituality? And how can those ancient practices and attitudes be brought to bear on religious life today?


In recent years there has been a great hunger in the churches for a more profound spiritual life. Either because we have lost touch with our brothers and sisters in the pews or because we somehow view the field of spirituality as at best suspect and at worst beneath our notice, we in the academy have done little to feed that hunger.

In this book I attempt to speak to the pastoral need for a deeper relationship to the God of Christian faith. Its aim is modest: to introduce the general reader to the spiritual life of the early church by presenting some of its attitudes and practices, and to do so without the encumw brances of an unduly daunting apparatus.

Chapter 1 develops a working definition of spirituality as the term is used in this book. Then in chapter 2 the religious backgrounds of the New Testament are examined to help orient nonspecialists to the religious environment of the early Christians; this material is not intended to be definitive.

The remainder of the book (chapters 3–9) focuses mainly on the church as it is depicted in the Acts of the Aposdes which, while not used uncritically as a historical source for early Christianity, at least presents one early Christian’s view of his church. A general essay on the spiritual life of the Jerusalem church is followed by specific studies of the use of the name of Jesus, of the Lord’s Supper, and of Acts 4:2331 as an example of the prayer of the early church. Moving from the Jewish environment of Christianity in Jerusalem to its Hellenistic background in Asia Minor, I note the relationship between Acts and Ephesians and then turn to a discussion of Ephesians 3:14-21 as an example of how an early Christian writer used prayer in the production of Christian literature. The conclusion suggests how the spiritual life of the early church can inform our practice today.

In the initial chapters, scholarly apparatus has been deliberately kept to a minimum. Generally speaking, only direct quotations are noted; instead, chapter 2 closes with a bibliography of works consulted, which may be of use for further exploration the reader may wish to pursue. The later chapters have more extensive notation, as I assume the reader will want a more complete presentation of the specific subjects treated.

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