The Christian Church: Biblical Origin, Historical Transformation, and Potential for the Future

By Hans Schwarz | Go to book overview

3
One Holy Catholic,
and Apostolic Church

THE PERIOD IN WHICH THE NEW TESTAMENT WRITINGS ORIGINATED was formative for the church. We have seen that the church emerged as an entity independent of Judaism but nevertheless deeply rooted in it. Once the church had loosened its ties to Judaism, the next big step was to acquire a thought structure commensurate with its predominantly nonJewish mission. It was becoming evident that the church was evolving into a global structure extending from one part of the Roman Empire to the other.

The adaptation to different thought patterns was a mixed blessing. While it provided the opportunity for contextualizing the Christian faith, it also opened the danger of compromising Christian beliefs with popular religious and philosophical ideas. Therefore the notion has been introduced that the acute Hellenization, i.e., the movement of Christianity into the Hellenistic civilization, undermined the Hebrew understanding of God and Christ. For instance, the German theologian Adolf von Harnack judged that this process turned Christianity into a monotheistic religion for the Greco-Roman world.1 There is truth in this statement. However, we must also consider that without opening itself to the Hellenistic and Roman world and its thought forms, the Christian church would have remained a religion of an ethnic minority. Yet entering this foreign world brought with it the threat that the Christian faith would become absorbed into it, thereby losing its missionary fervor.

In the 19th century Edwin Hatch had ventured a remarkable justification for this Hellenization process, though slightly different from ours, when he claimed: "It is an argument of the divine life of Christianity that it has been able to assimilate so much that was at first alien to it. It is an argument for the truth of much of that which has been assimilated, that it has been strong enough to oust many of the earlier elements."2 As Hatch noticed, this kind of reasoning may not prove the perennial neces-

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