The Church as it was

Actually, also as the writers of the New Testament clearly recognized, the Church was far from fully attaining this ideal. It was badly divided. On the very night of the prayer of Jesus for the unity of all Christians and only a few hours before that prayer was voiced, the disciples who were to be the nucleus of the Church were quarrelling over who of them should have precedence and one of them had gone out to complete his prepara tion for the betrayal of his Master. Even in the first generation of its existence the Church was torn by dissensions. In one local unit of the Church, in Corinth, there were factions between those who professed adherence respectively to Paul, Apollos, Peter, and Christ, and between rich and poor. As we are to see more particularly in a moment, the Church was deeply and bitterly divided between those who held that to become Christians Gentiles must adhere to Judaism through the symbolic act of circumcision and those who maintained, with Paul, that this was completely to misunderstand and pervert the Gospel. Before the first century of the Church was out, some were denying that Christ had come in the flesh, presumably foreshadowing movements, notably Gnosticism, which in the second century were to be major sources of division. Morally the Church was far from perfect. Some of those who wished to be regarded as Christians were adopting the attitude, technically called antinomianism, which was drawn from a misconception of man's response to God's grace and which was to recur again and again through the centuries, that the Christian need not be bound by any moral law. In at least one local congregation at the time of the common meal, some became drunk. We hear, too, of members of the Church being accused of fornication. In one congregation we have the spectacle, later to be almost chronic, of an outstanding member who was eager for power and control.

In this contrast between the ideal and the actual in the Church we have another example of the seeming paradoxes which are so familiar in the teachings of Jesus and in the New Testament in general. It is the setting up of perfection as the goal towards which Christians are to strive for themselves and for all men, paralleled by the frank recognition of the degree to which performance falls short of the goal.

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