For the Bride: Into the Desert

When we move into early Christianity (from the close of the New Testament to roughly 550 a.d.), we discover that the three pillars were embraced to give shape to the spirituality of the early Christians, who would soon evolve into those we today call the desert mothers and fathers.

The next round of posts will explore the early Christian tradition in relation to the three pillars. If you want to go beyond my weekly reflections to see a more-detailed picture of early Christianity in relation to love, non-judgment, and holy conferencing, I recommend these resources,

(1)’The Didache’ (available in many editions), thought by some to be the first writing after the close of the New Testament era, but if not, surely among the earliest.

(2) ‘The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks,’ translated by Benedicta Ward (Penguin Classics, 2003).

(3) ‘The Forgotten Desert Mothers,’ by Laura Swan (Paulist Press, 2001).

(4) ‘The Word in the Desert,’ by Douglas Burton- Christie (Oxford University Press, 1993).

Today, a brief word about the significance of early Christianity–what John Wesley and others referred to as “Primitive Christianity.” Far from being abandoned as irrelevant, this period of Christian history has often been thought of as strategic for the establishment of Christian faith and life.

Most importantly, it was the creedal era–the period in which the Church produced the Apostles’, Nicene, Chalcedonian, and Athanasian Creeds. Historians have written extensively about the challenges and controversies which attended the creation of these creeds. But for now, suffice it to say that God was pleased to use this period to give the Church its foundational affirmations of faith.

In addition to the creeds, the writings of the early Christians (the pre-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene Fathers) fill upwards of 35 volumes, providing critical commentary on Scripture, and a host of other wisdom as well. The writings of these people, and others, reinforce the writer of Hebrews’ claim that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (12:1).

And finally, (at least for this post) we note the monastic movement which spread throughout the middle-eastern world and into Europe, providing personal and communal formation that continues to shine light on our Christian journey today. The hermits and monastic communities helped preserve, interpret, and transmit Christian faith through the period of the initial persecution of Christians, the fall of the Roman Empire, and into the dawn of what we now call the Middle Ages. The emergence of a new monasticism in our day reveals the abiding value of the original monastics.

Despite the length of this post, the point today is simple: we see the three pillars of the Bible carried over into early Christianity. We have confidence for emphasizing the three pillars today and receive them as sure footing to stand on as we shape life together in the 21st century.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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