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From Synagogue to Church: Public Services and Offices in the Earliest Christian Communities.

This book is a history of office in the early Church; it involves the debate whether the early Church was presided over by office holders or was under the direction of charismatic leaders. The opening chapters survey the debate, the development of which is divided into four phases. In the first, a consensus was reached by late medieval and renaissance reformers (John Wyclif, Martin Luther, and John Calvin) that the apostolic Church was led not by ordained officers but by the Spirit and those whom the Spirit especially possessed.

In the 19th century, the consensus reached a second phase. German and English scholars like Ferdinand C. Baur, J.B. Lightfoot, Edwin Hatch, Adolph von Harnack, and Rudolph Sohm, concurred in the concept of the early charismatic Church, but emphasized that in the second century a deplorable development occurred: the charismatic leadership was replaced by the office of bishops in response to the threats from heresy.

The third phase occurred in the early 20th century, when the consensus was challenged by continental Protestants like Heinrich Holtzmann, Karl Holl and Karl G. Gotz. These scholars pointed out that offices were already present in early biblical documents. They were joined, among others, by those of the Anglican communion, like Austin Farrer and Gregory Dix, as an expression of their belief in apostolic succession.

The fourth phase takes place in the course of this century, when the consensus is restated by prestigious scholars like Hans F. von Campenhausen and Eduard Schweizer. Among the supporters of the consensus in more recent time, two groups are singled out. First, the social analysts, like Gerd Theissen, John Gager, and Wayne Meeks, who smooth out the opposition between charisma and office and provide a more favorable interpretation of the emergence of office. The second group are the Catholic scholars, like Hans Kung, Eduard Schillebeeckx, and Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, who find in an early Christian community without authoritative officers a model for a reform of the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church.

This survey is highly instructive, well documented and very well written. This reviewer, however, misses some details, such as any allusion to French literature on the subject, or any reference to the modification of the Protestant consensus as a result of the ecumenical dialogue.

In his later chapters, Burtchaell argues for his own thesis: office holders presided over the Christian community from the beginning of the early Church, although the leadership deferred to more charismatic members of the community. B. begins with the observation that the members of the early Christian communities were Jewish Christians. From this observation he infers the "antecedent likelihood that the first Christians, being Jews, organized themselves in the familiar and conventional ways of the synagogue." To establish his thesis, B. studies the Jewish community organization in the later Second Temple--this is the best chapter of the book--and then searches for corresponding elements in the communities of the early Church. In his argumentation for continuity in community organization from the Hellenistic Jewish synagogues to the early Christian churches, B. does not seek a uniform model in the synagogue but a flexible pattern that was typical in the various forms of Jewish sectarian groups.

The parallel that B. draws between the program of a synagogue and the agenda of the Christian assembly is very well presented. However, while it is highly compelling in the area of worship, it is less convincing regarding the origin and structure of governance in the Pauline churches. It could be more telling if the Jewish model of synagogue were complemented by Hellenistic models, like that of household governance. Such influence might already have happened in the Hellenistic synagogues of the diaspora.

Although B. makes no comment on the charisms of 1 Corinthians 12 (a surprising omission), he seems to assume along with the Protestant consensus that Paul understands "charism" in the technical sense: as opposed to office--an assumption that has recently been challenged (see TS 53 [1992] 658-59).

Despite these observations, B. has produced an important contribution to the study of the relationship of Hellenistic synagogue and Church in agenda and organization. The identification of this relationship is a valuable addition to the debate on office in the early Church.
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Author:Nardoni, Enrique
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Words:701
Previous Article:New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 2, Writings Relating to the Apostles, Apocalypses and Related Subjects, rev. ed.
Next Article:The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship: Sources and Methods for the Study of Early Liturgy.
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