THE DRAMATIC FORMATION OF THE CHURCH
It was a quarrel, as usual, among men about God and bread, when Jesus interrupted them. Peter never thought to fish anything else all his life but fishes, nor Pilate to sentence to death anyone but criminals, nor the Jewish patriots that they were losing their greatest opportunity, nor the heathen of Britannia that they were contemporaries with the very God in flesh of their posterity. How many times did it happen that Jesus during the first thirty years of His life was present in the temple when a Rabbi read the prophetic passages on the Messiah! Reading the Scriptures the poor Rabbi measured the distance between himself and the Messiah by thousands of years, and 10--the Messiah in person was listening to his reading!
All the controversies in the synagogues and in the streets of Jerusalem were merely repeated platitudes, when a man appeared in Galilee, who claimed the highest authority and showed the greatest humility at the same time. The Law was the highest authority for the Jews, and the Emperor of Rome the highest authority for Pilate. But Jesus declared himself to be the bearer of an authority which was incomparably higher
than any authority existing on earth. He did not beg either ndrew or Peter or John and James, to follow Him; He commanded them: "Follow Me!" Speaking with authority He gained the confidence of His first followers, and showing humility He also gamed their love. Authority and humility--two qualities which not often were united in the character of
the church-leaders, a good reason why many of them were feared and many others pitied, instead of being respected and loved as Jesus was respected and loved by the first Church. For fear and pity are the degenerate forms of respect and love.
What we call the first Church represented in reality the smallest Church in number as well as in time and space, but the richest in its dramatic changes and conflicts.
Some few fishermen were called by Christ, and this call meant real baptism for them. He let Himself be baptised but He did not baptise His disciples otherwise than by His personal calling to them to follow Him; Pentecost was their "confirmation." The history of the first Church comprised a time not of some hundred years but of some hundred days.
When Andrew and Peter followed Jesus the formation of the Church started. There were already two gathered in His name and conducted by Him in person. As a matter of fact, they followed Jesus at first merely with their eyes and feet, but with their hearts they still followed Moses and the Law. The Twelve Disciples were at first nothing more than twelve insignificant grains of sand placed upon a big rocky foundation of a palace, which had to be built. Only after their confirmation by the Holy Spirit did they become the real pillars of the palace. They were uncertain about their Master and everything He said, and they quarrelled about many things. I think they represented through their differences not one church but twelve churches, but by their common respect and love for their Master they represented one Church only. What a prophetic image of the Church of Christ, say, after nineteen hundred years!
Now as long as the living Jesus was with the first Church she was all right. His life was the source of her life; His authority and power meant her existence and unity. But when the Shepherd was smitten the sheep were scattered. When the followers of Christ saw Him powerless and dead they denied Him and fell back to their natural instinct of self-defence, and the first Church died with the death of Christ. It was
like the green corn in the field smitten by a flail to the very root. The owner of the corn walks in the field and looks with despair on his perished corn. But it happens often that after a few days the field begins under the sunshine to flourish anew, and the corn grows beautifully and brings forth plenty of fruit.
Mary of Magdala and the other Mary brought this first sunshine over the smitten corn. "He is alive!" This was the tidings of the women on the second morning after His death. This tidings about the living Lord Jesus con-verted Peter and the other disciples again to Christianity. "He is alive"--that was the greatest word ever uttered by any human tongue
since the Church was founded. Yea, through this very word the drooping Church was brought again to life. Whatever utterances Peter made during Christ's life were as dead as stone compared with Mary Magdalene's tidings of the living Lord after the catastrophe of His death. The beautiful and true words: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," had no meaning whatever for the future of Christianity in comparison with the certainty that the dead Christ had risen, i.e. that He was Lord even over death. Therefore if I could be convinced that a grain of good as small as the mustardseed should result from the strange quarrels about the primacy of this or that Church--or this or that bishop--I would be very sorry that there did not exist a Church founded upon the memory of Mary Magdalene. For Mary Magdalene, and not St Peter, expressed the first the absolutely decisive evelation, churchmaking and world-changing. "He is alive" was this decisive revelation.
Pentecost was the crown of the first Church and meant her victory over all her internal conflicts and her final armament for the coming dramatic struggle in the world. The Church, which kept herself after Golgotha on the defensive, inwardly against doubt and fear, outwardly against the regardless persecution of men, now, after Pentecost, undertook again her offensive against all her enemies, and became again
the Church militant as she was before Golgotha when the Lord led her in person. This is the second Church, to which also we all belong. Historically, this Church is the second, but organically and dogmatically she is absolutely one with the first Church. Let us see now what were.