Arthur Middleton on the character of primitive Christian religion
From the beginning, emphasis upon the true human nature of Christ was of great doctrinal importance in the face of certain strange ideas circulating over a considerable time. The New Testament knows nothing of a Christianity rooted in abstract ideas but in a historical Person, Jesus, who lived and died and rose from the dead. He was no angel or demi-god but the Son of God who was also really and fully man; divine, but as human as ourselves.
During the first three hundred years the Church was concerned with the best way of interpreting the Person of Christ. There is a convergence of understanding in the books of the New Testament about Jesus Christ. Alongside the opening of the Epistle to the Hebrews, there is the first chapter of the Epistle to the Colossians from verse 12 onwards, the Epistle to the Philippians 2.5-11, and St John’s Gospel 1.1-18.
Jesus was crucified probably in AD 29. The Epistle to the Philippians was written about AD 62. The Jesus of history is the Christ of faith for St Paul; but he had been that for the early believers before St Paul wrote to Philippi and before St Paul’s conversion in about AD 35.
The essential identity of Christ, ‘Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God’, did not originate with St Paul. That fact of identity that Jesus admitted before the High Priest at his trial sent him to the Cross. It marks a turning point in the history of the world.
Christianity was from the first the faith of a community; Christians were the Church, the ecclesia of God, owing their existence to what Christ, the Son of God, had done for them, which they spoke of
in terms of redemption and sacrifice. The Church’s power whereby it was able to bear its witness and do its work was seen as a bond of union between the Church and God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ that they described as the Holy Spirit. It dominates the New Testament. Except for the Lord’s Prayer, there is no passage in the New Testament so familiar in connection with the prayers of Christian people as the end of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians: ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all’.
Other passages bring together the Father, the Lord Jesus and the Spirit: Romans 8.9-17, 1 Corinthians 12.3-6, Ephesians 4.1-6, 1 Peter 1.2. These passages point out the character of primitive Christian religion, and point towards the course which Christian theology was to take. To be in the true religious relation to God meant for the Christian a necessary relation to the Lord Jesus and to the Holy Spirit.