When the last Apostle died sometime in the 90s, the church had to define where authority lay. Scripture was always central. But who would lead the churches like the apostles did? Would it be the itinerant prophets, or would it be the elders? Already by the late 90s, the answer became clear: elders or bishops would lead the church (cf. Ignatius and Clement).
But the elder-led churches in the generation after the apostles frequently encountered persecution and opposition. Emperors persecuted, philosophers accused (Celsus), and Jewish believers challenged the faith (Trypho, Ebionites, etc.).
In response, Christians appealed to Emperors and defended the faith. The question of identity also became extremely important. Who were God’s chosen people, and who was God working through today: Israel or the church?
The New Testament already provides preliminary answers to the question (cf. Rom 9-11), but the new apostles—the elders and bishops—had to clarify for their people what the church’s role was in relation to the people of Israel.
Elders and other church leaders began to answer this question by solidifying the identity of Christians as the people of God. Overwhelmingly, they saw themselves as not only the successors to Israel but the true, faithful people of God, whose roots lie in the faith of Abraham and whose faith is unrevocable in Christ. Here are three witnesses that testify that the church, not Israel, is the true people of God. [Read more…] about How Did 2nd Century Christians Understand Israel’s Relationship to the Church?