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From Synagogue to Church: Public Services and Offices in the Earliest Christian Communities Paperback – 11 Mar 2004

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"This is an important, very well organized, clearly argued book." Église et Théologie

"This book is a good historical overview of the consensus which has shaped much of our thinking about leadership within churches..." EARL (John Hopkins)

"...highly instructive, well documented and very well written....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." Enrique Nardoni, Theological Studies

"...lucid and accessible...an original contribution to the age-old and ongoing controversy concerning leadership structures in the initial Christian communities." Priests and People

"Professor Burtchaell has written an important book on the origins of ordained ministries....a pleasure to read, even at its most challenging." Gerard S. Sloyan, Worship

"In this learned and significant study James Burtchaell, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, challenges the long standing and often reiterated Protestant 'consensus' positing a discontinuity between church and synagogue." E. Glenn Hinson, Church History

"Burtchaell's reading of the history of the debate is...convincing....he correctly challenges the idea that ritual and structure are alien to true religion, suggesting that true religion is also found in the institutional expressions of community, even in Christianity." James C. Hanges, Critical Review

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This important work engages with a long historical debate: were the earliest Christians under the direction of ordained ministers, or under the influence of inspired laypeople?

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For the last century and a half historians and theologians have strenuously invested themselves in dispute regarding the polity and order of the earliest Christian communities. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The Continuity of offices of the early Church 20 Jan. 2011
By Margaret M. Mueller - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
James Burtchaell writes a much-needed history of the roles and responsibilities of leadership in the early Christian churches. Fortunately for most readers, he carefully traces the history of scholarship on Church offices from the Reformation to the twentieth century which reveals how cultural biases of authors have yielded to genuine research into the continuity between the Temple, synagogue and church. Burtchaell's contribution to the discussion is the character of the first century synagogue, its leadership and services, how those roles were translated into Christian communities.

Too often, Protestant leaders and their communities have sustained the biases of the Reformation and German scholarship on Church history. From a European perspective, the righteous rejection of corruption of medieval Roman Catholicism has long been considered legitimate reason for rejection of the priesthood which reformers considered a man-made office, full of lust for greed, power and abuse. Burtchaell's well-crafted scholarship indicates that church offices had their roles and responsibilities in the synagogue and temple. He points out that even in Acts and the Epistles, pride and corruption were snares for those who held office. Somethings are consistent throughout history; people are sinful.

While Burtchaell finds no mention of the offices of bishop or priest in the first century, by the early second century, early church writers are describing an established office and responsibilities. In one instance, Burtchaell defends the absence of written evidence as inconsequential, but in this instance finds it substantial to indicate that priests and bishops were not those designated to consecrate the gifts.

The book is well researched, well written and a good read for those interested in early church history. My only complaint is that, like so many authors, their is only sparce attention given to the histories of Middle Eastern and North African churches where so much of this history was lived, and which has a very different history of clerical humility and service, not one that amassed power, wealth and armies. The presumption of most historians seems to be that the template of the Vatican is the only history of Christian clergy. Christian history both Western and Eastern has a legitimate witness to offer.

From a different perspective, I found it startling that the Sanhedrin was '70', that the Alexandrian synagogue was '70', and that this is consistent with the Eastern Christian understanding that outside of the 12 Apostles, those mentioned in Acts and the Epistles constitute what we call "The Seventy." In the histories of local communities in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean, each of "The Seventy" are recorded as those who were ordained by one of The Twelve Apostles, with laying on of hands, who became 'episkopos' of nascent Christian communities. In addition, Burtchaell's scholarship describes the hellenistic synagogue and early church as conciliar, which the Eastern Church remains to this day. These are examples, from my own perspective, where additional investigation of the Eastern Church might be a worthy addition to this area of scholarship. Although Burtchaell gives some mention of the writings of Church Fathers of the period, including Ireneaus, Polycarp, and others, I'm always disappointed that Orthodoxy's own history and that of its communities is largely ignored and books are Euro-centric. The Western Church abandoned many of the Jewish and synagogue legacies, but the Eastern Church has retained many to this day.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Helpful 8 Dec. 2011
By S. Grotzke - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Point: Because the Church was birthed in the context of the synagogue, the leadership structure and happenings of the synagogue were incorporated into the Church. Although there was a set structure, the charismatics lead while the officials presided.

Path: The author begins with four chapters of historical interpretation. The ideas of leaders from the Reformation, the 19th century, the early 20th century, and the last 50 years are all evaluated. The last four chapters discuss the need for a new hypothesis, one which reads history forwards instead of backwards. The final chapter gives his conclusions on the matter: the early church looked like the synagogue, but the Spirit led men were the leaders, no necessarily the officers.

Sources: Helpful footnotes and sources. Excellent source of background material for the history of the debate back to the time of Wycliff.

Agreement: I appreciate his desire to see a continuity between the two organizations. Helpful material. Seemingly thorough.

Disagreement: He questions the authorship of James (but places the pastorals early). This is my first real step into synagogue studies, so I need to compare it to others.
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