Belief, belonging, and behavior in the ancient Christian church

Change of Conversion and the Origin of ChristendomChange of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom by Alan Kreider

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While reading Kreider’s contribution to Constantine Revisited, I noticed that he had written this short book on the church’s changing conception of conversion over the first six centuries of Christian history. Kreider argues that the pre-Constantinian church differentiated itself from the non-Christian world by bringing its members through a rigorous process:

  • evangelization
  • catechesis that taught believers how to behave like Christians (interestingly, before they were considered fully a part of the Christian community) and give up careers considered to be sinful – including those, like soldiering, that involved killing enlightenment in Christian beliefs in preparation for baptism
  • administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper to new converts, which meant that they belonged to the Christian community (in the 300s, mystagogy was added as a stage that explained baptism and the Lord’s Supper)

Kreider argues that the conversion of Constantine that brought more members and a new relationship with the empire meant that the church struggled to teach distinctive beliefs, behavior, and belonging to its members.
From a historical perspective, it’s a fascinating study. It does raise some questions, though. What would have been the right way to handle Constantine and the increased numbers? How were children of believers handled with this model in place? Does participation in government really always mean participation in “the world” in a sinful sense?

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