The Organization of the Church, Part 2


The History of Christianity #72

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is 1 Timothy 5:3 which reads: “Honour widows that are widows indeed.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Ignatius of Antioch. He said: “But it is fitting for both men and women who marry to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Christian Life” (Part 9) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

The Organization of the Church (Part 2)

When speaking of women in the early church, mention should be made of the particular role of widows. The book of Acts says that the primitive church helped support the widows in its midst. This was in part an act of obedience to the repeated Old Testament injunction to care for the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the sojourner. But it was also a matter of practical necessity, for a widow deprived of means of support either had to remarry or to seek refuge with her children. In either case, if the new husband or the child was not a Christian, the widow would be severely limited in her Christian life. Therefore, it soon became customary for the church to support its widows, and to give them particular responsibilities. In an earlier broadcast, the story was told of a widow whose ministry was such that she enraged the pagans, and therefore became a martyr. Other widows devoted themselves to the instruction of catechumens. Eventually, the meaning of the word “widow” within the church changed and came to refer not just to a woman whose husband had died but also to any unmarried woman who was supported by the community and who in turn performed some particular functions within it. Some were women who chose to remain unmarried in order to perform their ministry. It is then that one begins to find such strange phrases as “the virgins who are called widows.” Eventually, this would give rise to feminine monasticism, which developed earlier than its masculine counterpart.

The church also began celebrating marriages at least by the beginning of the second century – when Ignatius of Antioch wrote to Polycarp that all marriages should take place with the knowledge of the bishop. It is understandable that devout couples would wish to consecrate their union. But apparently marriages in the church also had another function: to acknowledge unions that were not strictly legal. According to the law of the time, the social status – and the accompanying rights – of a couple was determined by the status of a husband. In the early church women tended to be of higher social standing than men, and therefore official, legal marriages among believers could have serious civil consequences, depriving the wife of some of her rights and standing.The solution was to perform church marriages that had no official or civil sanction.

Next time, we will look at Missionary Methods in Christian Life.


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