Finding Church: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

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41 Responses

  1. Michael says:

    This is going to be fun and informative. I’m hoping that it helps draw all of us back to our “roots”…

  2. Duane Arnold says:


    The origins of Christian worship and church order are not as mysterious as some would like to imagine…

  3. josh hamrick says:

    As I am doing a little internal searching, I plan to engage this series. If I become argumentative or distracting, someone please call me out and I will withdraw immediately, no questions asked.

    Thank you for these beginning thoughts, Duane. Thank you Michael for providing the platform.

  4. Duane Arnold says:


    Good to see you here!

  5. Michael says:


    I echo Duane…good to see you here!

  6. Just Josh says:

    Thanks guys. I read, and have read, the early Christian writings. An example of my confirmation bias is that I’ve always wondered, “Wow, how did they get it so wrong so quickly?”.

    Seriously. Trying to learn with new eyes.

  7. Duane Arnold says:


    Another question to ask is “If they got it wrong so quickly, why didn’t all the people who knew better tell them?”

  8. Just Josh says:

    Yep…or maybe…just maybe…the guy reading it 2,000 years later was the one who had it wrong all along. Hard to fathom…but maybe 🙂

  9. Duane Arnold says:

    Ah, that’s why we go to a multiplicity of sources… Of course, it could have been world wide conspiracy propagated by some high church sect! 😁

  10. Dan from Geor says:

    Hi Josh! Good to hear from you again!

  11. Xenia Moos says:

    For instance, in the Didache there are sections on:

    Baptism, conferred in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

    Fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays

    Daily Prayer, including saying the Lord’s Prayer three times a day

    Worship on “the Lord’s Day” and sharing in the Eucharist each Sunday

    There is a church that still does these things.

  12. Xenia says:

    And it’s the 2nd largest body of Christians in the world. Only the Roman Catholics have more adherents, and they used to practice all these things until rather recently.

    So modern (Protestant) practices are not embraced by the majority of Christians in the world.

    It’s always a joy to see Josh again!

  13. Duane Arnold says:

    … And there are also some outside of the Orthodox and Roman Catholics…

  14. Xenia says:

    In other words, it’s not a matter of reading a 2000 year old document to see how early Christians worshiped when all you have to do is look in on your local Orthodox parish church or possibly a trad Catholic parish and behold with one’s own eyes, ears and nose.

  15. Em says:

    There used to be a fella with a TV program (from somewhere in Central Calif., I believe). The whole program was centered on his study of the Didache. This will be an interesting thread to read

  16. Corby says:

    I’m also very interested in this. I’m interested in the, for lack of a better idea, balance? between the fact that there is no prescription in the NT for what the church gathered looks like.

    There are a number of arguments for its absence in the NT. The people at the time knew what they were doing so there was no need to record it. Or, the Spirit didn’t record it because The Lord allows for flexibility in what it can look like over centuries. I mean, the Synagogue was not defined in Torah but the people came up with some form of meeting structure (which consequently informed, on some level, what the church gathered would look like.)

    Some people want a formula, a prescription. Others want freedom and flexibility. What is a well-intentioned discipline like saying the Lord’s prayer three times a day can quickly become a religious yoke a generation or two later, rediscovered to be a good discipline, rinse, and repeat. At the same time, those who value freedom and flexibility tend to lose a sense of grounding over time which is also evident today.

    Take, for example, the eucharist. The question for which I haven’t seen a satisfactory answer is “What was Jesus’ intention for this?” We’ve already had fights about this so I’m not trying to start another one. One of the oldest traditions cites that it was done weekly as early as the periods that Duane is citing. That’s great. So far as I can tell, that was their choice. I’m not saying that’s wrong, I just don’t think it’s an absolute basis for saying it’s the right way to do it.

    This is my own processing. I find most of the evangelical church world to be shallow and clique-ish, trying to do it “our way.” I find (in my own experience) the liturgical world to be locked into tradition, trying to do it “right.” What I would like is something in the middle; something that is rooted in deep practices with constant reminders of the “why” and flexibility in how those things are practiced and expressed.

  17. Duane Arnold says:


    As we go along, I’ll let the evidence – literary and archeological – pretty well speak for themselves. My only comment right now is that in the early centuries the vast majority of Christians had a very good idea as to what Church looked like and it was not a “yoke”. It was an understanding that was common to believers across the breadth of the Roman empire and beyond. BTW, the NT did begin to record what the Church looked like, and that description was continued by those with first hand knowledge… such as the Apostolic Fathers.

    Now, we can say that we don’t like the way they did things in the apostolic era, but that’s a modern choice. I’m interested, however, in the practices of those who actually heard the first followers of Christ and what they did in response…

  18. Em says:

    Well… 😁
    Thinking on Corby’s post… and others here…..
    Considering that God does look on our hearts as we do our worship, i am not convinced that a ritualistic formula IS pleasing to Him…
    Yes, we need structure to a degree, but most of all we need good instruction, good teachers
    IMHO, of course….. 😇

  19. Duane Arnold says:


    Again, I’ll let the texts and the archeological evidence speak for themselves…

  20. Em says:

    Yes, the evidence in archeology and he texts do “speak for themselves.” It is interesting how the world of the Roman Empire was a perfect vehicle to spread the good news and, also, how the citizens of that empire did respond. .. It does make the argument for a formulaic worship structure… at that time….

  21. Duane Arnold says:


    “at that time…”

    We’ll be talking about that…

  22. Em says:

    Dr. Duane, i am sure you will… 😇
    No sarcasm intended – will read with interest
    God keep – God keep us all, eh

  23. CM says:


    I would suppose that the various heresies that cropped up over the centuriesalso influenced the structure, format, style, and creeds of the church. Paul had to contend with the Judiazers in the first century (and I would think that was part of impetus to the Apostles’ Creed and the Diadache). The Christological threats of Arianism in the 4th century (and presumably the threat of Sabellianism) was the impetus of the Nicean Creed. And so on. Am I on the right track here?

    I am not patristics scholar by any stretch of the imagination, nor do I pretend to be one in the Internet.

  24. Duane Arnold says:


    Yes, the Church had to react to challenges. In the early years, however, we see something unique that we should consider…

  25. Em says:

    Wasn’t there a need for teaching by ritual and symbology as so many were illiterate?
    For me the power of the Gospel is stunningly validated by the number of souls who chose Christ knowing their lives were on the line… Caligula and Nero come to mind…

  26. Corby says:

    For clarification I’m not saying it was a yoke for those people in that time. I’m saying those kinds of well-intentioned and fruitful disciplines can become a yoke, a burden, as anything can. I got so fed up with modern worship performances as a staff member of a church that they became a yoke to me to even attend. To me. Modern evangelical expression became, to me, as ritualistic as anything that is typically considered ritualistic. But as has been said, it isn’t the thing, it is the heart behind the thing. Saying the Lord’s prayer three times a day, or doing the Daily Office, can be deeply powerful for some especially in community. For others they can be dead rituals. It is almost never the form, it is the heart behind the form, and I would add that one cannot just the heart that is being displayed as either alive or dead. Being very emotionally expressive and passionate (on the surface) don’t mean anything, just like someone who is very contemplative and processes internally is automatically frozen. It’s just different. Also, sometimes the person doesn’t even know their own heart (be it alive or sedentary in appearance).

    And, I’m not saying I like nor dislike the things they did. I think you read judgment into my post when none was intended. What I was trying to communicate is that some people/groups attach an amount of pride to doing it they way they did originally, be it Calvary Chapel people trying to maintain the 1970’s worship service and songs (and people) or more traditional groups citing that the way they do it now is the way they did it in the Bible, which makes it the right way. Everything has a season. And there is nothing wrong with rediscovering old seasons and bringing them back because many of these seasons have value for a time. Maturity is a cycle that repeats.

  27. How did they get it wrong so early? The letters in the NT were written because of that, yes? The Council of Jerusalem? The messages to the 7 churches in Revelation? OTOH- tradition likely was the surface glue that kept Christianity becoming unrecognizable within a few centuries if not decades.

  28. Em says:

    The letters to 7 churches in Revelation…. hmmm
    Food for thought, TNV

  29. Duane Arnold says:

    I think when we regard Church and the life of the Church as a matter of a bundle of personal preferences, it is possible that we are missing the point. The apostle Paul was not in the upper room at the Last Supper. Yet he writes, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread…”. How did he receive this? Most likely from the apostles who were there… yet he counts this as being from the Lord Himself. Now, as “an apostle born out of time” he passes along what he had received, not what he may or may not have preferred. Likewise, the community that we see in the Didache are not exercising their preferences, but that which they had received. BTW, the earliest description of the Eucharist is in Paul’s letter… the Gospels were written latter…

  30. UnCCed says:

    Ironically, while as usual I enjoy Duane’s posts-I get insight into knowledge usually exclusive to those willing to endure crippling debt, at least in this country (odd when it began “freely you have received, now freely give”).
    And yet, the discussion thus far represents the battle I find within myself representing the old vs the new.
    As Chuck would say “I’m always being asked, why don’t we do it (church) more like the early church, we’ll there’s one thing we know, the early church got corrupted pretty early…” (NT letters and Jesus to the 7 churches).
    On the other side, human nature and history illustrate the desire to constantly reform, which is fairly logical given that most of Paul’s letters and Jesus 7 letters reflect an expectation of reform based on instruction not literally recorded beforehand. What I mean is, it’s fair to conclude Corinthians may have been expected to not allow open sin, but we don’t have proof Paul delineated all the ways they screwed-up beforehand as warnings to them. And just try linking all Jesus’ rebukes to the church (most of His letters) to literal teaching from Him.
    This tension is clear between revealed teaching and expectation, but I have no idea the answer.
    What I think is most important is we don’t ignore it, allowing for Jesus’ promise of the Spirit to “guide you into all truth,” however you might phrase it or practice it, because it’s clear Jesus has quite a lot to say about teaching and expectation, His is the only and should be first Opinion to matter, and most discourse I’ve endured in the church is related to neither.
    To put it another way, I don’t believe I’m only to receive and more reward upon meeting Jesus, but at least I wanted to focus what I know for certain His clear intentions are before worrying about all the other stuff, even if how we practice it differs from each other.

  31. Duane Arnold says:


    The interesting thing to me is that the Church existed and functioned before the Pauline corpus (they were the earliest) and before the Gospels (written later, very close to the time of the Apostolic Fathers). So, we do have a pretty good idea of what the Church looked like from say, AD 40 to AD 120. Perhaps even more importantly, with the idea of plenary inspiration, the Gospels give us an idea of how the early Church viewed Christ, while early Christian writers provide us a view of how the life of the Church continued almost 90 years after Christ’s death. It is all part of a single construct…

  32. UnCCed says:

    What are your thoughts and related implications on the wide variety within the church proper.
    In other words, we have 3 primary divisions, and while I can’t speak to Orthodox or RC, within Protestants, I’ve always marveled while we seem (or talk about) certain WE only have assured salvation, spend a lot more time attacking each other and questioning our salvation than the other 2 camps.
    Even CCs never claimed the “movement” (and trademarked dove) began with Jesus and the apostles, yet how the church constantly re-plows it’s roots to an earliest point on which to stake its victory flag, ignoring the rest of the church it trampled to get there.
    Also, we’ve all shared a lot of the same problems which warranted a direct rebuke from Jesus and apostles (which I hold more dear).

  33. UnCCed says:

    Sorry, I forgot.
    Yes, I too have always found it very interesting how long Jesus moved within and lead the church before “the Word” (and subsequent versions, colors, etc).
    However, I’ve got no one inside Protestantism to have that discussion with or bunker built to hide in after it’s over.

  34. Duane Arnold says:


    In the not too distant future I’ll be addressing some of this. On the subject of questioning someone’s salvation, however, we should simply admit that this whole notion came out of 19th century revivalism.

    On the other matter, James Dunn is good on the oral tradition spanning the time between Christ’s life and the writing of the Gospels… This also ties in to the life of the early Church as the earliest recorded words of Jesus are the words of institution quoted by Paul – and the Corinthians already knew those words from their own celebrations of the Lord’s Supper…

  35. Corby says:

    Duane @ Jul 7 5:04. I see your point. I really do, through a modern lens. However, If we combine scripture with the early writings, we do see changes. We see an evolution of what the church gathered looked like and did. Any number of things could have driven those changes and probably did. It’s not as if Jesus gave the Apostles a manual that said “this is what gathering looks like, no more no less,” which they then passed on to Paul, etc. But even then it continues to change.

    Acts 2:42+ gives us a snapshot of the earliest model but they didn’t do that forever. The church’s culture was predominantly Jewish which had to inform a number elements. As it spread, the church gathered in Colosse looked culturally different, to a degree, than the one in Capernaum. Yet the point of this I suppose is what were the common universal elements (i.e. communion).

    In all of this I’m not really making an argument for or against anything. Most of this subject has been at the root of my own dysfunction with church. This is going to sound judgy, but it isn’t. Don’t read any implication outside of my own self. I start with scripture. It’s how I was spiritually raised. It is (supposed to be) the most objective source of information (granted it is interpreted subjectively but that’s not the point). To me, me, the writings of the early patristics are relatively subjective sources of information compared to scripture. Being the writings of people, the content tends to be come through a filter of opinion of the writer. While one could argue that is true of scripture, scripture is considered inspired while patristics are not.

    In other words, I need, me, to read Jesus clearly say “Communion is to be viewed as (blank), and received in this way via this process” in order to experience it in that way. But he didn’t. I still can’t decide if communion is sacramental or memorial because I find Jesus’ own words on the matter unclear in context. I need to read Peter say “you should say the Lord’s Prayer three times a day” but he didn’t. Even if first and second generation followers of the Apostles directly quote the Apostles on church life together in such a way that they say “do these things in this way” those things evolved. They changed. They arrived at them over time and, to me, that does not make them absolutes, but results. It also says to me, me, that they can continue to evolve. But, that evolution has limits. I guess the dilemma is understanding those limits.

  36. Duane Arnold says:


    The field of patristics does not claim inspiration. The post-Apostolic writings, however, give us a pretty good idea as to how the first, second and third generations understood the words of Jesus and the writings of the apostles. Some of them had actually heard and known the disciples. Moreover, what they understand is amazingly consistent across the breadth of thousands of miles. Hearing their voices requires some degree of humility, that is subordinating our judgment, at a space of 2000 years, to the judgement of those who actually heard and knew the apostolic writers, both immediately or, for the next generation, at a distance of decades.

    As I don’t know your background apart from what I see you write in threads… I’ll take a risk. If asked, could you give me a good overview of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa in say, the year 2000? I imagine you could. I could tell you of my impressions from the 1970s. Together, we could probably paint a pretty good picture. If we brought in my friend, David, and perhaps Michael we could expand that picture. This is what is being done in the writings of the post-apostolic age…

  37. CM says:


    The classic example I know of is Irenaeus who studied under Polycarp who studied under the Apostle John. Iranaeus wrote Against Heresies at around 180 AD I think (less than 100 years before the Apostle John died).

  38. Corby says:

    I guess what I’m saying is that, yes, we will get an accurate picture, no doubt, but of what? Not of a divine prescription for what assembling together regularly should look like for all time, just of what they did at that time.

    I’m not even saying what they did was bad, or good, it’s just what they did, and they came to doing that over time. It evolved as the church grew, matured, and crossed cultures, even during the lifetime of the Apostles. I’m very, very interested to know what they did and why. But, for me, unless Jesus said “do things like this for this reason” that doesn’t mean we are supposed to copy and paste it across time and geography (just the essentials, if they can be determined).

    I’m not suggesting that you (Duane) are saying that that is what we should be doing or that is how we should view what they did then, just echoing what I think UnCCed said earlier, that people like to glom on to origin stories, replicate it, and point to it as a sign of authenticity.

    Yes, I come from a CCCM/CCBC background (early 90s) and ironically, contrary to what what Chuck was quoted as saying earlier (I totally believed he said it about corruption in the early church BTW, this is not a surprising contradiction), I do remember hearing (and feeling) an amount of pride citing Acts 2:42+ and how we do things like the early church did, and those verses were the model for CC. They claimed it as a sign of authenticity, in their view. While they could argue all day long that they weren’t opposed to denominations, as such, and that they jus did things their way, underneath it they (myself included at the time) believed it was the right, most authentic way and what the early church must have looked and felt like. This is what I was taught and believed at the time.

    In my recent Anglican experience, I’ve heard explained, to a lesser degree and with much less pride, that their liturgy is modeled after the early church. It gave me pause. Academically and historically I am very curious. It just makes me twitchy what people do with that knowledge.

  39. Duane Arnold says:


    “I guess what I’m saying is that, yes, we will get an accurate picture, no doubt, but of what?”

    Well, let me put it this way. Whether we acknowledge it or not, the canon of Scripture was established by this same early Church. It seems to me that it is odd that we would accept their wisdom and fidelity to the apostolic era in terms of the canon, yet in terms of worship and church order say that theirs was simply one choice among many… This, by the way, is one of the many incoherent inconsistencies in modern evangelicalism, at least in my opinion.

  1. August 25, 2020

    […] While some will beg to differ with me in what I just wrote here, to do so they have to read between the lines of the Word of God and ultimately go to the historical (non-scripture but not unimportant!) church record to, if you will, ‘flesh out” or give illumination as to what early church gatherings were like in practice. (A church historian friend of mine has much more on the norms of early church gatherings if you wish to go deeper, and do notice he offers his findings in 5 parts: […]

  2. April 30, 2021

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