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Mercy in the Early Church – a review

The Lord be with you

Mercy in the Early Church: The Gospel of Love and Charity is another mercy essay in the “Mercy Booklet Series” published by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The entire series, twenty-five booklets in all, can be found at https://blogs.lcms.org/2018/mercy-essays-feature-lutheran-theologians-from-reformation-to-today/.

Mercy in the Early Church is a reprint of one of the chapters of Adolf von Harnack’s book Mission and Expansion of the Christian Church. Harnack was a late 19th century early 20th century German theologian who imbibed the liberal thinking of his day. He traveled so far down that road that his father, a respected theologian himself, once wrote asking if Adolf had abandoned the Christian Faith. In other words, Harnack was not a Confessional Lutheran, though he carried the label of Lutheran. In light of this, one might wonder why a Confessional Lutheran Church like the LC-MS would publish any of his writings. Well, as the old saying goes, “Even a blind pig can find an acorn once in a while.” This chapter from Harnack’s is an “acorn” worthy of our attention. (I might also point out that this is always our way. If someone does something worthwhile, we do not reject it simply because they have not always, or even mainly, contributed worthwhile things.)

In this chapter, Harnack does an excellent job of tracking the exercise of mercy as seen in the first three centuries of the Christian Church. Sometimes it is the voluntary efforts of individual believers. Sometimes it is the corporate expression of mercy. These acts of mercy were so bold that even the Pagans took notice of it. Harnack sights both Christian and Pagan sources to make his case that the Christians followed the admonition of St. John, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).

The booklet is 54 pages long, not counting the fine introduction by our synod president, Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison. In it we have a great testimony that acts of mercy are part and parcel of who we are as the Church of Christ, and of who the Church of Christ has always been. The link below will take you to the pamphlet.

Mercy in the Early Church: The Gospel of Love and Charity

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

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