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History of Christianity
From Pentecost to Official Roman Empire Religion
by Dr. Denis O'Callaghan, Ph.D., Th.D., D.Litt., D.Phil., D.D.
Dr. Linda Smallwood, BBS, M.Min., D.Min.

 


In This Lesson
The Apostles in Early Christianity | Did the Early Churches Fall Away?
The Beginning of Church History | Early Christianity (c. 33-325) | Apostolic Church
Taking the Gospel to the Gentiles | Conflicts within the Early Church | Doctrinal Disputes
Persecution and Growth | Early Church Fathers | The Apostles' Creed | Christianity Becomes State Religion

 

Introduction
I want to focus on the events that shaped Christianity as we know it today, and on the parts of history that give us the best picture of Christianity as it was delivered to the Church by the Apostles.

The Apostles in Early Christianity
Most Christians do not understand the importance of the Apostles to early Christianity. They were considered the ones to whom Jesus had delivered the faith, and it was the job of the Church to preserve that faith unchanged. The thought that there was ongoing revelation or that the Church would eventually "improve" upon the Apostles' teachings would have horrified the early Christians.

We have learned about the plan of our salvation from those from whom the Gospel had come down to us. This is the same Gospel message which they once proclaimed in public — and at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed perfect knowledge, as some dare venture to say, boasting themselves to be "improvers" of the Apostles.1

The very reason we have the Scriptures is because the early Christians took every effort to collect and preserve anything the Apostles had written. Today, we tend to think that some council decided what books should be in the New Testament by whether they "felt" inspired and whether they agreed with Church doctrine. No, not at all. [Please see the four in-depth discussions of how God delivered the Holy Scriptures to us starting with "How We Got the Bible"] To the early churches, anything from the Apostles was inspired. They were simply obeying what the Apostle Paul had commanded:

"Therefore, brothers, stand fast and hold to the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by letter." (2 Thessalonians 2:15)

"If anyone considers himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things I write to you are the commandments of Christ." (1 Corinthians 14:37)

A look at the beliefs and practices found in the earliest writings of the Church can tell us something about the faith as it was delivered by the Apostles. It can help us understand what the Apostles really meant by what they wrote, and it can give us insight into things that they might have said verbally to those churches.

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Did the Early Churches Fall Away?
Many people believe the churches fell away quickly after the time of the Apostles, but no one familiar with early Church history could possibly believe that. There are several reasons for this incorrect assumption:

  • The problems described in the Bible in letters such as 1 Corinthians, 1 John, and Revelation 2 and 3 are addressed and the churches' repentance are all described in the early writings of the churches.

  • Jesus said to judge by fruit, and the fruit of the early churches was remarkable. They were brave in persecution, holy in life, and effective in evangelism.

  • A look at modern churches will tell you that denominations may change drastically over several hundred years. However, their doctrines don't change much over the course of only 50 years or a century.

Should Christians Study Early Church History?
While I don't think every Christian person needs to be familiar with early Church history, I do think that every church needs to be. Someone ought to know something about Church history. Here's are some reasons why:

  • We are very divided today, and books like The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience document the problem of a lack of holiness in the churches as well. We need all the help we can get!

  • We have a lot of difficult Bible questions. I once studied "Systematic Theology," in which our text book carefully analyzed various theological doctrines. At the end of one of its chapters it listed about 50 verses the authors admitted were difficult verses that seemed to disagree with the book's conclusions. And that was on the very important subject of salvation! Again . . . we need all the help we can get!

  • The Roman Catholic Church (and the Eastern Orthodox churches as well) claim that they are holding to the only legitimate tradition and that the only route to unity is through their organization. Early Christian history makes it clear that it is not organization, but holiness, love, unity and agreement with "the faith" of the Apostles that marks a true church.

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The Beginning of Church History
Christianity began with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And Church history — meaning the activities of His followers and the Church at large from the first century A.D. to the present — began on the day of Pentecost when God poured out His Spirit on the believers in the upper room in Jerusalem. Notice, He did not pour out His Spirit on all the believers in Jerusalem, but only on those waiting and praying in the upper room.

The first Christian church was founded in Jerusalem with about 120 Jews and Jewish Proselytes [Gentiles who converted to Judaism]. The founders included some of Jesus' closest friends — such as Matthew, the brothers James and John, Peter, Judas (not Iscariot), and Phillip — as well as others who were greatly influenced by His teachings — such as Mark, Luke, and the first Christian martyr Stephen — and by one who had a life-altering revelation of the risen Lord — the Apostle Paul, formerly called Saul of Tarsus.

Where Did the Term "Christian" Come from?
The term "Christian" [Greek Christianos] was first used following the founding of the Church at Antioch. The word is used only three times in the New Testament in Acts 11:26, 26:28, and 1 Peter 4:16. "...and when he [Barnabas] found him [Saul], he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." (Acts 11:26). The term was generally not used by the believers at that time. The exception in 1 Peter 4:16 is not an affirmation on Peter's part of his or the other Apostles' acceptance of the term. Rather, he is saying, "If anyone is accused of being a Christian..."

The most common terms for believers in the New Testament are "disciple(s)" and "believer(s)".

  • The Bible uses the term "disciple(s)", meaning "student", approximately 250 times in the New Testament to describe those who trust in Jesus.

  • Jesus uses the term "disciple(s)" 14 times to describe those who follow Him. "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household." (Matthew 10:24-25)

    Mark 14:14—





    Luke 22:11—





    See also Matthew 10:42; 26:18; 28:19; Luke 6:40; 14:26-27,33; John 8:31; 13:35; 15:8.

  • The Bible uses the term "believer(s)" approximately 12 times in the New Testament.

Some say the term "Christian" was used as a derogatory term, meaning "little Christs", and was meant as a mockery, a term of derision for those who followed the teachings of Jesus.

    Sidebar:
    Today, if you were to ask people in North America or Western Europe if they are Christian, many will answer by telling you what denomination they belong to or what church they attend. Or, they will say, "Yes" simply because they don't identify themselves with any other belief system. It is easy to say, "I believe in Jesus," but it is considerably more difficult to sincerely say you are a student [disciple] of the Master. Let us each strive, not to wear the label "Christian", but to be known by our conduct as followers and students of Jesus Christ.

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Early Christianity (c. 33-325)
During the first 325 years, Christianity spread initially from Jerusalem throughout the Near East and into Syria, Assyria, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, Asia Minor2, Jordan, and Egypt. Eventually, Christianity grew from a first-century sparsely-scattered Jewish following to an organized religion that quickly spread across the entire Greco-Roman3 world.

When studying Christian history or early Church history, it may be helpful to divide it into two very distinct stages:

  • the apostolic period when the first Apostles were alive and led the Church; and
  • the post-apostolic period when the early Episcopal structure developed.

    Apostolic Church
    The Apostolic Church was the community of converted Jews and Gentiles led by the Apostles [those who knew Jesus and were taught by Him face-to-face].

    In his "Great Commission" (cf. Matthew 28:19-20), the resurrected Jesus commanded that His teachings be spread to the entire world. The book of Acts provides most of the details for this period.

    Jesus' command in Matthew 28:19 was for them to "make disciples of all nations." However, this posed a particular problem among many of the Jewish converts concerning Gentile converts. In particular, some of the Jewish converts thought the Gentiles should become Jewish first — that is, be circumcised and adhere to the strict Jewish dietary laws — after which they could then become Christians.

    However, the Apostle Peter was instrumental in breaking down these centuries-old customs and prejudices when he went to the home of the Roman Centurion, Cornelius, and led him and his household to faith in Christ. As the Holy Spirit was poured out on Cornelius' entire household, even before water baptism, it would seem that God was affirming that circumcision and dietary restrictions did not apply to the Gentiles.

    The Apostolic Church in Jerusalem later agreed to this. "Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, with the following letter: 'The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.'" (Acts 15:22-29)

    The doctrines of the Apostles brought the early Church into conflict with some Jewish religious authorities. This eventually led to their expulsion from the synagogues. Acts records the martyrdom of the Christian leaders, Stephen (Acts 7:59) and James of Zebedee (Acts 12:2). Thus, Christianity acquired an identity distinct from Rabbinic Judaism, but this distinction was not immediately recognized by the Roman Empire.4

    The Gospels and the epistles record for us the beliefs of the Apostolic Church. These include basic Christian creeds, hymns/blessings, Jesus' teachings and miracles, the crucifixion and resurrection including post-resurrection appearances. Some of these writings are believed to have originated within the Jerusalem Church in the 30s or 40s A.D.

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    Taking the Gospel to the Gentiles
    Unfortunately, the converted Hellenized ["Grecian"] Jews ["Hellinists"] failed to take the Gospel to the Gentiles in any appreciable way. But this would not thwart God's plan which He had put into effect thousands of years earlier when He promised Abraham, "...in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice." (Genesis 22:18)

    So, God called on one special man, a man with a true heart for God and the things of God, a man with a sincere passion to serve and protect the holy Name of his Adonai — Saul of Tarsus, a Hellenized Jew. You know the story, but let's read it again in Acts 9:1-8:

    1"But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest
    2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
    3Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.
    4And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?'
    5And he said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And he said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
    6But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.'
    7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.
    8Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus."

    Then, concerning Saul, God told a disciple Ananias, "...he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel." (Acts 9:15)

    So, Saul became the Apostle Paul who was attacked on every side. The Jews attacked him, the followers of James attacked him, and the Romans arrested and executed him. Paul himself wrote to the Corinthian church: "Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure." (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)

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    Conflicts within the Early Church
    The book of Acts documents the early Church's diversity and need for structure, as Luke records several of the disagreements, in particular those arising between the Judean Jews and Hellenized Jews or between the Hebrew Jews and Hellenized [Greek influenced] Jews.

      Sidebar:
      As we saw on the day of Pentecost, Jews from all over the world made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the great festival. While they all were Jews, not all — or perhaps more appropriately, not many - spoke or understood Hebrew or Aramaic.

      This is because large numbers of Jews lived outside of Judea [or "Palestine" as the Greeks referred to the territory that included Judea] in the first century. These are referred to as the "Jews of the Diaspore", the "scattering," or "exile" of the Jews throughout the Greek world. These exiles occurred first in 722 B.C. when the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, then in 588 B.C. when the Chaldeans conquered the southern kingdom of Judah.

      The victors [Assyrians and Chaldeans] in both instances forcibly relocated the Jews, thus diluting their national and cultural strength. Over the next few centuries the Hebrew language was neglected and forgotten by these exiled Jews. Most diaspora [dispersed] Jews of the first century spoke Greek. As we learned in our studies of how we got the Bible, it was this diaspora that prompted the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek so the Greek-speaking Jews could hear and understand the Law of Moses. This famous translation is known as the Septuagint (or LXX).

      These Jews were referred to as "Hellenized" and were hated by the Hebrew-speaking Jews of Judea. The Hebrew-speaking Jews felt that the Hellenized Jews had compromised their religion since they could not speak Hebrew, God's language, nor could they understand the Law of Moses when read in Hebrew.5

    As a result of the cultural tensions among the Jewish believers, Hellenized believers and Gentile believers, there arose a number of controversies that threatened the peaceful communion of the saints and the carrying out of the Lord's commission (cf. Matthew 28:19-20).

    Luke records in chapter 6 of Acts the first sign of internal trouble, as the Hebrew widows were being cared for while the Grecian widows were neglected. "Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution." Acts 6:1)

    Scripture also tells us these Jewish believers were disposed to bind the Gentile converts to their own customs, and to insist on the observance of the peculiar laws of Moses (cf. Acts 15:1-2; Galatians 2:3-4). The subjects on which questions of this kind would be agitated were circumcision, days of fasting, restrictions of meats, etc.

    • The most notable internal conflict concerned the Hebrew Christians insisting that the Gentile Christians be circumcised in order to be saved. Luke records the issue and resolution in the 15th chapter of Acts:

      1"But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.'
      2And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.
      3So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.
      4When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them.
      5But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, 'It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.'
      6The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter."
      Acts 15:1-6)

      19"'Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God,
      20but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.
      21For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.'
      22Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers,
      23with the following letter: 'The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings.
      24Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions,
      25it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
      26men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.
      27We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth.
      28For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements:
      29that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.'"
      (Acts 15:19-29)

    • To the churches in Rome, Paul wrote about some of their members who were quarrelsome and contentious. 8"But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, 9Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; 10But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile." Romans 2:8-10 KJV)

    • In the 14th chapter of Romans, Paul addressed some difficult and delicate questions that arose between the Hebrew believers and Gentile believers concerning food, the observance of particular days, rituals, etc. As we've already discussed, at issue was the fact that the Christian converts were from both Jews and Gentiles. There were many Jews in Rome, and it's likely that they composed a significant part of the Church there.

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    • Another danger to the believers in Colosse came from the Jewish believers who still depended much on tradition; and many of those traditions would corrupt or make invalid the Gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.

      As you know, however, Colosse was not the only church body that had internal conflicts. The contentions at the church in Corinth, for example, called forth strong rebukes from the Apostle Paul. 10"I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12What I mean is that each one of you says, 'I follow Paul,' or 'I follow Apollos,' or 'I follow Cephas,' or 'I follow Christ.' 13Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)

    • The Apostle Paul wrote several epistles to churches and to young pastors in which he addressed internal arguments and contentions.

      "For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish - that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder." (2 Corinthians 12:20)

      Acts 7:26—





      "Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy." (Romans 13:13)

      1 Corinthians 1:11—





      Titus 3:9—







    • In the 15th chapter of Acts, Luke tells us there was an argument and division between Barnabas and Paul about who to take on a missionary journey. The argument was so severe that they ended up splitting and going their separate ways. "And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus;" (Acts 15:39)

      Also, the Apostle Paul laid out a plan in chapter 14 of Romans that was to allay all these contentions by pursuing and producing peace, kindness, and charity. This he did by the following considerations:

      • We should extend to weaker members the same grace and love as Christ has extended to us (v. 1).
      • We have no right to judge another man in this case, for he is the servant of God (vv. 3-4).
      • Whatever course is taken in these questions, it is done conscientiously, and with a desire to glorify God. In such a case there should be kindness and charity (v. 6).
      • We must all stand at the judgment seat of Christ, and give an account there; and we, therefore, should not take over the office of judging (vv. 10-13).
      • There is really nothing unclean in and of itself (v. 14).
      • Religion consists in more important matters than such questions (vv. 17-18).
      • We should follow after the things of peace (vv. 19-23).

    Doctrinal Disputes
    God's Word is very clear on the topic of false prophets, the importance of maintaining correct doctrine and refuting heresies, and the proscription [decree that prohibits] against them. "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." (Acts 2:42)

    Acts 5:42—





    Ezekiel 13:9—








    Peter wrote: "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction." (2 Peter 2:1)

    "See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ." (Colossians 2:8)

    The Greek word used here for "false teacher" or "false prophet" means "to plunder" or "to rob", as when property and goods are confiscated by the victor [plundered] in times of war. The meaning is: "Take heed lest anyone plunder or rob you of your faith and hope by philosophy." These false teachers would strip them of their faith and hope, in the same way that an invading army would rob a country of all that was valuable.

    The Greek philosophy prevailed much in the regions around Colosse. They were exposed to the influences of these seemingly reasonable and valid systems, which consisted much of speculations respecting the nature of the Divine existence. The danger to the Colossian believers was that they might begin to rely on the deductions of that reasoning more than on what they had been taught by their Christian teachers. Of course, these arguments based solely on human reasoning were not sufficient to lead to the truth, but to lead astray.

    As a result, the Church elders [or bishops or overseers] diligently sought and fought for the orthodox interpretation of the faith.
    The earliest controversies often addressed the conflict between Jesus' divinity and humanity.

    • Docetism believes that Jesus' humanity was merely an illusion. Thus, they deny the incarnation [Deity becoming human].

    • Arianism teaches that Jesus, while not merely mortal, was not eternally divine either and was, therefore, of lesser status than the Father.

    • Trinitarianism maintains that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all one Being with three Persons or natures.

    • And finally... many groups hold dualistic beliefs, maintaining that reality is composed into two radically opposing parts: matter, seen as evil; and spirit, seen as good. Such views give rise to some theological beliefs of the "incarnation" that have been declared heresies. Most scholars agree the Bible teaches that both the material and the spiritual worlds were created by God and are therefore both good.11

    For additional Scriptures concerning the various internal conflicts in the early Church, see also Romans 12:18; 13:13; 14:1, 19, 21; 16:17-18; 1 Corinthians 3:1, 3-4; 4:6-7; 6:1-7; 11:16-19; 2 Corinthians 10:1-18; Galatians 5:10, 15, 19-21; Philippians 1:15-16; 2:3, 14-15; 1 Timothy 1:5-7; 2:8; 3:2-3; 6:3-5, 20-21; 2 Timothy 2:14, 23-25; Titus 3:1-3; James 3:14-16; 4:1-2.

    It is from these epistles that we have received much instruction on Christian conduct, perseverance, gentleness, and true affection.

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    Persecution and Growth
    According to the book of Acts, Christians were persecuted by some Jewish religious authorities who disagreed with the Apostles' teachings. This involved punishments, including death, for Christians such as Stephen (cf. Acts 7:59) and James, son of Zebedee and brother of John (cf. Acts 12:2).

    Larger-scale persecutions followed at the hands of the authorities of the Roman Empire, first in the year 64, when Emperor Nero blamed them for the Great Fire of Rome. According to Church tradition, it was under Nero's persecution that early Church leaders Peter and Paul of Tarsus were each martyred in Rome. Further widespread persecutions of the Church occurred under nine subsequent Roman emperors, most intensely under Decius and Diocletian.7

    By the year A.D. 60, the Christian "sect", especially under the Apostle Paul, had totally separated from Judaism.

      Sidebar:
      Does that sound strange to you, that the churches under Paul "had totally separated from Judaism"? It did to me the first time I wrote it. That's primarily because there are clear distinctions between Christianity and Judaism today that did not exist during the apostles' ministries. Also, most of us are Gentile Christians, so we might not readily identify with the cultural and theological differences and tensions that existed in the early Church. Thus, we may sometimes forget that the Apostles were Jews first. In fact, God's Word refers to God as an olive tree and us as wild shoots [new branches]; and it says we are "grafted into" the root while some of the original branches [Israel] were temporarily broken off because of their unbelief.

      16"...if the root is holy, so are the branches.
      17But if some of the branches were broken off [Israel], and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree [Gentiles],
      18do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.
      19Then you will say, 'Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.'
      220That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.
      21For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.
      22Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.
      23And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again." (Romans 11:16b-23 emphasis added) [I emphasized that last sentence as further refutation of the false doctrine of "Replacement Theology/Supersessionism".]

      As Gentile Christians looking back almost 2000 years, we must remind ourselves that the Messiah was sent to His own people, Israel, first. John 1:11—





      So, naturally, the Apostles and other believers — all of whom were Jewish — went first to their own nation, to their own people. It was not natural for them to even consider going to the Gentiles with the message that the Messiah had come — that is, until the Lord sent the Apostle Paul!

    Persecution of Christians continued sporadically throughout the 2nd, 3rd, and the beginning of the 4th centuries. Christians were persecuted both at the hands of Jews from whose religion Christianity arose, and at the hands of the Roman Empire, the controlling government over much of the land. This continued until the early 4th century when Christianity was legalized by Roman Emperor Constantine I. Constantine and co-Emperor Licinius issued the "Edict of Milan" in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance of all religions — with certain conditions and restrictions — throughout the empire.

    Michael Gaddis wrote:

      "The Christian experience of violence during the pagan persecutions shaped the ideologies and practices that drove further religious conflicts over the course of the fourth and fifth centuries . . . The formative experience of martyrdom and persecution determined the ways in which later Christians would both use and experience violence under the Christian empire. Discourses of martyrdom and persecution formed the symbolic language through which Christians represented, justified, or denounced the use of violence." 8

    In spite of intense persecutions, Christianity continued its spread throughout the ancient world. In The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark argues that Christianity triumphed over paganism chiefly because it improved the lives of its adherents in various ways.9 But perhaps the most important factor was the way in which Christianity was able to explain in very practical terms how a bodily resurrection could guarantee the traditional Greek belief that immortality depended on the body's survival, which of course, does not happen in physical death.

    Edward Gibbon explains the historical causes of the early success of Christianity as follows:

      "(1) The inflexible, and, if we may use the expression, the intolerant zeal of the Christians, derived, it is true, from the Jewish religion, but purified from the narrow and unsocial spirit which, instead of inviting, had deterred the Gentiles from embracing the law of Moses. (2) The doctrine of a future life, improved by every additional circumstance which could give weight and efficacy to that important truth. (3) The miraculous powers ascribed to the primitive church. (4) The pure and austere morals of the Christians. (5) The union and discipline of the Christian republic, which gradually formed an independent and increasing state in the heart of the Roman empire." 10

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    Early Church Fathers/Apostolic Fathers
    From the year 150, certain well-educated Hellenistic men produced two sorts of works: theological and apologetic. Apologetics is the branch of theology concerned with the defense of Christian doctrines by using reason to refute arguments against Christianity. These authors are known as the Church Fathers, and study of them is called Patristics or Patrology.

    The period of time during which these "Church Fathers" wrote and taught is generally considered to run from c. A.D. 100 to either A.D. 451, the date of the Council of Chalcedon, or to the 8th-century Second Council of Nicaea.

    Notable early Church Fathers include Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen of Alexandria.

    Later Church fathers, including Augustine, Gregory Nazianzus, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, and others wrote volumes of theological texts. Some of these fathers, such as John Chrysostom and Athanasius of Alexandria, suffered exile, persecution, or martyrdom from Arian Byzantine Emperors.

    The Apostles' Creed
    The development of doctrine, the position of orthodoxy, and the relationship between the various opinions are all matters of continuing academic debate. Since most Christians today subscribe to the doctrines established by the Nicene Creed, modern Christian theologians tend to regard the early debates as a unified orthodox position against a minority of heretics. Other scholars, drawing upon distinctions between Jewish Christians, Pauline Christianity, and other groups such as Marcionites12, argue that early Christianity was always fragmented, with contemporary competing beliefs.

    The Apostles' Creed, sometimes called the "Symbol of the Apostles", is an early statement of Christian belief. It is widely used by a number of Christian denominations.

    The Apostles' Creed was based on the early Christians' understanding of the Canonical Gospels, the Apostles' epistles, and to a lesser extent the Old Testament. It is quite similar to the old Roman Creed. Because of its perceived early origin, it does not address some Christological issues discussed in the seven Ecumenical Councils of the 4th to 8th centuries or defined in the later Nicene Creed. As such, it says nothing explicitly about the divinity of either Jesus or of the Holy Spirit, nor does it address many other theological questions that became objects of dispute centuries later.

    Fifth-century tradition claims that, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost, each of the 12 Apostles dictated part of it, as it is divided into 12 articles. However, Ambrose of Milan refers to the "Creed of the Apostles" in 390. In fact, the mention of the Symbolum Apostolicum ["Symbol" or "Creed of the Apostles"] appears for the first time in a letter from a Council in Milan (probably written by Ambrose himself) to Pope Siricius in about 390: "Let them give credit to the Creed of the Apostles, which the Roman Church has always kept and preserved undefiled." However, the creed to which the letter refers was not what is now known as the Apostles' Creed, but a shorter statement of faith.

    The earlier text evolved from simpler texts based on the "Great Commission" in Matthew 28:19; and some claim it was already in written form by the late 2nd century (c. 180).

    Although the individual statements of belief in the Apostles' Creed — even those not found in the Old Roman Symbol — are found in various writings by some of the early Church fathers, the earliest appearance of what we now know as the Apostles' Creed was in the publication "De singulis libris canonicis scarapsus" ("Excerpt from Individual Canonical Books") by St. Pirminius, written between 710 and 714.

    Some historians believe the Apostles' Creed was spliced together with phrases from the New Testament. For instance, the phrase "descendit ad inferos" ("he descended into hell") echoes Ephesians 4:9— "he descended into the lower, earthly regions"). This phrase and that on the communion of saints are articles found in The Apostles' Creed, but not in the old Roman Creed nor in the Nicene Creed.

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    Christianity Becomes Official State Religion
    Following four centuries of persecution by the Roman Empire, Christianity, in a very broadly-defined general sense, finally received a reprieve starting with Emperor Galenius. In 311, the Emperor issued an edict bringing about the "official" end of persecution. However, sporadic violence against Christians continued then and continues today, despite various governments' attempts to stop it or denials of its existence.

    Emperor Galenius was succeeded in 313 by an Emperor who was generally pro-Christian, Constantine the Great. During the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 between the then-divided kingdoms, Constantine claimed to have received a vision after which he commanded his troops to adorn their shields with the Christian symbol. After winning the battle, Constantine was able to claim the emperorship in the West.

    No one knows for sure how much Christianity Constantine had adopted at this point. The Roman coins minted up to eight years subsequent to the battle still bore the images of Roman gods. Nevertheless, Constantine's acceptance of Christianity was a turning point for the Christian Church. Constantine supported the Church financially, built various basilicas, granted exemptions to clergy from certain taxes, appointed Christians to several high-ranking offices, and returned property confiscated during the Great Persecution of Diocletian13.

    Between 324 and 330, Constantine built a new imperial capital that he named Constantinople. It had overtly Christian architecture, contained churches within the city walls, and had no pagan temples.

    Constantine also played an active role in the leadership of the Church. In 316, he acted as a judge in a North African dispute concerning the Donatist controversy14. More significantly, in 325 he summoned the first Council of Nicaea, the first Ecumenical Council, to deal mostly with the Arian controversy15. This council also issued the Nicene Creed, which is still used by the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglican Communion, and many Protestant denominations.

    Nicaea was the first of a series of global Ecumenical Councils which formally defined critical elements of the theology of the Church, notably concerning Christology [doctrine or theory based on the nature of Jesus or His actions and teachings]. The Assyrian Church of the East did not accept the third and subsequent Ecumenical Councils, and is still separate today. By 395, the most Christianized regions of the world were Crete, Cyprus, Anatolia, Armenia, the Nile delta, and Numidia [present-day Tunisia and Algeria].

    On 27th February 380, under Emperor Theodosius I, the Roman Empire officially adopted Trinitarian Christianity as its state religion. Prior to this date, Constantius II (337-361) and Valens (364-378) had personally favored Arian or Semi-Arian forms of Christianity; however, Valens' successor, Theodosius I, supported the Trinitarian doctrine as expounded in the Nicene Creed.

    Now officially sanctioned by the Roman Empire, the Church adopted geographical provinces [dioceses] that corresponded to the Empire's territorial divisions. The Bishops were located in major urban centers — called "seats" or "sees" — overseeing each diocese. Among the sees, Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria came to hold special eminence. Though the Bishop of Rome was still held to be the first among equals, Constantinople was second in precedence as the new capital of the Empire.

    Theodosius I decreed that anyone not believing in the preserved "faithful tradition", such as the Trinity, was to be considered a practicer of illegal heresy. In 385, this resulted in the first case of capital punishment of a heretic, namely Priscillian.

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    1 Irenaeus, Against Heresies III:1:1, c. A.D. 185

    2 Asia Minorn.A geographical area at the westernmost protrusion [bump] of Asia. It corresponds to the western two-thirds of the Asian part of Turkey. including the older countries of Mysia, Lydia, Caria, and a part of Phrygia, also several of the independent coast cities, the Troad, and apparently the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Patmos, Cos and others near the western side of the Asia Minor coast. It is bounded by the Black Sea to the north, Georgia to the northeast, the Armenian Highland to the east, Mesopotamia to the southeast, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and the Aegean Sea to the west. [Click to enlarge map; double-click to exit.]

    3 Greco-Romanadj. Of or pertaining to or characteristic of the ancient Greek and Roman cultures.

    4 "History of Christianity", Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 8 July 2012. Web. 9 July 2012.

    5 "First Century Church History", Early Church History CH-101, Copyright 2012. Web. 11 July 2012.

    6 Ibid.

    7 "History of Christianity", Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 10 July 2012. Web. 11 July 2012.

    8 Gaddis, Michael (2005). There is no crime for those who have Christ: Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire. University of California Press.

    9 Stark, Rodney. The Rise of Christianity. Princeton: Princeton University Press 1996.

    10 Gibbon, Edward, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter Fifteen. in 6 volumes at the {{Internet Archive]].

    11 "History of Christianity", Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 10 July 2012. Web. 12 July 2012.

    12 Ibid.

    13 Great Persecution of Diocletiann.The last and most severe persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. In the fourth century, the Emperors Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius and Constantius issued a series of edicts rescinding the legal rights of Christians and demanding they comply with traditional Roman religious practices. Later edicts targeted the clergy and demanded universal sacrifice, ordering all inhabitants to sacrifice to the Roman gods.

    14 Donatist Controversyn.The Donatist controversy of the late fourth and early fifth century posed orthodox Christians against more zealous Christians in North Africa. Named for Bishop Donatus Magnus, the Donatists were members of a divisive church not in communion with the churches of the Catholic tradition. Donatism was an indirect outcome of Diocletian's persecutions. The governor of Africa had been lenient toward the large Christian minority under his rule during the persecutions. He was satisfied if Christians handed over their Scriptures as a token repudiation of their faith. Some Christians acceded to this convenient action. When the persecutions came to an end, however, they were branded traditores, "those who handed (the holy things) over" by the zealous, mostly from the poorer classes. ["Donatism", Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 4 July 2012. Web. 18 July 2012. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donatist>]

    15 Arian Controversyn. Arianism was heretical teaching concerning the relationship of the persons of the Trinity and the precise nature of the Son of God as being a subordinate entity to God the Father. They believed that the Son of God did not always exist, but was created by — and is therefore distinct from — God the Father. This belief is grounded in the passage, "You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I." (John 14:28)

     

              

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