Church History - Part 1 (The Early Church)

If you missed it, take a few minutes to check out the first 2 podcast episodes (78 and 79) of the series where we will be diving deep into the topic of Church History and eventually the history of the Bible.

Hopefully after listening to Episode 78 and 79 of The HRM Podcast, you would be able to answer a little more about Church History than before. The topic itself is massive and will certainly take more than one episode or blog post to really cover it, but we will chip away at this mountain a little at a time.

The best way to tackle a topic as enormous as this is by breaking it down into manageable chunks that you can work through.

The way we will break this down will be as follows: Church history covers from the time the Church began (~33 AD) up to this moment.

So let’s go back to the beginning and start there from the first century through the third. We will categorize this period from about 33 A.D. through 300 A.D. as “The Early Church”.

So what exactly is the “church”? We are not talking about the buildings you see on every other street corner, but rather this is the body of believers that follow Jesus as Lord and Savior. The word church comes from the Greek word ecclesia which means “a called out company or assembly.” The Church we refer to from the Bible is not a physical place but a collection or congregation of Christians.

A form, or transliteration use, of the word ecclesia is heavily used in the New Testament. In Matthew 16, it is used for what Jesus tells Peter when He says, “on this rock I will build my Church”.

The disciples were of the first to be part of the Church as we know it today and were a big part in the growth of the church following Jesus’ ascension to Heaven. Jesus tells His disciples as He is preparing to leave, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). We see this happening throughout the book of Acts and other New Testament writings.

At the beginning, we see God moving through significant growth as recorded in Acts 2:41, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Now you may think that due to its popularity, Christianity was becoming accepted and would not face much push back. However, it is quite the opposite as the Church is being persecuted.

Let me preface by saying, this isn’t just name calling or shunning. Christians are being imprisoned, beaten and even killed. These attacks are coming from multiple directions and groups. There are three main streams of persecution that the early Church is dealing with I want to highlight.

First were the Jewish leaders (i.e. Pharisees) that were in part angry that Jesus was stripping away their power and control as well as challenging their belief system in many ways. We see this via Saul (who eventually became Paul). 

Then the Church faces persecution from Rome and those in charge. One major opponent of Christianity was the Emperor Nero. One of the major calls for persecution towards Christians was due to a disastrous burning of Rome (that was believed to be started by Nero), that he blamed on Christians.

The third channel of persecution was more internal as some began to push false teachings and doctrines that were misleading those within the Church and ultimately causing divides between groups of Christians.

Due to this persecution, the Christians are scattered and spread out across the world. One may think that due to the difficulties and hardships, people would turn and walk away from the faith. However, the opposite happens and more people begin to follow Jesus.

With all that was happening and things the Church was facing: persecution, false teaching, growth and expansion of the Church, there are three key developments I want to point out.

  1. The church begins to establish clergy (leadership) to help steward and organize
  2. The apostles begin to write the letters (New Testament books) in order to pass on their knowledge and what Jesus had taught
  3. Creeds are created to help the Church stay true to the core and fundamental beliefs

Really, the foundations are being set for what we know as the Church today and in order for us to have the records and knowledge of Jesus and Christianity in our time. This is incredible and amazing when you truly think about it. The early days of the Church were so crucial and important. One of the most encouraging things I want to leave you with is this, that even through the difficulties the Church faced, God was able to bring good out of it all, as we see the Church grow and flourish in the midst of such pain and hardship.

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