Tree of Life – Level 1, Lesson 7: History of Christianity
The history of Christianity rightly begins with the birth of Jesus the Christ. The prophesies were now fulfilled. The Gospels relate the Master’s work and words. Yet, until he arose from the dead, those who followed him little realized the mission before him.
Most sources agree that the Christian Church, the ancient Apostolic Christian Church, began on Pentecost. On that day, as we read from the Acts of the Apostles, there came suddenly a sound from heaven almost like a rushing wind and this filled the house wherein the company was gathered. “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.” And they began speaking in tongues. Those standing outside each heard them speak in their own language.
The forty-first verse of Acts 2 tells us that “the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” Luke continues by saying that “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
The Apostolic Christian Church grew upon the stormy foundation of the solid Rock Jesus Christ, which was symbolized by St. Peter. Its seed grew and was nourished by the blood of the saints and martyrs.
At first, however, those who followed Jesus Christ could little be distinguished from the many sects of Judaism. The disciples followed the laws of the Jewish faith to the letter, and insisted that those who followed the teachings of Jesus Christ do so also.
This period is called “The Church in Jerusalem,” for although most of Jesus early followers were Galileans, the headquarters was in Jerusalem. Two problems quickly arose. One was their relationship with the Jewish authorities, and the second was with the Jewish faith and nation. Those who had killed the Master were not about to be open to his followers teaching in the open. Acts gives us many accounts of their attempts to silence the apostles.
The two main groups of Christians were orthodox Jews and Greek proselytes and Greek speaking Jews. The orthodox Jews believed they had to follow the Law and observe the Temple worship as part of their faith. The Greek speaking Jews and Greek proselytes felt they were being left out. Many of these Jews had returned from lands conquered by Alexander the Great. In cities like Alexandria, Antioch, Corinth and Ephesus, large Jewish communities lived and prospered. The Greek proselytes were Greeks who observed all the Jewish Law, except circumcision.
The differences between the two groups came out into the open. The Greeks felt their widows and orphans were not being taken care of by the orthodox Jews. The apostles met and decided to appoint seven disciples to correct this. One of the seven chosen, Stephen, re-opened the split by calling the Jews “murderers” (Acts 7:2-53). In the persecution which followed, the orthodox Jews were not forced to leave Jerusalem, but the Hellenized Jews and the Greek proselytes, who had accepted Christianity, fled.
The Christian mission can be placed at the time when Philip reached Samaria and found a number of converts among those who were rejecting the Temple “cultus.” Peter and John then came up from Jerusalem and found that the new mission had the Spirit dwelling in its midst. As with Peter’s baptizing of Cornelius at Caesarea, most of these works were approved by the leaders in Jerusalem before they were performed.
Although the orthodox Jewish Christians were not against Gentiles entering the church, they were emphatic that they be circumcised according to the Law. And the split brewed until it was finally brought to a head by one Paul of Tarsus.
We need not go into Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. By convincing the apostles that a mission to the Gentiles was required, the same company was forced to deal with itself outside of the security of its parent Judaism.
By the date of the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., small Christian communities were now located in every major city of the Roman Empire. There were many persecutions by the Roman authorities. Many times, these are greatly exaggerated for the persecutions varied from region to region in the Empire. Yet, many of the early followers of the Master were martyred in the faith.
In the midst of this growth, many variations of the teachings of the Master sprang up. Many of these were combinations of the teachings of the Master and the doctrines of the old mystery schools. These “heresies” (as the Church today calls them) included Gnosticism and Marcionitism. Others were caused over the growing pains of the Church. The “Novation Schism” had to do with what punishment those who lapsed under the Decian persecution should receive. Another had to do with the date on which Easter fell, since the East and West used different calendars.
But, the schisms which rent the Church the hardest were the ones having to do with the work and person of Christ. After the Master died, there was no question as to his divinity and his humanity. The apostles knew. But, as the Church moved away from Jerusalem, it came in contact with many different ways of thinking and perceiving divinity and humanity. Paul ran into these problems when he was in Athens. To speak to a wider audience, writers called Apologists tried to explain the teachings of the Master in the language of the audience. As a result, many questions arose which came out of this bending and adjusting to suit the needs of the people being written. The Master had said, “For I say unto you, I will pray, for Satan desireth to sift you as wheat.”
The early Church was able to contend with Gnosticism, but it was almost made un-unifiable by these different ways of viewing the Master. Each major city, which was a Christian teaching center, had its own school, and the schools varied from whether they accepted the Eastern way of thinking of the Western.
While this was occurring, the split between the Eastern Church and the Western Church centered on the relationship of the three aspects of the Trinity. The East took a more mystical view, while the West, basing much of its thinking on the existing Roman Law, was much more pragmatic.
The axis of the schisms was a belief called Arianism which held that the Son cannot be God since he derives his being from the Father. In this attempt to bring forth the uniqueness of the Father, there were many actions and reactions within the Church. Creeds were written which attempted to stress one position, or compromise two or more, or take in all the different positions. Finally, at Nicene, a creed was approved which is still in use today.
We must remember that these “Christological controversies” started while the Church was still under persecution and continued after the Edict of Milan wherein Constantine made Christianity the official state religion. They continued until the time of Augustine.
Even today, the major Protestant denominations are revising and re-writing their creeds and statements of belief every few years.
The Apostolic Creed was simple. They worshipped a living good God of Love. They taught Jesus as Love, Light and Truth. The service centered around the Holy Communion which later became the Holy Mass.
The early Church was persecuted not by simple humble people, but by proud arrogant men, teachers of temples, churches, synagogues, and governments. God was with the early church and the apostles performed miracles in the name of Jesus, including casting out Satan.
All nine gifts of the Holy Spirit were in operation (I Corinthians 12: 1-10). Healings were very prominent in the Church, and the Book of Acts records many of them.
The Church’s one foundation was in Jesus Christ, her Lord. The Church is the mystical Body of Christ. It is a many membered body. The Eternal Bride. It is not based on any one minister, apostle, Saint, or anything else, except the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for all mankind, and the remission of sin in His name.
Jesus was the culmination of true sacrifice. He fulfilled the Law and established the new and eternal covenant in His blood.
Instead of fear of hell and judgment, man could live by faith, love, light, and Truth, and more especially Grace or Epigenesis, which is the Law of Grace.
There are still a few who cling to the Apostolic Church, though a good deal of people are misled by mass mind.