Christianity is the single largest religion in the history of the world, and for the last 2,020 years, it has dominated the hearts, minds, and self-image of western civilization. The story of Jesus is told in churches, homes, and cathedrals worldwide daily. But there is another story about Christianity that is not as well known. It is the story of the men and women behind the growth and expansion of this great faith. Christian history is not the story of Jesus Christ but of those men and women who Jesus, in the person of the Holy Spirit, worked through and were responsible for the growth and expansion of the Christian church that we are a part of today. In this book, we will follow Christianity from its humble beginnings in Jerusalem and track its meteoric rise to where and what it has become today.
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THE VALUE OF KNOWING CHURCH HISTORY
A. CHURCH HISTORY CAUSES US TO APPRECIATE OUR RELIGIOUS HERITAGE.
We are made to realize the things that the things we count most precious come to us through great suffering and sacrifice on the part of our religious ancestors.
B. CHURCH HISTORY GIVES US AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE PRESENT.
We see the origins and the roots of our present religious denominations, religious institutions, religious orders, religious ceremonies, rituals, and religious creeds.
C. CHURCH HISTORY EQUIPS US TO BE BETTER RELIGIOUS TEACHERS.
We are given much material to illustrate our sermons and other religious teachings.
D. CHURCH HISTORY MAKES US APPRECIATE THE FAITHFULNESS OF CHRIST.
We are made to see that the church has survived in the midst of terrible opposition and persecutions because Christ has been faithful to the promises made in Matthew 16:18 and Matt. 28:20
E. CHURCH HISTORY GIVES US HOPE IN THE MIDST OF OUR CHURCH PROBLEMS.
We see that our present church problems are not new. The church has faced, solved, and survived similar problems in the past.
F. CHURCH HISTORY CHALLENGES US TO BE BETTER CHRISTIANS.
We learn of the dedication, the selflessness, and the labors of Christians in past centuries and we are challenged to give ourselves more fully to Christ.
Value Of Knowing Church History
1. How does knowing church history give us hope when dealing with the problems we face today?
2. How does knowing church history make us better preachers and bible teachers?
3. How does knowing church history help us understand the present?
4. What does church history teach about the church surviving under terrible oppression?
5. Knowing church history challenges us to be better at what?
6. What does knowing church history teach us about the sacrifices made by our religious ancestors?
PREPARATION OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
PART ONE – THE PREPARATION PERIOD
(from the closing of the Old Testament to the founding of the Church), 400 B.C. – A.D. 30
THE PREPARATION FOR THE CHURCH
After the days of Malachi, God began to make definite preparation for the advent of Christ, the gospel, and the church. God worked through the Greeks, the Romans, and the Jews in making this preparation. Mark 1:15 and Gal. 4:4 speak of the fulfillment of these days of preparation.
A. THE GREEK PREPARATION
Pagan philosophy – Greek philosophy destroyed peoples’ belief in the pagan gods of polytheism and left a spiritual and moral hunger in many hearts, which hunger was not satisfied by the pagan philosophies of Greece, the mystery religions of the Orient, or the Judaism of the Jews. The Mediterranean world was ready for the gospel when it came.
A universal language – The Greek language was spread throughout the Mediterranean world by Alexander the Great, 335-323 B.C., making it “the lingua franca” of this region. What a boon was a universal language to the rapid spread of the gospel!
B. THE ROMAN PREPARATION
A universal empire (with a common language, common citizenship, a common legal system, a common coinage, etc.)
A universal road system (radiating out from Rome to the various parts of the empire)
A universal peace (known as “The Pax Romana”, the Roman peace, which began shortly before the birth of the church and continued on until around A.D.180
THE JEWISH PREPARATION
The spread of the concept of monotheism
The spread of the teachings of the Ten Commandment
The spread of the hope of a coming Messiah
The spread of the Greek Septuagint Version of the Old Testament
THE FOUNDER OF THE CHURCH – JESUS CHRIST
A. THE IMPORTANCE OF CHRIST TO THE CHURCH
The church could not exist apart from Christ. He is its founder, its sustainer, and its perfecter. Other institutions may exist apart from their founder, but this is not true of the church.
B.THE RELATIONSHIP OF CHRIST TO THE CHURCH
He is the Shepherd, we are the sheep (John 10:14-16)
He is the Vine, we are the branches (John 15:5)
He is the Chief Corner-stone, we are the stones of the building (I Peter 2:4-6)
He is the Husband, we are the wife ( Eph. 5:22-33)
He is the High Priest, we are the under-priest (Heb. 3:1; I Peter 2:5)
He is the Head, we are the body (Eph. 5:23)
He is the Last Adam, we are the new creation (I Cor. 15:45; II Cor. 5:17)
THE PREPARATION OF CHRIST FOR THE CHURCH
He revealed the coming church (Matt. 16:18)
After He had for around three years offered the Old Testament Prophetic Kingdom to Israel, Christ at Caesarea Philippi made His first announcement concerning the coming church.
He trained the leaders of the coming Church (Mark 3:13-19)
The training of the Twelve was one of the most important aspects of Christ’s ministry.
He prayed for the coming church (John chapter 17)
He prayed for the sanctification of the church.
He died for the coming church (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25; I Peter 1:18,19)
Christ died for all men but He in a special sense died for the church.
THE PROMISES OF CHRIST TO THE CHURCH
He Promised that He would send the Holy Spirit to the church (John 14:16; 16:17)
The Holy Spirit would do three things for the apostles: (1) guide them into all truth, John 16:13; (2) bring to their remembrance all things spoken unto them, John 14:26; and (3) show them things to come, John 16:13. He would do four things for all believers: (1) spiritually baptize them, I Cor. 12:13; (2) permanently indwell them, John 14:16; (3) repeatedly refill them, Eph. 5:18; and (4) permanently seal them, Eph. 1:13, 14. He would do three things for the whole church: (1) empower the church, Acts 1:8; (2) witness through the church, John 15:26; and (3) hold back the manifestation of the man of sin through the church, II Thes.2:7.
He promised direct access to the Father for the church (John 16:23-27) This access guarantees the supply of the church’s needs.
He promised that He Himself would be with the church (Matt. 28:19,20)
Christ promised to be with the church in its fulfillment of the Great Commission.
He promised to come for the church (John 14:1-3) The church has ever-looked for the fulfillment of this promise.
He promised to keep the church from the Great Tribulation (Rev. 3:10)
PREPARATION OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH HISTORY
1. What did God do after the days of Malachi?
2. Why was the Mediterranean world ready for the gospel when it came?
3. How did the “Pax Romana” aid in the preparation for the advent of the church?
4. How did Judaism aid in the preparation of the spreading gospel?
5. Other institutions may exist apart from their founder but why is this not the same for the church?
6. Other than the Last Adam what else is Christ’s relationship to the church?
7. Other than praying for the sanctification of the church what other things were done to prepare Christ for the church?
8. What three things would the promised Holy Spirit do for the church?
9. He promised direct access to the Father for the church and what else?
THE FIRST-CENTURY CHURCH
The seventy years of Christian growth from Christ’s ascension to the death of the last apostle may be divided into three periods.
Period of local witnessing (30-45)
Fifty days after the resurrection, the Holy Spirit was given in accordance with Jesus’ promise, providing divine power for witnessing in a hostile world, bringing the presence of Christ for fellowship and strength, and empowering leaders to begin important movements (see Acts 1-12).
At Pentecost persons from every part of the known world were saved, and they returned to their own cities to establish Christian churches. Persecution, poverty, and internal bickering were only temporary hurdles (see Acts 3-6).
The Martyrdom of Stephen marked a turning point in two respects: (1) it began the persecution that drove witnessing Christians from Jerusalem into all Judea and Samaria, and (2) it moved Saul the persecutor toward personal conversion to Christ. The local witness grew because of Peter’s preaching to a Gentile (for which he was required to give an explanation to the church at Jerusalem), the founding of the Gentile church at Antioch, and the martyrdom of James, son of Zebedee. Saul’s conversion, his preparation for service, and his ministry at Antioch provide the background for service, and his ministry at Antioch provides the background for the second stage of Christian development.
Period of missionary expansion (45-68)
Under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, a new direction of witnessing was begun with Paul’s three missionary journeys between the years 45 and 58, when he was seized in the temple at Jerusalem. During these thirteen years, he wrote two letters to the church at Thessalonica, at least two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, and one to the Romans. After his imprisonment in Rome about AD 61 he wrote the letters known as Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians. He probably was released for four or five years, but the extent of his travel during this time is unknown. He wrote the letters known as 1 Timothy and Titus in this interim. He may have gone as far west as Spain or even Britain on one journey. He was imprisoned again about AD 67 in Rome. Just before his death at the hands of Nero, he wrote 2 Timothy.
Although the earliest Christians were Jews, soon most new converts were Gentiles, and a central theme of the doctrinal discussion was how to reach and integrate Gentiles into Christian churches. This was a constant theme of Paul’s letters.
Writings of Christians several centuries later may be correct in speaking of extensive missionary activity by other apostles, but these accounts are too meager to be of much value. Churches were established through Paul’s efforts in some of the empire’s largest cities. Between the first and second missionary journeys, Paul and Silas attended a conference at Jerusalem (about AD 50) to discuss whether persons must become Jews before they could become Christians. James, the brother of Jesus, presided at the meeting. After some people, including the apostle Peter, had spoken, the group agreed that any Gentile could find salvation by simple faith in Christ without going through Judaism.
During this period, which closes with the death of the apostle Paul in Rome in AD 68, nine other New Testament books were written- James, Mark, Matthew, Luke, Acts, I Peter, Jude, 2 Peter, and Hebrews, perhaps in that order.
Period of westward growth (68-100)
The New Testament describes Christianity’s spread from Jerusalem to Antioch and to the Gentile cities of the eastern Mediterranean. A Jewish revolt broke out in Palestine about 66, but a Roman army under Titus suppressed the revolt by destroying Jerusalem and Herod’s Temple in 70. The sacrifices ceased, and the synagogue has been the center of Jewish worship ever since. The priesthood, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and many other aspects of the Judaism of Jesus’ day disappeared. Jerusalem ceased to be the center of Judaism until recent times.
The Jerusalem church was also scattered in 70, and the gospel spread westward throughout the Roman Empire. The New Testament does not describe exactly how the gospel reached urban centers such as Alexandria and Carthage. When Paul reached Rome, a Christian church already existed there, but how it began is unknown.
Extant second-century writings explain that the apostle John spent his old age in Ephesus, where he wrote the five New Testament books attributed to him. These books contain warnings against diluting Christianity and minimizing either humanity or the deity of Christ. The advocates of these views cannot be identified, but their presence is significant because these same doctrinal aberrations appeared in the second century.
Severe persecution occurred under the Roman Emperor Domitian (81-96). Apparently, John was imprisoned on Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation, defying Rome’s attempt to impose emperor worship on Christians.
The literature that became the New Testament canon had not as yet been brought together in one book. The various churches used the Old Testament, together with those Christian writings they might possess. At the close of the century, the Christian movement was thriving-firm in doctrine and growing in numbers.
THE FIRST-CENTURY CHURCH
1. What happened fifty days after the resurrection?
2. At Pentecost persons from every part of the known world were saved and did what when they returned home?
3. The Martyrdom of Stephen marked a turning point in two respects what are they?
4. Under the leadership of the Holy Spirit a new direction of witnessing was begun with who?
5. Between the years 45 and 58 during those thirteen years what New Testament books were written?
6. What was a constant theme of Paul’s letters to the gentile churches?
7. Paul and Silas attended a conference in Jerusalem about AD 50 about what?
8. Which period closes with the death of Paul?
9. Why did the priesthood, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and many other aspects of the Judaism of Jesus’ day disappear?
10. What happened to the Jerusalem church and how did the gospel reach the urban centers such as Alexandria and Carthage?
11. What did extant second-century writings explain about the apostle John?