Why Is This Important?
We have all heard the Edmund Burke quote “Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.” When it comes to the church, it might sound like a good idea to repeat our history, but we need to realize that there was a lot of tragic things that happened between AD 33 and now. What I hope to accomplish over the next few weeks is to give you a 10,000 foot view of religious history, and look at some of the defining moments of our movement.
We have an amazing ability to make decisions and then look for reasons to justify those decisions. Unfortunately we have been a bit guilty of doing that in the religious world because, especially in religion, many people have an agenda.
We have been given lots of resources to use, to get an accurate picture of where we have been. But not many of us are willing to go into the weeds and discover our history because it can be tedious and boring.
The material for this class will come from several sources, Personal letters from one Christian to another. Apologitical writings. Decisions of councils, hymns, and church creeds, Decisions of the Pope. Secular edicts of Kings, and Laws by kings.
And then I have a several Church History books, dealing with both larger church History and specifically The Restoration Movement.
We will spend a very little time talking about the church from AD 33 to the 1800’s. And then we will slow down and spend a majority of our time together looking at The Restoration Movement.
The First 100 Years
We see in Acts 2 that the began in Jerusalem, so even though Rome was the governing authority, Jerusalem is the focal point. In Acts 1:15 there were 120 members of the church and in a span of a year we reach Acts 6 and the word spread and the church multiplied greatly.
The Roman Government considered the Christian faith merely a sect of the Jewish Church and allowed them to grow and prosper. So at first the only opposition that the Church experienced was at the hands of the Jewish leadership.
It takes 7 years for us to reach Acts 11 and the focus moves from Jerusalem into Antioch and he rest of the world. Which follows the commission Jesus gave to the Apostles in Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Saul of Tarsus is converted in 34
Peter opens the door to the Gentiles in 37
Paul begins his mission work in 48
Jerusalem conference in 48 (So Pauls first missionary journey lasted about a year)
Majority of the church letters are written between 51-68
Paul was beheaded in 68 by Nero. ( in a three year period Paul, Peter, James and all of the Church leadership are killed.)
John writes 1st John to combat Gnostic Teaching in 90. (Gnostic teaching is the physical body is evil: it must be punished, sins of the flesh have no moral consequence, Jesus only became Christ from the time between His baptism and arrest. Salvation comes only through “special knowledge”) Second Generation Christians.
John writes Revelation 95
For the first 50 years the church was basically unchanged.
Worshipped in homes, Temple, and Synagogues. Culture dies hard, and the church would constantly fight to keep their Jewishness. A majority of Paul’s writings were to remind the church that they were not Judaism 2.0 but a new thing.
Continued to use Old Testament scriptures and sporadic letters from Apostles. Letters were written to congregations in a certain area, Galatians were written to the churches in Galatia, Thessalonians were written to the churches in Thessalonica. These letters were delivered and read to these house churches by their carrier.
When Paul writes letters he's writing everyday, ordinary letters to real people in real cities trying to deal with the circumstances in which they're living. He wants to deal with theological issues, but Paul isn't writing theological treatises as much as he's giving advice and instruction and encouragement for living. We have no definitive proof that these letters originally traveled outside their original audience. For example, we have no proof that in the first 50 years of the church that he Christians in Galatia would have heard or seen the letters to Phillipi.
Sort of Autonomous, each church had Elders and Deacons, but no real hierarchy in the church. All had gifts. But the churches would often appeal to the churches in Jerusalem, Antioch, and to the Apostles to help them.
Christians were known to participate in Baptism, Love Feasts (The Lord’s Supper), Foot washing, and sharing of property and possessions.
Other BIG Events you need to know about
Persecution of Nero (54–68) It began in Rome only and then latter spread to other cities. This persecution was based on Nero’s blaming of the Christians for burning the city of Rome.
July 18th 64. Nero is in the middle of his rule. During he first part of his rule he was sane and a good leader, but around 60-62 he went nuts. He began to execute members of his own family. His persecution was cold and ruthless.
Jewish Zealot uprising (66-73) The First Jewish - Roman War. The Jews rebelled against Rome. During the Rebellion (68) Nero commits suicide and the Jews though that they were delivered. Vespasian takes on the leadership of Rome and decimated the city (Destruction of Jerusalem in 69).
This is what Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24:1-31
After the fall of Jerusalem Vespasian imposed the Fiscus Judaicus upon every Jew in the Roman Empire. This was a tax that was to pay for the war. The Christians refused to join the Jews in this war, and for the first time there is a distinct line drawn between the two religions.
Domitian (81–96) Had already began to persecute the Jews and then moved on to the Christians. Domitian expanded the Fiscus Judaicus tax to include not only Jews, those who converted to Judaism but to anyone "who lived like Jews.” The Christians hesitated to pay their taxes and Domitian buried them alive. During this persecution John was exiled to the isle of Patmos.
Trajan (98–117) made a decree on how to treat Christians after he received a letter from Pliny. If a Christian was made obvious they were brought before the Governor and asked to recount Christianity 3 times. If they refused they were killed for being obstinate.
Hadrian and The Second Jewish Revolt and Bar Kokhba revolt (117–138) – Hadrian was offended by circumcision and wanted to eliminate the practice. He considers the Christians a mixed bag, while he would defend them at times while other times he allowed them to be persecuted as a religio illicita or Illegal Religion.
During this time there was a massive surge of anti-Jewish sentiment throughout the Empire that was already anti-Jewish. The Christians began to appeal to the Emperor that "we are not Jews." They practiced days of fasting but chose days not to be confused with Jews. The Church Fathers did not want to be associated with Jews and they went out of their way to highlight differences and began to make decisions that would provide stark differences where there were originally none.
In 132 a Jewish man, Mered Bar Kokhba, lead a rebellion against the large Roman population in Judea. The main reason for the rebellion seem to centre around the construction of a new city over the ruins of Jerusalem and the erection of a temple to Jupiter on the Temple Mount. According to Cassius Dio, 580,000 Jews died in the war and many more died of hunger and disease. The Jewish communities of Judea were devastated to the point of genocide. The rebellion ended in 138 CE, and the Romans barred Jews from Jerusalem. Christian continued to separate themselves from Jews, and began to modify their worship practices to further solidify the fact that they were not Jewish.
Antoniinus Pius (138–161) Blamed the Jews and Christians for a number of Natural disasters. Christianity was often confused with other heretical groups, so they felt the need to explain themselves. They sent letters explaining what they believed and how they acted to Pius, copies remain today.
Marcus Aurelius (161–180) Decreed that all must be loyal to the emperor. Since the Christians were only loyal to God, he encouraged the people to persecute the Christians at every opportunity.
Commodus (180–193) – Brutal, military man. During his reign it had become obvious that the Roman empire was in decline and the scapegoat of choice was he Christians.
Septimius Severus (193–211) – Attempted to stop the Christians from evangelism. He was the first to try to silence the church.
Decius (249–251) – Only emperor for two years but in AD 250 he declared that every Roman citizen must sacrifice to the emperor and this would call every Christian everywhere to light. When they made their sacrifice received a labials or a certificate. You must be able to produce your labials or you would be executed. Since Christians did not have a certificate it was certain death.
Diocletian (284–305) The greatest of all persecutions. A Strong military leader looking to restore the power of Rome. He returned Rome into a monarchy. Initially he was sympathetic with the Christians, but is son convinced him that the Christian were a greater threat than he realized and he brought back the law of the labials and said that during his reign he would destroy the church. He killed every bishop he could find, Scriptures were confiscated, and property was burned. It was during this time that the killing of Christians became a sport.
303 was the greatest year of persecution, he wanted it over by the end of that year, and he failed miserably. In 305 Diocletian abdicated the throne, which was unheard of, because he considered himself a failure. In 305 there were more Christians in the kingdom that when he began.
These are important dates because what we see over a span of 200 plus years is that the church changes very quickly. But the changes that are made have noting to do with Scripture, and everything to do with self-perseveration. As the Roman Government continued to persecute the Jews, the Christians made decisions to distance themselves from the Jews and Jewish practices. In the book of Acts we see that the early church was participating in Temple worship, even to the point in Acts 21 that Paul goes to the temple and participates in offering the sacrifices required to end a Nazarite Vow (23-24).
The 2nd Century Church stopped practicing Jewish Holy Days like Passover, and Pentecost.
The 2nd Century Church stopped reciting the Shema (Hear O Israel, The Lord thy God is one God and Thou shall love the Lord Thy God will all thy Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength.) and other prayers.
The 2nd Century Church began to gather on Sundays and avoided Sabbath gatherings (Justin Martyr wrote about this in his First Apology in the year 150)
It became obvious that if you cannot destroy the church then you should join them and make a greater empire. In 313 Constantine and Licinius signed the Edict of Milan which decriminalized Christianity.
The Edict of Thessalonica of 380 declared that Christianity was the preferred religion of the empire.
Instead of this being a time of great growth and rejoicing, the church would find out very quickly that the Things that become political always become polluted. Now that the church was used for political position it would very quickly diverge into a place of corruption and depravity.