The First Five Hundred Years

The first event, which produced growth in the early church at Jerusalem, after the Ascension of Jesus Christ, was on the Day of Pentecost, being approximately 39 AD. This happening of the coming of The Holy Spirit brought the Apostles power to carry out the commission to preach the gospel to all, as commanded by Jesus. Persecution of church members ignited the spark for much growth of membership, which came about by the deacon Stephen’s martyrdom and Paul’s conversion.

Paul successfully preached the gospel to the Gentiles during missionary trips, in fact all the original Apostles were faithful in doing this to the then known world, along with others such as the evangelist Phillip. The church increased after Peter had a vision from God to also welcome Gentiles to believe. Prior to this occasion only Jews belonged to the young Body of Christ. Greek rather than Hebrew soon became the language most widely used among the early Christians.

Christianity appealed to all walks of life because there was no barrier between rich or poor, slave or servant, age, neither between men or women, all were equal in the sight of God and each other.

The First Council of the Christian Church held at Jerusalem is described in Acts 15. The event was the outcome of a very important decision; that Gentiles may be admitted as members on the basis of faith without keeping neither the Jewish dietary laws nor other religious observations. This council was seen as the rebuilding of The House of David. See Acts 15:15-17 “15  The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:16  "'After this I will return and rebuild David's fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, 17  that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things”.

By the end of the first century Christianity had spread to Syria, Asia Minor, and Italy. The first Gospels and Epistles of The New Testament were written during this time.

The burning of Rome in 64 AD for which the emperor Nero is accused by history, in turn blamed the new religious sect of Christianity and put members to a cruel death. Persecution always brought growth and strong faith. The early church also quickly incurred the hostility of the Judaism from which it had sprung and soon thereafter gained the enmity of the pagan religions throughout the Roman Empire. In the year 70 AD Jerusalem was overthrown because of the uprising of the Jewish people and by the year 100 AD, Christian congregations scattered the Mediterranean shore as well as a marked distinction was now made between Christians and Jews.

During the next hundred years the Administrative structure of the Church developed. Eventually the church began to ask how Jesus could be truly divine and human, and this question would soon be related to questions about the divinity of God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Apostolic Fathers of the late first and second centuries pioneered efforts to resolve questions, as they responded to heresies arising within the church.

In 303 AD The Roman Emperor Diocletian, issued his edicts against Christianity, which bought about the burning of the Scriptures that belonged to the early church and the church’s buildings were torn down and many were martyred.

In 312 AD after conquering Rome, Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. After the conversion of Constantine, the church was closely identified with the Empire, and he restored all that was lost and compensated the local churches for their loses.

This occasion required the church to face the alarming tests of social suitability and the accumulation of great wealth. These factors, including great disappointment because Jesus did not return quickly after his ascension, produced internal developments. Formative patterns of worship and procedures for the admission of new believers developed during this period. Baptism, instead of faith became the means of entry into the church.

Rising unease with the church's comfort in the world after the conversion of Constantine led to the emergence of those wanting a monastic lifestyle, a way of life apart from the world for those who aspired to spiritual perfection. Throughout this period the growth of Christian congregations spurred the emergence of regional as well as congregational structures and this also led to the emergence of a hierarchically order.

In the fourth century, the presbyter Arius, for example, taught a heresy that Jesus was a created being subordinate to God the Father. A clear answer affirming the divinity of Christ was forcefully presented by the bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius.

Individual theologians, however, could not decisively resolve the questions, which created the controversy of The Triune Godhead, and Christ’s Deity, which had caused dissention.

To face and resolve such urgent issues, the church developed an agreed upon canon of Scripture and creeds. One of these creeds, an ancestor of the Apostle's Creed, appeared from the liturgical life of the church. Other creeds and definitive statements came from the ecumenical councils of the church, gatherings of bishops from throughout the ancient church summoned to address disputed questions.

The Coucnil of Nicea 1in 325 AD and the Council of Constantinople I in 383 AD spoke towards the divinity of Christ and His place within the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. From these councils came the Nicene Creed.

In 394 AD the Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity the official belief of the Roman Empire.

The Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD pronounced their findings on the two natures of Christ, the one human and the other divine.

Through the first five centuries, the church grew in the safety of the Roman Empire, a support that at the beginning was hostile but later hospitable. When Rome fell in 410 and the entire Roman Empire became subject to barbarian invaders in 476, the church again was challenged for its existence and entered into a new era, a period eventually to be called the middle ages.

SCRIPTURES Acts 2, 12, Titus 2:1, 1Timothy 6:3-5, 2Peter 2, 1John 2:26
QUESTIONS 1] When did The Early church Begin? 2] What Continued the Growth of Christianity? 3] What Caused Serious Divisions?


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