In our “History Christianity 1” class at Reformed Theological Seminary’s Global Education M.A. (Biblical Studies) Program, we were asked to describe what Christianity was like during the first three centuries. Following is what I submitted.
Christianity in the first three centuries was first and foremost a faith or religion founded and centered on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, believed, worshipped, served and obeyed as the incarnate Son of God, the Old-Testament promised King and Savior of Israel and the world, who lived a perfect life, died for sins, was raised on the third day, ascended and sits at the right hand of the Father, and shall come again to judge all people, both living and dead. By the grace and power of His Holy Spirit, this gospel message was preached from Jerusalem to the entire Mediterranean region, resulting in the establishment of Christ’s church in those areas.
The Early Church was at first regarded as a Jewish Sect, with beliefs, ethical standards, worship practices and a leadership structure that were derived from the Old Testament Scriptures and/or adopted from the religious practices of the Israelites. But because of staunch opposition and persecution from the Jews, and the rapid expansion, growth and development of the Christian Faith in the Gentile world, Christianity eventually came to be recognized as a separate religion from Judaism.
The early Christians were a people devoted to the word of God in Christ, according to the Old Testament, preached by the apostles, their disciples and, later on, by the Bishops of the church. Aside from the Hebrew Canon, inspired writings and epistles/letters of the apostles and those close to them were regarded and received as Holy Scriptures. In devotion to the risen Savior, the believers gathered regularly to worship and pray, to hear and receive the preaching and teaching of the gospel, to have fellowship and participate in the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, to serve and encourage one another, and to give help and assistance to the poor and needy.
Early Christianity’s astounding expansion took place in Jewish, Greek and Roman contexts, resulting in a clash with various, long-held belief systems, philosophies, mindsets and practices in all three cultures. From the very beginning, the Church suffered violent opposition and persecution, first from Jews who continued to vehemently reject Christ and His gospel, and later from Gentiles, especially under Roman Emperors like Nero, Domitian and others. Many Christians were arrested, imprisoned, harmed and martyred. Ministers and leaders of the churches were assaulted and tortured most severely. Many endured and persevered in the faith. Martyrs were regarded as especially-graced holy men, whose bones and relics have healing powers.
There were also thousands of Christians who gave in to the threat of persecution and denied the faith. Later on, many of them asked to be received back as members of the church. This resulted in schisms between the churches that allowed no second repentance for the lapsed, and those that accepted them back, but only after a long period of penance and probation.
Despite of severe persecution and problems caused by heretics and apostates, the Lord Jesus fulfilled His promise to build His church and to never allow the gates of hell to “prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
Trusting our unfailing Lord and Savior, we press on with the vision of His Great Commission: to proclaim the gospel (Mark 16:15) and “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20) through Bible Training, church planting and mercy ministries.
Please continue praying for our mission.