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History Of Christianity

History Of Christianity

Christianity is very practical. It is not a dead, dry, formal, human religion of rituals, outward form, and show, but a divine, living, vital, dynamic, liberating religion. The word Christian means, "Christ like", or "One follows Christ". Jesus Christ, who laid the foundation of Christian Church, was born in BC 4 in Judea. He is the foundation of the Church (1 Cori. 3:10,11). He started preaching about the Kingdom of God when he was thirty. His activities roused the opposition of the Jewish high priests who accused him of blasphemy. He was crucified under the orders of Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor. After three days, Christ was resurrected from the dead. With the Resurrection of Christ, his disciples took heart and went about preaching the Kingdom of God to all the people of the world.

Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire where it was made the state religion in the 4th century AD. Later, the Church split into two broad groups - the Western Church under the Pope in Rome and the Eastern Churches under the Patriarchies of Antioch, Alexandria and Constantinople. Still later, further disruptions took place. The Roman Catholic Church was broken up by Protestantism, while in the Eastern Churches, many communities like the Armenians, Ethiopians, Russians and Italians set up their own Patriarchies.

The New Testament of the Bible originally was written in Greek language. The English word Church is translated from the original Greek word 'EKKLESIA', which means 'CALLED OUT ONES' - from EK (out), and KLESIA (called). Churches referred to the household (or family) of God (Eph. 2:19-21), and spiritual building that grows into the holy temple, to which Church shall come at his return to this earth as King of kings, ruling all nations of the earth. The Church was founded, not as an institution of Authority to force the name and teaching of Christ upon the world, but only as a witness-bearing institution to Christ, to hold Him before the people.

Jesus said, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my Church" (Matthew 16:18). The Greek word for Peter is Petros, which means a fragment of a rock. Here in this verse, 'this rock' referred to Jesus Christ the speaker as in John 2:19 and John 6:57-58. Jesus Christ is the foundation of Church (1 Cori 3:10) and He is the foundation (1 Cori, 3:11). Jesus Christ is the chief corner stone and apostles and prophets are the foundation (Eph. 2:20), and each believer is a part (stone) in the construction of that building (Church). Christ did His work until He ascended. After that, He continued doing His work through believers, by the baptism of Holy Spirit (Acts 1:2,8; Luke 24:49; Mark 16:15-20). In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, I will build my Church. Acts 2:47 says, Lord added the saved ones to the Church daily. So the Church establishment has taken place in between these two incidents.

Before His resurrection, Jesus commanded his disciples to tarry in the city of Jerusalem, until they receive the power of Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4). According that, they tarried in the upper room. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon these disciples (they were about a hundred and twenty people - Acts 1:15) and they started speaking in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4). When this noised out, a big crowd came together. Apostle Peter stood up with the other eleven apostles and started speaking to the crowd from the scripture. On the very same day about 3,000 (three thousand) people were accepted his message and got baptized (Acts 2:41). This was the humble beginning of the Christian Church.

The disciples were devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles (Acts 2:42,43). And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:47). Thus the Church (the Lord's body) was established. In Acts 4: 4, we see that the number of men grew to about five thousand, and in Acts 6:7 we see that, the disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. This shows the rapid growth of the early Christian Church. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch (Acts 11:26).

At the close of the apostolic age, Churches were independent one of another, each being shepherded by a board of Pastors. The main leader came to be called Bishop. The others, later, were called Presbyters. Gradually the jurisdiction of Bishop came to include neighboring towns.

As the disciples started preaching and doing miracles, the Church started to grow. At the same time, the opposition also arose. They arrested Stephen with false charges and stoned him to death. This was just the beginning of the persecution against the Christian Church. As the persecution increased, the disciples scattered around the world. Those who scattered preached the word of God, wherever they went. This helped to spread the Gospel around the world.

It was against the law of Jews to associate with a Gentiles or visit them (Acts 10:28). So the apostles were concentrating their ministry only among the Jews. But God showed the apostle Peter, in a vision that He loves gentiles, and there is no distinction between Jews and Gentiles in God's sight. This incident opened the door of salvation - through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross - for the Gentiles.

Saul was a Jew born in Tarsus of Cilicia and a Roman citizen by birth. He was thoroughly trained in the Law of Moses, from Gamaliel - the most honored rabbi of the first century. He was just zealous for his religion, and persecuted the Christians, with the permission of the Roman government. But the mighty power of God has changed him to a mighty warrior of Jesus and he became the apostle Paul. The motto of life was, "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain". He is known as The Apostle of Gentiles.

As the gospel started to spread around, the rulers, the high priest and the members of the Synagogue started to persecute the disciples more and more. King Herod arrested some disciples, intending to persecute them. He killed the apostle James, the brother of John, by sword (Acts 12:2).

The Jewish leaders began to destroy the Church of God. Yet, God established the Church with wonders and miracles and made it grow worldwide. The opposition often served for further expansion of the Church. Saul who was opponent of the cross changed to a staunch and faithful propagator of the gospel. The Holy Spirit gave strength to the disciples to face the opposition boldly (Acts 5:31, 7:53). All believers worked hard for the extension of the Church considering their own life to be of no value. They stood firm in the faith even at the time of passing through the fiery furnace of sufferings. No power could separate them from the love of Christ. Their love with one another amazed the world. As a result, all the civilized world countries were reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Christian Church has spread through out the Roman Empire. The Roman emperors persecuted the Church and tried to put an end to Christianity. The Romans persecuted the Christians for the following reason:

Ё Christians were monotheistic. They believed and taught that the Pagan worship is wrong.

Ё Idol-worship and Pagan festivals were related with social life. Since Christians were against such practices, they were treated like anti-socials.

Ё In those days, it was a practice among the Pagans to venerate the emperors. It was a practice to keep the subjects loyal and favorable to the rulers. But the Christians insisted to worship God only, so they were considered to be traitors.

Ё The Pagans and the Roman rulers had considered the Christian Church to be a wing of Judaism. Since the Jews revolted against the Roman rule. The Roman reaction to them had affected Christians also.

Ё The method of Christian worship caused doubt to the public. Their night gatherings and the ministry of the Lord's Supper were pictured as conspiracy meets.

Ё The socialist attitude of Christian Church made the rich and the nobles hate Christians.

Ё Since the Christian Church was against idol worship, those who earned their living by making idols to work against the Church.

During their reign, there were ten major persecutions took place:

1. From AD 64 to AD 68. Nero the Roman emperor wanted to rebuild the city of Rome. The people protested against that. Then the emperor secretly set the city on fire and put the blame on Christians. Thus the public hatred turned towards the Christians. Following this, innumerable Christians were put to death in many ways. Apostle Peter and Paul were martyred at this time. Many were made torches wrapped up in cloth, soaked in oil, lit, and they kept them burning for hours together.

2. From AD 90 to AD 96, during the reign of the Roman emperor, Domitian. He instituted a persecution against Christians. Though it was short, it was violent. Many thousands were slain in Rome, Italy. Among them were, Flavius Clement, a cousin of the emperor, and his wife, Flavia Domitilla banished. Apostle John banished to Patmos and was immersed in boiling oil during this period.

3. From AD 104 to AD 117, during the reign of the Roman emperor, Trajan. He considered Christianity as an illegal religion, because Christians refused to take part in Emperor worship, and the Church was regarded as a secret society, which was forbidden. Christians were not sought out, but when accused, were punished. Among those who perished in this reign were Simeon, the brother of Jesus, Bishop of Jerusalem, crucified (AD 107), and Ignatius, second bishop of Antioch, who was taken to Rome and thrown to the wild beasts (AD 110).

4. From AD 138 to AD 161, during the reign of the Roman emperor, Antoninus Pius. Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna was burnt at stakes in this period.

5. From AD 161 to AD 180, during the reign of the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius. He encouraged persecution of Christians. It was cruel and barbarous, the severest since Nero. Justin Martyr was flogged and then beheaded. Aurelius wanted to reform his old Romanism and he found joy in killing the Christians. The tortures of the victims endured without flinching almost surpasses belief. Tortured from morning till night, Blandina, a female slave, would only exclaim, "I am a Christian, among us no evil is done".

6. From AD 200 to AD 211, during the reign of the Roman emperor, Septimius Severus. Thousands of Christians in Egypt and North Africa suffered the most. In Alexandria many martyrs were daily burned, crucified or beheaded. In Carthage, Perpetua, a noble lady, and her faithful slave, Felicitas, were torn to pieces by wild beasts.

7. From AD 235 to AD 237, during the reign of the Roman emperor, Maximin. Many Christians were tortured and killed during this period. Origen escaped by hiding.

8. From AD 250 to AD 253, during the reign of the Roman emperor, Decius. Many Christians were tortured and killed during this period. His persecution was coextensive with the empire, and very violent. Multitudes of people perished under the cruelest tortures, in Rome, North Africa, Egypt, Asia Minor.

9. From AD 254 to AD 302, during the reign of the Roman emperor, Valerian. His persecutions were more severe than Decius, he aimed at the utter destruction of Christianity. Many saints like Cyprian, bishop of Carthage and Sexeres of Rome were killed during this period.

10. From AD 303 to AD 305, during the reign of the Roman emperor, Diocletian. For ten years Christians were hunted in caves and forests. They were burned, thrown to wild beasts, put to death by every torture cruelty could device. He burned the scrolls of The Bible manuscripts, withdrew the citizenship and the rights of the Christians, burned the Christians in groups and so on. It was a resolute, determined, systematic effort to abolish the name Christian.

However, these persecutions tightened the bond of unity of the believers. The blood of the martyred saints became the seed of the Church. In AD 313 with the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine, the persecutions ended and the Church grew rapidly but in deviation. The persecution could not destroy the Church. Tertullian (AD 160-220), one of the Church Father’s wrote "We are of yesterday. Yet we have filled your Empire, your Cities, your Towns, your Island, your Tribes, your Camps, Castles, Palaces, Assemblies and Senate." By the end of the Imperial Persecutions (AD 313), Christians were numbered about One-Half of the population of the entire Roman Empire.

In AD 305 the emperor Diocletian stepped down from the throne. Following that, four persons began to fight for the Roman emperor's throne. The prominent among them were, Constantine and Maxentius. Their armies encountered at the Milvain Bridge of Tiber River, just outside Rome on Oct. 27, AD 312. There is a myth saying that, before going to the battle, Constantine had seen a sign of cross above the sun and with it the words, "IN THIS SIGN CONQUER", and he had put the sign of the cross on his flags. Constantine won in the battle in AD 313. This was a turning point in the history of Christianity.

This incident changed his life to believe in Christ and he became a Christian. In AD 313, he declared the 'Edict of Toleration'. By this Edict, Constantine granted to "Christians and to all others full liberty of following that religion which each may choose," the first edict of its kind in history. He went further. He favored Christians in every way. He filled his chief offices with Christians, exempted Christian ministers from taxes and military service, encouraged and helped in building Churches, made Christianity the Religion of his Court, issued a general exhortation (AD 325), to all his subjects, to embrace Christianity. Because of the Roman Aristocracy persisted in adhering to their pagan religions, Constantine moved his capitol to Byzantium, and called it Constantinople, "New Rome", Capital of the New Christian Empire.

Constantine, made Sunday as the Day of Assembly, a Rest Day, forbidding ordinary work and permitting the Christian soldiers to attend Church services. The first Church building was erected in the reign of Alexander Severus (AD 222-235). After the Edict of Constantine, they began to be built everywhere.

Though he had accepted Christianity, he was not been baptized. Finally, he had the desire to be get baptized in the river of Jordan, where Jesus was baptized. In AD 337, on his way to Jerusalem, he became very ill and as soon as he got baptized, he died in his wet clothes.

Emperor Constantine (AD 306-337), became a Christian and issued an Edict granting everybody the right to choose his own religion. Emperor Theodosius (AD 378-398), made Christianity the State religion of the Roman Empire, and made Church membership compulsory. This was the worst calamity that has ever befallen the Church. This forced conversion filled the Church with unregenerate people. He also undertook the forcible suppression of all other religions, and prohibited idol worship. Under his decrees, heathen temples were torn down by mobs of Christians, and there was much bloodshed.

Christ had taught to conquer by purely spiritual and moral means. Up to this time conversion was voluntary, a genuine change in heart and life of a person. But now, the military spirit of Imperial Rome had entered the Church. The Church had conquered the Roman Empire. But in reality the Roman Empire had conquered the Church, by making the Church over into the image of the Roman Empire. The Church had changed its nature, entered its great apostasy, became a political organization in the spirit and pattern of Imperial Rome, and took its nose-dive into the millennium of Papal Abominations.

The Imperial Church of the 4th and 5th centuries had become an entirely different institution from the persecuted Church of the first three centuries. In its ambition to rule it lost and forgot the spirit of Christ. Worship, at first every simple, was developed into elaborate, stately, imposing ceremonies having all the outward splendor that had belonged to heathen temples.

The term 'priest' was not applied to Christian ministers before AD 200. It was borrowed from the Jewish system, and from the example of heathen priesthood. Leo 1 (AD 400-61) prohibited priests from marrying, and celibacy of priests became a law of the Roman Church. The barbarians - Goths, Vandals and Huns - who overthrew the Roman Empire accepted Christianity. But to a large extent, their conversion was nominal and this further filled the Church with pagan practices.

As Christianity rose to a royal religion, the ministers were received high status and luxurious life in the society. The minister in Rome received royal pomp and splendor. After this incident, there came doctrinal disagreements among the Church leaders. Therefore, the Council of the Church Fathers was called many a times. Three main Councils of the Church Fathers were called on to bring about a unified code of doctrines. In AD 325 at Nicaea and in AD 381 at Constantinople and in AD 431 at Ephesus, the Councils were held. It was in these Councils that the general Creeds and Canons were formulated. In AD 431 Arius, a scholar, denied the deity of Jesus Christ. Then Athanasius, the Church Father and other leaders stood against the heresy and established the deity of Jesus Christ.

Though the conversion of Constantine relaxed the persecution to a greater extent, it led to a spiritual declension of the Church, and deviation from the apostolic teachings. As Christianity became a royal religion, the Church ministers began to be clad in royal robes. When the laity (ordinary members) were busy in the worldly affairs, the ministers were entrusted with the duty of praying and evangelizing. Eventually, they became priests acting on behalf of people before God.

Contrary to the apostolic teaching, the dead Saints, the Virgin Mary and innumerable priests became mediators. Since the minister at Rome is the priest of the king, he became endowed with special rights and royal privileges. Therefore, he began to contend that he had superiority over other ministers. Since this seemed to be convenient for the king's rule, the emperors also encouraged the idea. Thus, the bishop at Rome rose to the position of Metropolitan minister or the Pope. More over, when the ministers and leaders of the Church obtained royal positions, a restriction of selecting the Bishops and the Popes only from aristocratic families came. With the eldest sons of the emperors as rulers and other sons as bishops, it became easier to exercise power and influence over the people.

The new pagan converts in Constantine's time found it very difficult to adapt to the new faith of one God and worship of the invisible God in Spirit and Truth. As a solution, the Church ministers permitted the image worship and prayer to the dead saints for mediation. Instead of Pagan festivals, celebration of Saints birthdays was allowed. These are some of the deviations that came to be the Church, from the apostolic doctrine and teachings. In AD 431, Holy Mary was ascribed the name 'the mother of God' and prayers to Mary began to be offered. The Holy Bible was a sealed book to the common man in those days. Since the commons folks were educationally backward, they could not read and understand the scriptures. More over, except the clergies, nobody was allowed to handle the Bible.

Consequent to all these, the Christian Church became a seat of mere rituals and superstitions as well as revised version of Paganism. This continued from AD 313 to AD 1525. This period is known as "THE DARK AGE" in Church history. Even in this period, there were small groups of people who really worshiped God in truth and in spirit. Since they could not do it publicly under the rule of royal Roman Church, they were continuing it in secret.

The Roman Empire has divided into the western and the eastern Roman empires, in AD 395. The capital of the Western Roman Empire was Rome, and it declined in AD 476. This gave more power to the pope in Rome, and it became the 'The Holy Roman Empire' under the direct control of the Pope. It had a major role in European politics, till AD 1806.

David L. Edwards, Christianity: The First Two Thousand Years (New York, Orbis Books, 1997)

Ian Hazlet, Early Christianity: Origins and Evolution to A.D. 600 (Tennessee, Abingdon Press, 1991)

John C. Dwyer, Church History: Twenty Centuries of Catholic Christianity (New Jersey, Paulist Press, 1985)

Etienne Nodet & Justin Taylor, The Origins of Christianity: An Exploration (Minnesota, The Liturgical Press, 1998)

John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus (New York, Harper Collins Publishers, 1998)


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