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Church History I. The Early Church

Updated: Sep 22, 2019

The Church History topics will cover

1) The Early Church (today's topic)

2) Church Councils and Schisms

3) The Reformation

4) American Protestantism (note: American Protestantism is unique from its European counterparts; the Lutheran culture in America for instance is different than the Lutheran church in Germany)

The Apostolic Era of the church covers...

I. Establishment of the Church

II. Persecution of the Church (simultaneous with establishment)

III. Defending the Church against Heresy (especially gnostics around time of St. John; misinterpreting the words of Christ, picking and choosing words, and arguing that they, the gnostics, were the Church)


The Church has always been in battle, but by the grace of God has been victorious. It is established and created out of a fire of persecution.

[[Map of Israel]]

Key places to note are the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee (or Lake Tiberias to locals), and Jerusalem.

The early church was a collection of people, as the Greek "ecclesia" means an assembly of citizens. What made a church a church was not the priest or the building, but a bishop who cared for a flock.

These Christians were eyewitnesses of Christ, as St. John has said, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which wseae have seen with our eyes, and which our hands have handled."

He says, "I heard Christ. I walked with Christ. I leaned my head on His chest. I know Christ and I am known by Christ." That is what made a true Christian.

It made them high demand and high risk. For the enemies of the Church, the idea was, "If I can eliminate the witnesses of Christ, than I can eliminate this whole nightmare."

If I am going to be called Christian, do I have that relationship with Christ? Do I hear Him, walk with Him, know Him?

These Christians are evangelists, "evangelion" -- messengers who bring the Good News.

Get into their mindset. Put yourself in this picture. To these people, Christ is not a historical figure. "The Historical Jesus" is a whole genre now. As Christians, Christ is not just a historical man. He is sovereign God. He lives in our hearts and in our memories by our tradition. He is present with us in the form of Body and Blood--bread and wine.

We remember Him, as He says, "until I come." All our activities as a church keep alive in us the presence of Christ.

He is alive, and it is just a question of whether we experience Him or not.

So get in their shoes. Get in their minds. They go from one place to another, preaching. Their lives are at stake. What they are saying is completely unbelievable.

They have preserved their faith by their community, their liturgy, constantly before their eyes. How often do we resonate Christ? Are we bringing Christ into the classroom?

All the disciples were Jews. They may not have all been from Israel, but they were all of the faith and living with Jewish customs. Regular men, living their lives, fishermen, tax collectors. No one had an advantage over anyone else.

To the Jews it was given, by the Prophets and Law, to recognize the Messiah.

The disciples were dispersed throughout the whole world (as they knew it, no Americas). The center remained in Jerusalem, a problem because that's where the Sanhedrin was. The Church was strengthened and grew in the fire.

St. Peter was the leader of the disciples in Jerusalem. "First among equals" - head bishop, but still, nonetheless, of the rank "bishop."

St. Paul entered the scene much later. He too had to see Christ with his own eyes. Because he too had to be a witness! He had already heard everything about Him. He knew everything about Him! But he did not know Him--until then. The only reason we hold our faith is because of those witnesses--all of these have witnessed Him. Have you ever seen a court case where you had 70 witnesses (or even 12 witnesses) who confirmed the same thing, and judge or jury did not believe them?

Our faith is based on these witnesses.

St Paul went everywhere, and everywhere is not Jewish. He went to the Gentiles, and many Gentiles were baptized, even more than the Jews. They decided in the first council that the Gentiles can be accepted, and there are certain things they must accept. They don't have to be circumcised or wear certain things, but they must show reverence. What must these Gentiles do? The Jews used the commands for accepting a stranger outlined in Leviticus 17.

"The sign of unity was the presence of the Bishop. Wherever one finds the Bishop, there one finds the fellowship." There must be a Bishop to create a church. This is very different from the Protestants, who they only need a group of people with a bank account.

Let's not fall into that style that is all too common in the church in America. "We don't like this Bishop. We don't like this way of doing things. We'll do things our own way." No. The Bishop is the sign of unity.

We can recognize our Protestant brothers as Christians, but they are not a church. The gospel and the letters say that to you.

A church is a Church because it eats together from one Body, prays on One Altar, comes together in One Baptism, with One Bishop.

Our Bishop is our overseer, teacher, the High Priest, the representation of the community. The priests are assistants.


As Christianity grew, it became noticeable.

The Romans were concerned about the gathering they didn't understand (is it treason?) and the "lovefeast" (are they cannibals?)

Christians were paying taxes, following the law, all these things of the law they did. The problem was they were worshiping a God that the Romans did not know and eating the Body and Blood of Somebody...

Of course, Rome being so large--it was huge--it allowed people to do things in their own way, albeit with Roman officers. Think King Herod and Pontious Pilate.

Christ was born and crucified around 30AD. Emperor Nero burns Rome and blames it on the Christians in 60AD ("We don't understand them! They're plotting against us!" etc). There are major persecutions, with one of the last rounds by Diocletian.

It isn't until Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity that the persecution ends.

Consider these real records from a case. Political officials go to the Bishop.

Official: "Take out the scriptures"

Bishop: "The reader has the scriptures. We will give what we have here."

Official: "Point out the readers or send for them."

Bishop: "You all know them."

Official: "We do not know them."

Bishop: "The people in your office know them."

Official: "Never mind about those! Bring what you have."

There follows an inventory of the church property. They took the paten and the property, and took it all out along with the three priests, deacons, and the grave-diggers.

Subdeacon: "There is nothing left. We have thrown it all out."

Note that the subdeacon is in charge of the doors. To keep stray dogs and thieves out, along with foreigners/Romans, and protect all the property of the church.

They are all trying to protect the scriptures. This is their one copy.

"We are not traitors! Here we are! Put us under arrest! Put us to death!"

They are completely committed to the Scriptures--and to each other. Four of them produce their books. The fifth says he has none. The sixth, his wife produces what he has.

This is true. It's not a boring history. Be in their shoes--live it. Feel it, even in today's world. This is what they went through.

The Church survived and grew against the persecutions, the physical attacks. Now it must defend itself heresy.


Gnostics were the main problem. They believed in a secret knowledge. They believed everything material was created by a evil god--the evil Creator in the Old Testament. St. John the Evangelist defended heavily against the Gnostics. Justin the Martry, Origen of Alexandria, and many others worked against this heresy as well.

This is when early monasticism began. The first monk is St. Anthony and the disciples of he and St. Macarious. The first system of a monastery was created by Anba Pachomious. After that, the next system comes from St. Basil. Many monasteries grew after each system.

All of this started in the first couple hundred years.

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