The Birth of the Early Church - Part 2

Rev. Dona Johnson | June 2, 2024

During the first three centuries of the early church,  Christians suffered intense persecutions, shunning  by Jewish neighbors and outcasted by family  members. There was an on-going surveillance by  Roman 

authorities and the Sanhedrin.  

Constantine became Emperor  of Rome, he put  But, when an end to the persecutions, ordered the return of  the church properties which were confiscated and  proclaimed freedom of religion, especially for  Christians. He even had his soldiers engrave the  Chi-Rho symbol, (the first two Greek letters in  Christ) on their shields. Constantine thought if he  paid homage to God, God would make him  victorious in battle. Of course this was a skewed  view of faith. Since he was also worshiping the Sun  god.  

         Constantine eventually had a conversion  which prompted him to do make more sweeping  declarations. One has to remember that up until 

Constantine’s reign, Jewish and Gentile Christians worshiped in homes. The home was the basic cell  of the church. The early Christians also worshiped  

in cemeteries and gathered in catacombs. 

         By the second century, Bishops were  

introduced to oversee teaching, theological disputes and confront heretical teaching. Pagan  beliefs were constantly being woven into the  proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection. And  this was a huge threat to the Christian message.  

         After his conversion, Constantine began to  institute a more imperial protocol. He introduced incense (pagan ritual). Officiating ministers who  once wore plain clothes were asked to wear  luxurious vestments. Gestures of respect used in  the presence of the Emperor were now  incorporated within the worship experience, large  choirs and alters were also added. Thus, the  imperial/secular protocols of the Emperor were  integrated into the structure of worship within the  more elaborate churches. 

         The Roman Catholic Church is not on the  scene as of yet. Christians were by and large still  gathering in homes and the larger churches that  had been built. Constantine found by organizing  the new Jesus movement, he could solidify the 

Empire and be victorious against invading armies  and marauders. Eventually, Christianity became the  official religion of the Roman Empire and it spread  as far as northern Europe. The state also had the  power to settle theological issues and/or conflicts.  And of course, there were many.  

         Christians who rebelled against the wealth,  luxuries and all the pomp and circumstance of the  more formalized church its worship protocols, fled  to the deserts to withdraw from society. This began  

what we call today the Monastic Movement. They  moved into the deserts of Egypt and Syria, ate  sparse meals, renounced most material  possessions, prayed and memorized in their hearts  the Scripture.  

         During his reign, Constantine called several  councils. The Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., called  Bishops from all over the Empire to discern the  Arian controversy. The Nicene Creed, a beautiful  credo was written as a way to put guardrails  around the interpretation of Scripture and to  reduce heretical teachings.

Also during this time, there was an intense effort made in theological writings, to establish and interpret the deep meaning of Scripture in their original languages—an attempt to get everyone on the same page.
         Eventually Rome fell to barbarian invaders in 476 A.D. Pope Leo, who at that time had been the Bishop of Rome became the first Pope (Pope means father). This was done to reinstate stability. He expanded authority of the papacy and declaring authority over bishops and secular matters. This begins the very early history of the Roman Catholic Church.

         It was not until the mid 1500’s, that the authority of popes and the Roman Catholic Church were finally challenged. Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic priest protested against the church’s corruption and the selling of salvation through the sale of indulgences. He called for the Pope to institute reforms. The Roman Catholic Church held Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” But Luther trusted Scripture and said, Faith in Christ alone, sola fide is what saves a person. Salvation can be found outside the church but not outside Christ. Let me preface this statement with Luther also believed the church was the incubator for faith. From Luther’s protest, the Protest-ant Reformation took hold and protestant denominations were also formed by other major reformers such as Calvin and Zwingli. 

         In concluding, it’s very important to know how the first Apostles formed Christ’s Church. The Church is born out of their eyewitness accounts, gift of the Holy Spirit poured out on the Apostle’s and those whom the Spirit still calls today to follow Jesus Christ. Iron sharpens iron, so Proverb 27:17 tells us. And so it is with the church. It was formed out of the crucible of trial, pain and suffering. The mission of the church lives on—to proclaim Christ crucified and risen. And you and I have a role in this proclamation. The church is always being forged anew, and always in need of reform as it responds to the changing culture and the sin of humankind. 

         I will end in the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Matthew 16:17-19 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Amen. Te Deum.