Taken from a Red Rock News Article

The Birth of the Early Church

Rev. Dona Johnson | May 26, 2024

After the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the eleven Apostles, the first Christian Church was formed—in its infancy. The charismatic proclamation of the Apostles expanded the nucleus of the Pentecost crowd from 120 Jewish people to well over 3,000. And with the help of the Holy Spirit, more people came to faith and were equipped. These people formed the building blocks of the early church. Now the Christian Church was not formed overnight. The early church began as a movement within Judaism, another sect of Judaism and was made up of Jewish-Christians. During Jesus’ ministry, Jesus only preached to Jews, the lost sheep of Israel and his disciples were instructed to not approach Gentiles or Samaritans.
         The early Jewish-Christians continued to worship in the Temple, followed the Jewish hours of daily prayer and they also followed the traditional Jewish calendar. Church history scholar Justo Gonzalez, author of Worship in the Early Church writes, “Thus, the first Judeo-Christians did not belong to a new religion, but rather saw themselves as a particular group within Judaism.” But by the end of the first century, more Jewish Christians were being expelled out of the synagogues for their proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection—Jesus as the true Messiah. As tensions grew, the number of Gentile followers were increasing and thus, the number of Judeo Christians began to decline. The early Christians began gathering on the first day of the week, Sunday which was called the Lord’s Day to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. The main reason that worship was changed from the Passover to Sunday was to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, which took place on Sunday.

         As the Christian population grew beyond the boundaries of Judaism, more Gentiles became followers and the Jewish-Christians continued to preach and teach the resurrection of Jesus Christ tensions were heightened with the Roman authorities. From 100-300 A.D. severe discrimination, segregation and persecution took place among the early Christians. They were blamed for fires, epidemics and floods. They were perceived as stubborn for they refused to worship gods and pay homage to idols. When Jews converted to the Christian movement they were shunned by their neighbors and cast out by their families. There was an intense surveillance of Christians and their activities were often reported to the Roman authorities. All of this was brought on by the political factions that existed between Rome and the Sanhedrin.
         For the first three hundred years early Christians gathered in houses to worship. The house churches “kat oikon” are mentioned throughout Paul’s letters. Scholar Wayne Meeks author of “The First Urban Christians,” states, “The home was the basic cell of mission. The conversion of entire households took place. The house as church afforded privacy, intimacy and stability.” As the Christian population increased, churches were built for the larger communities.
         Moving forward, after the Great Persecution where Christians were tortured, killed and their properties confiscated, in 313 Emperor Constantine came to a decision that would change the history of the church, the ekklesia. He put an end to persecutions ordering the return of the properties of churches. More importantly, Constantine’s edict proclaimed freedom of religion for all, especially for Christians. And eventually Christianity became the official religion of the empire. The resurrection of Jesus Christ, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the perseverance of the first Christians through all kinds of travail and upheaval birthed Christ’s Church. Thanks be to God! Amen.