First century Church || Church_History_1

First-century Church History is the history of the birth of Christianity and its spread and what kinds of difficulties they faced. Galatians 4:4 says that God sent Jesus into the world at the right time to save His people. Jesus also started His ministry preaching that “time has come!” -Mark 1:15. We will be looking at the different backgrounds of the contemporary world where Christianity began. All those situations clearly show that God had prepared the world well to send His Son.

Background of First Century Church

We need to have basic background knowledge to grasp the subject. Let’s head to the points.

Political Background

During the birth of Christianity, world power was controlled by Roman Empire. They began to rule almost all over the civilized world. All the nations and languages came under Roman rule. The Roman empire divided the area into different provinces. They appointed governors and legates over the provinces. Romans ruled very effectively. They brought civilizations to many nations.

Roman armies were placed everywhere to keep the peace. They made the roads. As a result, people could travel from one place to another easily. Romans completely destroyed the pirates in the Mediterranean sea. All those things prepared the way to carry the gospel into different places easily.

Religious Background

Nations under the Roman empire had the privilege to practice their own religion. However, emperor worship was compulsory for all except Jews. The Jewish nation had a special favor on emperor worship. (Jewish people worship no other gods than YHWH).

Among the other pagan religions, mystery religions were becoming more popular. They would seem like Christianity. Alike in Christianity, there was conversion/baptism and sacraments. They had the teaching of heaven and hell, death and resurrection as well.

Intellectual Background

Though the Romans overthrew Grace, Greek culture was still influential in the Roman world. One of the most important things here is the Greek language. It became the common language all over the Roman world. Therefore, early missionaries could spread the gospel into many places without any language barriers.

Another important thing is Greek philosophy. It contributed a lot to people’s thinking. People started thinking deeply about heaven and hell, life after death, etc. Christianity came with the answers to these all questions.

Social and Moral Background

The social and moral situation was very bad at that time. Sexual immorality was common in Roman society. Slaves provided opportunities for sensual indulgence. The value of human life was very very low. Infanticide practice was very common.

Rich people pour out their money for entertainment and banquets. On the other side, pores were dying without bread. The rich were becoming richer and the poor were having nothing (becoming poorer). There was no justice and equality in society.

In such a situation, Christianity came with the new teaching of equality. People were hungry for morality, justice, and purity. Christianity could meet their needs.

The Jewish Nation

Jews were a unique nation in the Roman world. They were the only nation/religion which got the privilege not to take part in the emperor worship.

Jews Sects

There were two major Jewish sects: Sadducees (orthodox) and Pharisees (liberal). Sadducees didn’t believe in life after death, resurrection, spirit, and spiritual world. But the Pharisees believed all those things very strongly. They were the opposite of each other in their beliefs.

There were two other minor Jewish sects; Herodians and Essenes. Herodians were more worldly and they didn’t focus much on religion. Essenes were extremely ascetic. They maintained high standards of holiness. Essenes had the three rules of conduct. (i) The love of God. (ii) The love of virtue. (iii) The love of men.

Diaspora Jews

The Diaspora (scattered) Jews played a vital role to prepare the way to spread the gospel. Jews had scattered everywhere in the Roman world. Wherever they became 12 people or more, they started the synagogue there. They used to read the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament Bible) in the synagogues. Non-Jews also could come and listen to the Word of God.

Jews were waiting in the hope of the promised Messiah. The Diaspora Jews preached about this Messiah to the people outside the Jews nation. They were longing to see this promised Messiah. Christianity introduced Jesus as that Messiah.

The Birth of Christianity

Jesus Christ is the founder of the Church in the world. He preached the good news of the Kingdom, performed miracles, healed the sick, and cast out the demons. “I will establish my Church on the rock,” He said (Mt 16:18). He saved humankind by giving His own life on the cross. Church means the people who are ransomed by the blood of Jesus Christ.

We can see four major deeds of Jesus in the establishment of the Church. First, He gave His very life to reconcile our broken relationship with God. He Himself is the foundation of the Church. Second, He prepared the disciples to continue His mission. Third, He left Two sacraments to His disciples; Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Fourth, He promised the Holy Spirit to empower, teach, guide, and counsel them.

Spread of the Church/Christianity During First Century

Jesus Christ himself established the Church, but from the day of Pentecost, Apostolic Church became active. On that very day, the Holy Spirit came upon the 120 believers in the Jerusalem Church. Probably this Church was at the house of John Mark the author of the Gospel of Mark.

When the Holy Spirit came upon them, the miracle happened. They began to speak in different tongs. On that very day, 3000 people believed in Jesus. Apostles baptized them.

Soon after a few days, the number of Christian reached 5000. Christianity continued to grow rapidly in Judea.

First few days or months, Christianity was only limited in the Jewish nation (especially in Jerusalem/Judea). But Jesus had said to His disciple that they will reach the end of the world with the gospel (Acts 1:8).

This word of Jesus came in fulfillment in another way. Jewish people (Especially the religious leaders) started the persecution upon Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem. Stephen was stoned to death, and persecution became severe. Because of the persecution, Christians spread all over other regions. Wherever they went, they started to preach that Jesus is Christ. Besides the Jews, other people also came to believe in Jesus. As a result, the first Gentile church was established in Antioch.

After the persecution in Jerusalem, disciples went into different places in the Roman world. And they preached wherever they went. Some of the disciples went to the African reigns, and some of them went east. Thomas the doubting disciple came to India.

This is how Christianity did spread into the Roman world and outside the Roman world in the first century.

The first Century Missionaries

The first-century missionaries were different from present-day missionaries. Today, the Church/mission organization sends the missionaries. But the first-century missionaries were not like that. They went into different places due to different reasons like persecution, business, and others. And wherever they went they work as a missionary.

Missionaries of the first century were self-supported. (Yes, sometimes the church they established supported them in their ministry). They worked with their hands for their needs.

Apostle Paul is one of the well-known apostles and missionaries of the first century. He preached the gospel and established the Churches in most of the places of the Roman world. Other apostles also worked as missionaries. They took the gospels into different parts of the world.

Besides the apostles, there were other preachers and missionaries as well. Barnabas, John Mark, Silas, Philip, Priscilla, Aquila are other examples of first-century missionaries.
They all worked in the Kingdom of God.

People who heard the gospel and believed in Jesus started to testify Jesus. In other words, almost all the Christians of the first century worked as missionaries.

Life of the Church in First Century

We may think that first-century Church life was perfect because those were the Apostolic Churches. But the reality is different. Churches in the first century had many weaknesses in their expression and experience. Yes, they were perfect in their position in Christ, but many problems were there in the practical aspects.

Two members of the Church in Jerusalem deceived God and it caused their death (Acts 5:1-11). Unjust food distribution caused the problem between Hebrew and Greek-speaking Jewish (Acts 6). This problem was about to cause a great division in the Church, but the apostles solved it with wisdom. Some problems were so strong that the apostles organized the first Church council in Jerusalem to settle the things (Acts 15). We also see the different opinions and quarrel between Paul Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41).

The Church in Corinth is another example of the life of the early church. When we read the epistles of Paul, we can see the imperfection in many aspects of their lives. There was immorality and division in the Church in Corinth. Other Churches were also going through different problems.

In Spite of all these imperfections, first-century churches were very impressive in their characters. They had brotherly love, care, kindness, and meekness. Church members sold their property and brought it to the Apostles to have it in common. The Churches mentioned the holiness and purity in that immoral world. They had wonderful biblical teachings about salvation and future hope.

Worship Pattern

The first-century Church used to have prayer and worship in the Jerusalem temple, synagogue, and believer’s houses. But after knowing that they are the followers of Jesus, they didn’t get any place in synagogues.

Probably on Sunday morning, they used to gather together for public worship. Their worship service contained the singing from the Psalms, prayer, and preaching from the Old Testament. Their preaching from the Old Testament often explained the life and teachings of Jesus. It strengthened the Church to testify that Jesus is the Christ. Non-Christian people also could come to the service.

The Early Church also had the love feast and Lord’s Supper. Probably, on Sunday evening, they used to have a love feast in the believer’s house and after that, they used to have the Lord’s Supper. However, later, the love feast and Lord’s Supper were held separately.

Organization of the First Century Church

The first-century Church had no denominations as we have today. Each Church was independent and self-supporting. They realized that they belong to the universal Church, and accepted the decisions of the Apostles.

There was no specific pattern of the Church office. There were different gifts to the members who worked in different areas of the Church (Eph. 4:11). But it was not an office set up by humans.

Mainly, there were two groups in the Church. The first one is elder (bishop/presbyters); they worked in pastoral care, financial matters, and Church discipline. They also had to lead in the communion, teaching, and preaching in the Church. The sent group was deacons. They helped in the work of the elders.

Some churches even had different forms. There were local leaders appointed by apostles/evangelists or by the congregation.

Problems in the First Century Church

The early faced many problems. We can divide it into two major points; practical and doctrinal problems.

The Practical problems

Observance of the Mosaic Law became one of the major problems in the early Church. The issue was does Gentile converts should have circumcision or not? Jerusalem council fixed this issue so that they should not have to have circumcision.

Another problem we can see in the Church of Corinth. There was great division. They have divided themselves in the name of the leaders (1 Cor. 1:12).

The Doctrinal problem

There were no creeds or written lethargy in the first-century church. Many heresies at that time. Different Jewish Christian sects had the heretical teaching.

Nazerites sect believed that the decision of the Jerusalem council was only for the Gentile Christian. Therefore, they continued the Mosaic Law; its ceremonies, and rites.

Ebionites sects believed that all the converts (including Gentiles) should follow the Mosaic Law for salvation. They denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at baptism and left at the crucifixion, they thought.

The Elcesatics sect was the ascetic sect. They were vegetarian. This sect had its own book of Revelation and its own creed. They included pagan philosophies (like Gnosticism) in their doctrine. Circumcision, observance of the Sabbath, and Levitical Law were a must for them. But they discarded the animal sacrifice. Only the immersion baptism was valid for them. They used salt and bread in the communion.

Besides these Jewish Christian sects, there was another heretic group called Gnosticism. Gnosticism was teaching that the body is evil, only the spirit is good. Therefore, it resisted the humanity of Christ.

Persecution in the First Century Church

Christians in the first century faced prosecution from both Jews and Romans. In the beginning, Roman thought that Christians and Jews are the same. Therefore, Christians were treated similarly to Jews in fever and persecution. But the Jews clearly saw the difference between Judaism and Christianity and they persecuted Christian as much as they could.

The Jews Persecution

Jews had crucified Jesus with the charge of blasphemy. More than that, in fact, they were not happy with the popularity of Jesus. Jesus was being more popular than the Sadducees and Pharisees. So that they charged Jesus with the violation of the Mosaic Law and asked Pilate to crucify Him.

They did the same with the followers of Jesus. Immediately after knowing that they are the followers of Jesus, they kicked out Christians from the Temple and Synagogues. They killed Stephen, James and harassed the other apostles. Wherever they saw the Christians, they persecuted them.

The Roman Persecution in the First Century Church

After the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, Romans also saw that Christians and Jews are different. Christianity was growing very fast. Romans identified it as a new religion. It was not a national religion as Judaism. Rather, Christianity was covering all the groups of the people. It became a threat for Romans.

Christianity was converting the Greeks and Romans into their group. Every religion and nation had to participate in the emperor’s worship (except Judaism). But the Christians refused idol worship. Christians refused to pay divine honor to the emperor.

Unity and frequent meetings for the fellowship of Christians brought suspension. They thought that Christians were conspiring against the Romans and their states.

Christians were blamed for many charges. Rumors spread that Christians are cannibals, they practice infanticide in their Love feast. They are against the gods. If anything wrong happened, people used to think that it was because of Christians. Therefore, the first-century Church faced persecution from the Romans.

Recommended Contents:

Early Church History (100-313 AD)

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