Tuesday, January 31, 2017

History of Early Church

I.                   Introduction
It very important for any enthusiastic Christian to know about the history of the church. It is interesting how the promise that Jesus gave before his ascension to heaven of sending the Holy Spirit and his Disciples being witness form Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. One must have the clear understanding of the history of the early church to understand the work and ministry of the church in the present day context. One should have the faith and perseverance of the early Christians to be encouraged to live and preach the gospel like the first century Christians did. So this paper is an attempt to dig out the context and the development of the early church to encourage the believers today.
II.                Definition of the Church
The word translated "church" in the English Bible is ekklesia. This word is the Greek words kaleo(to call), with the prefix ek (out). Thus, the word means "the called out ones." However, the English word "church" does not come from ekklesia but from the word kuriakon, which means "dedicated to the Lord." This word was commonly used to refer to a holy place or temple. By the time of Jerome's translation of the New Testament from Greek to Latin, it was customary to use a derivative of kuriakon to translate ekklesia.[1]
The church is not a building; it is a group of people. It is not a denomination; it is everyone who has received the Holy Spirit. And it doesn't grant salvation; it is people, loving and glorifying God and teaching others about a saving knowledge of Christ. According to Paul Church is Christ's body on earth, bride of Christ. As believers, we are joined with all Christians from Peter to the smallest child in the body of Christ, encouraging, teaching, and building one another up in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
III.             From Jerusalem to Rome
Gospels of Matthew clearly depicts how the coming of Christ has stablished the kingdom of God. How the life, death and resurrection of Jesus gave the new hope to the human kind and the same massage was preached in and through the life of the disciples of Jesus. The first Christians were Jews differentiated form their fellow countrymen by their faith that in Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah of the nation's expectation had now come.[2] From the first church was deeply conscious of its solidarity with Israel, and of the continuity of God's action in the past with his present activity in Jesus of Nazareth and in his followers. At first Christianity must certainly have appeared only as one more sect or group within a Judaism that was already accustomed to considerable diversity in religious expression.[3] The Book of Acts gives a detailed account of the growth and spread of the early church. Christianity spread with remarkable rapidity in Syria and north-westwards into Asia Minor and Greece.

A.    In Jerusalem and in all Judea
The Old Testament had spoken again and again of the common dwelling of the Holy Spirit. In Acts chapter 2 fulfills the promise made in OT as we as the promise of Jesus not to live the disciples alone. Acts chapter 2 to 7 is all about the church in Jerusalem, how the church was established on the day of the Pentecost and its growth. At Pentecost Jesus sent Holy Spirit to strengthen the timid believers.All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability (Acts 2:4). Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd fathered and was bewildered, because each of one heard them speaking in the native language of each (Acts 2:5-6).
All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "what does this mean?" but others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine." But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say, indeed, these are not drunk, but they are filled with Holy Spirit, as prophet Joel has spoken. After his preaching great many numbers were converted to Christ, that day about 3000 men took baptism.
            The life among the believers was one of the most wonderful things to see. They used to live in peace and harmony, sharing what they had.One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer at afternoon. And a man lame from birth bagging in front of the gate named Beautiful. Peter and John saw him and Peter healed that man in the power of Holy Spirit. The witness of that man spared all over. Peter and John were bold enough to testify before the council. After the growth of the church, Apostle appointed 7 deacons to minister the believers and the church continued to grow in number.
B.     In Samaria
After the death of Stephen in Acts 7:60, the severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming to word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralyzed or lame were cured. So there was great joy in that city (Acts 8:4-7).
Again an angel of the Lord said to Philip. "Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." (Acts 8:27). Philip went there and met an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home. On the journey he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And Philip heard him and went to him, preached and baptized him.
C.    To the Ends of the Earth
The Gospel spread beyond Samaria. Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women. He might bring them bound to Jerusalem. On the way to Damascus, Paul encounters the Lord and starts trusting in him. Paul then started preaching in Damascus and beyond. After Paul was introduced to Apostles by Barnabas in Jerusalem, both served the Lord in Antioch. In Acts 13 Barnabas and Paul were appointed as the missionary to the Gentile world. Paul traveled for 3 missionary journey to preach the Gospel in Galatia, Asia Minor, Macedonia and planting the church undergoing many ups and downs and severe persecution. Finally Paul was taken to Rome as a Prisoner.
IV.             Faith and Order
The main moto of the early church was to preach the good news of Jesus Christ, that he has come, sacrificed himself for human sin and God raised Him from the dead, ascended to heaven, and is again coming back to judge the living and the dead. Anyone who believes in Jesus will be saved and will have the everlasting life. This is the good news that the early Christians had believed and preached to the rest of the word. For this very news they were willing even to die. The first Christians lived under a completely different set of principles and values than the rest of mankind. They rejected the world's entertainment, honors, and riches. They were already citizens of another kingdom, and they listened to the voice of a different Master. This was as true of the second century church as it was of the first.
            At first the Christians were very simple fellowship of the followers of Jesus (Acts 2:42-46) with little or no organization. They continued to meet for worship in the temple, in the Jewish synagogues (Acts 3: 1ff.), and in homes (Acts 2:2; 12:12; 20:7-8). With the expansion of the Church i.e. with the growth of the church in number the church started needing the organizational structure. The loosely organized society that characterized the beginning of the church began to experience conflict (Acts 6:1-6) and the urgency for office and leadership in the church, other than the office of apostle, first arose from the conflict in the church over how to care for the needs of its people.[4]
V.                The Church Sacraments
A.    Baptism
Baptism is one of the sacrament which was explicitly commanded by Jesus to follow it. Generally the practice of Baptism in NT is to immerse or put completely under the water. Jesus commanded to preach the gospel and baptize whoever believes. According to Paul, faith and baptism are interlinked in such a way the theological understanding of faith that turns to the Lord for salvation and of baptism where in faith is declared is one and same.[5] We find every time anyone believes in Jesus, they were baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The tradition of the observance may vary according to the context but the significance to baptism was always there. We can view the meaning of Baptism in three aspect; first, Death (ritual imitation of the crucifixion of Jesus with a moral application cf. Rom. 6:1-3; Luke 12:50), second, Life, (ritual imitation of the resurrection of Jesus with a moral application, regeneration or rebirth, bestowal of the Spirit), and third, Cleansing (moral purification, forgiveness of sins).[6]
B.     Lord's Supper
The Lord's Supper is not the Passover meal even if the root may seem like it, but it is the last supper taken place within the time frame of a Passover meal (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:15-17). Luke mentions to clearly, these references to the "breaking of Bread" are understood as the fulfillment of Jesus command to "do this in remembrances of me". It is also known as "love feasts", in early church the Lord's Supper was celebrated in connection with love feast (Acts 2:42-46) where they continuing in the teachings of the Apostles and in fellowship (the love feast), the breaking of bread (the supper) and prayer.[7] It is also called "the Lords Table" (1 Cor. 10:21) "communion" cup of blessing and breaking of bread. The word "Eucharist" was used by early church in Bible which means giving of thanks. The basic meaning if Lord's Supper is unity with Christ as well as with the Believers. In 1 Cor. 10 and 11, Paul gives a detailed information about the Holy Communion, why and how to take it. It is another sacrament which was and is most significant aspect of the Christian faith, in early church as well as today's church.
VI.             Application
As we saw the history of the early Church according to the Book of Acts. The church then has to undergo through severe persecution but the believers stood firm in their faith, living and proclaiming the good news of Christ. They were very confident on the teachings of Jesus, the life, death, resurrection, ascension and second coming. Now as a church we have the delegated responsibility to preach gospel through our life and words. We also have the challenge to depend on the Holy Spirit for day to day life as well as to manage the church with the good administration so the every believer is given equal importance despite of their caste, class and education.
VII.          Conclusion
We are very blessed to read the history of the word turning upside down with the coming of the Holy Spirit, proclaiming the good news by the few timid disciple to the whole world and impacting the world.

[1] http://www.xenos.org/classes/um1-1a.htm#sthash.2lUvlaSR.dpuf
[2] Henry Chadwick, The Early Church, (Australia: Penguin Books, 1971), 9.
[3]Henry Chadwick, The Early Church,12-3.
[4] Early Christianity and its Sacred Literature, 226-27.
[5] G. R. Beasley Murray, "Baptism", Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Edited by, Gerald F. Hawthrone(England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993),62.
[6] D. E. Aune, "Worship, Early Christian", Anchor Bible Dictionary, Edited by, David Neol Freedman (USA: Doubleday, 1992), 986.
[7] R. H. Stein, "Lord's Supper", Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospel, Edited by, Joel B. Green (England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 449.

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