Christians were persecuted more than any other religious group in the first three centuries. They were viewed as too exclusive, too narrow, and a threat to the social order since they refused to respect other gods or worship the emperor.
The word “church” can conjure up a variety of images in people’s minds. It usually depends on their history or experience, and sometimes it’s a media-created image.
The Church we meet in the book of Acts is significantly different from many of the more recent images of the Church that people have formed. That’s not to say it was flawless. The Church led by Peter and John was also known as the Church of Ananias and Sapphira.
It witnessed extraordinary responses to prayer. It also saw the assassination of two of its most important leaders. It successfully resolved disputes between different ethnic groups, but it was unable to assist Paul and Barnabas in resolving their conflicts.
However, there is no denying that the depiction of the Church in the book of Acts is fascinating. So, how did it go? Acts 2:42-47 may provide the clearest depiction of the Church in operation.
How did the Church begin?
The early Christian Church arose from Jewish tradition in Jerusalem and the surrounding environs. All of Jesus’ disciples were Jews. As a result, the first Christians did not gather in separate churches but rather in local Jewish synagogues.
St Paul was a key figure in the early Church, and he believed that the good news of Jesus was for everyone, not only Jews. Because of this idea, Paul established Christian churches throughout the Roman empire, including Europe and Africa.
You can read about Paul’s conversion, along with how he spread the good news of the Gospel, in the Book of Acts.
Everyone in the Roman Empire was supposed to prove their commitment to the empire by stepping in front of the Roman Emperor’s statue, placing a pinch of incense on the altar fire, and declaring, “Caesar is Lord.” The Jews were the only ones who did not have to do this. The Romans initially assumed Christians were the same as Jews, but when more non-Jews (Gentiles) became Christians, the Roman authorities began to persecute them: executing people for their beliefs.
Nero – 54 AD-68 AD
Persecution started with the massacre of Christians in Rome by Emperor Nero in 64 AD. There was a terrible fire that destroyed the center of Rome. People were saying that Nero had started it to make room for his new palace. However, Nero blamed the Christians.
For the next 250 years, Christians were rounded up and put to death from time to time. Many were thrown to the lions and bears in public arenas as public entertainment. There is a cross in the Colosseum in Rome to remember the Christians who died there, though most executions probably took place in the Circus Maximus nearby.
Entertainment in the Colosseum was free, but the Circus Maximus was a paying show. The persecution of the Christians under Roman rule ended when the emperor Constantine became a Christian in 312 AD.
The Facts of the Apostles
The twelve disciples (also known as the Holy Apostles or twelve apostles of Jesus Christ were twelve of Jesus Christ’s followers in Christianity. According to Christianity, the twelve disciples were regular men who followed Jesus Christ’s teachings. These men were sent out to disseminate the Word of Christianity and bear witness to God’s work after witnessing His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.
They dined with Jesus in Jerusalem prior to His crucifixion, and following the Lord’s death, they set out over the world to proclaim his message of God’s Kingdom. However, most of the 12 disciples were persecuted and killed for their religion.
Paul was beheaded in Rome, while James, son of Zebedee, was beheaded at Jerusalem. Peter was crucified upside down in Rome because he did not believe he was worthy to die in the same fashion as Jesus.
Philip, Andrew, and Simon the Zealot were also crucified. Thomas was speared to death in India, Bartholomew was skinned alive before being beheaded, and James, son of Alphaeus, is thought to have been stoned before being clubbed to death.
According to most stories, Mathew was likewise martyred, albeit how he died varies and includes burning, stabbing, beheading, or stoning. According to some stories, Jude died on the crucifixion or by the sharp point of an ax. Judas famously hung himself after betraying Jesus.
John is generally regarded as the only one to die of natural causes due to old age.
FACTS ABOUT THE EARLY CHURCH
STORIES OF TRANSFORMATION
We see the metamorphosis of Peter, a disciple of Jesus who moved from denying him three times to fearlessly proclaiming the Gospel in Acts and throughout the Epistles. We also see Saul, a persecutor of Christians, transform into Paul, the father of our faith and the author of the majority of the New Testament. The lives remind us of these Jesus followers that God can use anyone—including you and me—as a tool for his redemptive plan.
PREPARE TO BE ENCOURAGED AND CHALLENGED
They were defying the authority of the government—immorality in sexual matters. Disagreements among believers Discord among Jesus’ followers. You name it, and the early Church most likely grappled with it. Reading about the early Church in that city using a study Bible can help us decipher problematic sections, allowing us to fully appreciate the context in which it was written.
BRIDGES THE GAP
The book of Acts connects the Gospels with the Epistles, blending history and faith. Acts, as a sequel to Luke’s Gospel, is a historical chronicle of the early Church. Jesus teaches in the Gospels. The message of Jesus is taught in the Epistles.
A NEW NAME MAY BE IN ORDER
The book of Acts is commonly referred to as “Acts of the Apostles,” however, a more appropriate title may be “A Few Acts of Peter and Paul” or “The Gospel of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is mentioned 55 times in this book and plays an important role. Put a star by the passage whenever you notice the Holy Spirit at work.
WHERE IN THE WORLD?
It’s preferable to read Acts and the Epistles that follow with a map nearby to notice where Peter and Paul’s adventures lead them, as well as where each Church is located. Locate a city on the map whenever it is mentioned.
Attributes That Made The Early Church Outstanding
For starters, the Church born in the Spirit’s power on Pentecost retained its structure by committing itself to specific rituals.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and companionship and to sharing bread and praying. They pledged allegiance to God’s Word. This emphasis on the Word can be found throughout Acts and the epistles.
Fellowship was also high on their priority list. According to the text, they were equally committed to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. This Church was a close-knit community of Christ-followers. In verses 44-45, the power of their community is demonstrated: no one was in need because they cared for one another. This association was founded on Jesus’ admonition to love one another.
Years later, in his teaching about the body and spiritual talents, Paul would expand on this idea. And, of course, the Apostle John would go on to emphasize and dwell on the essential component of fellowship, ‘loving one another,’ particularly in his first epistle.
Breaking bread was also a significant practice in the early Church. The Lord’s Supper, instituted by Jesus before his crucifixion, was important to the life and worship of the early Church. Verse 46 indicates that it was practiced in smaller groups in houses rather than as a single Church of three thousand or more individuals.
And, of course, prayer played an essential role. In Acts, the Church was praying. Exhortations to pray to abound in the gospels and epistles.
Generosity is the third characteristic of early Church activity. All of the believers had gathered together and shared everything. They sold property and assets in order to assist those in need.
Part of the drive for this giving might be found in the depth of camaraderie that developed among the early Christians. These words provide an intriguing glimpse into the early Church. “The believers were together and had everything in common,” there was a strong feeling of community.
At the same time, that sense of togetherness did not extend to communal living; they retained property: “They sold property and things to donate to anyone in need.” The kind of sacrificial generosity described here features throughout Acts and the epistles.
The power of God
Everyone was taken aback by the apostles’ numerous signs and wonders.
The early Church was not only born in the power of the Spirit; it was also a part of its continuous experience. This power enabled the Church to profoundly impact individuals (they were overcome with awe – literally fear). Throughout Acts and the epistles, the miraculous is a feature of the Church’s witness.
Fourth, the Church was filled with joy in both worship and fellowship: “They continued to congregate in the temple courts every day. They ate together with cheerful and true hearts, thanking God and enjoying the favor of all the people, as they broke bread in their houses ” (Acts 2:45-46).
A ‘party’ may appear to be too irreligious to depict life in the early Church. On the other hand, these words depict a cheerful group of individuals who enjoyed being together and worshiping God. If the word ‘party’ makes you uneasy, consider the word ‘joyful.’ Meetings were pleasant occurrences in the early Church.
This type of happy companionship and worship may be seen throughout the New Testament. In particular, Paul’s letter to the Philippians is bursting with joy – even though he was in prison when he wrote it!
Reaching the lost
Finally, the early Church was a missionary. “And the Lord added to their number those who were being saved daily.” The Church was quite evangelistic! It reached out to the long-forgotten planet.
Take note of how Luke characterizes the Church’s evangelistic witness. First and foremost, it was Jesus who was at work via his Church. Second, people were being saved daily. Third, those who were saved were added to their total. Evangelism was not complete until new believers were welcomed into the Church.
This depiction of the Church in Acts 2:42-47 is not complete. The Church was still in its infancy. Later, revelation from the Holy Spirit enabled Church leaders such as Peter, John, and Paul to build and strengthen the Church’s understanding of itself.
Nonetheless, Acts 2 introduces us to the broad concepts and practices that shaped the first-century Church and have continued to shape the Church in her most effective times in history.
Written by Fiona Kindness
WHAT DO YOU THINK?- We have all sinned and deserve God's judgment. God, the Father, sent His only Son to satisfy that judgment for those who believe in Him. Jesus, the creator and eternal Son of God, who lived a sinless life, loves us so much that He died for our sins, taking the punishment that we deserve, was buried, and rose from the dead according to the Bible. If you truly believe and trust this in your heart, receiving Jesus alone as your Savior, declaring, "Jesus is Lord," you will be saved from judgment and spend eternity with God in heaven.
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