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History of the Church #3

Intro to the Apostolic age


     (BRIEF) CHURCH HISTORY

From the multi-volume work on Church History by Philip Schaff.


EXTENT AND ENVIRONMENT OF THE APOSTOLIC AGE

The apostolic period extends from the Day of Pentecost to the
death of St. John, and covers about seventy years, from A.D. 30
to 100. The field of action is Palestine, and gradually extends
over Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy. The most prominent
centres are Jerusalem, Antioch, and Rome, which represent
respectively the mother churches of Jewish, Gentile, and United
Catholic Christianity. Next to them are Ephesus and Corinth.     
Ephesus acquired a special importance by the residence and labors
of John, which made themselves felt during the second century
through Polycarp and Irenaeus. Samaria, Damascus, Joppa,
Caesarea, Tyre, Cyprus, the provinces of Asia Minor, Troas,
Philippi, Thessalonica, Beroea, Athens, Crete, Patmos, Malta,
Puteoli, come also into view as points where the Christian faith
was planted. Through the eunuch converted by Philip, it reached
Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians. As early as A.D. 58 Paul
could say: "From Jerusalem and round about even unto Illyricum, I
have fully preached the gospel of Christ." He afterwards carried
it to Rome, where it had already been known before, and possibly
as far as Spain, the western boundary of the empire.

(Even to the British Isles as other historic stuides under this
section will prove to you - Keith Hunt)

The nationalities reached by the gospel in the first century were
the Jews, the Greeks, and the Romans, and the languages used were
the Hebrew or Aramaic, and especially the Greek, which was at
that time the organ of civilization and of international
intercourse within the Roman empire.

The contemporary secular history includes the reigns of the Roman
Emperors from Tiberius to Nero and Domitian, who either ignored
or persecuted Christianity. We are brought directly into contact
with King Herod Agrippa 1 - (grandson of Herod the Great), the
murderer of the apostle, James the Elder; with his son King
Agrippa II - (the last of the Herodian house), who with his
sister Bernice (a most corrupt woman) listened to Paul's defense;
with two Roman governors, Felix and Festus; with Pharisees and
Sadducees; with Stoics and Epicureans; with the temple and
theatre at Ephesus, with the court of the Areopagus at Athens,
and with Caesar's palace in Rome.


SOURCES OF INFORMATION

The author of Acts records the heroic march of Christianity from
the capital of Judaism to the capital of heathenism with the same
artless simplicity and serene faith as the Evangelists tell the
story of Jesus; well knowing that it needs no embellishment, no
apology, no subjective reflections, and that it will surely
triumph by its inherent spiritual power.

The Acts and the Pauline Epistles accompany us with reliable
information down to the year 63. Peter and Paul are lost out of
sight in the lurid fires of the Neronian persecution which seemed
to consume Christianity itself. We know nothing certain of that
satanic spectacle from authentic sources beyond the passage, 
information of heathen historians. A few years afterwards
followed the destruction of Jerusalem, which must have made an
overpowering impression and broken the last ties which bound
Jewish Christianity to the old theocracy. The event is indeed
brought before us in the prophecy of Christ as recorded in the
Gospels, but for the terrible fulfilment we are dependent on the
account of an unbelieving Jew, which, as the testimony of an
enemy, is all the more impressive.

The remaining thirty years of the first century are involved in
mysterious darkness, illuminated only by the writings of John.   
This is a period of church history about which we know least and
would like to know most. This period is the favorite field for
ecclesiastical fables and critical conjectures. How thankfully
would the historian hail the discovery of any new authentic
documents between the martyrdom of Peter and Paul and the death
of John, and again between the death of John and the age of
Justin Martyr and Irenaeus.

(It was the time when true Christianity was assailed by false
teachings coming from within the Church of God itself. James,
Peter, Jude, and John, attest to this in their epistles, many
ant-christs were on the march, bringing in heresies, "doing away"
with the commandments of God, turning grace into a license to
sin. It was the foundational start to what took place in the 2nd
century A.D. - the introduction of Easter to replace the
Passover, and the beginning of moving away from the 7th day of
the week observance to the 1st day of the week, changing the 4th
commandment of the great Ten Commandments - Keith Hunt)


CAUSES of SUCCESS

As to the numerical strength of Christianity at the close of the
first century, we have no information whatever. Statistical
reports were unknown in those days. The estimate of half a
million among the one hundred millions or more inhabitants of the
Roman empire is probably exaggerated. The pentecostal conversion
of three thousand in one day at Jerusalem, and the "immense
multitude" of martyrs under Nero, favor a high estimate. The
churches in Antioch also, Ephesus, and Corinth were strong enough
to bear the strain of controversy and division into parties. But
the majority of congregations were no doubt small, often a mere
handful of poor people. In the country districts paganism (as the
name indicates) lingered longest, even beyond the age of
Constantine (3rd century A.D. - Keith Hunt) The Christian
converts belonged mostly to the middle and lower classes of
society, such as fishermen, peasants, mechanics, traders,
freedmen, slaves. St. Paul says "Not many wise after the flesh,
not many mighty, not many noble were called, but God chose the
foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that
are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world that he
might put to shame the things that are strong; and the base
things of the world, and the things that are despised, did God
choose, yea, and the things that are not, that he might bring to
naught the things that are that no flesh should glory before
God." And yet these poor, illiterate churches were the recipients
of the noblest gifts, and alive to the deepest problems and
highest thoughts which can challenge the attention of an immortal
mind. Christianity built from the foundation upward. From the
lower ranks come the rising men of the future, who constantly
reinforce the higher ranks and prevent their decay.

(By the time of Constantine - 300s A.D. the church of Rome had
gained favor with the secular Roman Empire, and customs were
brought in so the pagans could convert easily to Christianity,
such pagan customs as Easter and Sunday worship were already in
place, then came Christ-mass - December pagan festival of the sun
returning to power and longer days, adopted by the church of
Rome, made it easy for pagans to adopt Christianity as it moved
further and further way from what they called "Jewishness" -
Keith Hunt)

At the time of the conversion of Constantine, in the beginning of
the fourth century, the number of Christians may have reached ten
or twelve millions, that is about one-tenth of the total
population of the Roman empire. Some estimate it higher.
The rapid success of Christianity under the most unfavorable
circumstances is surprising and its own best vindication. It was
achieved in the face of an indifferent or hostile world, and by
purely spiritual and moral means, without shedding a drop of
blood except that of its own innocent martyrs. Gibbon, in the
famous fifteenth chapter of his "History," attributes the rapid
spread to five causes, namely: (1) the intolerant but enlarged
religious zeal of the Christians inherited from the Jews; (2) the
doctrine of the immortality of the soul, concerning which the
ancient philosophers had but vague and dreamy ideas; (3) the
miraculous powers attributed to the primitive church; (4) the
purer but austere morality of the first Christians; (5) the unity
and discipline of the church, which gradually formed a growing
commonwealth in the heart of the empire. But every one of these
causes, properly understood, points to the superior excellency
and to the divine origin of the Christian religion, and this is
the chief cause, which the Deistic historian omits.

(In Gibbon stating number the 5th cause, he was in unclear
language saying what I've said above - the popular Roman
Christianity gaining favor with the secular Roman empire by
adopting pagan customs, calaiming they were now baptaized as
"Christian" customs - Keith Hunt)


The life of Christ is the divine-human fountain-head of the
Christian religion; the apostolic age is the fountain-head of the
Christian church, as an organized society separate and distinct
from the Jewish synagogue. It is the age of the Holy Spirit, the
age of inspiration and legislation for all subsequent ages.
Here springs, in its original freshness and purity, the living
water of the new creation. Christianity comes down from heaven as
a supernatural fact, yet long predicted and prepared for, and
adapted to the deepest wants of human nature. Signs and wonders
and extraordinary demonstrations of the Spirit, for the
conversion of unbelieving Jews and heathens, attend its entrance
into the world of sin. It takes up its permanent abode with our
fallen race, to transform it gradually, without war or bloodshed,
by a quiet, leaven-like process, into a kingdom of truth and
righteousness. Modest and humble, lowly and unseemly in outward
appearance, but steadily conscious of its divine origin and its
eternal destiny; without silver or gold, but rich in supernatural
gifts and powers, strong in faith, fervent in love, and joyful in
hope; bearing in earthen vessels the imperishable treasures of
heaven, it presents itself upon the stage of history as the only
true, the perfect religion, for all the nations of the earth.    
At first an insignificant and even contemptible sect in the eyes
of the carnal mind, hated and persecuted by Jews and heathens, it
confounds the wisdom of Greece and the power of Rome, soon plants
the standard of the cross in the great cities of Asia, Africa,
and Europe, and proves itself the hope of the world.


THE INSPIRATION OF THE APOSTOLIC AGE

In virtue of this original purity, vigor, and beauty, and the
permanent success of primitive Christianity, the canonical
authority of the single but inexhaustible volume of its
literature, and the character of the apostles, those inspired
organs of the Holy Spirit, those untaught teachers of mankind,
the apostolic age has an incomparable interest and importance in
the history of the church. It is the immovable groundwork of the
whole. It has the same regulative force for all the subsequent
developments of the church as the inspired writings of the
apostles have for the works of all later Christian authors.
Furthermore, the apostolic Christianity is preformative, and
contains the living germs of all the following periods,
personages, and tendencies. It holds up the highest standard of
doctrine and discipline; it is the inspiring genius of all true
progress; it suggests to every age its peculiar problem with the
power to solve it. Christianity can never outgrow Christ, but it
grows in Christ; theology cannot go beyond the word of God, but
it must ever progress in the understanding and application of the
word of God. The three leading apostles represent not only the
three stages of the apostolic church, but also as many ages and
types of Christianity, and yet they are all present in every age
and every type.


THE REPRESENTATIVE APOSTLES

PETER, PAUL, and JOHN stand out most prominently as the chosen
Three who accomplished the great work of the apostolic age, and
exerted, by their writings and example, a controlling influence
on all subsequent ages. To them correspond three centres of
influence, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Rome.

Our Lord himself had chosen Three out of the Twelve for his, most
intimate companions, who alone witnessed the Transfiguration and
the agony in Gethsemane. They fulfilled all the expectations,
Peter and John by their long and successful labors, James the
Elder by drinking early the bitter cup of his Master, as the
proto-martyr of the Twelve. Since his death, A.D. 44. James, 
"the brother of the Lord," seems to have succeeded him, as one of
the three "pillars" of the church of the circumcision, although
he did not belong to the apostles in the strict sense of the
term, and his influence, as the head of the church at Jerusalem,
was more local than ecumenical.

(James was never the "head" of any church, he was one of the
leading men at Jerusalem, but Scripture never designates him as
"head" - Keith Hunt)

Paul was called last and out of the regular order, by the
personal appearance of the exalted Lord from heaven, and in
authority and importance he was equal to any of the three
pillars, but filled a place of his own, as the independent
apostle of the Gentiles. He had around him a small band of
co-laborers and pupils, such as Barnabas, Silas, Titus, Timothy,
Luke.

Nine of the original Twelve, including Matthias, who was chosen
in the place of Judas, labored no doubt faithfully and
effectively, in preaching the gospel throughout the Roman empire
and to the borders of the barbarians, but in subordinate
positions, and their labors are known to us only from vague and
uncertain traditions.

(No the history of these workers for the Lord are not vage or un-
certain traditions, but few "historians" want to believe the
histories for it flies in the face of some of their Romanized
Christain histories - Keith Hunt)

The labors of James and Peter we can follow in the Acts to the
Council of Jerusalem, A.D. 50, and a little beyond; those of Paul
to his first imprisonment in Rome, A.D. 61-63; John lived to the
close of the first century. As to their last labors we have no
authentic information in the New Testament, but the unanimous
testimony of antiquity that Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom in
Rome during or after the Neronian persecution, and that John died
a natural death at Ephesus. The Acts breaks off abruptly with
Paul still living and working, a prisoner in Rome, "preaching the
kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus
Christ, with all boldness, none forbidding him."  A significant
conclusion.

It would be difficult to find three men equally great and good,
equally endowed with genius sanctified by grace, bound together
by deep and strong love to the common Master, and laboring for
the same cause, yet so different in temper and constitution, as
Peter, Paul, and John. 

Peter stands out in history as the main pillar of the primitive
church, as the Rock-apostle, as the chief of the twelve
foundation-stones of the new Jerusalem; (not "chief" per se but
the leading man in "function" is made by the book of Acts - Keith
Hunt) 

John as the bosom-friend of the Saviour, as the son of thunder,
as the soaring eagle, as the apostle of love; Paul as the cham-
pion of Christian freedom and progress, as the greatest
missionary, with "the care of all the churches" upon his heart,
as the expounder of the Christian system of doctrine, as the
father of Christian theology. Peter was a man of action, always
in haste and ready to take the lead, the first to confess Christ,
and the first to preach Christ on the day of Pentecost; Paul a
man equally potent in word and deed; John a man of mystic
contemplation. Peter was unlearned and altogether practical; 
Paul a scholar and thinker as well as a worker; John a
theosophist and seer. Peter was sanguine, ardent, impulsive,
hopeful, kind-hearted, given to sudden changes, "consistently
inconsistent" (to use an Aristotelian phrase); Paul was choleric,
energetic, bold, noble, independent, uncompromising; John some
what melancholic, introverted, reserved, burning within of love
to Christ and hatred of Antichrist. 

Peter's Epistles are full of sweet grace and comfort, the result
of deep humiliation and rich experience; those of Paul abound in
severe thought and logical argument, but rising at times to the
heights of celestial eloquence, as in the seraphic description of
love and the triumphant paean of the eighth chapter of the
Romans; John's writings are simple, serene, profound, intuitive,
sublime, inexhaustible.

We would like to know more about the personal relations of
these pillar-apostles, but must be satisfied with a few hints.
They labored in different fields and seldom met face to face in
their busy life. Time was too precious, their work too serious,
for sentimental enjoyments of friendship. Paul went to Jerusalem
A.D. 40, three years after his conversion, for the express 
purpose of making the personal acquaintance of Peter, and spent
two weeks with him; he saw none of the other apostles, but only
James, the Lord's brother. He met the pillar-apostles at the
Conference in Jerusalem, A.D. 50, and concluded with them the
peaceful concordat concerning the division of labor, and the
question of circumcision; the older apostles gave him and
Barnabas "the right hands of fellowship" in token of brotherhood
and fidelity. Not long afterwards Paul met Peter a third time, at
Antioch, but came into open collision with him on the great
question of Christian freedom and the union of Jewish and Gentile
converts. The collision was merely temporary, but significantly
reveals the profound commotion and fermentation of the apostolic
age, and foreshadowed future antagonisms and reconciliations in
the church. Several years later (A.D. 57) Paul refers the last
time to Cephas, and the brethren of the Lord, for the right to
marry and to take a wife with him on his missionary journeys.

Peter, in his first Epistle to Pauline churches, confirms them in
their Pauline faith, and in his second Epistle, his last will and
testament, he affectionately commends the letters of his "beloved
brother Paul," adding, however, the characteristic remark, which
all commentators must admit to be true, that (even beside the
account of the scene in Antioch) there are in them "some things
hard to be understood."  According to tradition (which varies
considerably as to details), the great leaders of Jewish and
Gentile Christianity met at Rome, were tried and condemned
together, Paul, the Roman citizen, to the death by the sword on
the Ostian road at Tre Fontane; Peter, the Galilean apostle, to
the more degrading death of the cross on the hill of Janiculum.
John mentions Peter frequently in his Gospel, especially in the
appendix, but never names Paul; he met him, as it seems, only
once, at Jerusalem, gave him the right hand of fellowship, became
his successor in the fruitful field of Asia Minor, and built on
his foundation.

Peter was the chief actor in the first stage of apostolic
Christianity and fulfilled the prophecy of his name in laying the
foundation of the church among the Jews and the Gentiles. In the
second stage he is overshadowed by the mighty labors of Paul ....

Paul was the chief actor in the second stage of the apostolic
church, the apostle of the Gentiles, the founder of Christianity
in Asia Minor and Greece, the emancipator of the new religion
from the yoke of Judaism, the herald of evangelical freedom, the
standard-bearer of reform and progress. His controlling influence
was felt also in Rome, and is clearly seen in the genuine Epistle
of Clement, who makes more account of him than of Peter.....

St. John, the most intimate companion of Jesus, the apostle of
love, the seer who looked back to the ante-mundane beginning and
forward to the post-mundane end of all things, and who is to
tarry till the coming of the Lord, kept aloof from active part in
the controversies between Jewish and Gentile Christianity.  He
appears prominent in the Acts and the Epistle to the Galatians,
as one of the pillar-apostles, but not a word of his is reported.
He was waiting in mysterious silence, with a reserved force, for
his proper time, which did not come till Peter and Paul had
finished their mission. Then, after their departure, he revealed
the hidden depths of his genius in his marvellous writings, which
represent the last and crowning work of the apostolic church....

Paul is the heroic captain of the church militant, John the
mystic prophet of the church triumphant.

Far above them all, throughout the apostolic age and all
subsequent ages, stands the one great Master from whom Peter,
Paul, and John drew their inspiration, to whom they bowed in holy
adoration, whom alone they served and glorified in life and in
death, and to whom they still point in their writings as the
perfect image of God, as the Saviour from sin and death, as the
Giver of eternal life, as the divine harmony of conflicting
creeds and schools, as the Alpha and Omega of the Christian
faith.

(Schaff is of course refering here to Jesus the Christ - Keith
Hunt)

...................

To be continued           


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