The Early Church

Most likely think the history of the Christian Church is more or less linear, starting with the death of Jesus on the Cross and proceeding throughout the centuries, growing, expanding with the Roman Catholic Church throughout Europe, the Catholic/Protestant "split" that came with the reformation, finally bringing us to the Church as it stands today. Although that basically hits the high peaks of the 2000 years since the time of Christ, it pays little to no attention to the turbulence during the times in between, most especially during the earliest, formative years of the Christian faith. Let us not forget that Christianity began as a new way of looking at the Jewish faith. Although the traditional adherents and priests of the Mosaic Laws saw things differently, early "Christians" simply were Jews who saw ancient prophecy regarding the arrival of the Messiah as fulfilled. In most other ways, they continued as they had for some time. The real difference began to emerge when the non-Jewish populous, the "Gentiles", were allowed acceptance into this newly developing offshoot of Judaism.

In the past, you could become a follower of Judaism, a "child of Abraham", by undergoing the rite of circumcision, allowing you to become part of the covenant between God and His chosen people. However Jesus said that God's covenant would be to all nations, through the shedding of His blood. This obviously didn't sit too well with the religious ruling class, not only because it flew in the face of traditional Mosaic law, but also because they stood to loose their footing in the power structure of their society. Even among early Christians, there was a great falling away when Gentiles were allowed into the faith. However, the early Church fathers such as Peter and Paul, depicted in the painting above, began allowing these non-Jewish people into the new covenant ushered in by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Things were not all calm waters though, even between Peter, to whom the "keys to the Kingdom" had been given by Jesus Himself, and Paul, the great apostle and missionary throughout the world.

Petrus_et_Paulus_4th_century_etching

At one point, a group send by James, the brother of Jesus, who have come to be called "Judaizing Christians" began trying to sway people's beliefs back to Mosaic law, and a return to the traditions of the Hebrew people. Even Peter himself struggled with this issue, eventually refusing to enter the houses of new Gentile followers of Christ, choosing to eat only with traditional Jewish followers. Paul, in a well known incident in Antioch, publicly chastised Peter for the lapse in his faith in this New Covenant, leading to the declaration made by Peter and James in Acts 15:7-11:


"My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the world of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit just as he did us. He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts. Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in these ams way as they."


Although some historians and biblical scholars insist that this public confrontation lead to a schism between the "New Church" and the Jerusalem Church that would never fully heal, it is commonly held that Peter and Paul found reconciliation, preaching and founding the faith in Rome, eventually spending time jailed in the same prison, and ultimately being martyred.

Much has been made of the differences between the Jerusalem Church and the Church in Rome during the foundation period of Christianity as if they were rivals, however this is again viewing the past through the lens of modern perceptions of rivalry that were just not the case at that time. Christian Church history is woefully full of divisions, between Jews and Christians, Catholic and Protestant, with Orthodox groups of Christians, you name it. Man has always been very good at splitting with his fellow man, even when, at the heart of it, they believe the same. However, what it meant to be and call yourself "Christian" was not really formalized until the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Before that, the faith of Christianity felt a great many growth pains. At many points, it was a matter of survival that early Christians pulled together, both for themselves, and for the preservation of the faith. Let us remember that although Peter was named as the "successor" to Jesus, all the disciples were charged with being leaders, and, in fact, history bears that out. Each of the original followers of Jesus went their own direction speeding the Gospel to all corners of their world.


antioch

What would at first appear to be a "face to face" confrontation is in actuality an image recognized throughout the world as the reconciliation between Peter and Paul, sealed with a Christian kiss — the sign of brotherhood and respect in the 1st century church.



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