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Recognize reasons why we should study church history. (Sect. 1)
It reveals how earlier believers used Scripture to address issues intheir times.
• We learn from the mistakes made by earlier saints; their stories alsoinspire us to live passionately for Christ.
• Knowing the struggles earlier believers faced, we benefit from theirwisdom and (hopefully) avoid making their mistakes (or similarones)
.• Unlike most world religions, Christianity is historical by nature. Inhistory God revealed Himself and made promises to Israel. Inhistory Jesus was incarnated; in history He lived and died for oursins. History is “His story.”
• Church history is the story of how prior believers believed andlived, sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding in living for God and properly understanding and applying Scripture.
• Church history, therefore, helps us better understand Scripture.
Recognize descriptions of the historical process and historiography, reasons for discrepancy between themand the three principal sources of history. (Sect. 2)
2.1. The term “history,” as commonly used, has two levels of meaning
2.1.1. The past; human actions and experiences in the past; also termed the historical process.
2.1.2. The study of the past; human attempts to describe and interpret the past; historiography.
2.2. Reasons for the discrepancy between historiography and the historical process
2.2.1. The problem of evidence (sources).The historian is separated from his/her subject matter by time. He/she has to rely on what is mediatedby the evidence/sources. Unfortunately, the evidence is normally meager and quite often misleading.
2.2.2. The problem of the historian himself/herself.The historian has the difficult task of selecting, arranging and interpreting the evidence. This taskinvolves exercising judgment. The criteria he/she uses to determine what to include are influenced bynumerous factors: the historian’s temperament, cultural and religious values, worldview, etc. Thus theassumptions of the historian impact his/her work.
2.3 Sources and Their Interpretation
2.3.1. There are three principal sources of history – primary sources, secondary works, and archaeology.
18.104.22.168. Primary sources, oral and written, are the basic, raw materials of history.
22.214.171.124. Secondary works, which include published and unpublished documents, are dependent onprimary sources.
126.96.36.199. Archaeology - the scientific study of material remains of human cultures – serves toilluminate historical studies
.2.3.2. The historian critically examines his/her sources to determine their authenticity, reliability andvalue as evidence.
Recognize the four elements of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and the two valid orders of their significance.(Sect. 3)
There are four components andthey are listed here in order of significance. We goround and round the quadrilateral, continually processing the four components: 1) Scripture,2) Tradition, 3) Experience, and 4) Reason.
NOTE: Some people prefer to swap the order of the lasttwo elements:
Recognize the positive roles of Christian tradition (Sect. 4)
Positive role – tradition bridges the gap
4.1.1. Tradition bridges the gap between us and the originating events of our faith.
4.1.2. It makes historical understanding possible.
Recognize the negative roles of Christian tradition (Sect. 4)
- 4.2. Negative role – tradition obscures certain understandings
- 4.2.1. As tradition grows, it can bring an increase of extraneous material that obscures ourunderstanding.
- 4.2.2. Examples
- 188.8.131.52. The increasing role of Mariology in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions eventually raisedher importance to the level of the Trinity.
- 184.108.40.206. The Catholic priesthood was considered to have higher level of spirituality than the laity
- .220.127.116.11. Medieval Catholic fascination with martyrs, their shrines and their relics is an example of atradition permitted to develop to replace other similar pre-Christian pagan traditions.
- 18.104.22.168. Infant baptism – Karl Barth went against church tradition by saying that infant baptism wasnot Scriptural.
Recognize the overall value of tradition in assisting in our deeper understanding of Scripture. (Sect. 4)
4.3.1. Tradition is the necessary bridge to the past. Therefore it makes our understanding of Scripture possible.
4.3.2. Our understanding of the value of tradition starts with our being aware of our traditions – we must be prepared to critique our traditions in the light of Scripture, reason and experience (the other 3 points on the Wesleyan Quadrilateral).
4.3.3. Over time, tradition acts as a filtering process—sifting out prejudices that hinder ourunderstanding and emerging those that facilitate genuine understanding.
Recognize features of the church’s expansion from 33–64AD
- The fledgling church grew dramatically in its first three decades (33-64 AD).
- 5.1.1. There were only 120 disciples pre-Pentecost (Acts 1:15) and 3,000 post-Pentecost (Acts 2:41).
5.1.2. By 35 AD the church reached Antioch and was growing so dramatically that the chief priest sentSaul from Jerusalem to repress it (Acts 9.1-2); the numbers in Antioch had to be substantial or thechief priest would not have sent Saul to deal with them; no one is bothered by a few people meetingin a basement; already the church was engaged in what missiologist Roland Allen referred to at theend of the 19th century as “the spontaneous expansion of the church.”
5.1.3. By the early 50s Paul had planted reproducing churches in the key cities in Galatia, Greece andAsia Minor; Luke says in Paul’s third missionary journey “all the Jews and Greeks who lived in theprovince of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19.10).
5.1.4. By 56 AD Paul tells the Romans that “there is no more place for me to work in these regions,” i.e.,in the Mediterranean world (Romans 15.23); Paul thus sets his sights on Spain (Romans 15.24).
5.1.5. Paul had not preached in every city in the region but the reproducing churches he did plant in keycities were engaged in aggressive evangelism in their regions (spontaneous expansion); Paul’sstrategy appears to have been to focus on key urban centers and plant churches there and then let theurban churches evangelize and plant churches in their surrounding regions; thus the first Christians ineach area tended to be urban dwellers (see Wayne A. Meeks, The First Urban Christians (Yale 2nd ed. 2003), and Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? (Eerdmans Reprint 1962)).
5.1.6. Paul was not the only apostle at work in the world; by 49 AD a sizable church existed in Romefounded “according to the Jewish rite” so big that Emperor Claudius closed the Jewish synagoguesover disputes by “Chrestus” (said Roman historian Suetonius); see Acts 18.1; if the Emperor noticedthem, Christians had to be numerous and vocal in the Roman synagogues prior to 49 AD – by theway, did Peter found the church in Rome? See Acts 12.17.
5.1.7. With Claudius’ death in 54 AD the Jews (and Jewish Christians) could return to Rome; by thetime Paul wrote Romans in 56 AD the church was a mix of Jewish and Gentile believers;evangelization of Gentiles clearly outstripped ongoing evangelization of Jews in the synagogues; in Romans 14 we see hints of strong cultural tensions between Jewish Christians and Gentile believers.
5.1.8. When Paul came to Italy in 60 AD a church already existed in the port city of Puteoli (Acts 28.14)in regular contact with the Roman church (Acts 28.15), likely its mother church.
5.1.9. In essence, it seems every church planted in the Greco-Roman world in the period 33-60 AD was:1) in constant communication with other churches, and 2) involved in spreading the gospel in itsregion.
Recognize features of the church’s expansion in 64 AD. (Sect. 5.1, 5.2 & 5.3)
5.2. The Romans began repressing the Christians in 64 ADBefore 65 AD, people (including Jews) generally viewed Christians as deviant Jews causing divisions andwho needed to be disciplined; see Acts 4.5 and 17.5; Revelation 2.9 shows synagogues in Asia Minorhostile to Christians in the 90s – but Judaism had noeffective means to persecute Christians; the Romans hadno such limitation.
5.2.1. By 64 AD the Emperor Nero was unpopularwith the Roman populace; in June 64 AD indowntown Rome a massive fire broke out,destroying the interior city; rumors circulated thatNero set the fire to open the way for an urbanrenewalproject.
5.2.2. Roman historian Tacitus says Nero choseChristians (already hated) as his scapegoats todeflect suspicion he was responsible for the fire.
5.2.3. Tacitus says Nero put to death “a greatmultitude” of Christians; thus thousands ofChristians lived in Rome and were considereddistinct from Jews by the mid-60’s; in 200 ADTertullian confirms Nero was the first emperor topersecute the church (though there is no indicationthe persecution lasted longer than one year orextended beyond the borders of the City of Rome).
5.2.4. By the late 70s there were Christians living inPompeii and Herculaneum (based on inscriptionevidence - see Paul McKechnie, The First Christian Centuries, IVP 2001, pp. 60-61 and 67-68), churches likely planted by the one in Rome;Nero’s persecution did not stop growth of the church.
5.2.5. Clement of Rome fifteen years later hints Peter and Paul died in Nero’s persecution due to“jealousy;” believers betrayed their leaders to save themselves; later Roman tradition claimed Peterand Paul were martyred by Nero and buried in Rome; by the mid-3rd century monuments or“trophies” were built at the supposed burial places; the “Quo vadis” legend of Peter returning toRome to be crucified upside down by Nero, though late, may reflect genuine remembrance; Peter andPaul surely lost their lives in the aftermath of the Roman fire of 64/65 AD in Nero’s persecution ofthe Christians.
Recognize features of the church’s expansion from 65–312 AD. (Sect. 5.1, 5.2 & 5.3)
5.3. Despite assertions that the deaths of the apostles inaugurated the “Babyloniancaptivity” of the church (a time of darkness remaining till the Reformation), after Peterand Paul died, the church continued growing dramatically for 260 years (until 312 AD).
5.3.1. When the emperor Constantine converted in 312 AD, scholars believe Christians were 10% ormore of the populace (or Constantine’s conversion would not have been politically possible); by 312AD, therefore, there were six million Christians in the Roman Empire; the growth requires a decadalgrowth rate from 33 AD to 312 AD of 40% over 250 years, 25 consecutive decades, a rate that isunparalleled in all of religious history for any voluntary religious movement.
5.3.2. The earliest Christians had to be doing something right because dead churches do not grow; in themodern era extraordinarily healthy churches have trouble maintaining 20% decadal growth rates; theearly Christians doubled that rate and maintained it for a staggering 25 consecutive decades.
5.3.3. Since guilt-based, law-oriented, authoritarian churches cannot grow (let alone grow at a sustained40% decadal growth rate), what factors caused these Christians to continually grow at rates greaterthan any that are comparable in the modern era?
Recognize the three main reasons why the early church grew dramatically and how each reason fueled the growth. (Sect. 6.1, 6.2 & 6.3)
- 6.1. The church’s attitude toward women
- 6.1.1. In the early church women had higher status than in Greco-Roman culture; in the Roman church inthe late 1st century, a woman ran that church’s benevolence ministry; such responsibility was rarelyif ever given women in ancient Greco-Roman pagan culture. Paul’s attitude in Gal. 3:28 (“neither male nor female”) caused the early church to honor women and give them more responsibility inchurch life than did the Greco-Roman world generally; this aided evangelistic efforts among women.
- 6.1.2. Women were drawn to the church due to its virulent opposition to: a) abortion and b) exposure ofinfants (both were common practices in Greco-Roman paganism).
- • Female babies were routinely exposed to die in pagan cultures because female children weredeemed less valuable than male children.
- • In such societies where female infants are exposed routinely, a 60/40 ratio of men to womenresults; women tend to be hidden from public view and given lesser social roles; the church didnot allow selective exposure of female infants (or any exposure) and had a closer to 50/50 ratio ofmen to women, sociologically resulting in more equality for women, more visibility in thecommunity, less protectionism, and more responsible social roles; all of this proved extremelyattractive to women and fueled the church’s growth (see Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in theWestern World in a Few Centuries (Harper 1997), pp. 95-128 (“Christian women enjoyedsubstantially higher status within the Christian subcultures than pagan women did in the world at large”); id. at p. 128.
- 6.2. The church’s attitude toward the sick and thepoor (benevolence)The early church followed Jesus’ teachings to minister to thepoor, the sick, the prisoner and the outcast; these benevolenceministries (unlike anything found in pagan religion) fueledearly church evangelism.
- 6.2.1. In the ancient world there was no connection betweenethics and religion (other than in Judaism and in itsoffspring, Christianity). Pagan religion provided noethical mandate for compassion to the last, the least andthe lost.
- 6.2.2. Pagans interested in morality and benevolence weredrawn to the synagogues as “God-fearers” (see Acts 17.4where Luke refers to “God-fearing Greeks”); unlikeJudaism, Christianity did not require interested pagans tobe circumcised in order to become members of thecommunity.
- 6.2.3. Christians’ faithful replication of Jesus’ instructions tovisit and minister to the sick, those in prison and the poor proved to be significant growth engines forthe earliest Christians.
- • In the mid-4th century the pagan Roman emperor Julian, as he unsuccessfully tried to return theEmpire to paganism following the earlier conversion of Constantine, bitterly acknowledged to acolleague: “When the poor happened to be neglected and overlooked by [our pagan] priests, theimpious Galileans observed this and devoted themselves to benevolence…. The impiousGalileans support not only their poor, but ours as well; everyone can see that our people lack aidfrom us.” The early Christians were known for their aggressive benevolence ministry.
- 6.2.4. In the mid-2nd century a terrible plague encompassed the Roman world, causing up to one-third ofthe Empire’s population to die; only Christians visited and ministered to the sick, providing not onlyprayer but nursing care and showing compassion; those who survived such plagues frequentlyconverted to the faith of their care-givers; benevolence was a basic requirement of the life of allconverts in the early church; the ethical superiority of the early Christians brought about substantialgrowth of the faith.
- 6.3. The church’s commitment to exorcism and signs and wonders6.3.1. The early church remained committed to signs and wonders, which substantially aided evangelismefforts.Throughout its first 250 years the early church remained strongly committed to the practices ofdivine healing and exorcism; the ability of the early church to overcome powers of sickness (in aworld devoid of healthcare except for the wealthy) and the demonic (in a world oppressed by uncleanspirits) were significant factors in the church’s growth over the 250 years in question.
- 6.3.2. In the early 3rd century, Origen, a leading Christian scholar, said that even ordinary members inhis church regularly expelled demons; in the late 2nd century, Irenaeus, the greatest theologian andchurch-planter of his era, wrote that “people incontestably and truly drive out demons, so that thosevery persons often become believers.”
- 6.3.3. In Rome in 250 AD a list survives detailing the 155 paid officials (those “on staff” in the Romanchurch); roughly one-third of the Roman clergy in the mid-third century (52 persons) were“exorcists,” proving the early church’s continued commitment to the expulsion of demons as anevangelistic methodology.
- 6.3.4. Noted church historian Ramsey MacMullen notes that the early Christians did not rely onarguments to convert others: “Christians themselves pointed, rather, to supernatural cures and theexpulsion of supernatural beings from diseased persons or from their dwellings in altars and statues,dramatically performed before clouds of witnesses…. Miracles further served as a proof, not only ofdivine authority behind Christian teachings, but as a proof of God’s unique claim to his title, whereasother supernatural beings deserved only to be called daimones.” Ramsey MacMullen, Christianizingthe Roman Empire, AD100-400 (Yale 1984), p. 108.
Recognize the factors that caused the church’s deteriorating relationship with Judaism and caused Judaism to separate from Christianity by the mid-2nd century. (Sect. 7)
Over the course of the 1st century Christians slowly became distant from Judaism. Paul and Peter lived in an erawhen most Christians were Jewish and attended synagogues. By the end of the 1st century the situation foreverchanged and it deteriorated further in subsequent generations.
7.1. Prior to Jerusalem’s destruction, Jews and Christians were never cordial. Once theRomans burned the Temple in 70 AD the situation worsened.
7.1.1. Eusebius, the 4th century church historian (with access to early Christian writings no longersurviving), said the Christians were prophetically warned to leave Jerusalem prior to the Romansiege.
7.1.2. The Pharisees were the only surviving party within Judaism and they retreated to Jamnia where by90 AD they had adopted their “18 benedictions” for use in synagogue worship, one of which requiredthose attending to declare the Nazarenes (as they called the Christians) heretics.
7.2. To the extent the 18 benedictions were followed (and there was no formal mechanismto enforce them), Christians no longer participated in synagogue worship.By the end of the first century, Revelation 2.9 reflects enmity between the church and the synagogue; thesame distrust is evident in the letters of Ignatius (the leader of the Roman church in Antioch) written around 110 AD as he warns believers not to attend synagogue services; the warnings suggest manyChristians continued to do so in the early 2nd century.
- 7.3. Simon Bar Kochba’s rebellion increased anti-Semitism
- In 132 AD a Messianic pretender, Simon Bar Kochba (whose name meant “Son of the Star”), declaredhimself Messiah in Jerusalem. He minted coins proclaiming a new reign of freedom from Roman oppression; after some initial success Simon’s hopeful rebellion was mercilessly crushed by Roman armies;thereafter anti-Semitism further increased in the Empire; leading Christians to further distance themselves from the synagogues.
7.4. By 150 AD, Justin Martyr, writing in Rome, could refer to Jewish Christians as mostly a curiosity; by the middle second century Christianity became a predominantly Gentile religion .Some small Jewish-Christian congregations remained thereafter but leadership of the movement wasalmost exclusively Gentile by the middle of the 2nd century.
Recognize descriptions of the Apostolic Fathers and Church Fathers the summary of the three groupsincluded in the early church succession of authority. (Sect. 8)
8.1. The Apostolic Fathers were a small number ofearly Christian authors who lived and wrote in thesecond half of the 1st century and the first half ofthe 2nd century.
8.1.1. They recognized the authority of the Apostles’writings.
8.1.2. They were leaders in the early church, though theirwritings were not later included in the New Testament.
- 8.2. The Apostolic Fathers are usually deemed toinclude:
- • Clement of Rome
- • Ignatius of Antioch
- • Polycarp of Smyrna
- • The author of the letter commonly known as 2 Clement (likely written later by a Roman leader in the mid-2nd century)
- • Justin Martyr, the church’s greatest theologian between Paul and Irenaeus in the late 2nd century(about whom we learn more in the next lecture)
8.3. The label “Apostolic Fathers” has been applied to them since the 17th century toindicate that they were thought of as being of the generation that had personal contactwith the Apostles. Thus, they provide a link between the Apostles who knew Jesus ofNazareth and the later generations of early church leaders (all of whom, through theearly 5th century, are sometimes referred to as the “Church Fathers.”)
Ignatius stated, “I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments to you. They were apostles” (Romans 4).Nevertheless, what the fathers lacked in authority they made up with their martyr blood. Tertullian summed it up a century later: “The more you cut us down, the more we increase; for the seed is the blood of Christians” (Apology 50; often more popularly rendered, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”).
8.4. Early church succession of authority
In summary, the early church succession of authority included the following groups:
8.4.1. 30–90 AD – Jesus and the Apostles
8.4.2. 80–150 AD – the Apostolic Fathers (the generation of early Christian authors and church leadersthat had personal contact with the Apostles and recognized the authority of the Apostles’ writings)
8.4.3. 150–410 AD – the Church Fathers (the later generations of early church leaders until the Fall ofRome in 410 AD