Beliefs of Early Christianity
and how they CHANGED

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How has the beliefs and practices of the early first century church of God radically CHANGED over the years? How was the church doctrinally altered, from the 2nd century A.D., by people like Origin, Tertullian and others?

How did the church BEGIN?

Early Christians were considered to be a sect of the Jews. Judaism, at the time of Jesus Christ, was a collection of several competing religious powers. The Pharisees, popular with the masses, believed in strictly observing the traditions in both the oral and written laws as they were interpreted by the scribes. The Sadducees, who aligned themselves with the rulers of the land, were priests who carried out all the responsibilities at Jerusalem's temple. They believed the only source of divine revelation was the written word of God and rejected (unlike the Pharisees) Jewish oral traditions. The Essenes, though not mentioned in the New Testament, lived an ascetic, communal life that revolved around poverty, abstaining from worldly pleasures and (usually) celebacy. Herod the Great, Rome's ruler of Judea from 37 to 4 B.C., like the Essenes so much that he granted them special favors.

For information about the religious and political groups that interacted with Jesus see our article Overview of New Testament Groups.

Did the early church consist ONLY of Jewish converts?

After the ascension of Jesus the apostles and fellow believers continued operating with Judaism. The early Christans were later labeled a Jewish sect.

5. For we have found this man to be a pest, and a mover of insurrection among the Jews in the whole world, and a leader of the sect of the Nazareans; (Acts 24)

 
 
 
 
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21. Then they (Jewish leaders in Rome) said to him (the apostle Paul), "We have neither received letters concerning you from Judea, nor have any of the brethren who have arrived reported anything or spoken evil of you. 22. But we would like to hear from you and to know what you think, because we are indeed very aware that this sect is everywhere spoken against." (Acts 28)

Early first century believers continued, as they always did, to worship at the temple - but now they also preached the gospel.

46. And every day, steadfastly continuing with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread in their houses, they partook of the food with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47. Praising God and having favor with all the people; and the Lord added to the church day by day those who were being saved.

1. Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, which was the ninth hour;

17. Then the high priest rose up, and all those with him, being of the sect of the Sadducees; and they were filled with anger. 18. And they laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the public hold. 19. But during the night an angel of the Lord came and opened the doors of the prison; and after bringing them out, he said, 20. "Go and stand in the temple, and speak to the people all the words of this life." (Acts 2:46-47, 3:1, 5:20)

When were they
first called CHRISTIANS?
The term CHRISTIAN was first used in Syrian Antioch. The Bible doesn't state whether the term originated from those in or outside the church. The word CHRISTIAN occurs only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26, 26:28, 1Peter 4:16).

What did the early church BELIEVE?

The good news of God's kingdom brought by Jesus soon found its way to those who were not Jewish (e.g. Gentiles). The pace of God's truth spreading among the Gentiles increased after it was revealed to Peter in a vision that God wanted ALL people to have a relationship with him.

1. Now it came to pass in Iconium that they went together into the synagogue of the Jews and spoke so powerfully that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed.

1. And after journeying through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2. And as was the custom with Paul, he went in to them and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3. Expounding and demonstrating that it was necessary for Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and testifying, "This Jesus, Whom I am proclaiming to you, is the Christ." 4. Now some of them were convinced, and joined themselves to Paul and Silas, including a great multitude of devout Greeks, and of the chief women not a few. (Acts 14:1, 17:1-4)

Soon a new debate entered the church. Did Gentiles need to be circumcised before they became Christians? What is known as the Jerusalem conference was held to debate and decide the matter. It was ultimately decided, among other things, that Gentiles did not have to undergo the painful rite of circumcision in order to be saved.

Both the apostle Paul and the other apostles agreed over what was God's will for the Gentiles. Several years later Paul had to affirm his God-inspired teachings to the Gentiles by taking a vow in order to stop rumors he had rejected God's law.

21. But they have been informed that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to apostatize from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children, nor to walk in the customs. 22. What then is going to happen? A multitude is going to assemble, for they will hear that you have come. 23. Therefore, do this that we tell you: there are four men with us who have a vow on themselves;

24. Take these and be purified with them, and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads; and everyone will know that what they have been informed about you is nothing, and that you yourself also are walking orderly and keeping the law of rituals. 25. But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we wrote to them after deciding that they do not have to observe any such thing, except to keep themselves from things that are offered to idols, and from blood, and from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality." 26. Then Paul took the men, and on the next day he was purified with them and went into the temple, signifying the fulfillment of the days of purification, until each of them had offered his offering. (Acts 21:21-26)

The separation

Christians, soon after the Roman empire destroyed the city of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., came back to rebuild it. The church in the city remained under the direction of Jews who had been converted. All was peaceful in the church until early in the second century.

During the Jew-led Bar Kochba revolt in 135 A.D. leaders of the uprising began to persecute Jewish Christians. Soon after the revolt ALL racial Jews (whether they practiced Judaism or whether they were Jewish converts to Christianity) were forbidden, by the Romans, to live in Jerusalem. This left the church in the city governed by Gentile converts. Around this same time Jewish Christians began to be branded as heretics. Without the presence of Jews who had converted to Christianity and who knew the Old Testament, the Jerusalem church began to weaken doctrinally.

By the 2nd century Christian churches existing in large cities were independently ruled not by a collection of church elders (like the churches that existed in the days of Paul and Peter) but by a local bishop. Although the entire church was not ruled by a single bishop most held the church in Rome in high esteem due to wealth, size and association with the apostles Paul and Peter.

An absence of spiritual leadership

Without the spiritual guidance of Jerusalem's Jewish Christians, changes in doctrine began to emerge - especially among places outside of Judea.

Vague references to observing the "Lord's Day" of rest on the first day of the week, instead of on the seventh day, began to emerge. Soon, seventh day Sabbath keeping began to be condemned. By 150 A.D. some were zealously promoting the idea that the day of sun worship, or Sun-day, was THE day Christians should rest on and worship God.

Consolidation of power

Plagued by those who claimed they represented the 'true' teachings of Jesus, bishops from several large cities sought to solve this dilema by arriving at a universal (catholic) set of beliefs for the entire church. Although it took many years to debate different issues and arrive at some concensus, what came out was a 'catholic' church which had a single set of beliefs and which had consolidated its power.

The final consolidation of catholic power came after Constantine ended Rome's state-sponsored persecution of Christians in 313. Sunday became the church's official day of rest, by Roman decree, in 321. Then, in 380, Roman Catholicism was made the official state religion of the Roman empire.

The worship of Jesus' mother Mary, angels, saints, etc. began to arise during the 4th century as pagan converts continued to hold to many of the false doctrines they believed before coming to the church.

Did the teachings of Jesus still EXIST after the first century?

An even greater embarrassment to the catholic church was the continued existence of Jewish-Christian congregations which Tertullian wanted to extirpate. In their efforts to disavow the influence of Judaism, catholics soon viewed these Christians as heretical.

Jude urges believers to contend for the faith delivered to the early church and to be ON GUARD against those who wish to preach false doctrine.

3. Beloved, when personally exerting all my diligence to write to you concerning the common salvation, I was compelled to write to you, exhorting you to fervently fight for the faith, which once for all time has been delivered to the saints. 4. For certain men have stealthily crept in, those who long ago have been written about, condemning them to this judgment. They are ungodly men, who are perverting the grace of our God, turning it into licentiousness, and are personally denying the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 3)

After Jerusalem's church scattered Christianity as a whole began to split and schism. Over time some who labeled themselves 'catholic' or universal came together and agreed to a set of doctrinal beliefs. These beliefs, however, were NOT the same ones that founded the early church built on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

MYTHS and PRACTICES

Today many believers maintain a set of beliefs that are, to a lesser or greater degree, nothing more than myths and teachings promulated by those who were not guided by God's spirit. Some Christians even admit that some of the things they do and practice, such as worshipping God on Christmas and Easter, have their entire basis in paganism. Does God want this?

31. Therefore, Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, "If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. 32. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." (John 8)

He also said,

23. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father is indeed seeking those who worship Him in this manner. 24. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4)

May God guide you to truthfully answer these questions!

adapted from material by:  Wes White
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