Where we come from determines who we are. It’s called ‘identity’. A sense of “roots”. In fact, our identity has a direct and undeniable connection to our history, whether we care to admit that or not. Certainly, our histories are not our final destinies, but they do define an undeniable part of the “fabric” of who we are as individuals, families, cultures and Church. America, on the whole, can often be described as a “who cares” and “not interested” group of people when coming to grips with the fact that the rest of the world has thousands of years of history compared to our measly couple of hundred years. In fact, the average American knows very little of our own history, let alone European history, and is almost completely clueless of any cultural or historical information that precedes the 16th century. Why is that? I really don’t know? Perhaps it is a failing educational system? (I better be careful here, I come from a long line of teachers in my family!) Perhaps we are so busy in living in the present and dreaming of the future that we forget the past? or Perhaps we simply don’t care? “Hey, we’re Americans! The world revolves around us!”
However the reality remains. The Church is over two thousand years old, if one dates the beginning of the Christian Church at the death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth – and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples in the Upper Room in the Book of Acts Chapters 1 & 2.. It’s hard for us in the West to imagine that the way we understand Church today, in a modern “contemporary, praise band, drama skits, long talk, and non-sacramental” way would be completely and totally unrecognizable to the Christians in the first thousand years. In fact, even the Protestant reformers like Luther, Calvin, Knox, and Wesley would hardly even recognize their spiritual children of today, with their ever changing plans for “seeker friendly” worship services, let alone the myriads of doctrinal interpretations and deviations.
So in this post we begin with the beginning. The birth of the Church, traditionally dated at 33AD with the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles gathered in the upper room. Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. And on the third day He rose again. Forty days after that – he ascended into heaven. Ten days after the Ascension, as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, traditionally numbered to be about 120, and gave them the power, wisdom and courage to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. There were not 120 denominations in that upper room. There was one church, one Lord, one Spirit, and one command to take the Church to the ends of the earth. As the apostles went to the world, they established local communities of believers, and as time went on these apostles established, consecrated, and set apart by the laying on of hands “elders/presbyters” or “prests” (i.e. priests) in each of the local communities to be the pastors of the growing congregations. So already by the end of the 1st century we witness the true Order of the Church: Bishops consecrated by apostolic succession, who ordained Priests (pastors), and Deacons, who serve with the laity in bringing the Good News to the world, and compassion to everyone they met. And when issues and troubles in faith or practice occurred, they called for a “Council”, made up of bishops, priests and laity to discuss and come to a spirit led consensus. see Acts 15
Here are some key dates in this “birthing” period of Church history:
33 AD Pentecost (AD 29 is thought to be more accurate)
49 AD Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) establishes precedent for addressing Church disputes in Councils. James presides as bishop of Jerusalem
69 AD Bishop Ignatius is consecrated in Antioch in the heart of the NT era – St. Peter had been the first Bishop there. Other Bishops include James, Polycarp and Clement.
93 AD Book of Revelation written, probably the last of the New Testament books.
150AD St. Justin Martyr describes the liturgical worship of the Church, centered squarely on a weekly celebration of the Eucharist. Liturgical worship is rooted in both the Old and New Testament.
But the seeds of unrest are blowing and although the Church has never been divided, there have been myriads of men and women over the centuries that have displaced themselves outside the walls of the one, holy, apostolic Church. In the next post we look at the second wave of church history, that history shaped by the Seven Ecumenical Councils.
Here is a good video that describes the “Birth” of the Church. Anaphora!