The Early Centuries of Christianity
An essay by Cassandra Brown
Jesus of Nazareth was born at the beginning of the Christian era, in Judea about 4 B.C., as some believed. The Jews, at the time, was longing for a Messiah or a political leader who would free them from Roman domination and set up an independent Jewish state.
When Jesus was about 30, he started a brief mission. The New Testament records this as a period of constant preaching, teaching and healing. Jesus lived a life of self-denial and service to the people and condemned selfishness, hypocrisy and violence. Words quickly spread of Jesus' ministry and He was welcomed as the promised Messiah. The teachings of Jesus caused too much antagonism among the Jewish leaders and He was condemned to death on a Roman cross.
Jesus' death did not bring an end to Christianity. Some of his followers made it a mandate to spread the gospel throughout all Jerusalem and it quickly spread throughout the Mediterranean. The movement broadened when Saul of Tarsus, who soon became Paul, became a missionary for the gospel. It is through his writings along with the four gospels that Christianity, soon to become a universal religion, was based. Christianity was till on shaky foundations when Paul was beheaded in Rome about 65 A.D.
The Roman world was popularly known for its state religion and 'emperor worship' and this gave birth to the Christian religion. Christians refused to participate in the religious ceremonies of the state and this led to an all out persecution of the Christians, but this only led to the strengthening of the movement as many were willing to 'count it all joy' to die for their faith. The blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church and it would even seem as though many early Christians craved martyrdom.
Christianity was stated to become a universal religion. Judaism took over many of its practices including the New Testament portion of the bible. The religion of the Persians and Zoroastrianism had introduced the conflict between good and evil to the ancient world; Gnosticism taught the belief in a god-man being incarnated into human form and Mithraism taught the ritual of baptism and the use of holy water and celebrated December 25th as a sacred day.
The Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the legal religion of the empire in 313 AD and soon afterward the government initiated state support to the church. By the next century pagan altars were destroyed and the pagan religions removed by force. Not long after Christianities triumph over its rivals, the church was divided. Some refused to accept the doctrine of the Trinity that Christ was equal to God while others believed that The Father, Son and Holy Spirit were one and the same. For a very long time, up to the early part of the middle ages, Christian doctrine was not fixed. Some Christians believed in the ideals of a more personal apostolic age where each one was guided by his own lights, while others believed in a more organized setting.
Clashes of doctrinal positions lasted for centuries in the church. The church could not establish a creed or a body of authoritative dogma mainly because of the great church Fathers, the most famous of which came from the African Church founded by Tertullian. Augustine was his name and his book, The City of God, became the foundation of Christian theology.
There are several references in the article as to Christianity being a "religion." For me, it was intended to be, and always should be, a supernatural faith. Christianity has weakened so much over the years that non-believers now refer to it as "religion" - which is a tragedy, and is a sad reflection on our "leaders" today.