A Church History Lesson

March 29, 2024

A common misunderstanding in Christian Churches comes out in the expression, “We’ve always done it that way”, as if we are doing things the same way Christians have been doing them for over 2400 years. A number of years ago, a saying caught on, “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD?) It was as if nothing had changed since Jesus, as if Jesus lived in modern America with computers, airplanes, nuclear weapons, and now AI. Jesus lived in a rural backwater occupied by a foreign army, where life expectancy was 37.

As the Book of Acts tells us, the first Christians had three contending leaders: Peter, Paul, and James the brother of Jesus. In the beginning, Jerusalem became the center of the Faith. Paul left on his missionary journeys from Jerusalem, and reported back to them when he returned. However, the powers of Rome only saw the country as full of bothersome Jews agitating for freedom. The Romans had had enough, and in the years 70 to 72,they leveled the city. Instead of stamping out both the Jewish and Christian religions, the destruction of Jerusalem spread the Faith all around the Medeterranean Sea.

The Christian Churches organized themselves into three geographic areas with leaders called Bishops or Patriarchs. The James people fled to Egypt and made Alexandria a major center of learning and missionary power. The Faith spread all along the coast of North Africa. Meanwhile, the Peter followers made Constantinople their Greek speaking center. The Paul followers made Latin speaking Rome their center. For the first 300-400 years, important doctrines and teachings came from contentious Conferences of the three groups. As an example, it wasn’t until 333 that the Church decided which Books were official Scripture and which were not.

Over time, The Bishops of Rome claimed more and more power and authority until, they claimed to speak for God and the whole Church as Pope. The leaders in Constantinople did not agree that teaching and refused to accept the Pope’s claims to authority. To this day, the split is real. We have the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern, or Greek, Orthodox Church.

And what happened in Egypt? The Christian Faith grew strong all along North Africa. The great teacher and scholar, St. Augustine, came from Hippo in North Africa. All went well until Muhammad came on the scene around the year 600. Muhammad the Prophet and his followers drove out the Christian Church from Africa. No more big Christian divisions happened uintil Martin Luther and other Reformers in the 1500s.

“We’ve always done it that way” was not the norm for baptism. Infant baptism by sprinkling was the custom for hundreds of years in Christian churches. Things began to change with the Reformation, but it was by controversy and persecution. Those who taught that Baptism should be for adult believers only and by immersion suffered persecution by both the Roman Catholic Church and Reformation Churches. In America it took Roger Williams to establish Rhode Island as a place for the freedom for immersion. We’ve only done it that way here for the last six or seven hundred years.

Long's Pac-Perks