Church History - A Genesis of the Church

Reading: Ephesians 5




The church is often thought to be merely a building of brick and mortar. However, in the 1st century AD, the church was understood to be very different to the way we identify the church today. There were no cathedrals, churches or permanent building structures that served to accommodate worshippers. Believers would meet secretly in forests, in caves or in the privacy of their homes. In this presentation I intend introducing you to the truth about the genesis of the church. How did the church evolve?




 The term used in the Bible to describe the church is the word “ekklesia”. This Greek word simply means “those who are called out”.
(a) The Bible therefore refers to the nation of Israel as the church in the wilderness. They were called out of Egypt.
(b) The disciples and followers of Christ were referred to as the “ekklesia” of God because they were called out of Israel to carry out a particular function as leaders and co-workers with the Messiah. The Bible therefore in the Gospels uses the word church in terms of the disciples and followers of Christ being called out to fulfill their function to reach their fellow kinsmen, the Jews.
(c) The church or ekklesia referred to in the book of Acts represented an extension of those who followed Christ in His earthly ministry. This Messianic church was ethnic in character and therefore represented the hope of the nation of Israel. Their expectation was regeneration among their fellow Jews which would result in the return of Christ to rule the world as the Messiah. The Messianic Church consisting of Jewish converts, only focused on their nation’s hope. They did not have an agenda to reach non Jewish people such as the Gentiles until they had first reached national Israel. This point is evident when one reads the account found in Acts 10 of Peter, the apostle, being reluctant to respond to God’s call to visit Cornelius, a Gentile. The vision he receives is that of various unclean animals that God says he should eat. Peter declares that he does not eat anything unclean. This simply would imply that he would not mix with the unclean Gentiles. God declares “What I have cleansed do not call unclean.”
(d) Another ekklesia, non ethnic in its composition, emerges from the pages of the Bible. A church, consisting of those called out of all the nations, who would constitute the body of Christ. Christianity therefore is non ethnic. It does not represent a national group. The church is made of people from diverse backgrounds. Unity is found in Christ. When a convert to Christianity accepts Christ Jesus personally as Saviour, God’s Holy Spirit supernaturally transforms that person and places him within the body of Christ, the Christian church. So we see that the church is made of men and women who have personally turned from sin and who have accepted their new life in Christ Jesus.




It did not take too long for the early Christian church to experience problems in terms of its leaders. The book of Corinthians rebukes Christians for dividing the Body of Christ into segments. Some of the people said, they were of Cephas, (Peter) others said they were of Paul, others Apollos, and then some super spiritual people said they were followers of Christ. This latter statement was said sarcastically, not with the intention that such a statement should mean. So we see that the church in the first century was warned and rebuked concerning personalities. People were inclined to follow man instead of God. However this all changed when the church faced persecution.




Nero, who notoriously is recorded in history to have been a megalomaniac, ushered in draconian laws to control the Christian march to win the souls of men and women. The persecution of Christians in the amphitheatres of Rome was horrendous. The citizens of the Roman Empire traveled long distances to attend these exhibitions of the murder of innocent followers of Christ. The Roman authorities labeled Christians atheists, because they refused to worship the pagan gods of Rome. One of the great witnesses for Christ, called Polycarp, faced such a daunting execution. He was called upon by the authorities to reject Christ and live. Polycarp refused to do so and he cried out:“For 86 years have I served Him, and He has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme Him, the One who has saved me? I am a Christian.” With this Polycarp was burnt at the stake. According to tradition Nero crucified Peter upside down, and Paul was beheaded. The slaughter of Christians continued for almost two centuries. These persecutions of Christians meant that the church was forced to go underground. They worshipped and lived in the catacombs.




During these persecutions the church also had to contend with movements within its structures. Heresies emerged of which two powerful movements were born. Montanism (new revelations opposing the Apostles with ecstatic forms of worship) and Gnosticism (mystical knowledge and acclaim to oneness with the divine). The church could not live with false doctrine and therefore opposed these two movements within the early Christian church. At this stage in church history the apostolic fathers and the church fathers embraced the New Testament as their manifesto.




In 312 AD, Constantine won a battle against his enemy and accredited this victory to the Christian God. History tells us that he saw a cross in the sky bearing these words: “Hoc Signo Vinces” which means “in this sign conquer.” Constantine the Roman emperor converted to Christianity. This meant that the church was now favoured by the state and bishops were set up as monarchs of the church, ruling the affairs of church systems. What the church gained in quantity it lost in quality. Corruption poured into the church. This was the beginning of the universal church called Catholic. Many pagan practices including the veneration of the apostles and saints which was an overthrow of earlier paganism. Babylonian mysticism high-jacked the Catholic movement. Councils were set up by Constantine to regulate church orders. The church and the state of Rome had become one. This gave birth to what was later known as the Roman Catholic Church. A remnant of believers resisted the organizational structure of the state church and were considered to be free Christians, or independent believers. A series of popes brought about incredible changes to the church order.




The state church persecuted many believers who opposed the Roman system and persecution began again. Through the dark ages many God fearing people faced execution in the name of Christianity. These were indeed the dark years in church history. The Roman church made inroads however, into Europe and many in France known as the Francs or the Gaul, were the first Germanic people to embrace this new concept of Christianity. The conquest of Britain by the Angles and Saxons eradicated Christian ideals that had already found its roots in the UK. The invasion by the Angles of Britain earned England its name. It was called “Angleland” from which we have the word England. Pope Gregory sent missionaries to England to regain the country for the church. In the 7th century a new movement was established. Mohammed, born in Mecca, sought to unite the Arab people and the Muslim faith was born. Vicious rivalry between so-called Christian armies from Europe and Muslim fanatics caused much tension between Europe and Arabia.




Islam was on the march and many former countries controlled by the Roman church were being overrun by Arabs and Turks. The holy sites were being plundered by the Ottoman regime. In 1088 Pope Urban the second initiated the first crusade to win back the land. A series of crusades followed with a cross being affixed to the sleeves of everyone who said that they would give their lives to win back the holy land from the hands of the Muslims. In Latin the word cross is “crux” thus the invasion was called “crusades.” In 1453 helpless Christians in Constantinople were slaughtered in the cathedral of St Sophia by the Turks.




By this time in church history most of Western Europe embraced the Universal or Catholic church. The Eastern Orthodox Church recognized Constantinople(Istanbul) and the Western Church, Rome. In 1483 Martin Luther was born in Germany. This man of destiny was to change the church for ever. Luther became a monk and eventually held a doctorate in theology. His trip to Rome opened his eyes to the corruption within the Catholic structures. Luther read Romans 1:17 “The just shall live by faith”. He believed it was a gross sin for priests to sell indulgences to people. He wrote a 95 point thesis which he nailed to the church in Wittenberg. In the thesis he exposed the teachings of the Roman movement. The Lutheran Church of Germany owes its origin to Martin Luther. The reformation of the church began and many believers embraced the reformed doctrines of John Calvin. This led to the Reformed Churches such as the Presbyterian Church of Scotland which was reformed, the Dutch Reformed Church etc. The Baptist Church embraced the general principles taught by Martin Luther, but introduced the belief that converts needed to be re-baptised. They were known as the Anabaptists. Catholics and Lutherans persecuted these Anabaptists. In the 16th Century the Bible was translated into English. King Henry the eighth broke away from the Roman Catholic movement and the Church of England was born. Henry the eighth became the head of the Church of England. Those opposed to the Roman Universal Church protested against Rome, and they earned the title “Protestants” because of their protests. From the Church of England emerged two brothers, John and Charles Wesley. These young men approached the Christian religion from a different angle. Their methods were different so they were called Methodists. A Separatist movement emerged. A London lawyer, Henry Barrowe, and a clergyman, John Greenwood, were imprisoned for holding Separatists meetings. The Congregationalist Church was born. Robert Browne was also an independent and was considered to be the driving force behind the congregational ideal in England. He published a book dealing with the life and manners of all true Christians. The local autonomy and self governing of the church was a hallmark of his teachings. From the Wesleyan or Methodist church sprung the Salvation Army established by William and Catherine Booth. French Protestants such as the Huguenots were persecuted and had to flee France. The London Missionary Society sent out missionaries to various parts of the world. David Livingstone was sent to South Africa and the Congregational Church spread to our country. Various other offshoots from the main stream of Christian religion emerged. The Nazarene Movement grew out of the Holiness Movement which was an offshoot of Methodism. John Derby founded the Plymouth Brethren Movement in the UK. In the United States of America the black slaves claimed a stake in the development of the church. Many illiterate slaves brought in much of their African heritage with an emphasis on spirit manifestations. In the 19th Century many Holiness Revivals experienced the manifestation of people trembling, and falling to the ground (similar to voodoo rituals). In 1899 Charles Parham, a Presbyterian American, taught his followers a new doctrine, the speaking in foreign languages as a repeat of Pentecost. A midnight service to see in the New Year reaped this manifestation as a young woman experienced what was called “Glossilalia”. In 1906 Henry Seymour, an Afro American who had attended the meetings run by Charles Parham, turned an old stable into a Revival Mission in Asuza Street, Los Angeles. People experienced the speaking in tongues and the Pentecostal Movement was started. In America churches that sprang from this movement were the Assemblies of God and Pentecostal Holiness Groups. People from all over the world visited the mission in Asuza Street to experience what they called a “Second Pentecost.” Most of your Pentecostal Churches that exist today have their roots in Asuza Street. In 1906 an Evangelical Revival took place in Wales. This great Welsh Revival gave impetus to the Evangelical message. The Apostolic Faith Mission in South Africa was established by a pastor Lake from the USA. The Full Gospel Church was the by product of various home groups merging into a denomination. They linked with the Church of God in the USA. Main stream Christian churches considered the Pentecostals to be a fanatical fringe and distanced themselves from the manifestations. In 1960 this all changed when Father Bennett (an Episcopalian) in the USA wrote a book “I believe in the Holy Spirit” where he told of his experience of speaking in tongues. The Charismatic Movement, like a raging fire, spread throughout Christendom. Catholics and Protestants have also been influenced by the Charismatic Movement. Most churches have embraced this ecstatic style of worship. Praise and worship often leads to emotional outbursts of ecstasy. The African churches were either influenced by missionary endeavors or are offshoots of the Ethiopian Church of Africa which mixed Christian teachings with African rituals. A third wave of Christian enterprise in the form of the Ecumenical movement continues to make in roads into denominations with an attempt to unite all Christian churches through fraternal and interfaith conferences.




The health, wealth and prosperity churches have mushroomed globally attracting large crowds and mega-churches fueled by television ministries with grandiose claims and predictions with leaders calling themselves prophets and apostles. The Christian church has been stunned by this modern movement that has its roots in “montanism” and “Gnosticism” that plagued the early church. These heretical groups have come back to haunt the believers in this 21st century.
The emerging church movement seeks to take churches back to a contemplative style of worship where silence replaces noisy, loud church groups. This deceptive movement is rooted in the old Catholic monastery style of inner peace through the vow of silence and contemplation. 




The Bible alone gives the basis for unity among believers.
Ephesians 4:3-6
“Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”





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