THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH
After the explosion of Christianity during the first century, Christians
began to spread the gospel in all direction through the second and third
centuries. As Christianity began to spread to all corners of the known
world at the time, Christians began to have a vision that they should
be united as one body. This desire for unity brought about the catholic
church, originally meant just to be the church united as a whole, but
it grew to be much more than that.
GOD-FEARERS, LOW-CLASS CITIZENS
During this rapid expansion of the church, Gentiles began to believe
on the Lord. Until Christianity came around, these Gentiles had only
been considered "God-fearers," interested spectators of the synagogue
service of the Jews. Although when Christianity rolled their way, and
they were offered the Gospel as real people and not as spectators only,
they were happy to jump on the bandwagon. As Paul traveled and preached
"to the Jew first and also to the Greek," his travels led him west towards
Italy. It was west of Antioch that many people in rural areas began
to accept the Good News. Along with traveling west, the Gospel found
its way south into Africa, primarily to a city, Carthage. With the spread
of the Gospel, it was evident to many people that those most likely
to accept its message were those low-class citizens and poor townspeople.
This caused people from the outside to begin to criticize the spread
of Christianity, saying that only the poor and those stupid enough to
believe it were converted. Although there were those of prominent standing
that believed and rose up to defend the faith.
SPREAD OF THE GOSPEL
There were several obvious reasons for the extreme spreading of the
Gospel during this time period. One reason is the fact that Jesus Christ
had just been on earth a couple hundred years ago, and the new coming
salvation through His resurrection set many peoples' hearts on fire
for the first time. Second, Christianity is what the people needed during
this time of false religions. This leads us to the third reason for
the spread of the Gospel during this time. That is the practical expression
of God's love by these early Christians. Even the pagans noticed it
and would remark, "See how the Christians love one another."
TO BOW DOWN OR NOT, AND THE STRANGENESS OF IT ALL
As the Gospel spread and the number of Christians increased, the number
of people who would not bow down before Caesar also increased. Thus
came a well-known part of Christianity's history: persecution. Most
of the time, Roman authorities tolerated other religions as long as
these people would bow down before Caesar and in effect swear their
allegiance to Rome. These Christians, although, would do no such thing.
It was not that they were rebel citizens, it was simply that they would
call no one but Jesus Christ Lord. It was due to the ethics of Christianity
that they would not offer food to idols or bow before Caesar. It was
not that they flaunted their superior ethics, it was simply that Christian
ethics was a criticism of pagan life. This only caused further persecution
of Christians. Also, many people that Christianity was some strange
cult. The curiosities about their gathering caused some to believe that
they having sexual orgies at their meetings and eating an actual person
when the believers took part in the Lord's Supper.
ENEMY FROM WITHIN, HERESY
As persecution continued to grow around the church, another enemy emerged against the Faith. This enemy was much more subtle and even came from within the church. The enemy consisted of those people who wanted to reshape the Gospel to their likings. The most famous of these "reshapings" formed the belief of gnosticism. This belief is similar to Christianity in some ways and even supports many of its ideas. Although, there are distinct differences between the two. Gnostics primarily believe in what we call dualism. That is, that everything is made of up of two different forces, that of good and that of evil. They believed that anything that consisted of matter was evil (such as our bodies) and that we must separate our souls from the body so that it would not be contaminated by the evil therein. Thus, they could not believe that any God who created matter could be holy. These beliefs sharply separated Christianity from Gnosticism.
Christianity had the books of their forefathers, that is the Old Testament,
but as time went by, there were many other books that began to fly around
that claimed that they were holy and inspired by God. It was the Christians'
job to discern which of these books were truly inspired by God and which
were hoaxes. As Christians began to collect these new books and letters,
they were not given much time to write up a list of canonical Christian
writings as outside forces pushed the church to reconsider. It was men
such as Marcion (who rejected the Old Testament entirely and several
of the New Testament books) and Montanus (who claimed a super spirituality
through himself and his prophetesses, and also denied the revelation
of God through Jesus Christ) that urged the church to choose those books
in the Bible and close its cover for good, never to add or subtract
from it. By A.D. 190, the Christians had accepted the books, that had
been compiled into the New Testament, to go alongside the Jewish Scriptures,
thus completing the Bible.
ACCEPTANCE OF THE BACK-SLIDDEN:
THE BISHOP CONTROLLED THE HOLY SPIRIT!
Certain questions soon began to arise within the church. Should those that have committed terrible sins, such as sexual immorality or denying the name of Christ, be allowed back inside the church. Have those sinners lost their salvation and if so are they able to regain such a precious lost jewel. As these questions arose, so did the answer from the church. Persecution of Christians was still a high priority with the Roman government. During persecution, those Christians who would not deny Christ and did not die from their tortures were considered to be extremely holy. So holy, in fact, said the church, that they had been granted the ability to forgive others' sins. Thus those who had folded under heavy torture, or those that turned to sexual lusts were able to rejoin the church by humbly admitting their wrongdoings in front of the church and being forgiven by the "super saints." By a simple ceremony the bishop of the church was granted the power to forgive. The Bishop now controlled the Holy Spirit.
CULTURE FINDING ITS WAY INTO THE CHURCH!
As philosophies from the Hellenistic environment that seemed to envelope
Christianity, believers needed to stand up and defend their faith. Although
this would require the attention of educated individuals that would
have an influence upon the thinkers of their time. Out of this need
rose Individuals such as Clement and Origen. Clement believed that to
preached to the Hellenists, one must become a Hellenist. He was well
versed in scripture and in the knowledge of his time. Thus, he was ready
to discuss and answer the people of this Hellenistic culture that he
so often found himself in. Origen was the student of Clement and carried
on many of the philosophies of his teacher. He wrote many books and
brought the idea of "allegorical interpretation" of scripture to the
eyes of Christians. Allegorical interpretation holds that there are
three levels of meaning in the Bible: the literal sense, the moral application
to the soul, and the spiritual sense. Although, these philosophers and
teachers had some wrong theology about God, they made no serious alterations
in the Faith. They very well demonstrated that culture could find its
way into the church, and be welcome there.