The Story of Christianity: Early Church to the Present Day


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The Story of Christianity: Early Church to the Present Day

Justo L. Gonzalez
The Early Church


Sept. 3 “Conflict and Persecution” 5,6
Sept. 10 “Defense and Deposit of the Faith” 7.8
Sept. 17 “Teachers of the Church” 9
Sept. 24 “Teachers of the Church” (Part 2)
The Imperial Church
Oct. 1 “Constantine and Official Theology” 13,14
Oct. 8 “Monastic Reaction” 15,16
Oct. 15 “The Great Controversy” 17-19
Oct. 22 “The Great Theologians: Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine” 20-23
Medieval Christianity
Nov. 5 “The New Order” 26
Nov. 12 “East-West Schism” 27
Nov. 19 “Imperial Restoration, Decay, and Renewal” 28-29
Nov. 26 Thanksgiving Service
Dec. 3 Missions Banquet
Dec. 10 Senior Adult Christmas Program
Dec. 17 “Golden Age of Medieval Christianity” 31
Dec. 24 Christmas Eve Service
Dec. 31 No Services
Jan. 7 “Prelude to Reformation” 33
The Reformation

Jan. 14 Martin Luther 1,2,3,4

Jan 21 Zwingli and the Anabaptists 5,6
Jan. 28 Calvin, Great Britain, more Lutheranism 7,8,9
Feb. 4 Low Countries, France, Catholic Reforms 10-13

Orthodoxy, Rationalism, and Pietism

Feb. 11 Dogma, Doubt, and Desert 14-16
Feb. 18 Puritans, Catholic Orthodoxy, Lutherans, Reformed 17-20
Feb. 25 Rationalism, Spiritualism, and Pietism 21-23
Nineteenth Century
Mar. 4 World Politics 25-27
Mar. 11 Theology and Geographic Expansion 28-30
Twentieth Century
Mar. 18 Eastern Christianity 31-32
Mar. 25 Roman Catholic Christianity and Protestantism 33-35
April 1 World Missions 36
April 8 Spring Break
April 15 Youth Week
April 22 The Death of Classic Liberalism
April 29 The Most Influential Christians of the 20th Century
May 6 Post-Modernism Grenz’s book

Conflict and Persecution
I. Early C & P

- Jesus actually warned of upcoming persecution for those who followed him

see Mat 5:11-12

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

     for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

- even prior to the physical coming of Jesus, Isaiah the prophet wrote about the

rejection and persecution of the Son of Man

see Is 53:7-8

- this was the prophetic role Jesus took as he experienced the rejection by his own

followers, the trials, beatings, crown of thorns, and the weight of the cross in the most

gruesome form of death conducted by the Roman Empire

- Later persecutions in the NT

a. Stephen was stoned by the elders. (Acts 7:54ff)

b. Herod Agrippa ordered the death of James and arrested Peter (Acts 12:1-3).

This pleased the Jews.

“It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also.”

c. general persecution remember by Xtns (insult, persecution, loss of property)

Heb 10:32 ff

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.”

d. Edict by Claudius in 49 to 51 AD, expelled Jews from Rome. (Acts 18:2)

expelled because of “their continual tumults instigated by Chrestus.” (Josephus)

d. John’s revelation portrayed Rome as a bloody monster feeding on the souls

of the saints (Rev 13). John had been exiled to Patmos.

- Peter martyred in Rome, crucified upside-down

- Paul, probably beheaded in Rome, during the era of Nero

II. First Century Persecution and Suffering (A Summary)

- began as conflict among the Jews.

- Xtns considered themselves Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah.

- Non-believing Jews viewed the Xtns as Jewish heretics

- therefore the proclamation to the Gentiles wasn’t to start a new religion but to invite

the Gentiles to share in the promises of Abraham. Children by faith, not by flesh.

- Roman leaders also had the same view:

This was a fight among the Jews. Their concern was at first, civil, not theological.

- Emperor Claudius threw the Jews out of Rome, b/c of “Chrestus.”

- then 2 things happened.

1) Jewish Nationalism grew, which led to the Romans putting

down this rebellion and destroying the Temple in Jerusalem in 70AD.

The Gentile Xtns wanted to put distance b/w themselves and the Jews, so they began to define themselves in less Jewish ways.

2) The Gentile proportion of the church grew

- the church became increasingly less Jewish.

- Spoke less Hebrew. Acts 15 compromise faded away. Etc.
- both of these factors led Rome to view Xty as a separate religion

Persecution under Nero

- 54-68 AD, Emperor of Rome

- at first he was reasonable, made laws favorable to the dispossessed

- however, he became increasingly smitten with grandiose ambition

- he became despised by the people and the poets

- June 18, 64AD, fire broke out in Rome, lasted 6 days and 7 nights

- 10 of 14 sections of the city were destroyed
- rumor arose that Nero was responsible. His dreams of grandeur.

- cite Tacitus, Roman historian, quote from pp 34-35

- “hatred of humankind” , ie they hated the Roman culture. Theatre, army, sports were

all saturated w/ worship of Roman gods. Naturally Xtns wouldn’t feel comfortable at

these events at best, and would detest them at worst.
- “abominations”, ie they were called cannibals for the ate the body of Christ

they were considered sexual perverts for they gathered for love feasts

- Tacitus goes on to detail the atrocities Nero thrust upon the Christians.....

“Before killing the Christians........rather to satisfy the cruelty of one person.” (p 35)

- very likely that Peter and Paul were victims of Neronian persecution.

- they were killed by the whim of the emperor.

Remember Nero’s dates (54-68). Most scholars believe Paul died about 64AD.

- no evidence official persecution was taking place any place else at the time

- Nero was deposed by rebellion in 68. Committed suicide

Persecution Under Domitian

- 81-96 AD

- a lover of Roman culture and tradition, a nationalist

- may have come to see Xtns as obstacles to Roman greatness

- may also have been angered by the Jews, who resented having to pay a tribute to

Rome in place of their annual tribute to Jerusalem.

- since Xtns and Jews were still viewed as one and the same family, Domitian’s persecution of one group included both groups.
- need to remember that persecution was sporadic.

- ironically, another reason for persecution of the Jews/Xtns was b/c they were

atheists. They were called “atheists” b/c they didn’t believe in the Roman gods.

- In Rome, the only Xtns whose names are recorded in history are Flavius Clemens and

Flavia Domitilla (his wife). Executed for being “atheists.”
- it was during the reign of Domitian that John wrote the book of Revelation, based on

a vision of Christ and the new Jerusalem he had while in exile on an island off the

coast of Asia Minor. In Revelation, the beast, the whore of Babylon, are likely to be

symbols of Rome. (Rev 17)

- Domitian, like Nero, ended in disgrace. Increasingly seen as a tyrant. He was murdered

in his own palace. Roman senate decreed his name be extracted from the record, like

Michigan’s “Fab Five” have been erased from Michigan basketball archives.

III. Second Century Persecution

- records become a little more accessible. We know more about Xtns in the 2nd century

than in the first. We, therefore, know more about the persecution they endured.
- “Acts of Martyrs” are recorded stories about martyrs of the faith. Many of the stories

seem very genuine and credible. Told as if from witnesses who were on the scene.

- we not only learn the stories. We learn the attitudes about the martyrdom.

- It caused division and problems.

-What do you do with those who wilt in the face of persecution?

Excommunicate them? Forgive them? Some in between position?

Pliny and Trajan

- not Trajan Langdon !!!!

- Pliny the Younger, appointed governor of Bithynia (northern shore of Turkey) in 111AD

- Pliny seemed to be just, reasonable, conscientious

- his problem was the pagan Roman temples were becoming empty. Why?

- B/c there were so many Xtns in the region. The “trinket salesmen” were losing money!

- Problem: Christians

- the accused Xtns were brought to him

- some denied the faith, others held fast

- those who held fast were given 3 opportunities to recant.

- if they didn’t recant they were executed (unless they were Roman citizens)

- being a just man, this didn’t feel right to him

- he felt compelled to dig deeper and determine what crime they committed

- he learned they gathered before dawn to sing, pray, and worship

- they promised to not steal or commit adultery, they ate a common meal

- they were not executed for being a “Christian” but for being “obstinant.”

- if they were Roman citizens they were shipped to Rome

- Pliny inquire of Emperor Trajan about this problem.

- Should Xtns be condemned for concrete crimes or simply “being a Xtn” ?

- The Trajan Solution:

- Question was “Should Xtns be punished for concrete crimes or for simply

being a Xtn?

- Don’t Ask! Don’t Tell!

- Don’t go looking for Christians. We don’t have time for that.

But if they are brought to your courts with credible evidence,

then you’ve got to punish them.

- Anonymous accusations should be disregarded, for it sets bad legal precedent.

- didn’t have much logic, but it was politically acceptable.

- Logic? Politics? If Xtns were brought into courts and not punished, then the

courts would lose their credibility.

Second, by refusing to “worship” the emperor, the Xtns seemed to be denying

his right to rule.
Tertullian:”What a necessarily confused sentence! It refuses to seek them out, as

if they were innocent, and orders that they be punished as if they were

guilty….It pardons, and yet is cruel. It ignores and yet punishes!”
- The Trajan Solution was the most prevalent response to the Christians in the

Roman Empire during the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

Ignatius of Antioch

- 107 AD, the Bishop of Antioch was condemned to death (corner of Turkey and Syria)

- 3rd largest city in Roman Empire (behind Rome, Alexandria)

- Ignatius was condemned to death and shipped to Rome to amuse and entertain the

citizens who lusted to see blood spilled.

- on his way to Rome he wrote seven letters (6 to cities, one to Polycarp)

- born ca. 30-35 AD. Called “the bearer of God.”

- Legend arose that he was the child that sat on Christ’s lap that prompted Christ’s story

to bring all the children to him.

- he was the second bishop of Antioch. One of the apostles was probably the first

bishop. Remember, this is where “Christians” were first called “Christians” instead of

those followers of “the way.”

Who was his accuser? 1) a pagan??? 2) a dissident?? We don’t know!
- Ignatius traveled thru Asia Minor on the way to Rome. He stopped and conversed

w/ fellow Christians. Had a scribe who dictated his letters.


- 4 written from the town of Smyrna (Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome)

- 3 written from Troas (Polycarp, church at Smyrna, church at Philadelphia)

- most distinctive letter is the one to the church at Rome. He told them not to pray for

his safety or escape, but for his endurance in the face of trial.

“Suffer me to be eaten by the beasts, through whom I can attain to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may be found pure bread of God.”

(Letter to Romans 4:1)
The Martyrdom of Polycarp

- we don’t know the details about Ignatius’ martyrdom, but we do about Polycarp’s

occurring a half century later (155AD)

- Polycarp was bishop of Smyrna. His martyrdom is recorded in the “Martyrdom of

- text tells of general persecution, and then the story of Germanicus, Quintus, and


- Germanicus, old, encouraged to recant. He refused.

- He said he didn’t want to live in a world so filled w/ injustice

He called the beasts to come and kill him.
- Quintus, weakened at the face of death and recanted

- Polycarp hid in a farm at first at the advice of his congregation.

Then he had a vision he was going to be burned and decided to turn himself in.

It was God’s will.

- Taken to the stadium. Proconsul tries to get him to recant. He refuses.

- Flames do not touch him. He is killed with a dagger

- probably most famous last words in all of Xty, outside of Jesus’ last words

“For 86 years I have served him, and he has done me not evil. How could I curse my king, who saved me?”
- further in the dialogue Polycarp had another great line. “The fire the judge passed would last only for a moment, whereas eternal fire would never go out.”
- there was a growing veneration for martyrs. People began to celebrate their birthday.

These accounts would inspire Xtns for the rest of world history

Persecution under Marcus Aurelius

- became emperor in 161 AD

- one of the most enlightened minds of his age

- did not lust for power

- was an outstanding author, writing Meditations, literary masterpiece of its time

- one would think Xtns would fare better under Aurelius

- they didn’t

- in his only reference to Xtns in his Meditations he praises those souls willing

to give up their lives, but only when it is driven by reason “and not of obstinancy,

as is the case with Christians.”

- Felicitas and her 7 sons

- a consecrated widow, devoted her life to the church

- pagan priests accused her before the authorities

- the prefect tried to persuade her to abandon her faith, to which she replied:

“while I live, I shall defeat you; and if you kill me, in my death I shall defeat you

all the more.”

- inquest was sent to M.A.

- he ordered all 7 sons to be killed in different parts of the city (apparently to appease

the various gods)

- Aurelius did in 180


- throughout 2nd century Xtns were in precarious position

- persecution was always a possibility, though not always a reality. It varied

- Trajan’s solution predominated. Don’t ask. Don’t tell.

- But if a credible source did tell they were brought to the courts, given a chance to recant, and punished if they didn’t. Often the punishment was execution.

IV. Persecution in the Third Century

- persecution between Jews and Christians was largely gone.

Xtns and Jews were recognized for the most part as two distinct groups,

though having many things in common.

- Roman Empire, dealing with civil wars and wars against barbarians

- thus, persecution against Xtns was local and sporadic.

- Trajan’s rule was still in place.

Persecution under Septimius Severus

- things began to change under his rule

- 193-211 AD

- political infighting in the Empire

- barbarians from poor Germanic tribes creating a sense of unease in the Empire

Severus’ answer: Syncretism 202 AD

- Severus felt a need for religious harmony, unity

- bring all citizens under the worship of Sol invictus – The Unconquered Sun.

- all religion and philosophies were to adapt their religions to this policy.

- all gods were accepted as long as one acknowledged the Sun reigned above all.
The Clash: Jews and Christians

- these two groups refused to recognize the Sun god above all gods

- Severus outlawed both religions

- anyone converting to either religion was condemned to death

- led to increased persecution

- this crime was added to Trajan’s policy.

Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas

- 203 AD

- part of a group of 5 catechumens (3 boys, 2 girls, most likely some were teenagers)

- charged w/ being converts to Xty

- Perpetua was young, socially and financially aristocratic

- her father tried to persuade her to save her life. Her response: “Everything has a name,

now I am a Christian by name, and names can’t be abandoned.
- she was pregnant when arrested. Had the baby in the 8th month.

- Another Xtn woman adopted the baby.

- This was good for Perpetua b/c she wanted to die.

- Her guards taunted her b/c she moaned during childbirth.

- Said she couldn’t take the pain of martyrdom.

- She said,“Now my sufferings are only mine. But when I face the beasts there will be another who will live in me, and will suffer for me since I shall suffer for him.”

- Perpetua was put in an arena w/ Felicitas and a wild cow. The cow hit her, threw her,

and made her hair fall down. She asked to retie her hair b/c fallen hair symbolized

mourning and she was anything but sad. She was joyous. The two women then stood

bleeding in front of the crowd, bid one another farewell with a kiss of peace, then were

killed w/ the sword.
-shortly after this, persecution abated. Period of relative peace. Until Decius
Under Decius

- 249-251 AD

- Rome’s glory was on the wane. Why?

* Terrorists beyond the borders, increasing their strikes in the Empire

* Serious economic crisis (increasing unemployment, high inflation)

* Traditional values were eroding (adoring the gods, common worship)

- Decius solution was to force all the citizens to worship the same gods

- This would persuade the gods to smile on Rome again

- Decius wouldn’t persecute Xtns for: obstinacy, immorality.

- Decius punished Xtns b/c they refused to worship according to the prescribed forms of the Empire.

- He believed the entire Roman civilization was at stake.

- He didn’t want martyrs. He wanted apostates (converts to Roman theism)

The Decree

* everyone must worship the official gods

* everyone had to offer sacrifices to these gods (pay)

* everyone had to burn incense before a statue of Decius

* those who did, were given a “baptismal certificate.”

* those who didn’t were considered criminals

The Response

* some Christians complied fully with the law

* some plagarized fake certificates

* some refused to comply and stood firm in their faith

* Decius arrested many, then threatened and tortured them to recant, but killed

relatively few.

* It was a systematic persecution throughout the empire.

* Notable criminals: Origen

Confessors: Those who stood firm in the face of persecution.

Apostates: Those who obeyed the decree.

The Question of the Lapsed

- What to do about the “lapsed”?

- Lapsed = those who had weakened or abandoned the faith under pressure

- not all had fallen in the same manner or to the same degree

- Who should decide the fate of the “lapsed”? The bishops or confessors?

- in this church debate two people played crucial roles


- new convert at 40, became bishop of Carthage

- tremendous writer and orator

- he fled to the hills when persecution came to guide the flock from their

- Many questioned his decision, especially the church at Rome

- a few years later he would be martyred

- meanwhile the Confessors at Carthage considered themselves to be the ones who

should make decisions about the lapsed. Cyprian thought he should.

- a schism occurred in the church:

* one side: presbyters and confessors who demanded only repentance

* other side: Cyprian and other area bishops

- Cyprian called a synod of the area of bishops. Their decision:

- those who didn’t worship gods but only purchased certificates would be readmitted

- those who did worship gods, then repented, would be readmitted on death beds

- those who did worship and didn’t repent, would never be readmitted.

- Cyrprian and the bishops won the debate, probably b/c they were the most

persuasive voices. He viewed the church as “the body of Christ” and the

need to be uniform.

- Novatian was influential member of the church at Rome

- he thought the church was being too lenient

- this led to a split in the church at Rome, w/ two bishops

- the question was whether purity or forgiveness should characterize the church

- the schism in Rome lasted for several generations

- larger significance of all this was the penitential system developed by the church to

create uniform punishments, and avoid ex-communication as much as possible.

- This system would be the driving point of schism 1400 years later when the Protestant

Reformation broke loose.

Conflict and Persecution
I. Early Conflict and Persecution
a. Jesus’ warnings
b. Isaiah’s Prophecy
c. Jesus crucifixion
d. Later persecution in NT

i. Stephen

ii. James and Peter
iii. General persecution
iv. Edict of Claudius
v. John’s apocalypse
II. First Century Persecution

A. Persecution under Nero

B. Persecution under Domitian

III. Second Century Persecution

A. Pliny and Trajan

i. Problem: Too many Christians

ii. Trajan Solution: Don’t ask. Don’t tell.

B. Ignatius of Antioch

C. Martyrdom of Polycarp

IV. Third Century Persecution

A. Under Septimius Severus

i. Syncretism

ii. Clash: Jews and Christians

iii. Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas
B. Under Decius

i. Decree

ii. Response

iii. Question of the Lapsed

iv. Cyprian

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