Church History (Act 5 Scene 2)

This last Sunday service was a a tad different as we looked at the church history between Acts chapter 28 and today (Act 5 Scene 2 in the Grand Story of God).

While history may not be in the Bible, this is a very, very important topic as God did not stop working after St. Luke penned the final words of Acts. He is very much active today and He has always been active within history.

There is a reason that the majority of the Scripture is written as history – Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Jonah, Matthew, Luke, Mark, John, and Acts. They are all history books detailing the work of God among humanity… and if God deemed it important enough to include the history of the Jewish people in His Sacred Text, than I feel it is important to know the history of the Church, birthed with Jesus and infused with the Holy Spirit.

The prophet Jeremiah speaks to this in the sixth chapter:

16 This is what the LORD says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
-Jeremiah 6:16

The “ancient paths” => we are not alone on this journey. There have been many followers of Jesus who has walked this path before us. Hebrews 12:1 says that we are “surrounded” by a “great cloud of witnesses” who are cheering us on – encouraging us to finish the race set before us by “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

The Teacher, Solomon the wise, also taught us that history always comes around again:

9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.
-Ecclesiastes 1:9-11

“No one remembers the former generations” => it is as George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist, said:

“The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.”

Jeremiah the prophet agrees – or should I say that George agreed with Jeremiah? 😀

Let us return to Jeremiah chapter six?

16 This is what the LORD says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
17 I appointed watchmen over you and said,
‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’
But you said, ‘We will not listen.’
18 Therefore hear, you nations;
you who are witnesses,
observe what will happen to them.
19 Hear, you earth:
I am bringing disaster on this people,
the fruit of their schemes,
because they have not listened to my words
and have rejected my law.
– Jeremiah 6:16-19

The people of Israel did not listen to the words of God nor did they “ask for the ancient paths” of their forefathers “where the good way is.” Instead they decided to do things their own way, as has history ironically tells us; they made the wrong choices and failed to follow the Lord.

So today as we look at the history of the church, think about lessons we can learn – the testimonies and stories of Jesus working among His people.

Here’s a prime example, a lot of folks in the church today are scared about the decline of Christian values in the United States. They see different religions and places of faith popping up all over the place; they see the removal of the Ten Commandments from the public eye; they see a sexual culture idolizing the human body; and a greed for money and material items that is out of control… they see all this and they get scared.

But let me tell you something – the Church has been through this before!! This is not new!! Many a Christian parent had to raise his or her children in a world full of idols, sex, and greed. In fact, the fact that we are ‘losing’ Christian values is a HUGE bonus as they did not even have that!!! They were surrounded by evil on all sides – and guess what? Jesus won!! He protected and guided His Church through the evil and made it stronger than ever.

By knowing history we can defeat fear as we have the testimonies of the faithful to strengthen and encourage us. Think of history as larger version of Hebrews 11 which outlines the challenges the “ancients” overcame by faith the Lord Almighty.


Church History

History… well as you can guess 2,012 years is a lot of history to cover, too much in fact for this morning so we are going to move fairly fast and broad. However I pray that each of you will be prompted to dig into history a little more than you have in the past – or, bearing that, at least I hope you will look at things a tad different. For example, watch the History Channel prayerfully – looking for the hand of God in shaping the nations. =D

History: First 300 years

While it seems so long ago, it is amazing how much of the modern church life was set in motion by Christians of the first 500 years. Below are some highlights.

•    Theology

o     As the Faith went out into the Gentile world, it became confused and twisted
o    This is why Paul wrote so much of his letters as well as John, Peter and James. They were trying to guide and protect the church from false teachers within the body
o    A lot of the false doctrines of today can be traced back to these first 500 years. In fact if you want to know how to stand up for your faith, go read some of these old saints – they knew what they were talking about!
o    Gnosticism – is one such heresy that as continued till today.

•    While there are many variations of it, at its core it is a doctrine that states that the physical world around us in evil and bad and only the spiritual part of humanity is good and worth saving
•    This is FALSE as both the New and Old Testament declares that God is ruler and creator of both the physical and the spiritual
•    Both are good and both have been corrupted by evil and both will be made new again on that glorious day when Jesus returns

•     Persecution –  The 2nd-century Church Father Tertullian wrote that “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

o    Not all at one, nor was it as wide spread as we sometimes think… it was mostly local in nature
o    Following Jesus was illegal as Jesus required full obedience  – King Jesus vs. King Caesar
o    St. Polycarp (69-155 AD)

•    Disciple of St. John
•    2nd century Christian bishop of Smyrna – most likely was the bishop when John wrote Revelation

o    Smyrna was one of two churches to which Jesus did not give a word of correction.
o    Interesting that the Lord told them:

10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. – Revelation 2:10

•    Survived at least 4 major Roman persecutions
•    Death

o    Choose not to escape; told his murders the following when they tried to get him to turn away from Jesu

“For 86 years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior?”

o    Burned alive with only his hands bound behind him as he told his murders that God would help him stay still.

o    The Fish

•    Persecution of the Christians lead to the creation of various symbols to help them know who was a believer and who wasn’t
•    How many have seen this sign?
•    The word in the middle, Ichthys, means “fish” in Greek.
•    However, the letters are an acronym for “Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ”, (Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr), which translates into English as “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior”.

History: Christendom

•    Constantine  the Great – one of four Roman emperors, there were two senior emperor and two junior emperors split between the East and West –became the only emperor left after a series of battles in 312 AD

o    Constantine changed the official policy to allow Christians to own property and build churches.
o    Continued to worship other gods throughout his life even though he claimed to follow Jesus…
o    Called for a church wide council in 325 that set the stage for future councils and decisions in Christianity
o    He changed the face of Christianity as it now became political favorable to be a Christian – he also tied the faith with the crown, a decision that would haunt the church to this day…

•     Official religion

o    On February 27, 380, with the Edict of Thessalonica put forth under Theodosius I, the Roman Empire officially adopted Trinitarian Christianity as its state religion. Prior to this date, Constantius II (337-361) and Valens (364-378) had personally favored Arian or Semi-Arian forms of Christianity, but Valens’ successor Theodosius I supported the Trinitarian doctrine as expounded in the Nicene Creed.

History in General

•    I don’t have time to tell you about

o    Saint Augustine – a black African whose was the most influential theologian in the Church outside of St. Paul
o    Gregory the Great – Roman pope, Pastoral Letters, Gregorian chants.
o    Venerable Bede – Father of modern history
o    St. Patrick and the Celtic church
o    The African church of Nubia or Axum
o    The missionary brothers Cyril and Methodius whose legacy lives on in the Moravian Church who prayed 24 hours 7 days a week for over 130 years.


Let us follow the words of Jeremiah the prophet and look behind us as well as forward to the Blessed Hope of King Jesus.

16 This is what the LORD says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
-Jeremiah 6:16

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