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Church History: The Age of Universal Christianity (70-312) Part 2
Dn. Mervin Lin
9 December 2019
In spite of the onset of heresy, the faith of the early church was firmly rooted in Scripture. This consisted of both the Old and the New Testaments. The Canon of Scripture was recognized by Christians due to its self-evidencing quality. This quality was the supernatural ability to change the lives of those who read it. Another distinguishing feature was that the book was either written by an apostle or a person directly in contact with the circle of apostles. By keeping the Old Testament books as Canon, Christians maintained that Christianity is a historical religion and that God both created and redeemed mankind. The closing of the Canon prevented the addition of books that were claiming to speak new revelation outside of the authority of the apostles.
Over time the pattern of leadership developed from the apostles to groups of elders, assisted by deacons in the local church. These leaders were chosen based on the evidence of their Spirit filled life. But as the persecution from the Roman Empire waned, the moral standards of the church declined. When a sudden intense wave of persecution came upon the church, many leaders were unprepared and sinned by denying their Lord. The church struggled with the decision whether to forgive those who had lapsed in their faith or excommunicate them as apostates.
As Christianity grew into prominence, its relevance to the world became questioned. The culture and powers of the day challenged Christianity with new arguments and criticisms. This led to the cautious use of Greek philosophy to contextualize the gospel. Teachers arose from the church who were able to present both faith and philosophy to Christ. This resulted in winning many pagan intellectuals to the faith.
The first to effectively unite Greek thinking with Christian thought was Clement. Even though his methods were scholarly, his intent was pastoral, as he sought to help others see Christ. His successor was Origen, who defined true philosophy as a discipline that focused on the Word. He also saw it as a means to form character. Both men showed that the best of the world’s culture could be used by the church for God’s purposes.
Slowly but surely, the proclamation of the gospel started to change society from the bottom up. The conversion of the Roman Empire was almost complete. All that was needed was an Emperor who would confess Jesus Christ as Lord.
Dn. Mervin Lin