After the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem, the church laid plans for the long term. This process shaped its character for many generations and was a result of a spiritual vision of all Christians being in one body. The spread of Christianity during this time was helped by a field that was prepared for harvesting. This field was the God-fearers, Gentiles who were interested spectators of the Jewish religion. They were equipped with the understanding of the Old Testament and in faith were able to embrace Christianity.
Christianity spread north, then west. It was predominantly the religion of the poor. The exception to this was the churches in North Africa who spoke Latin and tended to be of the upper class. Even though the church started with the support of the poor and despised, by the end of the second century many of the keenest mind were becoming Christians. They in turn became the defenders of the faith against rumors and false accusations. The church continued to grow on the unshakable assurance of salvation, meeting the needs of the people at that time and expressing love to one another. The church is truly one body when it is driven by the gospel to bring all men to faith in Jesus Christ.
The persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire was not uniformly applied throughout this time. The main reason for persecution was due to the Christian’s life ethic of holiness. This caused them to stand out in their pagan society due to the way they lived. The people became suspicious of them because of their lack of conformity. The desire not to compromise their faith led them to become enemies of the Roman Empire.
The onset of heresy drove the church to shape good theology. The first century Christians formulated their beliefs against the errors they encountered. Some of the first heresies were directed at the nature of who Jesus was. There were heresies that denied His divine nature and some denied His human nature. But the main heresy to emerge was called Gnosticism. It believed in the dualism of spiritual versus material, where the former was seen as good and the latter as evil. This resulted in the rejection of Jesus’ humanity by Gnosticism. The Apostle’s Creed was a result of the clarification of orthodox convictions in order to cast out the gnostic heresy. The church today is indebted to the doctrinal struggles of the past, as it stands on the shoulders of those who had wrestled with these issues and remained faithful to Scripture.
Dn. Mervin Lin