Early Church History
Early church history is something Christians need to know, in order to understand where their faith has come from, and why it bears such great importance to the future of their faith. The early fathers formed the foundation of the early Christian church. Many of their writings can be found by an astute researcher. One of the most important things in learning about the history of the greatest religious organization of mankind is that we must also be willing to see who we are and how that pertains to the past. We can never truly live freely in the future if we do not understand our past, thus, the importance in learning all about our church fathers. But what we need to do is go all the way back to the beginning of the church and see how the organizational structure began.
The beginnings of Christianity is due to the apostles, who are considered the "fathers". The concept of the church began when Jesus was preaching to those who followed him to the hillsides and sat down waiting for the messages. Those who faithfully followed Jesus would become part of history. Encouraged to sell everything that they owned and follow the Lord, these courageous followers became the 'charter members' of the early Christian church because of their willingness to give up everything for the Lord. In early church history, there were many who followed but only few that truly understood the message that accompanied the preachings of Jesus while talking about the importance of letting go of possessions and following the path to the Kingdom of God. The new and quickly growing group, contained many true followers of the Lord who loved him and would give anything for him. Yet, just as with any organized group, some people were not always the easiest, for even the Lord, to work with.
When looking at the history of this now worldwide religion, it must be understood that the early membership truly represented what the Lord wanted. The basis of the organized movement was to work together in one accord, to have all things in common, and to care for their needy. Deacons were appointed to oversee the functions of service, and made sure their brothers and sisters in faith were cared for, especially the widows and orphans. Even though every advantage in the world was theirs by knowing the Lord first-hand, amazingly enough, it was still easy for them to reject him. Sometimes it is hard to understand the early Christian church followers. They knew a real and personal Jesus and stood in his very presence and yet, some (Judas for example) rejected him for a little bit of money. This brings to light a lot of thoughts on our own human side; what do we put before the priority of serving Christ. We must understand what the Lord expects of us in our lives so that we can begin to know him on a deeper level. For other interesting topics, visit our Bible resources.
In understanding the church today, we must also understand the importance of early church history and the singleness of mind it exemplified. Jesus taught them what it was to truly be a follower of him with teachings such as being poor in spirit. The Lord wanted to show what could be fulfilled in them by His power. While that ancient time was filled with people who rejected him, the early Christian church was also filled with people who desperately loved the Lord and wanted to know him more as well as imitate the One they loved. Because of their tight organization in belief and thought, the early Christians stuck together even after Jesus returned to heaven. They were the first stage of community for us to see and the model that Christ laid down for the future of mankind and his followers in particular. The new membership also had the bittersweet blessing of seeing Christ die on the cross for all our sins. The climax of the Lord's death was justified by His resurrection and that became the glue that solidified the church for all time thereafter.
The most prevalent and obvious of the church's founders is Jesus Christ. He was the beginning of the early Christian church and the one who is the reason for the early church history. He was the beginning of the teachings about God and ultimately was given as a sacrifice so that Christianity could be possible. We must look to him before anyone else in the fact that we have a Christian faith where we get to worship the Lord whenever and whenever we want. We know that in the Lord, we have complete freedom. This was only made possible by Jesus Christ. All of the group's following fathers pale in comparison to who Jesus Christ was. He was a teacher and the Savior for all of his people. "And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him." (Matthew 3:16)
Standards For Christian LivingFinding standards for Christian living is as simple as opening one's Bible. Throughout its pages, a sincere person can find guidelines and principles to handle just about any situation or circumstance. Perhaps the rules for Christian living that are the most well-known, even to a secular audience, are the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. This happened during the time of the Exodus, when the Hebrews gained their freedom from the Egyptian Pharaoh and began their forty-year period of wandering through the desert before entering the land God promised to them so many centuries before. In recent years, the Ten Commandments, sometimes referred to as the Decalogue, has been surrounded by controversy. The U.S. Supreme Court has heard arguments on whether or not monuments of the Ten Commandments can remain on governmental property. But their decisions on different cases, sometimes yes and sometimes no, haven't resolved anything. Instead, the opinions published on these cases have only created further confusion. What the nine justices believe or decide means little to someone seeking rules for Christian living. The Ten Commandments remain important moral guidelines.
Of course, the Ten Commandments are part of the Old Testament and this covenant with God was fulfilled with the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We live under a new covenant and its principles are testified to by the writings of the New Testament. Jesus reaffirmed nine of the commandments during His three-year ministry. But one commandment has been set aside by powerful and unique events. On the stone tablet, God wrote, "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. . . . For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it" (Exodus 20:8, 11). The Jewish people faithfully follow this command, keeping the Sabbath day from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. Christians worship God on Sunday, the first day of the week, because this is the day Jesus rose from the dead. The church was established on a Sunday, the Day of Pentecost. For these reasons and because of apostolic tradition (cf. Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2), the day of worship changed. This is a symbolic representation of the shift from the old to the new covenant instituted by Jesus' resurrection. This historic event underlies all standards for Christian living.
In turning to the pages of the New Testament, the reader finds many passages that provide spiritual guidance. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us the Beatitudes that encourage mercy, peacemaking, and letting one's light shine (Matthew 5-7). When a lawyer once asked Jesus to name the greatest commandment, the Son of God told him to "love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Matthew 22:37-39). Remembering these two principles, and following them to the best of our abilities, goes a long way in guiding our behavior towards others. But sometimes it's difficult to know how to put these God-given principles into practice. Our quest for standards for Christian living leads us to Paul's letter to the church in Galatia where he lists the fruit of the Holy Spirit: "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance [which means self-control]" (Galatians 5:22-23a). These nine qualities should be developed and encouraged in our interactions with others, whether family members, friends, acquaintances, or perfect strangers. By meditating upon and memorizing passages that speak to these qualities, we take them into our hearts and allow them to flourish and bless others.
For a practical set of rules for Christian living, perhaps the best book to turn to is the book of James. This short letter was written by Jesus' half-brother who did not even believe that Jesus was the Son of God until after His resurrection. This James shouldn't be confused with the apostle James. The apostle James was a fisherman, the apostle John's brother and Zebedee's son. He was killed by King Herod in the first days of the church's existence. Jesus' half-brother James became a leader in the first-century church in Jerusalem and is the author of the book bearing his name. His chapter on taming the tongue is a classic for those struggling with the temptations of gossip and speaking unkind words (James 3). But he also addresses such topics as seeking wisdom, anger, humility, finances, and the importance of good works. James' genuine compassion for the needy is undeniable when we read these words: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27). Anyone following the teachings found in the book of James will have rules for Christian living for almost any situation.
Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, the Scripture writers established standards for Christian living for us to follow. There are the definite "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt nots" of the Ten Commandments and many wise principles in a book such as James for us to follow. But living for God isn't the mere following of rules for Christian living as if Christians are robots programmed to do this and not to do that. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God and to love our neighbor. He told the parable of the Good Samaritan to demonstrate exactly who our neighbor is -- the person who needs our help. When we embrace the qualities of the Beatitudes and the fruit of the Spirit we are embracing standards for Christian living that glorify God.