Lesson Four Summary First Century Church

The first century of Christianity witnessed explosive growth, geographical spread, and the formation of early church structures. However, it was also a time of internal debates and external persecutions. Christianity emerged within Judaism, with its first followers primarily Jewish believers in Jesus as the Messiah. They initially centered their activities in Jerusalem.

A significant shift occurred as Christianity attracted Gentile (non-Jewish) converts – the inclusion of Gentiles without following Jewish law – played a crucial role in spreading the message of Jesus beyond Judea.  The apostles, particularly Peter and Paul, established churches in major cities throughout the Roman Empire, including Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome itself. By the end of the century, there were over 40 Christian communities scattered across the Mediterranean world. Even so, theological disagreements, such as the nature of Christ himself, continued to shape Christian thought through the first and many centuries to come.

Early church communities were small and informal, often meeting in homes (“house churches”). Leaders emerged organically, with titles like elders and bishops, overseeing spiritual matters and practical needs. The lack of structure and a commonly accepted doctrine of belief led to religious chaos and claims of heresy. The role of apostles (direct disciples of Jesus) diminished over time with death and executions, effectively transferring leadership to members individual communities.

In addition, Christians faced suspicion and hostility from both Jewish and Roman authorities. Some Jews saw them as heretics, while Romans viewed them as a potential threat to social order due to their refusal to worship the emperor and their emphasis on a different kind of kingdom. This resulted in sporadic persecutions, with prominent figures like Peter and Paul facing martyrdom.

Overall, the first-century Christian church was a dynamic and diverse movement. It was a time of remarkable growth, geographical expansion, and the formation of core beliefs and practices. However, it was also a time of internal challenges and external threats, laying the groundwork for the complex history of Christianity that was to follow.