Chapter One: The Day the Christian Church Began

History is a story written by the finger of God  CS Lewis


NASA satellite image of Israel



Approximately 15 years ago, I was asked by my pastor to teach a course on the Reformation. He believed that teaching this course would help a number of church members who had a Catholic background to understand the divergence of Catholicism and Protestantism which occurred during that period of history. I was a bit of a history buff and thought it might be fun to develop such a course.  The interest in a history class was so high that, with the help of the pastors, I went on to teach about different eras in the church. At the time, there wasn't a well developed set of materials that went through church history so I cobbled together videos and books and went with the flow. I contacted a professor who specialized in church music who taught us the development of music and found a video that depicted the development of religious art. I particularly remember a challenge from the class to show how the denominations of today got their start in history. 


Julie Boone is a lot like me. She loves the history of the church and taught Sunday school on the subject for years. She was frustrated that there wasn't  easy to use teaching materials for this subject. So she began to develop and write her own resource. This is the result and it is a work in process. TWW will print portions of this every Thursday. We look forward to your input and suggestions.






Large and small Christian churches sit beside busy streets in a great many cities and towns throughout a large part of the world. We pass such buildings and seldom wonder how they got there for most of us are familiar with what they are. We know the church began because of the life of Jesus Christ who was born into a Jewish family slightly more than 2000 years ago.  At that time the Jews already had a long history for they began both as a race and a religion several thousand years earlier. During those years they had been influenced by numerous other peoples for they lived among, or were forced to had to serve under as captives. These included the Sumerians, Cananites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks. At the time of Jesus, Israel had become a province of the vast Roman Empire.


During all that time Jewish priests had guarded their religious teachings and traditions as carefully as Roman soldiers guarded Rome against barbarians.  Although Romans allowed the Jews freedom to worship in their Temple, as well as  to observe their religious holidays, Jewish religious authorities never relaxed their vigilance.


Then, Jesus appeared and upset their tightly held control. The religious rulers became concerned when Jesus began traveling throughout Judea and Galilee, attracting crowds at every stop. They feared that the Roman soldiers, who patrolled the streets of Jerusalem, would think the throngs who followed Jesus were planning a revolt against Rome.They knew that many Jews hoped that Jesus had come to establish a new Jewish kingdom.  Even a rumor of that sort could cause the Romans to react strongly which would likely limit the Jews to religious freedom.  


The religious authorities also worried about the influence Jesus might have on the religious observance of the Jewish people. He did not always follow Jewish traditions.He occasionally broke  Sabbath rules and often did not observe the ceremonial washing that devout Jews followed before eating.  Jesus caused problems for both the civil and religious authorities and the Jewish leaders decided to rid themselves of this burden before serious trouble occurred.


The time for the annual festival of Passover drew near and Jerusalem always overflowed with visitors on festival days. All male Jews, who lived within twenty miles of Jerusalem, were legally required to worship at the Temple and many others, along with their families came from further distances to spend the holidays in the city of David. 


No holiday is more important to the Jews than Passover.  It commemorates the night the ancient Israelites escaped from Egypt where they had been confined as slaves. Each year since then, and even today, on the anniversary of Passover,  Jews have served a special meal in which they serve certain foods to help them recall the agony of slavery. They serve bitter herbs to help them think of the bitterness of slavery; a mixture of cooked apples and nuts to remind them of the mixture of clay and straw they used to make bricks for Egyptian buildings; and unleavened bread because they had to leave Egypt so quickly they did not have time for their bread to rise. During that special meal a young child always asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” In answer, the father reads the story of the escape from Egypt.


This particular year, two thieves were scheduled for trial. The religious leaders decided it might be expedient to try Jesus along with them. And they were successful, or so they thought. While the crowds celebrated their escape from Egyptian slavery, Jesus and the two thieves were crucified, died and were buried and the Jewish religious authorities breathed a sign of relief.


Strangely, In the next few days and weeks, many people came to them and told them Jesus was not dead but alive and had been sighted around Jerusalem but they did not believe it. Not only had they witnessed the death of Jesus but had heard that many of His followers had left the area in despair.They ignored the reports, including the reports of Jesus' ascension,  and turned their thoughts to Pentecost, the next festival Jews would celebrate.


Pentecost is a Greek word meaning "fiftieth" because it arrived on the fiftieth day after Passover which also coincided with the early summer harvest. This festival has two other names. The first is  “The Feast of Weeks” because fifty days is essentially a week of weeks ( seven weeks times seven days). The second name is “The Feast of First Fruits” because the holiday celebrates the ripening of the first vegetables and fruits of the season. Jewish families customarily took gifts of their early crops to the Temple for the benefit of the priests. Little did they know that Pentecost would soon be known for another event.


The disciples of Jesus were among the throngs who filled Jerusalem that day. They were there because Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2 describes this momentous event . From the NIV at Bible Gateway we read:    Link


"1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” 


The first church

Complete disorder reigned for a few moments but Peter, always the most outspoken of the disciples, stood before the crowd and spoke to them about Jesus. He explained who Jesus was and what had happened to him. He invited his listeners to turn from their sins and seek forgiveness. About 3000 responded and, from that large number, the first Christian church was established. No one had expected a church to begin that day. No announcements had been made, no place had been rented for a meeting, no one had been appointed to take charge, no worship team had practiced the music, but the church began anyway, and continued to grow day by day.


The  first arrest of Christians

 The Jewish authorities rejected this new faith, believing it to be blasphemous.  Threatened by the number of converts, they arrested some of the disciples and ordered them not to speak of Jesus.  These new Christians ignored their threats, saying they had to obey God rather than men. These conflicts would continue to escalate in the coming years.


The first church officers

There were logistical issues. From the beginning the church functioned as  a charitable institution. Members collected funds to help the poor but conflict arose.  The Greeks said that Hebrew widows received larger food allotments than their widows. Could it be that religious and cultural bias had already invaded the church? The disciples realized that they could not handle both preaching and the inevitable conflicts of running the charitable services of the nascent church.


The first Christian martyr

So,  the church elected seven devout men, one of whom was Stephen, to become the first church officers known as deacons. Stephen performed many  signs and wonders and was perceived as a threat by the Jewish religious leaders. They concocted a story that he blasphemed against Moses and God. A crowd was incited and Stephen was stoned to death, causing him to become became the church’s first martyr.


The first Christian missionaries

Paul, then called Saul of Tarsus, a highly educated Jew watched and approved Stephen’s death. He believed “The Way” as some called the Christian movement, could only bring harm to the world and grew determined to fight it. A remarkable experience turned him from being Christianity’s worst enemy into Christianity’s chief supporter. (See Acts 9:1-22.} He became one of the world’s first Christian missionaries, founded many of the earliest Christian churches, and wrote much of the New Testament. Although no record specifies how he died, it is thought that he became a martyr after being tried by Nero.


More to come…Stick with this each Thursday and you will get through 2000 years of history.


Lydia's Corner: Ruth 2:1-4:22 John 4:43-54 Psalm 105:16-36 Proverbs 14:26-27


Chapter One: The Day the Christian Church Began — 3 Comments

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    Dee, do you think Julie would be amenable to a bit of constructive criticism on style and grammar? I’d be happy to help “betaread” (a term used by internet writers for a proofreader and editor). This is great stuff, but it could use some polish.

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    Absolutely! Would you like me to send you the next couple of chapters?

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    Sure, go ahead. I’ll try hard to get the next one ready for Thursday. I’ll betaread this one, too.