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    Characteristics of the Christian Church in the 4th Century

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    What were the main characteristics of the early Christian Church up to the 4th century?

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    What Happened in the First Century --

    ? Creation of New Testament Writings; Spread of Christianity; Rise of Persecutions

    ? The words and sayings of Jesus are collected and preserved. New Testament writings are completed.

    ? A new generation of leaders succeeds the apostles. Nevertheless, expectation still runs high that the Lord may return at any time. The end must be close.

    ? The Gospel taken through a great portion of the known world of the Roman Empire and even to regions beyond.

    ? New churches at first usually begin in Jewish synagogues around the empire and Christianity is seen at first as a part of Judaism.

    ? The Church faces a major crisis in understanding itself as a universal faith and how it is to relate to its Jewish roots.

    ? Christianity begins to emerge from its Jewish womb. A key transition takes place at the time of Jewish Revolt against Roman authority. In 70 AD Christians do not take part in the revolt and relocate to Pella in Jordan.

    ? The Jews at Jamnia in 90 AD confirm the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures. The same books are recognized as authoritative by Christians.

    ? Persecutions test the church. Jewish historian Josephus seems to express surprise that they are still in existence in his Antiquities in latter part of first century.

    ? Key persecutions include Nero at Rome who blames Christians for a devastating fire that ravages the city in 64 AD He uses Christians as human torches to illumine his gardens.

    ? Emperor Domitian demands to be worshiped as "Lord and God." During his reign the book of Revelation is written and believers cannot miss the reference when it proclaims Christ as the one worthy of our worship.

    Percent Christian: 0.6%
    Breakdown: 70% nonwhite, 30% white
    Evangelization: 28.0% of world
    Scriptures: 6 languages
    Total martyrs since AD 33: 25,000 (1.2% of all Christians ever; rate 370 per year)

    What Happened in the Second Century --

    ? Rise of Numerous Heretical Sects; Martyrdoms; Emergence of Apologists

    ? The Lord has not returned as soon as expected, so organization is needed to continue the ministry, resist persecution, oppose heretical teachings, and spread the word. Thus the office and role of the bishop becomes stronger.

    ? While persecution continues intermittently from without, heresies pose major dangers from within and must be answered. Heresies include:

    GNOSTICISM -- A kind of New Age movement that claimed special knowledge.

    MARCIONISM -- An attempt to reduce the Scriptures--both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures -- to a few select books

    MONTANISM -- A charismatic movement ...

    Solution Summary

    This solution describes some of the defining characteristics of the Christian Church as it headed into the 4th century.