Growth of Antenicene Christianity

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Growth of Antenicene Christianity 100 AD - 325AD

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Page 1: Growth of Antenicene Christianity

Growth of Antenicene Christianity

100 AD - 325AD

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100AD – early 300s

The Ante-Nicene period covers the period after the death of the last of the Twelve (St. John), until the Council of Nicea in 325AD.

The period is the time of the height of Roman power, and the beginning of its slow decline.

Since Christianity was not legal during this period, much we don't know. A lot of our knowledge comes from Eusebius of Antioch, and several writers such as Irenaeus, Justin Martyr and others.

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During this period, there were no longer any eyewitnesses to the life of Christ,

although there were some who had been discipled by or met the twelve.

Clement of Rome (30-100AD). (1 work) Ignatius of Antioch (35-117AD) (several works) Papias of Hierapolis (60-130AD) (fragments) Polycarp of Smyrna (69-155AD) (1 work)

These men provide insight into the nature of the early church and the minds of the Twelve.

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Quote from Clement, Bishop of Rome, to the Church of Corinth,

(about 96AD)

“The apostles received for us the Gospel from our Lord Jesus Christ, and our Lord Jesus

Christ received it from God... (The apostles) appointed bishops and deacons, and gave a

rule of succession, so that when they had fallen asleep, others, who had been approved, might

succeed to their ministry.”

<Compare with II Timothy 2:2>

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Quote from Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians

(written about 107AD)“Very flesh, yet Spirit too;

Uncreated, and yet born;

God and Man in One agreed,

Very life in death indeed.

Fruit of God and Mary's seed

At once impassible and torn

By pain and suffering here below;

Jesus Christ, whom as our Lord we know.”

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1. The Apologists

A number of Christians took on the role of defending the faith. There could be a number of reasons for this:

Evangelizing or making the gospel more palatable to Greek and Roman minds.

Strengthening the faithful Challenging various heretical groups, such as

the various gnostic groups.

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The Apologists

Quadratus (around 115AD) Aristides (around 115AD) Justin Martyr (100-163AD) Irenaeus (115-202AD) Origen (185-254AD)

They help us understand the culture and times they lived in, understand the various heresies, and gain insight to their understanding of what is “orthodox.”

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The Apologists

Dealing with heretical groups led to the development of two major parts of the Christian faith:

− Canon of Scripture (what is reliable)− Theology (what is true)

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2. The Canon of Scripture and Theology

Marcion, 2nd century “heretic,” saw the God of the Old Testament as evil, and the God of the New Testament as good. Therefore, He saw the Old Testament as false, and most of the New Testament. The Marcion “Bible” included edited versions of the Book of Luke and some of Paul's letters.

This led the church to decide which Books were indeed Canon (standards) for us.

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The Canon of Scripture

Most all Christians accepted the four Gospels and the letters of Paul. But there were slight variations regarding some books like Hebrews, II Peter, and Revelation. For the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures (following the rabbinical scholars of their day) were accepted rejecting certain books that we now call the Apocrypha.

By the 4th century, the canon was settled (mostly) and accepted that the God of the OT was also the God of the NT.

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The challenges of different ideologies, “Christian” heretical groups, and difference of opinions within the church, necessitated the development and training in theology and doctrine.

Various church leaders specialized in developing and teaching theology. They sought to combine divine revelation with reason to understand God and the mystery of the church, as well as to understand what we are to do.

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Theological Education

Irenaeus (130-202AD) Lyons Tertullian (155-230AD) Carthage Clement of Alexandria (? - ca215AD) Origen (182-ca251AD) Alexandria

Catechetical Schools (theological seminaries) were set up. The earliest and best known were in Alexandria and Antioch.

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Theological Education

While catechetical schools were to train religious leaders, catechumenate schools were to train converts.

Originally, catechumenate training was fairly simple to teach the basic doctrines of faith. In the 3rd and 4th century they became more challenging (up to 3 years long) to limit nominal conversions.

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3. Martyrdom

The term “martyr” is from the Greek word for “witness”. The ultimate witness for Jesus is one who is willing to die for his or her faith.

Christianity was illegal in the Roman empire... it's adherents were often thought to be atheists, incestuous, and cannibals.

Strangely, Christianity grew in such conditions... mostly through the witness of commoners and slaves. Celsus noted Christianity as being a religion of slaves.

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Famous Martyrs

Polycarp Justin Martyr Perpetua and Felicity

Martyrs would encourage Christians to remain faithful, and would act as a testimony to unbelievers.

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Martyrdom. A strange twist

Martyrs were held in such high regard (forerunner of the Catholic practice of “sainthood”) that some would TRY to become martyrs... such as blaspheming local pagan gods, or otherwise offending the locals.

In response to that, the church refused to honor those who tried to be martyred. The view was that people should seek to be living witnesses... dying only if it is a choice between death and denying Christ.

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4. Social Ministry

Much of the growth of the church occurred because of a willingness to express love to those around them in tangible, inexplicable, ways. This was especially notable in times of plague (such as the Antonine, Cyprian, and Armenian plagues). Christians cared for the sick, fed the starving, and buried the dead at their own expense... including unbelievers.

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Social Ministry

Dionysius noted that the pagans "thrust aside anyone who began to be sick, and kept aloof even from their dearest friends, and cast the sufferers out upon the public roads half dead, and left them unburied, and treated them with utter contempt when they died." He added that many Christians "did not spare themselves, but kept by each other, and visited the sick without thought of their own peril, and ministered to them assiduously…drawing upon themselves their neighbors’ diseases, and willingly taking over to their own persons the burden of the sufferings of those around them."'

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Social Ministry

"if we only do good to those who do good to us, what do we more than the heathens and publicans? If we are the children of God, who makes His sun to shine upon good and bad, and sends rain on the just and the unjust, let us prove it by our acts, by blessing those who curse us, and doing good to those who persecute us."


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Social Ministry

Eusebius of Antioch reported that because of the Christians’ good example, many pagans "made inquiries about a religion whose disciples are capable of such disinterested devotion." (Famine in Armenia during reign of Maximius)

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Social Ministry

“Atheism [i.e. Christian faith] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.” -Emperor Julian the Apostate (4th Century)

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5. Ordinary Christians

The growth of the church was influenced less by “super Christians” than by ordinary Christians who were faithful in difficult times and shared their faith simply and with humility.

Celsus noted that Christians were “a religion of slaves”, and growth happened largely among those that were ignored by other religions (such as Mithraism) or were left without hope.

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6 Human Reasons for the Spread of Christianity in the early Centuries (Stephen Neill, summarized by John Piper)

1. First and foremost was the burning conviction which possessed a great number of the early Christians.

2. The solid historical message which Christians brought was indeed good news, and a welcome alternative to the mystery religions of the day.

3. The new Christian communities commended themselves by the purity of their lives.

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6 Human Reasons for the Spread of Christianity in the early Centuries (Stephen Neill, summarized by John Piper)

4. The Christian communities were marked by mutual loyalty and an overcoming of antagonisms between alienated classes.

5. The Christians were known for an elaborate development of charitable service, especially to those within the fellowship.

6. The persecution of Christians and their readiness to suffer made a dramatic impact on unbelievers.

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Christian Areas 200-400 AD

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As the 4th century (300s) are coming in, there is a change.

Osrhoene (capital of Edessa... in modern-day Syria) becomes the first “Christian” nation... around 190AD.

Armenia followed in 301AD. Christianity is growing in the Roman Empire. It

is no longer only the religion of the poor and enslaved.

Christianity is showing signs of success, but success can be as difficult to handle as failure.

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Ruth Tucker, “From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya” Stephen Neill, “A History of Christian Missions” Charles Moore, “Pandemic Love” (web article)

John Piper, “Models of Faith” (web article)