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Christianity: the first five centuries

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Part 1 of 3

The first five centuries of the Christian faith were filled with tremendous characters that forever changed the face of the earth. They, of course, would be nothing without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, nevertheless, these various individuals, along with a rather favourably God-ordained historical backdrop, played an important part throughout these five centuries contributing to the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the growth of His church.

In the following three-part article, we will be looking at the growth of the church from New Testament times, up and until 500 AD. We will be doing so in light of missions in what is termed the Ante-Nicene, and the Post-Nicene periods. First, however, we will be considering some key characteristics that made up the secular world of the first five centuries AD.

Key characteristics of the secular world of the first five centuries AD:

According to Neil (1964:26), the early Christians found themselves in a world that one would consider favourable to the expansion of the Gospel. This just reiterates the sovereignty of God; that He would preordain a world-setting that would be picture perfect for the advancement of the Gospel message.

We will examine this world-setting in light of five favourable conditions.

i. Roman roads

As Roman rule expanded in territory, so too did Roman roads (Neil 1964:26), there truly is a reason for the saying “all roads lead to Rome”, as these interconnected travelling routes greatly aided the spread of the Gospel message.

ii. Pax Romana

As explained by Terry, Smith and Anderson (1988:167), travel was safe due to the Pax Romana; peace throughout the Mediterranean brought about by Roman rule, quite the favourable setting for missionary travel.

iii. Greek language

Considering the modern-day challenges of having to learn a native language in order to communicate, the extensive practice of the Greek dialect made for a rather favourable communication setting (Terry et al. 1988:167).

iv. Greek philosophy

The teaching of Greek philosophical ideologies was a common practice throughout the empire, and according to Terry et al. (1998:167) this aided the spreading of the Gospel in two ways; “First, it imbued the educated classes with a love for truth. Second, it caused people to become dissatisfied with the superstitions of their traditional religions.”

v. Jewish presence

Throughout the Roman Empire, there was a Jewish presence felt, physically, and in the form of institution, such as synagogues. There the teaching of Old Testament scripture to non-Jews would later form the foundation that would result in the conversion of many of these individuals (Terry et al. 1998:167-168).

In the second part of this three-part article, we will be looking at the Ante-Nicene period of the Christian faith (before 325 AD).

End Part 1

Works Cited

Neil S 1964. A history of Christian missions. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd.

Terry JM, Smith EC and Anderson J 1988. Missiology: an introduction to the foundations, history, and strategies of world missions. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman and Holman Publishers.

Written by Dwain Donovan Stewart