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First Century

The first cen­tu­ry of the Chris­t­ian era begins with the birth of Jesus Christ from the Vir­gin Mary in Beth­le­hem, Christ lived, died, rose again and ascend­ed into heav­en in the first cen­tu­ry. This time also wit­nessed the out­pour­ing of the Holy Spir­it upon Christ’s dis­ci­ples on the feast of Pen­te­cost, the event which is often called the birth­day of the Church.

In the first cen­tu­ry, the apos­tles preached the Gospel of Christ. We do not know exact­ly where the apos­tles trav­eled, with the excep­tion of Saint Paul whose mis­sion­ary jour­neys are record­ed in the book of Acts. Accord­ing to Tra­di­tion, all of the apos­tles were uni­ver­sal preach­ers of the Gospel, who, with the excep­tion of Saint John, were killed for their faith in Christ. The gospels and epis­tles and all of the books which com­prise the New Tes­ta­ment scrip­tures were writ­ten in the first cen­tu­ry. Also at this time, the first Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ties were estab­lished in the main cities of Asia Minor and Greece, and most prob­a­bly in North Africa. The Church was also estab­lished in the cap­i­tal city of Rome.

The Church

Con­trary to what is some­times thought, the Chris­t­ian Church was first an urban phe­nom­e­non which only lat­er spread to the rur­al areas. Also, it was com­posed main­ly of peo­ple from what we would call today the “high­er class­es” of soci­ety. Thus, it is not true that Chris­tian­i­ty gained its foothold in the world in une­d­u­cat­ed and back­ward peo­ple who were look­ing for heav­en­ly con­so­la­tion in the face of oppres­sive and unbear­able earth­ly con­di­tions.

The main event of the Church of the first cen­tu­ry was the admit­tance of gen­tiles into the Church who were not oblig­ed to fol­low the rit­u­al require­ments of the Mosa­ic law (see Acts 15, Gala­tians, Romans), Thus, although the Chris­t­ian Church entered Roman impe­r­i­al soci­ety “under the veil” of Judaism, it was quick­ly sep­a­rat­ed from the Jew­ish faith as the Peo­ple of God called from all the nations, those who were unit­ed in Christ the Mes­si­ah, Who was con­fessed as the Lord and Sav­ior of all men and the whole world.

The require­ments for entry into the Chris­t­ian Church were faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ, repen­tance from sin, and bap­tism in Jesus’ name with the sub­se­quent recep­tion of the gift of the Holy Spir­it. Those who ful­filled these require­ments entered the Church which was found­ed in each place as a local com­mu­ni­ty led by those called bish­ops or pres­byters who received the lay­ing-on-of-hands from the apos­tles. The apos­tles them­selves were not local bish­ops of any par­tic­u­lar Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty in any place.

Each of the ear­ly Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ties that we know about had its own unique char­ac­ter, and its own unique prob­lems, as we see in the New Tes­ta­ment doc­u­ments. Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, how­ev­er, each church had great con­cern for the oth­ers and were all called to teach the same doc­trines and to prac­tice the same virtues, liv­ing the same life in Christ and the Holy Spir­it.

And they devot­ed them­selves to the apos­tles’ teach­ings, and com­mu­nion, to the break­ing of the bread, and the prayers.

And all who believed were togeth­er and had all things in com­mon; and they sold their pos­ses­sions and goods and dis­trib­uted them to all, as any had need (Acts 2:42, 44).

This descrip­tion of the Church in Jerusalem can gen­er­al­ly be applied to all of the ear­ly Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ties.