Church History

Section 1: Early Church History

A course following the early developments of the church, growing from a small band of faithful servants in Jerusalem, to an influential  movement seeking to go out to the ends of the earth. In these amazing 600 years, we find the story of glorious transformation, steadfast growth, perseverance through suffering, and many battles to preserve doctrinal integrity. Join us as we study the early years of our family history within the church.

(Above: an early church tile mosaic in Tabgha)

Class Textbook (Needed)

Church History Book 1.jpg

A Glorious Institution: The Church in History,

Parts One and Two

by Stanford E. Murrell

This text was selected because it offers a number of benefits for the local church. It is extremely economical, covers courses in both the early church as well as the church of the middle ages. Chapel Library also offers worksheets for each section of the book. Finally, it is fully available online through Chapel Library's website. 

Other Recommended Texts for additional study:

  1. Everett Ferguson, Church History, Volume 1

  2. Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language

  3. Jonathan Hill, The Zondervan Handbook to the History of Christianity

  4. Justo Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume 1

  5. Nick Needham, 2,000 Years of Christ's Power, Volume 1

*Additional Texts (dealing with specific subjects) may be recommended

in the weekly sections

Week 0: Introductory Week

Our journey through early church history begins with an introductory session. We will seek to accomplish the following goals:

  • Distribute the Class text book.

  • Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the text book.

  • Discuss the additional recommended books- their strengths and weaknesses.

  • Discuss the purpose of studying history generally.

  • Discuss the specific importance of Christians studying church history.

  • Point out that this is a continuing story of which we are a part.

  • Begin to define the time period covered in early church history.

  • Hand out the reading worksheet for the upcoming Week 1 lesson

Week 1: The Apostolic Age

In Week 1, we will enter into the history of the church, by looking at the era of the Apostles. We will do this by looking to the New Testament as a guide to the expansion of the church in that earliest generation. Particular attention will be given to the history provided in the Acts of the Apostles.

Points of interest will include:

  • Prayer and preparation prior to Pentecost

  • Pentecost and the immediate expansion of the church

  • The persecution faced by an expanding church in Jerusalem

  • The movement of the church to Samaria

  • Peter, Cornelius, and the Gospel to the Gentiles

  • The church at Antioch grows in influence

  • The missionary journeys

  • The Jerusalem Council

  • The Gospel to Rome

  • The death of the Apostles

  • The Fall of Jerusalem

  • The Council of Jamnia

  • The death of John, the last Apostle

Week 2: The Sub-Apostolic Age

Our journey through early church history continues as we turn our attention to the generations that followed the Apostles.

Our focus will be on the following:

  • The attitude of the Empire toward Christianity

  • The conditions which God used to rapidly expand the church

    • Changes in the Roman society

    • A Search for meaning and morality

    • Persecution offering validation to the faith

  • Difficulties faced by the church due to rapid growth

  • Overview of several key figures from this era

    • Clement of Rome

    • Ignatius of Antioch

    • Polycarp

    • Papias of Hierapolis

    • Justin Martyr

    • Tatian

    • Irenaeus

    • Turtullian

Week 3: The Dangers of Heresy

We continue our journey by looking at the threat of heresy to the early church.

Our focus will be on the following:

  • Why there were so many heresies arising in the early church.

  • the danger of these heresies to the church, particularly the early church.

  • We will survey some of the leading heresies that the early church faced.

    • Docetism

    • Sabellianism

    • Montanism

    • and Gnosticism

  • Additional heresies will be dealt with separately in future lessons

    • Arianism (week 8)

    • Donatism (week 12)

    • Pelagianism (week 14)

Week 4: Canon and Creed: Protecting the Faith

We continue our journey through the history of the early church by studying how the faith was protected. Two primary blessings emerged in this struggle: God blessing the church with the completed canon of Scripture and the church summarizing Biblical doctrine in creeds.

This week, we will focus on the following:

  • The Canon of Scripture

    • What is the canon?

    • How did we get it?

    • When was it first recognized?

  • Specifically refuting wrong thinking about the Canon

    • Were certain letters simply "made Scripture"?

    • Was the canon compiled simply by a committee or vote?

    • Were other books wrongfully suppressed (i.e. Gnostic books)?

  • Other Questions about Canon

    • What about the Jewish Canon

    • What about the Apocrypha?

  • The Need for Creeds

    • to combat heresy

    • To protect the faith

    • to teach the faith

  • We will specifically be looking at the Apostles' Creed

 

Week 5: Early Church Structure and the Rise of Bishops

This week, we continue our journey through the history of the early church by looking at the changed in church structure that arose in the early church. To understand these changes, we will first look at what the New Testament actually says about the structure of the church.

Our focus will be on the following:

  • New Testament church structure

  • The New Testament speaks of two offices in the church

    • Elders and Deacons

      • Biblical Passages

      • Nehemiah Coxe on Church Governance

  • Other terms used to describe the Office of Elder

    • Bishop/Overseer

    • Pastor/Shepherd

    • Biblical passages which demonstrate the synonymous nature of these terms

  • Early Church structural changes

    • The decoupling of of Bishop and Elder as describing the same office

    • The rise in authority and prestige of the Bishop

  • Possible reasons for this change

    • Occurred organically as the church grew

    • There was a need for representation of groups of churches

    • Hierarchical leadership was useful in battling heresy in the churches

    • This structure promoted the argument of Apostolic succession at the Bishop level

    • The corrupt/power-hungry will find a powerful mono-episcopacy structure preferable

  • This drive toward greater hierarchy will continue with Archbishops, Metropolitans, and Patriarchs.

  • Problems with this change

    • It is based on practicality, not Biblical doctrine

    • It is the foundation for all of Rome's claims

Week 6: Roman Revitalization: The Era of Official Persecution

Continuing through the early years of the church, we approach the 3rd century A.D.- an important time in the history of the empire. During this era, the Roman Empire began to encounter great difficulties, external threats, a lack of stable leadership, and a population who feel that what Rome once was, "she no longer is". As Caesars seek to address this concern, there is a desire to revitalize the empire on the Millennial anniversary of its founding. One consistent approach is to seek a return to Rome's pagan religious roots; this policy will bring the mighty empire in direct conflict with the church.

Our focus will be on the following:

  • Understanding the history of Rome in the 3rd century

  • The conditions which God used to rapidly expand the church

    • Changes in the Roman society

    • A Search for meaning and morality

    • Persecution offering validation to the faith

  • Difficulties faced by the church due to rapid growth

  • Overview of several key figures from this era

    • Clement of Rome

    • Ignatius of Antioch

    • Polycarp

    • Papias of Hierapolis

    • Justin Martyr

    • Tatian

    • Irenaeus

    • Turtullian