What happened to the church that was established by Christ and His apostles in the First Century? Many Christians do not know what happen to that church after the death of the Apostles of Christ.
Did it survive the cruelty of the persecutions of the Roman emperors?
What happened to the church before Martin Luther?
Did it vanish during the dark days of the Middle Ages or it is still around
And if it still exists, did it keep the same faith and spirituality or did it lose them over the ages?
To answer these questions, and others, I invite you to join me in a wonderful journey back in time to the origins of Christianity, and then from there we will pass quickly through the centuries to discover our Christian roots and follow them to our present time.
First: What Happened To The Christian Church In The First five centuries of Christianity?
As all historians have stated that the Christian Church survived the Roman persecution and continued to exist afterwards. The church lived as one church with one faith, one baptism (Eph 4:5), common dogmas, and very closed rituals throughout the whole world for about five centuries. There were no denominations or sects in the Christian church. Churches at that time were named after a few big cities in the world not because of differences in faith, but merely to make administration of the churches achievable.
The sad division
between the churches took place in year 451 AD in the Chalcedon Council. In this council,
bishops representing churches from all over the world assembled to discuss
matters related to the person of Christ.
At the end of the meeting, a sharp division occurred among these
churches. The Oriental Orthodox
Churches decided on continuing to follow the same
faith as it was delivered from Christ and His disciples, and these churches
continue to do so until today. These churches are the Coptic Orthodox Church
The Western Churches split again in 1054 AD into
the ‘Roman Catholic Church’ and ‘
The group of the Eastern Orthodox Churches decided at that time to [hgby1] detach itself from the Roman Catholic Church. The Eastern Orthodox Churches today include nineteen churches, among them: The Greek Orthodox Church, The Russian Orthodox Church, and The Romanian Orthodox Church.
After this schism the
Roman Catholic Church in
Second: Why Did The
In the few centuries preceding the Reformation,
the historians said that the Roman Church in
Starting from the eleventh century, the history of the Church of Rome is full of persecution, inquisitions, and heresies. Burning heretics at the stake and using torture were common methods to deal with the heretics. Here, the word heresy at that time was used to refer to a false teaching related to the principle of Christian faith or it could refer to an act the church did not favor, as in the case of William Tyndale, who was strangled and burned in 1536 because he translated the New Testament into English. The word heresy was also used to refer to an opinion of matters related more to science or philosophy than to Christianity, as in the case of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), who was tried by the Inquisition of Rome and forced to spend the last eight years of his life under house arrest because of his scientific evidences that proved the earth revolves around the sun.1
Renaissance in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries revived the value of the classical Greek and Roman writings, which included, among others, the Bible, and the writings of the early Fathers of the Church. Intellectual people at that time started reading the Bible and comparing what they read in the Bible and in the writings Fathers of the Church to the living reality of the Roman Catholic Church and concluded that ‘Catholicism differed from the church of the New Testament in doctrine, morals, and administration.’ 2 Some called for ‘reform in head and member.[hgby2]
One example that shows how corrupted the Catholic Church was at that time is the story of Jan Hus, a disciple of John Wyclif. He considered leaving the Catholic Church as an act of honoring Christ and the gospel. Yes, to that extent the educated people started refusing the church and its corruption. The Intellectual people refused the moral corruption in the life of the clergy and the heresies of the church.
Therefore, as soon as Martin
Luther (1483-1546 AD) announced his
disputation on indulgences and nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Roman
People in the Middle Ages in Europe had a very real dread of the period of punishment in purgatory and hell, which were graphically portrayed in the church. Based on the teachings of the indulgence of the Catholic Church, the Church controlled both destinations. Unfortunately, facing all the fears of both, the Church offered selling indulgences, instead of offering Christ as the Savior. These indulgences were hard to pay by the poor and a source of distress for the rich. As a result, when Reformation started, people hurried to join it to get rid of the nightmare of both the purgatory and hell.
Salvation and grace were almost forgotten topics in the Catholic Church at that time. Of course, in the middle of the corruption there were very faithful clergies and laymen who led good Christian lives. But, as usual, most human beings forget the good and remember the bad, even inflate the bad to make it look worse than the reality.
In reaction to the church that forgot its own mission and tried to control the life and destination of everyone using all methods including physical death, the reformation movement completely separated itself from the church and denied most of what belonged to the church. People had had it with the Catholic Church and they were eager to get rid of all that belonged to it. Therefore, they put all their efforts, derived by psychological and social impulses, to refute all what the Roman Catholic Church called for and believed in, especially those things that were done by the clergy. They refused priesthood because of the corruption of the clergy and subsequently denied all work that required a priest. Since the priests administered all the sacraments, Protestant denominations refused most, if not all, of the sacraments.
So, Protestants refused the sacraments, the intercession of saints, many rituals, and other parts of the tradition that were delivered from Christ and His apostles, not because of biblical, traditional, or historical reasons, but rather because of inner- psychological, historical, and social reasons. Then, later on they tried to rationalize them by finding biblical verses that supported their beliefs. In a severe reaction to the forgotten grace of God in the Roman Catholic Church teachings and its full concentration on human work, the Protestants based all their teachings on salvation, grace, and complete refusal of human work.
corruptions and conflicts happened in
Third: Where Is The Church of The New Testament?
Many are eager to know about what happened to the church of the New Testament and where it is now. Many more ask specifically about what happened to the church between the apostolic age and the Reformation era.
To answer these questions, Let us visit the landmarks of Christian history:
1. Christ taught His disciples not from a book but He delivered a life and taught them all that was related to church life. All the disciples had one faith, which they delivered to all the nations and exhorted them to keep; ‘I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 1:4). This epistle was written around year 68 AD, while the last book of the New Testament was written at the end of the first century. Therefore, the faith that he was talking about was not written at that time. The church delivered a verbal teaching, which is called the Tradition. Therefore, Jude here refers to the verbal teachings, the Tradition. In fact, writing the book of the New Testament started many decades after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, either to answer specific questions or to discuss a topic or to address certain needs of certain people or to present a summary of Christ’s life, but these writings never intended to be encyclopedic and to replace the oral Tradition. However, by the beginning of the Second Century all the writings of the New Testament were completed, and the fathers of the church considered them authentic writings inspired by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, they were collected to form the Holy Bible, and considered as the church first and most important reference. While the early church considered the writings of the New Testament as inspired books, it didn’t drop off the Tradition. Surely, the Tradition wouldn’t contradict the New Testament, since it was the source for the writings of the New Testament. Until today, we still go back to the early church to find more about its faith, dogma, worship, and the rest. Thanks to God, there are plenty of these writings which support the oral Tradition that are still handed down in great carefulness and sincerity from one generation to the next in the Orthodox churches.
2. The church lived as a guardian of the one faith and common dogma until the schism in year 451 A.D. During this period if a new teaching would appeared, representatives from all the churches would meet to discuss the new teaching and either accept it or reject it. For example, when the Arian Controversy appeared, which denied the divinity of Christ, 318 bishops from all churches in the world met in the Nicene Council in 325 A.D. and rejected the Arian teaching. All Christians in the entire world at this period had the same faith. A Christian could go to any other church and had communion there without any restrictions. There were no theological differences between the churches. The church was one apostolic catholic church. Apostolic refers to its establishment by the apostles of the Lord, and catholic refers to its universality.
3. The sad schism of the church took place in the Chalcedon Council (451 AD) over the issue of the nature of Christ. Contemporary studies show that the discussions in this council were misleading as a result of misunderstanding and miscommunications among the churches. One group was using Greek theological idioms while others were using Latin expressions, and because of the two languages and other reasons the schism took place. The result of this schism was division of the church into two camps; the Oriental Orthodox Churches and what I call it here for the purpose of this study the Western Churches.
4. The Western Churches split in 1054 AD to the ‘Roman Catholic Church’
5. After centuries of deviation from the original teachings and corruptions, the ‘Roman Catholic Church’ in the sixteenth century suffered another severe schism by the ‘Reformation, ‘ starting in 1517 A.D.
6. In 1529 the Church of England was separated from the Roman Catholic Church.
7. The reformation was the basis for all the Protestant churches. In 1720 A.D.
the Protestants began what they
called 'Evangelical Renewal.' From that time on, many Protestant churches
are known as an Evangelical. Therefore
sometime both words Evangelical and Protestant are used interchangeably. The number of Protestant churches today close
to twenty thousands denominations and sects.
Mostly, these churches follow their own leader(s) in what they believe
and worship. The leaders tried hard to
understand the Bible and its teachings, using commentaries of the Reformation
fathers, who had declined all church sacraments and other teachings and rituals
based on their sad experience with the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages in
The faith delivered by the saints is a whole package that needs to be kept together in contact. You can’t choose and pick what you like and drop what you dislike. The faith delivered by the saints does not include theology only but ways of life too, because you can’t separate faith from life. In my opinion, the delivered faith looks like a complete recipe. If you change a part of the recipe, it is no longer the same recipe; you lost it.
With about 20, 000 Protestant churches existing today, you see all kinds of beliefs. Leaving it up to the individual freedom to choose, open rooms to individual guessing and conclusions without having a guide reference. As one Evangelical leader put it: “After a careful reading in the Bible during the last two years, I discovered that what I used to teach people, telling them that this is what the Lord teaches, was the exact opposite of God’s teachings.”
The reformation opened the door to individual Bible interpretation and to dogmatic changes. Once a church allowed one change to the faith, sooner one change would lead to another, until the faith is no longer the same and the divine teaching suffers. This exactly what happened in the Reformation movement when they decided to do with what was delivered from the early church, thinking that having the Bible would protect the faith, and forgot that even the devil can use the Bible to deceive people, as he did with Christ after He fasted for forty days in the wilderness.
Today we have 20,000 evangelical (Protestant) sects, each proclaims that it follows the Bible and it knows the truth, while in fact we ended up in 20,000 different theologies. It doesn’t need a genius to discover that they are not talking about the same truth, but 20,000 ones or even thousands ones. Also, the proclaim of following the Bible teaching is misleading, for how could they follow the same Bible teaching and end up with thousands of different teachings.
The truth was delivered 2000 years ago and had a standard reference to consult. However, to eliminate the divine we received from the apostles, started a new dogma, and eliminated the standard reference, as the Reformation did, it destroyed the essence of the faith and crippled the spiritual life. You can’t work as a judge because you read the laws only. You must know how individual laws were interpreted and applied. Also, you can’t prepare a doctorate dissertation in a science without understanding all the general laws, theories, and history of that branch of science you are dealing with. Similarly, to understand the Bible and interpret it correctly, a leader needs to get familiar with the divine teaching that was delivered by the saints, life of the early church, and all the treasures the church entrusted with for 2000 years. If this is hard to do, I suggest examining the early church during its first 400 years before schism, when the church in the whole world had the same faith and dogma, and use that as a standard reference in interpreting the Bible.
I think by now you agree with me in that proclaiming following the Bible is not a guarantee of having the right faith, but using the right interpretation of the Bible is the guarantee, and there is no right interpretation for the Bible without going back to the delivered faith and the standard reference of the first church.
8. The ‘Oriental Orthodox Church’ never split or had any deviation from the original faith. It did not accept any changes to the faith or any heresies. So, it kept the sacraments and great spirituality methods delivered by our Lord through His apostles. Therefore, these churches represent a true icon of the church established by the Lord and His apostles. . [hgby5]
c 1054 AD d 1517 AD
33 A.D. 451 A.D. Oriental Orthodox Churches (Coptic, Syrian, Ethiopian,
Day of Chalcedon Armenian Orthodox Churches) continued with Pentecost Resurrection Council faith as in 33 A.D.
Review the diagram of the Church History, you see a horizontal line depicts the one church that started, in point a in the diagram, in 33 A.D. with Day of Pentecost, and continued as one church until point b in the diagram, in 451 A.D. Then you notice the place where the first schism happened in the church in 451 A.D. at the Chalcedon Council. From this point you see the original line continues that refers to the continuations of the Oriental Churches with the same faith, and another line that derived from the original line which depicts the Western Churches.
Following the line depicted the Western Churches, you will see the second division happened at point
c in the diagram, in
1054 A.D. Now, please pay attention to
the two lines drawn out of the line that depicts the Western Churches; one line
depicts the ‘
Now, please review the point d in the diagram, in 1517 A.D. where the Reformation branched out from the Roman Catholic Church. Later on many churches branched out from the Reformation, as depicted by many branches with the name ‘Evangelical Protestants.’
When you carefully examine the drawing,
you will find that the Coptic Church and other
Fifth: Now we know that the early church still exists, but what kind of impact can this church have on an individual’s spiritual life?
Although the Reformation movement would have liked to restore the grace of God back to its dynamic position in the church, it eliminated a great deal of the work of the grace when it refused the priesthood, sacraments, and the spiritual treasures that passed down over the centuries. Christ Himself established these sacraments to work as channels of grace in the life of the faithful. Without them the individual suffers spiritually and the church loses its way to the heavenly spiritual treasures. Thanks be to God that a church like the Coptic Orthodox Church still has it all. We can summarize what this church has in one phrase: ‘the fullness of Christ.’
+ + +
are you eager to see one great icon of the church that was established by
Christ and His apostles? It still
exists, and probably in your town. Check
your telephone book for the Coptic Orthodox Church or visit www.mycopticchurch.com to find the closest church to you. There you will experience the church as it
was in the days of
1 1 Encyclopedia Britannica: Galileo Galilei
2 Eerdmans’ Handbook to the History of Christianity, Eerdman Publishing Co., 1987, p. 348
 (Matt 28:20, 2 John , 2 Timothy , 1 Timothy 6:3-4, 2
Philippians 4:9, Galatians 1:8)
[hgby1]If they decided to follow the original teaching why they are different from the Oriental church
[hgby2]This is the same reference as the previous
[hgby3]Again you need to differentiate between Eastern and Oriental in the original teachings
[hgby4]These sections 3 & 4 are repeated word by word from the first page
[hgby5]Same comment as the two previous ones
[hgby6]Same as 2 you do not need to rewrite it