Church History: Years 100-200
What were the significant events of the second century of the church and who were the people that made them happen?
What did the early church look like and what did it believe?
This was a time of tremendous transition…the apostles were dead and the canon not yet formed in it’s fullness.
This church had expected the Second Coming before this point…so they are adjusting on the fly without the leadership they had relied on.
There was only one church…no denominational divisions or institutions.
The earliest church was run by democratically elected elders with deacons serving under them. Bishops soon grew out of this structure and by the middle of this century most churches had a bishop, elders, and deacons overseeing the local congregations. It was, if you will, a “senior pastor” model with real direction from congregationally elected elders. At this juncture we do not see one bishop in authority over other bishops.
“Follow, all of you, the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father; and follow the presbytery as the Apostles. Moreover reverence the deacons as the commandment of God. Let no man do aught pertaining to the Church apart from the bishop. Let that eucharist be considered valid which is under the bishop or him to whom he commits it. Wheresoever the bishop appears, there let the people be, even as wheresoever Christ Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold a love-feast. But whatsoever he approves, that also is well-pleasing to God, that everything which you do may be secure and valid.” Ignatius: The Epistle to the Smyrnaens
The canon was not fully formed in this century. The church had the Old Testament, the Gospels and some of Pauls letters. Extra biblical writings were also read in the church, particularly The Shepherd of Hermes, The Epistle of Clement and the Epistle of Barnabas.
According to N.R. Needham this was the church service order. The service would have taken place in a private home, or under persecution, the desert.
Part 1: Service of the Word
1. Opening greeting by bishop and response by the congregation. Often, the bishop would say “The Lord be with you” and the congregation would respond, “And with your spirit.”
2. Old Testament Scripture reading. Usually read or chanted by a deacon.
3. Psalm or hymn (I). Chanted or sung.
4. New Testament Scripture reading (I). This first NT reading was from any NT book outside the gospels.
5. Psalm or hymn (II).
6. New Testament Scripture reading (II). From one of the four gospels.
7. Sermon. Delivered by the bishop, while seated.
8. Dismissal of all but baptized believers.
Part 2: The Eucharist
1. Congregational prayers. The prayer leader—the bishop in the West; senior deacon in the East—would announce the first topic. The congregation prayed silently for a while. Then the leader summed up the petitions with his own spoken prayer. Then he would do the same pattern again with a new topic. This was a lengthy part of the service. Early Christian art suggests that a typical posture from praying was standing, looking heavenward, with arms outstretched and palms up.
2. The Lord’s Supper. Here’s the order: (1) the bishop offered a greeting; (2) the congregation responded; (3) there was a “kiss of peace” (men to men, women to women); (4) church members brought their own small loaf of bread and flask of wine from home; the deacons took these and spread them out on the Lord’s table, emptying the flasks of wine into one large silver cup. (5) The bishop and the congregation engaged in a liturgical “dialogue” with the congregation; (6) the bishop led the congregation in prayer; (7) the bishop and the deacons broke the bread and distributed the cup to the congregation. (8) Something would be said to each member as he or she received the elements (e.g., “The bread of heaven in Christ Jesus,” with the response of “Amen.”) Unconsumed bread and wine would be taken home by church members to use for celebrating communion at home during the weekdays.
3. Benediction. E.g., “Depart in peace,” spoken by the deacon.
The service of the Word was open to believers and seekers…the Eucharist to baptized believers only.
Many of the core doctrines of the faith were in development, the primary writings of this century are more exhortational than theological.
There are clear writings that indicate that the church was pre millennial, but as a persecuted church, post tribulational.
There are declarations about the deity of Christ, Christ in true bodily form, and the virgin birth.
The Eucharist is believed to be the body and blood of the Lord.
There is a heavy emphasis in many writings on the importance of works.
There is a strong emphasis on caring for the poor.
Heresies they were fighting
Docetism: The teaching that Jesus did not have a physical body.
Marcionism: The teaching that there were two Gods in Scripture…a bad one in the OT and Jesus in the NT.
Montanism: The first charismatic fanatic.
Gnosticism: the teaching that the physical was sinful and only that which is spirit is pure.
Names you should know
Irenaeus of Lyons
Clement of Rome
Clement of Alexandria
This is my trial run on this series.
What info is interesting or valuable to you and what isn’t?
What do you want to know more about?
I pulled the church order service from http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2010/08/29/what-was-a-church-service-like-in-the-second-century/ because I don’t own that book in Kindle form to copy.
I like this. I am not well versed on this kind of church history and details.
I have a physical copy of “Early Christian Writings” put out by Penguin Classics.
It has writings from Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Diognetus.
Also has the Epistle of Barnabas and the Didache.
I have a separate book with the writings of Clement of Alexandria.
The first book I pick up and read probably about twice a year. Good stuff in there.
I have read Clement of Alexandria a few times, but he doesn’t engage my attention like the other.
Yes, more evidence of how subjective the Christian* religion is as evidenced by its early roots and how far things have changed since, including “god’s word” which was effectively a much different bible then vs. now.
I think this is a great article, Michael. Good job.
The Order of Service is very much like (practically identical) to the Orthodox Liturgy which I participated in this morning.
For instance, a major major “essential” was not developed: The Trinity was not a solid concept yet nor was it taught and practiced and a consensus until centuries later.
I think this series is valuable as long as you tell the truth and don’t sugar-coat the consensus history of the early church and how subjective things like the canon process etc truly were.
The doctrine of the Trinity was still under development, especially the place of the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t mean it’s not true, however.
I’m leaving it up to you to note that the church was very much an eastern church at this point…not a western one.
X, agreed, but it illustrates, essentially, that the supposed “canon” isn’t really closed…as the words of the bible require interpretation and “this is what it really says!” etc and illustrates a form of progressive revelation that is undeniable.
A major major major key construct of today’s Christianity was not, in fact, in place in the early early church, nor was the official “canonical bible” of today.
Were those folks officially “saved”? But, they didn’t have the whole bible? They didn’t have the Trinity? etc etc. How could they be saved? Very illustrative of the subjective nature of even post-resurrection Christianity.
These are a bunch of work so I want to know what you all find valuable and what you don’t.
I would rather provide stuff that interests and edifies more than just facts.
Here’s a modern English translation of the Apostolic Fathers that is easy to ready without being dumbed down:
Church history and the anomalies of the making of the sausage should cause intellectually honest folks to become much more liberal in their theology.
We know there was no “Bible” in the early centuries, not a book in codex form with the Gen to Rev table of contents we have now. This is no secret! The Bible of the first century Church was the Septuagint version of the Old Testament and when they studied the Scriptures, that’s what they were studying and believe me, they found traces of Christ all over the Old Testament. They also had the letters of Sts Paul and Peter, etc, as they were being written, copied, and passed around to be read in the churches.and other pious writings as well. But mostly in the first few centuries they had oral tradition, that which was handed down* from the Apostles, who received it from Christ and from the Holy Spirit.
So it is not a big problem that they didn’t have much of a NT in those days.
*”Handed down” is what “tradition” means.
All these documents are also available for free online.
I feel rotten or I would have linked it all up.
X, it does matter from the jot and tittle literalist position. Matters big time.
“god’s word NEVER changes! Not one jot or tittle has been added or subtracted!” blah, blah, blah.
The early early church is huge in debunking and exposing the “bible jot and tittle and doctrine is god!” position as being a (probably) intentional lie at worst and ignorant at best.
Well, I was thinking of joining in, but I think I will bow out.
Good article, Michael.
I do agree that it matters much less to an EO type position or a Charismatic position or a position that has much less rigid when it comes to today’s version of the “bible” as god.
Good. Less uninteresting and ill-thought-out stuff to have to wade through.
I find that the irreducible minimum, time and time again, is each believer and their personal relationship with Jesus, regardless of the sophistication of church theology or any of our understanding. The gospels are full of individuals who simply reached out to this extraordinary person, Jesus, Who met each where they were and changed them forever for the better.
Theology is secondary to relationship, especially when The One Who does all the reaching out, all the drawing to Him, is the Eternal God Who lived among us and rose from the dead to forever prove His love to us.
101, 201, 301… love reaches beyond whatever understandings we think we have at any point in history
Thank You, Jesus!
Your contributions are appreciated here.
I don’t want to give any grief tonight, while you are sick.
G, interesting that the early early pre-Constantine church was pretty much 4 Gospels and not much in the way of sophisticated Doctrine-is-God construct as it has evolved into, no?
And because of this, many heresies developed, especially Arianism (“Jesus was created”) and had to be corrected by doctrinal formulations such as the Nicene Creed.
But this is for another century and another article.
You notice in the Order of Service Michael posted that there were five Scripture readings and only one of them was from a Gospel.
But I think it is a true observation that the Gospels are in a class all by themselves in the Early (and modern EO) Church. Most homilies seem based on the Gospel reading and the Gospels are bound together in a separate book from the Epistles, the Psalms, and the OT (for liturgical use.) A Gospel book is treated with great reverence and all must stand when a passage from the Gospel is being read.
It’s all fascinating to me…when you look at their primary emphases it doesn’t look much like American evangelicalism at this point in history.
8. Dismissal of all but baptized believers.
What was it that prevented some believers from having been baptized? It seems like something that would have taken place at or very near the time of conversion.
I think this is a good thing to do Michael.
I don’t want you to get lost in the shuffle here…it’s important to me to know what to bring more of…and what to bring less of.
Been asked by the host (nicely) to leave again due to the offense it creates for others on here. I don’t think you’ll learn much truth by regurgitating wrote dogma back-and-forth without critical thinking, but maybe that’s your goal. Knock yourselves out.
#26 good point.
The early church was very invested in catechizing new believers before they were baptized, as baptism was the entry into the church.
It was to educate them…and to keep out spies that might have been looking to create issues for the church in terms of persecution.
As observers of the legacy left by those before us, yes, I’m drawn to that conclusion, though “doctrine-is-god” isn’t what resonates with me as much as perhaps characterizing our collective faith’s cry for “GodHereNow”. We desperately want to interact with a supernatural Person and we have the letters & stories of our family who came before us who tell us of this wonder ours and amazing God.
As I’ve continued to represent, my personal focus is to zero in on Jesus, because He claimed to be One Who forgives sin, hears prayer, is transcendent and able to be present wherever any group of His followers are gathered with a focus on His presence. I can only frame my entire faith on Him because He is consistent in those gospel accounts.
I’m fascinated to see how those of us here in 2014 USA can make sense of these centuries of church theological conclusions. A lot of them are as disconnected as the movement to have christian women return to wearing headcoverings
The dismissal of the catechumans (the “unbaptized”) was because they were not permitted to receive the Eucharist, which is the focus of the 2nd half of the Liturgy. They went of to what we might today call Sunday School to receive instruction.
That part is still in the Orthodox Liturgy: “Catechumens depart, let all that be among the Catechumens depart.” Nowadays, they don’t have to leave. In some parishes, they go up to receive a special prayers and the congregation (“the faithful”) are asked to pray for them. They stick around for the 2nd half of the LIturgy but may not receive Communion.
I suspected that Michael. I’ve seen people baptized when asked to come forward and there’s nothing that takes place between the calling forward and the baptism that immediately followed. I recall in Acts where there was immediate baptism without what might be described as catechizing.
So it seems things changed a bit from the time of Acts and here in the 2nd century??
the movement to have christian women return to wearing headcoverings<<<
We do that, too.
What is Catholic genuflection all about? What were the roots of the custom?
Thank you for respecting what I’m trying to do here.
It is much appreciated.
Excellent Michael. Thank you. God bless you. Be well. Praying for you.
Good article, Michael. I look forward to the series and appreciate the hard work that is involved.
1) Was the bread people brought from their own homes supposed to be unleavened. Any stipulations on that?
2) How long was a typical service (including the secondary part for the baptized believers only.)
Thank you, Paige!
I’ll have to research that…and I will.
1…not to my knowledge….not that I remember in any of the documents.
2. Originally the Eucharist and love feast was an evening service unto itself…and lasted as long as a typical evening out these days.
The services were combined mid century and Frank James estimates at least three hours long.
Thank you for all the good input folks…I’m not feeling well, but I’ll follow up tomorrow.
The bread was leavened.
In fact, the leavened vs unleavened bread was one of the issues that led to the Schism of East and West.
It is possible that the Eucharist and the Agape Feast were not the same thing.
Quick note before I lay down…
Xenia, myself, and the other students of church history here may not always agree on some things.
That doesn’t mean that any of us are “wrong”.
We have limited data on this period and we come from different interpretational schools.
I would tell you to put a lot of weight on Xenias understanding here…the church was very much Eastern at this point and her understanding of that school far exceeds mine.
This will be more educational for all of us because of that.
Xenia, was there a reason for those who supported the leavened bread..doctrinal reason that is. I’m sure it was easier to bring for the average person.
Was there some sort of negative idea to “Jewish bread” or any such thing like that?
Good start Michael.
In terms of the canon, Marcion, while a heretic, listed a canon that Christians believed. So there’s that angle of what was being used @ 130 AD.
Look forward to the discussion!
Steve, the idea was that risen bread is “alive” and not dead like a flat wafer as we ourselves are alive with the Holy Spirit. And you are right, since it is made at home, it’s easier to make. Our priest bakes ours. I don’t now if it’s a reaction to Jewish passover bread…. could be a factor.
Google “azymes” for more information on this.
To Papias’ point. The Marcion canon included all of Paul’s letters (incl. Philemon) with the exception of the 3 pastoral letters.
It also included Luke (but interestingly, no Acts). Nothing else.
This is excellent. Thanks Michael for caring enough about the roots of our faith community enough to do this for us.
Great post Michael. Look forward to more installments
Thank you for this thread. I think this idea is integral to our core beliefs and should challenge every believer to begin deciphering between the irreducible core of our faith and all that other stuff we encounter in our manifold Christian “god-cultures” though out the ages.
I ressonate with what #34 states: God-with-us. Isn’t that the core of the Gospel after all? God has capitulated and we can know Him relationally, as well as “of Him” intellectually?
@ #7 The incarnation was , and still is, mind blowing and messy. Why should we be surprised that the process of preserving faith through the eons (canonization process etc.) turns out to be “messy” as well? It’s one of the many mysteries of the church age. Ain’t I messy? Ain’t you messy too?
IMO–We need to stop being thrown off guard by every expression of the Christian faith that does not resemble 21st century American Christendoms’ shiny facade. God has been at this calling/loving/saving thing for a very long while and has remained sovereign through every age. Aren’t we–modern believers– the ones who ironically and unnecessarily bristle at every new “adjustment” the church deems necessary? And yet–we must –I must–look honestly at how much has changed without forfeiting my faith in God’s mysterious ways. Of course all of this stays off the radar if we neglect our Christian history lessons!
I hope to read more on this topic from you, Michael. Christian History has been missing from so many of the teaching situations I have met with in modern churches. It’s time this gap is finally, honestly and unapologetically filled in. Pull out the dusty old photo albums–it’s time to get acquainted with our kin.
Looks like a good primer for my next trip to the public library…..they have very good selection.
I wont by adding citations as well I just dont have the energy but these are just my observations. I think the Church was confused and somewhat bewildered because Christ had not returned, in my opinion the first century church was very sure Christ would return before the end of the century or closely there after. The second, Baptism was necessary for salvation either as a sacrament or in some way or another maybe not like the RC or EO define it. The Lords Supper was very important to corporate worship unlike in most non denom churches. The other issue is there was no set canon, though there was several partial lists. The church suffered persecution and struggle. It rose in the ranks of the roman empire, the separation from the Jewish / temple roots were totally severed and the two faiths became more distinct. Apologetics and responses to “pagan” antagonist took on more clarity. It is an unmistakable fact that the second century church was very little like most nondenoms churches. My one point that I am rather sure of, there is no way we can live in their world, it just cant happen. We live in different universes to be honest.
We find this concept of handing down — the idea of certain set teachings being transmitted or delivered by Christ to the apostles and by them to the church — in the New Testament epistles themselves:
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. . . . For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you. . . . (1 Cor 11.1-2, 23)
I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (2 Thes 2.15)
The word “tradition” here means something handed over, something passed down. The content of that tradition goes back to Christ, as Paul says. Christ himself says so as well in the Great Commission.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28.18-20).
The transmission of gospel truth — all of it — extends from Christ to the apostles and through them to the saints, the church. That’s the assumption of the New Testament writers and the early church, which relied on the content of the tradition before there was a New Testament, strictly speaking.
This study thread is great Michael.
I have had such a busy weekend, and Mondays and Tuesdays we are out most of the day…hoping to have time this evening to catch up on this thread. I would love to engage some with this!! Michael…I think this is a wonderful idea.
As I was reading the order of service in the ancient church, it was as if I was reading the order of a high Anglican service.
Except for the “risen” bread. I love what Xenia said about that! Any of the Anglican services I have been to have used the little wafers.
Question to throw out there for the day.
I will be working so I won’t be able to join in, but I look forward to responses.
Last night, I decided to read a few things.
While reading the Didache, I was struck by the part dealing with the Eucharist.
Now, the Didache is considered by some to be the earliest non-canonical Christian writing and some think it pre-dates the time period that Michael is using for this article.
Nevertheless, it sort of pertains to my question.
The Didache does not seem to teach that, at the time it was written, the transubstantiation view was in use.
So, when did this view begin to emerge?
I know the article says it was in use in the time period in question, but which of the authors from this time began to show this view?
There are clear writings that indicate that the church was pre millennial, but as a persecuted church, post tribulational.
I found this interesting. It sounds like the early church was in a way partial preterists. I can’t for the life of me figure out why some groups are so dogmatic about eschatology especially the hyper dispensationalists are as in many CCs. There are great teachers on both sides of this issue and as Michael pointed out the early church seems to have been a balanced combination of the extremes we see today.
This is great…I look forward to reading this series.
What’s interesting to me, is that the early heresies are still alive and well under new names and practices.
Especially the neo-Gnosticism (or neo-Platonism) that is alive and well in evangelicalism.
This is an excellent start on a concise intro to church history. Thank you. But I have two requests of you:
1. Add in more links, as you can, to free sources for more research
2. When done with your series, put it together into a book and self-publish it. I think many will find it a helpful reference that won’t overwhelm like many huge history volumes can. Put it together as an e-book and a print version. (If you need any advice on either, contact me- I’ve done my own novels and business guidebooks)
Again, please bring all of this together into a small book when the series is done.
That’s a great question…and helps us to wrestle with how we interpret the data we have.
Here also we need to be cautious…”transubstantiation” is a later theological development…the church at this point doesn’t have those terms.
As you read a Clement or a Justin Martyr you seem to get all the explanations we have of the Eucharist at the same time…the writings lack theological precision.
There is an overall sense of the “real presence” until you pick up the Didache and find an almost entirely different understanding of the Supper.
I missed this article somehow, this is pretty cool. Thanks for the hard work. I won’t have time to comment much, but will enjoy reading these.
Good post Michael.
As to doctrine, yes, I was greatly surprised to read Irenaeus’ view of the Eucharist being the body and blood of the Lord.. I’d have to dig some more to see who else believed it. Pre-trib wasn’t really a consideration, the early church became almost obsessed with suffering, particularly Tertullian.
Just catching up on comments from this weekend. This is a most interesting and useful thread for me personally. I’ve never studied the history of the church and I appreciate Michael and Xenia and others information and comments. Thank you all and I hope you are feeling better Michael. Don’t overdo and rest as much as you can.
Adding my words of appreciation for this article and some of the resulting conversation in the comments. I don’t know a lot of detail in regards to church history so I appreciate being able to read some here and learn a good bit in a quick read.
pstrmike, they all believed the Eucharist was the body and blood of the Lord. It was one of the central doctrines of the Church and not to believe it was considered gnostic.
The early church is one of my favorite topics and I can get overly enthusiastic and talkative, please forgive me!
from St. Justin Martyr (before 200 AD), as an example:
“For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour,having been made flesh and blood for our salvation,so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word,and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished,is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”
(Justin Martyr,First Apology,66(A.D. 110-165),in ANF,I:185)
I would like to read more posts like this.
Thanks for the clarifications, y’all.
I see where you are coming from in the differentiation between transubstantiation and the less built up doctrine, Michael.
X, I looked up some other quotes from other Anti-Nicene Fathers and found that, indeed, it was as your #71 states.
I was looking up the Montanists.
Sounds familiar there, but so do most of the heresies mentioned above.
Looks like some don’t think Montanism is rightly a heresy though, since they still held the core doctrines in common with everyone else.
Anyone know a bit more on that?
Michael, I really appreciate Judeo-Christian material from 300 BC to 300 AD. You’re doing a good thing with this. And along this line, thanks for recommending “Fight” — it was a great audiobook.
It is not widely known, but the Christians of the first two centuries were overwhelmingly Republican.