SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Looking for free sermon messages?
Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video

SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER III The Extension of the Church throughout the World

A Key To The Knowledge Of Church History by John Henry Blunt

CHAPTER III The Extension of the Church throughout the World

A.D.45-70

Section 1. The First Mission to the Gentiles.

[Sidenote: A.D.45.]

[Sidenote: St. Paul and St. Barnabas sent to preach to the heathen.]

It would seem that in the special Eucharistic offerings and Lenten discipline mentioned by St. Luke, the Church in Antioch was seeking guidance of her Divine Head as to her duties with respect to the gentile world in the midst of which she was placed; and that the command of the Holy Ghost to consecrate St. Paul and St. Barnabas as Apostles to the heathen was an answer to her cry.

We are not told whose |hands| were |laid| on the two newly-made Apostles in the solemn Consecration Service which followed, but it is likely that St. Peter was at that time at Antioch, and also that the Church in that city was already governed by a Bishop of its own. [Sidenote: They complete the Apostolic number.] It may here be remarked that the number of the Apostles was now completed. Those whom they ordained to be {31} Bishops or Overseers in the Church of God, as St. Timothy at Ephesus, and St. Titus at Crete, though they received in the |laying on of hands| power to execute such of the highest offices of the Apostolic function as were to be perpetually continued to the Church, yet were not fully Apostles. [Sidenote: Difference between Bishops and Apostles.] They had grace given to them to confirm, to ordain, and to communicate the power of ordaining to others, but they were not endowed with the extraordinary and supernatural gifts bestowed by the Holy Ghost for the Foundation of the Church; nor did they receive the same direct and outward call as was vouchsafed to the Twelve by our Lord Himself, and to St. Paul and St. Barnabas by the special appointment of the Holy Spirit. They were not to found the Church, but to build up on its Apostolic foundations.

[Sidenote: Mission to Cyprus.]

The first missionary journey of St. Paul and St. Barnabas was to Cyprus, the native country of the latter. Here the preaching of the Gospel, begun in the Jewish synagogue, was continued before the heathen proconsul Sergius Paulus; and through it and the judicial blindness inflicted by St. Paul on the false prophet Elymas, the gentile ruler was won to Christ. [Sidenote: St. Paul, the chief Apostle of the Gentiles.] St. Paul had now begun to take the lead as the chief Apostle of the Gentiles; it was he who, at Antioch in Pisidia, preached that sermon to the Jews which they would not heed, but which found acceptance with the heathen whom they despised. [Sidenote: Missionary journey through Asia Minor.] The Jews persecuted and blasphemed, but the Gentiles believed; and, in the account given {32} us of the labours of the Apostles here and at Iconium, we are reminded of the multitude of conversions and of the gladness of heart of the converted in the first days after the great Day of Pentecost.

[Sidenote: A.D.46.]

At Lystra the Apostles found themselves for the first time in the midst of a thoroughly heathen population, without any admixture of Jews; but here also they did not hesitate to preach the first Christian |Apology against Heathenism,| and to display the miraculous powers with which the Holy Ghost had gifted them. [Sidenote: The Apostles confirm and ordain.] Their Jewish persecutors followed them and drove them to Derbe, the farthest limit of their journey; and from thence they retraced their steps, visiting each place where they had preached the Gospel, |confirming| their numerous converts, and |ordaining| Elders or Presbyters to have the care of those who were thus admitted to the full communion of the Church.

Section 2. The Ministry of the Apostolic Church.

[Sidenote: A.D.46. Ordination of priests.]

This is the first mention we have of the ordination of Elders, or Presbyters (or Priests, as we are most in the habit of calling them), though the fact of the existence of such officers has already been hinted at as well-known and recognized. Thus we see that, as when at first |the number of the disciples was multiplied,| the Apostles delegated part of their work to the Order of Deacons, so {33} afterwards, when the Church continued to grow and increase, they provided for her needs by instituting the Order of the Priesthood, conferring on others, in God's Name and by His Authority, a larger portion of the ministerial grace they had themselves received from Him. [Sidenote: Functions of the Priesthood.] The distinguishing Grace given to those who were called to the Office of Elder or Presbyter by the |laying on of hands,| was, as it still is, the power of consecrating and offering the Holy Eucharist, that so, according to St. Paul's words to the Elders of Ephesus, they may |feed the Church of God,| not as in the case of the Deacons, with |the meat that perisheth,| but with |the Bread of God, which cometh down from Heaven.|

[Sidenote: Consecration of Bishops]

Of the Ordination of Bishops, apart from the Apostolate, we have no mention in the Book of the Acts; but that the Apostles did ordain successors to themselves, so far as their office was to be perpetual in the Church, we have ample proofs in the Epistles of St. Paul to St. Timothy and St. Titus. [Sidenote: Their functions.] To both these holy men, Bishops or Overseers of the Church in Ephesus and Crete respectively, St. Paul gives injunctions as to their duties, particularly in ordaining Elders or Priests, the distinguishing work of a Bishop.

Section 3. The First Council of the Church.

[Sidenote: A.D.46-51.]

For a |long time| after the return of St. Paul and St. Barnabas to Antioch, with the news that God had, through their {34} instrumentality, |opened the Door of Faith to the Gentiles,| the Church in that city seems to have continued to flourish in peace and prosperity. [Sidenote: Difficulties as to the observance of Jewish rites.] But difficulties with regard to the observance or non-observance by the Gentile converts of the rite of circumcision and other precepts of the Mosaic law, arose to disturb this quiet.

[Sidenote: A.D.52. Hebrew Jews go to Antioch.]

The Hellenist clergy in Antioch, less wedded to Judaism, had apparently received into communion, without doubt or question, those amongst the heathen around the city who had been added to the number of the faithful by Holy Baptism; but when tidings of this freedom of communion reached the more severely Hebrew Christians at Jerusalem, certain Hebrew Jews of them hurried to Antioch, anxious to bring the converts there under the yoke of the law. Though unauthorized in this mission by the rulers of the Church in Jerusalem, they urged with such persistency the necessity of circumcision for the salvation of all, that the opposition of St. Paul and St. Barnabas only raised |no small dissension and disputation,| and it was agreed that the advice of the Apostles and Presbyters at Jerusalem should be sought on this important question. [Sidenote: St. Paul and St. Barnabas go to Jerusalem.] St. Paul and St. Barnabas then, |and certain others with them| (amongst whom was Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile convert), went up to Jerusalem, where at this time happened to be St. Peter and St. John, as well as St. James, the Bishop of that Church.

{35}

[Sidenote: The First Council.]

The Apostles and Elders, under the presidency of St. James, met together in the First Council of the Church, a large body of the laity being also present, not indeed to take part in the discussion, but to hear it, and to receive and acknowledge the decision arrived at.

St. Peter, who had first been commissioned to carry the tidings of the Gospel to the Gentiles, boldly proclaimed the sufficiency of |the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ| for their salvation, and St. James, who was probably himself a very strict observer of the Jewish law, yet did not hesitate to declare that it had no binding force on those who were not Jews by birth. [Sidenote: St. James presides as Bishop of Jerusalem. Decree of the Council.] He, as President of the Council, proposed the decree to which the rest agreed, and which was in substance, that the Gentile Christians should be commanded so far to respect Jewish prejudices as to |abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled,| whilst they were also enjoined to keep themselves from the sin of |fornication,| into which the Gentile world was so deeply sunk.

The decrees of the Council did not enter into or provide any solution of the minor difficulties connected with the intercourse between Jews and Gentiles in the Church of Christ. Doubtless |it seemed good to the Holy Ghost| that these questions should be left to be solved by time and experience and the general exercise of His Gift of Wisdom.

{36}

[Sidenote: Claim for Divine Authority. Guidance of the Holy Spirit vouchsafed to General Councils.]

We can hardly fail to be struck by the confident language in which the First Council of the Church claims for its decisions the full weight of Divine Authority; and though it differed from later Catholic Councils in that it was presided over by inspired men, yet we may well believe that to those General Councils which really deserved the name, the Holy Spirit vouchsafed such a special measure of His guiding Power, as might suffice to preserve their decisions from error, and enable them to hand down unblemished the deposit of Truth which Christ left with His Church.

Section 4. St. Paul's Second Apostolic Journey.

[Sidenote: A.D.53. St. Peter's probable visit to Antioch.]

St. Paul and St. Barnabas bore back to the Church in Antioch the decree of the Council at Jerusalem, and it was probably about this time that St. Peter paid to Antioch the visit of which we read in the Epistle to the Galatians, when his fear of |them which were of the circumcision,| led him to shrink from continuing to eat and drink with the Gentiles, and drew down St. Paul's stern rebuke. [Sidenote: Separation of St. Paul and St. Barnabas.] The difference of opinion about St. Mark soon after separated the two Apostles, whose labours amongst the heathen had been till now carried on together, and St. Paul began his missionary travels without an Apostolic companion. He went first through Syria and his native country Cilicia, {37} |confirming| the baptized, and then to the scene of his first contact with actual heathendom at Derbe and Lystra. St. Paul's course of conduct with regard to the circumcision of St. Timothy, a native of Lystra, shows us clearly how fully his mind had grasped all the bearings of the question between Jews and Gentiles. [Sidenote: St. Paul's indifference to circumcision in itself.] Circumcision and uncircumcision were alike matters of indifference to him, in no way affecting salvation, excepting so far as they might tend to the edification of others. He did not blame those converted Jews who still thought it needful to observe the Mosaic law, but he resisted to the uttermost all attempts to make that law binding on the Gentiles, and would not sanction any thing which might seem to imply that the Life-giving ordinances of the Gospel were not sufficient for every need. St. Timothy, uncircumcised, would have obtained no hearing from Jews for the Gospel he preached, and therefore he was circumcised as a measure of Christian expediency.

[Sidenote: St. Paul crosses over to Europe. St. Luke joins him.]

After founding Churches in the semi-barbarous regions of Phrygia and Galatia, St. Paul was led by the express direction of the Holy Spirit to an altogether new field of labour, and it is here, just on the eve of St. Paul's departure from Asia for the continent of Europe, that St. Luke joins the Apostolic company. [Sidenote: Jewish influences give way to Greece and Rome.] The Church was now spreading far westward and coming into closer contact with the philosophy of Greece and the power of Rome, whilst Jewish influences shrank into insignificance. There was no synagogue in the large and important Roman colony of Philippi, {38} and only women seem to have resorted to the place of prayer outside the walls of the city, whilst at Thessalonica, where the one synagogue for the whole district was situated, the accusation of the Jews against the preachers of the Gospel was no longer of a religious, but of a political nature. [Sidenote: Opposition to the Gospel political.] |These all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar.| In same way the malice of the rulers of the Jews against the Divine Head of the Church had found vent in assertions of His plotting to destroy the Temple, or to make Himself a King, according as the Jewish populace or the Roman governor was to be stirred up against Him.

But if Jewish prejudices no longer offered the same formidable opposition to the soldiers of the Cross, as before in Palestine and the neighbouring countries, the Apostle and his fellow-labourers had now to encounter fresh enemies not less deadly. [Sidenote: Vice and superstition mixed with intellectual unbelief.] In the highly civilized cities of Greece they encountered on the one hand the full tide of heathenism with all its degrading vices and superstitions, and on the other, Pagan philosophy with its hard sceptical temper and intellectual pride. Influences such as these may account for the comparatively small results which seem to have followed the preaching of St. Paul at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea, and the prominence given to women as being more easily touched by the good tidings of the Gospel. [Sidenote: Open conflict with Satan.] At Philippi is noticeable the conflict between the visible power of Satan and the Power of {39} One stronger than he, in the casting out by St. Paul of the evil spirit of Python from the soothsaying woman. This was an earnest of the final issue of that great contest between the kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of God, which was now beginning in the very strongholds of darkness, and is to continue to the end of time.

We may also remark the first mention of the title and rights of a Roman citizen claimed by St. Paul for himself and St. Silas after their illegal imprisonment.

[Sidenote: A.D.54. Athenians little inclined to believe.]

At Athens St. Paul came in contact with the most intellectual and philosophical minds of heathendom; but heathen philosophy made the Athenians very little inclined to accept the supernatural mysteries of the Christian Faith. They listened indeed with eager curiosity to the |new thing| which the great Apostle proclaimed |in the midst of Mars' Hill;| and yet when their intellectual pride was required to bow itself down, to acknowledge something more than a Neology, and to believe in the supernaturalism of the Resurrection, they only |mocked| the teacher. St. Paul, therefore, departed from the city where his cultivated mind had been stirred at the sight of so many great intellects |wholly given to idolatry.| [Sidenote: Athens afterwards a Bishopric.] But yet his visit was not without its fruits; and Dionysius, a member of the great Council of the Areopagus, is believed to have been the first Bishop of the Church in Athens.

{40}

[Sidenote: Corinth the centre of the Church in Greece.]

From Athens St. Paul went to Corinth, and it was in this luxurious and profligate city that he founded a Church which became the centre of Christianity in Greece. [Sidenote: St. Paul turns from the Jews.] The obstinate unbelief and blasphemous opposition of the Corinthian Jews caused St. Paul, for the first time, to withdraw himself entirely from the services of the synagogue; but he continued at Corinth a year and six months, being protected, according to God's special promise to him, from all the machinations of his Jewish enemies. [Sidenote: Opposes the errors of Greek philosophy.] This lengthened stay was probably occasioned not only by the presence of |much people| who were to be converted to Christ, but also by the necessity of strengthening the Corinthian converts against the subtleties of the heathen philosophy by which they were surrounded, and with which St. Paul was well fitted to cope by his early education. The errors of Gnosticism seem also to have penetrated at this time as far as Corinth.

[Sidenote: A.D.55. A.D.56.]

After leaving Corinth, St. Paul paid a hasty visit to Ephesus, and then, for the last time, returned to Antioch.

Section 5. St. Paul's Third Apostolic Journey.

[Sidenote: A.D.56.]

[Sidenote: Ephesus the centre of the Church in Asia Minor.]

The next journey of the great Apostle of the Gentiles led him first through Galatia and Phrygia, |strengthening| the Churches he had already founded, and then brought him to the rich and important maritime city of Ephesus, destined to be a third great centre of the Gentile Church, and to hold in Asia Minor the same position as did Corinth in Greece {41} and Antioch in Syria. Here again St. Paul was forced to withdraw altogether from the Jewish synagogue, after three months of earnest preaching and teaching.

Ephesus was the great seat of the worship of the heathen goddess Diana, or Artemis, and was also full of those who practised |magical arts| or sorceries, so that its inhabitants were doubly enslaved by the Evil One. But the kingdom of darkness could not stand against the Kingdom of Light. [Sidenote: Great power given to the Church. A.D.57. A.D.58.] Great as was the power of Satan, still more mighty was the Power which the Lord Jesus gave to His Church. |Special miracles| were wrought in the place of |lying wonders;| the Jewish exorcists were confounded, and the sincerity of the Christian converts was proved by the costly sacrifice of their once-prized books of magic. |So mightily grew the Word of God and prevailed.|

St. Paul passed between two and three years at Ephesus, during which time he is supposed to have founded the Church in Crete, leaving St. Titus as its Bishop, whilst Ephesus was placed under the episcopal charge of St. Timothy. But eventually the riot excited by Demetrius drove the Apostle from that city. [Sidenote: A.D.59. A.D.60.] [Sidenote: His visitation charge to the Elders of Ephesus.] On his return to the neighbouring city of Miletus, after his journey through Greece and Macedonia, we read of his sending to Ephesus for the clergy of that place, and delivering to them a solemn charge respecting their duties to the flock which God had entrusted to their care.

It is during St. Paul's long sojourn at Ephesus that we have the first indication of his intention to visit the {42} remoter regions of the West, and more particularly its capital, imperial Rome. He probably at that time expected to see its wonders under different circumstances than those of a prisoner, though before he finished his homeward journey to Jerusalem, he had supernatural warnings of what was coming upon him from the malice of his Jewish enemies.

Section 6. St. Paul at Rome.

[Sidenote: A.D.60.]

The anxiety which St. Paul ever felt to avoid giving unnecessary offence to his fellow-countrymen, and his readiness to follow the precepts of Judaism when they did not interfere with the liberty of Christianity, were, in God's good Providence, the indirect means of his being sent to preach the glad tidings of salvation, not in Rome only, but in still more distant countries. [Sidenote: St. Paul goes to Rome. A.D.63-65.] It will not be necessary to enter into the particulars which drew upon St. Paul the unjust indignation of the Jews, and induced him to appeal from their persecutions and the popularity-seeking of Festus to the justice of the emperor: we need only remember that the conclusion of the Book of the Acts shows him to us a prisoner |in his own hired house| at Rome, and there preaching and teaching |with all confidence,| first, as ever, to the Jews, and afterwards to the Gentiles.

{43}

Section 7. Extent of the Labours of the Apostles.

We are told but little in Holy Scripture as to the particulars of the Apostles' work in founding the Church of God, except in the case of St. Paul, and we are not allowed to trace even his labours to their end. [Sidenote: Preaching of the Apostles in all known countries.] From other sources we learn that the twelve visited almost every known country of the world, so as to give to each separate race of men then existing an opportunity of refusing or accepting the offer of the salvation of which they were the ministers and stewards. We are also told that all, except St. John and perhaps St. Matthew, crowned their life of toil in the service of their Lord by a martyr's death. St. Peter and St. Paul both suffered at Rome in the First Persecution under Nero, and most likely on the same day, A.D.67.

The following Table will show the probable field of the labours of each Apostle, so far as the record of it has come down to us: --

{44}

Supposed Fields of Apostolic Labour.

Name of Churches. By whom Founded.

Palestine and Syria All the Apostles.

Mesopotamia (Turkey in Asia) St. Peter and St. Jude.

Persia St. Bartholomew and St. Jude

India St. Bartholomew and St. Thomas.

Thrace (Turkey in Europe) St. Andrew. The flourishing Church of Constantinople
afterwards sprang up on this
field of his labours.

Scythia (Russia) St. Andrew.

North Africa (Egypt and St. Simon Zelotes. St. Mark Algeria) specially connected with Alexandria.

Ethiopia (Central Africa). St. Matthew.

Arabia. St. Paul.

Asia Minor (Turkey in Asia) St. Paul and St. John.

Macedonia (Turkey in Europe) St. Paul

Greece St. Paul.

Italy St. Peter and St. Paul.

Spain St. Paul.

Gaul (France) and Britain St. Paul and St. Joseph of Arimathea.

Acts xiii.2.

The first offers of salvation continued to be made to the Jews, even after the recognition by the Church of her mission to the Gentiles.

Acts xiii.48, 49, 52; xiv.1.

Acts xiv.23.

|presbyter,| afterwards shortened into |Prester| and |Priest,| is derived from the Greek word |Presbyteros,| |an Elder.|

Acts xi.30.

Acts xx.28.

The word |Bishop| is derived from the Greek |Episcopos,| and signifies an overseer.

1 Tim. v.1, 19, 22. 2 Tim. i.6. Titus i.5; ii.15.

Acts xv.24.

Gal. ii.3.

Gal. ii.9.

St. James, as Bishop of the Diocese, taking precedence in this instance even of St. Peter.

Compare Acts xv.6.12.

This is the last mention of St. Peter in the Book of Acts.

Gal. ii.11-14.

Acts xv.36-41. The last mention of St. Barnabas in the Book of Acts.

Compare Acts xvi.3; and Gal. ii.3, 4.

Acts xvii.7. Comp. Acts vi.11.

Comp. St. Mark xiv.58; and St. Luke xxiii.2.

Both Philippi and Thessalonica eventually became the seats of flourishing Christian Churches, to whom St. Paul wrote Epistles.

Acts xvii.16-33.

There are some reasons for thinking that men of cultivated minds and high social position were preferred for Bishops in the early as well as in later ages of the Church.

Acts xix.1-20.

Acts xx.17-35.

Acts xix.21.

Acts xx.23; xxi.11.

From Blunt's |Household Theology.|

{45}

<<  Contents  >>





©2002-2019 SermonIndex.net
Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Privacy Policy