It is the end of the second century A.D. A little more than one lifetime has passed since the last of the disciples of Jesus Himself, the apostle John, had fallen asleep
Christianity has been spreading like wildfire throughout the known world
Disciples of Jesus Christ were springing up everywhere it seemed. They boldly proclaimed that this Jesus Christ was Lord by their constant devotion and joyful obedience to all of the precepts and ordinances of Christ and His apostles. Though guilty of no vice and cheerful in their sufferings, the Christians nonetheless were universally considered by the pagans to be a reckless and miserable people indeed
Miserable, because the Christians gladly chose to be comparatively poorer than the pagans, and also because they utterly refused to attend the bloody arenas and violent games, or to watch the illicit and vulgar spectacles put on everywhere in the playhouses.
They were considered reckless too, because they were willing to stand against the civil authority, and the whole world too, choosing rather to die than to displease their Lord by breaking His commandments.
In the closing years of the second century, the elite political and economic social classes were furious, and had begun to stir up the people to call out for their blood. They were blaming every natural calamity and economic downturn that befell the Roman Empire on the Christians. In order to undermine their public credibility, unfounded rumors (which had circulated for years) were again being spread with intensity:
The Christians, it was said, were merely hypocrites who pretended to be holy and moral in the daylight, but behind closed doors they were actually engaged in drunken orgies during their secret meetings, even sacrificing their children and holding cannibalistic so-called Love feasts where pieces of infant flesh and cups of infant blood were passed around for the enjoyment of all!
Local government officials and even Emperors had heeded such baseless talk in the past, issuing edicts from time to time to persecute the Christian Church. As long as they lasted, such persecutions were agonizing and bloody ordeals: Church leaders would be taken, tortured, and killed, and when that failed to suppress the Church, men and women without distinction would be taken
Yet the Faith continued to grow. In fact, Christianity had grown very rapidly; so rapidly in fact that the Church was now, (towards the end of the second century), actually beginning to threaten the pagan social order of the Empire itself...
The gods, so long respected, were losing adherents; their temples, so long frequented and adorned by the superstitious masses, were now falling into disrepair; their treasuries, at all-time lows. This is why many were angry and this is why Christians would inevitably be facing persecution again in the days ahead
One Christian leader rose up to defend the Church at this time however. He was named Tertullian. Around 197 A.D., he wrote his renowned DEFENSE of the Christian Faith called "The APOLOGY". In it he famously taunted the Churchs blood-thirsty enemies:
The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed
We are but of yesterday, [yet] we have filled every place among youcities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum; we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods.
What a bold and courageous man, what a true Christian, to face torture and death by putting his name on such an uncompromising and bold public testimony for Jesus Christ!
We might be amazed today and think: I wonder what kind of Church he attended!?
How could the Church of his day produce so many fearlessly loyal and spiritually alive Christians?
What would it have been like to be present in their meetings, in a day when the oldest men in the Church could still remember being taught by the very disciples of the apostles themselves?
We dont have to wonder though. In Christianitys defense, Tertullian wrote this early Christian work in order to disprove all of the slander on one hand, and also to prove that Christianity was in fact the one true religion of the one true Creator God of the universe, on the other.
In order to accomplish these two tasks, one of the things he did in this work was to describe what the Christian Church was like in his day: In it he described:
1.What a true Church of Jesus was understood to be.
2.He described how leaders of the churches were chosen.
3-6.He described the main purposes of why they met and what they did when they met.
7.He pointed out that even the pagans were forced to admit the obvious virtue of the Christians of his day:
1. The Church was Understood to Be a Body of Believers United by a Common Faith, Discipline, and Hope:
We are a body knit together
by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope.
2. The Church Was Led Only By Men of Proven Character:
The tried men of our elders preside over us, obtaining that honour not by purchase, but by established character. There is no buying and selling of any sort in the things of God.
3. The Church Met in Order to Pray Together Earnestly to God:
We meet together as an assembly and congregation, that, offering up prayer to God as with united force, we may wrestle with Him in our supplications. This violence God delights in. We pray, too, for the emperors, for their [civil administrators] and for all in authority. [We pray] for the welfare of the world, for the prevalence of peace, [and] for the delay of the final consummation.
4. The Church Met in Order to Learn from the Holy Scriptures:
We assemble to read our sacred writings
; with the sacred words: we nourish our faith, we animate our hope, we make our confidence more steadfast; (and no less by the persistent teaching of Gods precepts), we confirm good habits.
5. The Church Met in Order to Maintain the Discipline of the Body:
In the same place also exhortations are made, rebukes and sacred censures are administered. For with a great seriousness is the work of judging carried on among us, as befits those who feel assured that they are in the sight of God; (and you have the most notable example of [the] Judgment to come, when any one has sinned so grievously as to require his severance from us
6. The Church Met to Pool Money Together For the Poor and the Persecuted:
Though we have our treasure-chest, it is not made up of purchase-money, as of a religion that has its price. On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are, as it were, pietys deposit fund. For they are not taken thence and spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of Gods Church, they become the nurslings of their confession.
7. The Church Was Renowned for Its Self-Sacrificing Love:
But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us:
SEE, they say, HOW THEY LOVE ONE ANOTHER!"
Tertullian The APOLOGY c. 197 A.D.