The planting of the church among the Gentiles is mainly the work of Paul; but Providence prepared the way for it by several steps, before this apostle entered upon his sublime mission.
1. By the conversion of those half-Gentiles and bitter enemies of the Jews, the Samaritans, under the preaching and baptism of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven deacons of Jerusalem, and under the confirming instruction of the apostles Peter and John. The gospel found ready entrance into Samaria, as had been prophetically hinted by the Lord in the conversation at Jacob's well. But there we meet also the first heretical perversion of Christianity by Simon Magus, whose hypocrisy and attempt to degrade the gift of the Holy Spirit received from Peter a terrible rebuke. (Hence the term simony, for sordid traffic in church offices and dignities.) This encounter of the prince of the apostles with the arch-heretic was regarded in the ancient church, and fancifully represented, as typifying the relation of ecclesiastical orthodoxy to deceptive heresy.
2. Somewhat later (between 37 and 40) occurred the conversion of the noble centurion, Cornelius of Caesarea, a pious proselyte of the gate, whom Peter, in consequence of a special revelation, received into the communion of the Christian church directly by baptism, without circumcision. This bold step the apostle had to vindicate to the strict Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, who thought circumcision a condition of salvation, and Judaism the only way to Christianity. Thus Peter laid the foundation also of the Gentile-Christian church. The event marked a revolution in Peter's mind, and his emancipation from the narrow prejudices of Judaism.
3. Still more important was the rise, at about the same time, of the church at Antioch the capital of Syria. This congregation formed under the influence of the Hellenist Barnabas of Cyprus and Paul of Tarsus, seems to have consisted from the first of converted heathens and Jews. It thus became the mother of Gentile Christendom, as Jerusalem was the mother and centre of Jewish. In Antioch, too, the name |Christian| first appeared, which was soon everywhere adopted, as well denoting the nature and mission as the followers of Christ, the divine-human prophet, priest, and king.
The other and older designations were disciples (of Christ the only Master), believers (in Christ as their Saviour), brethren (as members of the same family of the redeemed, bound together by a love which springs not from earth and will never cease), and saints (as those who are purified and consecrated to the service of God and called to perfect holiness).