Christianity and the Early Church – The Acts of the Apostles

Retell the story of what happened to the Christians immediately after Jesus died. Who was Peter and what changes did he make to the rules for being a Christian? Who was Paul and what changes did he make to the rules for being Christian? You should include some comments on how this was different to the Christianity preached by Jesus.

The four Gospels (that is the bits of the Bible that tell the story of Jesus while he was alive) all end with the resurrection and ascension (going up to Heaven) of Jesus. He leaves his disciples (followers) with one final command: to go and make disciples of all nations of men – in other words to spread his message to others. It is at this point the disciples become the apostles, that is ‘messengers’ of Jesus.

Problem is that many of the Jewish elders still think Christianity is blasphemy (against Jewish holy law) and want rid of the Christians. The Romans too will later see the Christians as a threat, most especially because they will not fight in the army like all the other slaves and seem impervious to threats! This means that Christianity becomes an outlawed religion and Christians can be killed once they are identified.

martyrdomChristianity will remain illegal for about 300 years and sees a huge amount of persecution under the Roman Emperor, Nero, and others. However, their more immediate troubles come from the Jewish synagogues who want to wipe out this threat to the Jewish faith. Caiaphas, the high priest in Jerusalem, a Rabbi named Gamaliel and one his students, Saul of Tarsus, begin a mission to track down and kill Christians.

pentecost01Christianity itself begins with Pentecost, when the apostles are together and are touched by the Holy Spirit in the form of ‘tongues of fire’ that come to rest upon them. They begin speaking in a language that all can understand and telling people from all over the world about the story of Jesus. Many are baptised into the Church and this is really the beginnings of Christianity as something more than a Jewish sect.

After this, Christianity begins to spread across the world and Saul of Tarsus is given power to track down Christian churches and close them down.

SaulHowever, on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus something happens to him and on arriving in Damascus he converts to Christianity and becomes a great Christian teacher. He spends the rest of his life in the service of Jesus until he is eventually killed by the emperor Nero in Rome. However, before all this he writes many of the books (in the form of letters) of the New Testament and has such a great impact on the future of Christianity that we often refer to it as Pauline Christianity.

Simon Peter and the other apostles are also important in this story, as is Jesus’ brother, James, whom plays a leading role in the new Church.

Try to find out about:

  • The day of Pentecost and what happened;
  • The vision of (Simon) Peter and how it changed how the new Christians behaved;
  • The conversion of Saul (into Paul);
  • The letters of St. Paul.

For each of these you might comment on how they affect the lives of Christians living today.

 

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