Waynedale United Methodist Church
Monday, March 30, 2020
Making Disciples of Jesus for the Transformation of the World!

July 10, 2016 Sermon

“The Church – 33 – 500AD”
Acts 8:26 – 40
Ted Jansen  July 10, 2016  Waynedale UMC
1.)        The church is almost 2,000 years old.  We can read about how it began, on the day of Pentecost, but how did it get to where it is today?  I invite you to take a journey through history and see where the church has come from as we live out the life of a church today.  I will look at a story from the book of Acts, which is the first history book we have of the church, then look at some time periods of approx. 500 years.  The main source of my message on church history is the book, “Church History in Plain Language” 2nd edition, by Bruce Shelley.    
2.)        Acts 8:26 – 40 is the account of an Ethiopian official and Philip.  The Ethiopian man was going home from his visit to worship in Jerusalem.  He was riding in his chariot reading from the book of Isaiah.  He was wondering what he was reading.  The scripture, which we understand as the Old Testament, was speaking about a life that was killed.  He did not understand who this was.   
            Philip was led by the Spirit to be near this man and ran to the man as he heard him reading from Isaiah. Philip asked him if he knew who the scripture was talking about.  He didn’t know and Philip, beginning with that scripture, shared the good news of Jesus Christ with him.  Philip, we can assume, invited him to repent, believe and be baptized.  The Ethiopian man desired to be baptized, so they got down out of the chariot and Philip baptized him.  Philip, mysteriously and miraculously, leaves and the man continues to head home.    
            Geographically, the two of them are headed in different directions, one to the north and one to the south.  They were affected and transformed by the Spirit of Christ in that encounter. 
            We never hear from the Ethiopian man again, though some commentaries say that he had a ministry of evangelism in Ethiopia and began the church there.  Philip continued on preaching and sharing the good news of Jesus.    
            In this scripture we see the church at a beginning point as it focuses on learning about Jesus Christ, listening to Christ’s Spirit and expressing faith in Christ.  The church appears to be growing in all directions in all different methods.    
3.)        “First-century Christianity was a spiritual explosion.  Ignited by the Event, the presence of Jesus Christ, the church hurtled in all directions, geographic as well as social.  The second and third centuries provided the channel for this power. 
            This period was an important age for the church; it allowed Christianity to come to terms with time.  It laid plans for the long haul and in the process shaped the character of the Christian faith for generations to come.”  (“Church History in Plain Language” 2nd edition, by Bruce Shelley, page 27.)   
4.)        Can you to picture an explosion?  There is a central place of power that all the energy is directed away from.  In some ways you can literally do that with a map and see the church growing away from Jerusalem, at Pentecost.   
            The central event, the explosion, was the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and His Spirit was poured out and brought life to all who believed.  From that moment the teaching or doctrine of faith was getting worked out.  In these infancy days there was a lot of persecution and different false ideas about what the church was about and what they believed.      
            As we read the letters that Paul wrote to the early church in the New Testament we see teaching about the beliefs and practices of that first century church. 
            I want to identify some issues in the first hundred years that were getting figured out in the early church.  
5.)        One issue was what are the orthodox, foundational, beliefs about Jesus Christ?  Different people in different places had different ideas about Jesus Christ.  There were two different thoughts related to the significance of spirit and flesh as they were understood with Jesus.  Some emphasized the importance of Jesus being human while others emphasized Jesus being of the Spirit. 
These became two different viewpoints and perspectives.  Around the second century the Old Roman Creed was created because there were no central beliefs.  This was needed to hold up the truth of the life of Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human. 
            This Old Roman creed became the foundation for the Apostle’s Creed that was affirmed about 500 years later, in 700 AD. 
6.)        Another issue was what document represents the truth of God, the inspired message of God that held authority for people?  There were a variety of books, letters and documents that spoke about the life of Jesus and the church.   Which ones were inspired and accepted by the church leaders?  The 27 books that we now use were gaining acceptance by different leaders in the different centuries.  There were different people that excluded from their understanding some of the books that we have in our Bible, like the book of Hebrews and James.  But in time they were included.  It was in 397 at a Council in Carthage that the New Testament scripture was fixed as the 27 books that we have today.    
7.)        A third issue was how is order maintained in the church?  We see the importance of Bishops and leaders rise in the growth of the church.  It was a movement of God that needed some direction from people listening to God.  The conviction that Jesus is alive and the Spirit is present is foundational for the church.  But what about order, teaching, and the sacraments?  The leaders and bishops had a role of importance in the life of the early church.  There were different perspectives on the bishops and leaders as to their authority and biblical mandates. 
            As we take a big view of history and these few issues getting worked out we see a major development in the church that happened because of the history of the world.     
8.)        “The Emperor Constantine is one of the major figures of Christian history.  After his conversion Christianity moved swiftly from the seclusion of the catacombs to the prestige of palaces.  The movement started the fourth century as a persecuted minority; it ended the century as the established religion of the empire.  Thus, the Christian Church was joined to the power of the state and assumed a moral responsibility for the whole society.  To serve the state, it refined its doctrine and developed its structure.  Monks arose to protest this secularization of the faith, but when the barbarians shattered the government in the western half of the empire, even Benedictines enlisted as missionaries to the pagans.”  (“Church History in Plain Language” 2nd edition, by Bruce Shelley, page 89.)   
            So, the church changed because of the conversion of the emperor.  The state and church were combined by his leadership and faith.  This created opportunities, challenges and problems.  
9.)        One of the opportunities it created was a unified forum to discuss issues in Christianity.  It was Constantine who was able to convene a council in Nicaea to address the issue of doctrine.  There were various false beliefs that were circulating about Jesus Christ so a meeting was set.   
            “The first ecumenical council, in the history of the church was convened by the Emperor Constantine at Nicaea in Bithynia.  The main purpose of the counsel was to attempt to heal the schism in the church provoked by Arianism.  This it proceeded to do theologically and politically by the almost unanimous production of a theological confession (the Nicene Creed) by over three hundred bishops representing almost all the eastern provinces of the empire (where the heresy was chiefly centered) and by a token representation from the West.”  (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter Elwell, page 774) 
            The Nicene Creed was created to tighten the doctrine of the church.  It was also given to all churches to affirm.  But because of the political and spiritual mixture of the time if a church rejected this creed they could potentially be excommunicated or have imperial banishment.  There was this mixture of faith and political pressure in the life of the church at this time.    
            I invite us to read the Nicene Creed together.  This is #880 in the hymnal. 
10.)      The church during this time was also experiencing differences due more to their geographical location of East and West in the empire.  People in the East were focusing on the beliefs, orthodox views of the faith, and people in the West were focusing on the community and practices of the faith.  It appears that both groups are reacting to what is happening to their country.   
            “differences between the Orthodox church in the East and the Catholic Church in the West widened.  The doctrines and practices of the two halves of the Christian church slowly drifted apart.  They quibbled about one word in the creed; they insisted on different practices for Lent; they disagreed over the type of bread to use in celebrating the Eucharist.  Given their different cultures and histories, it only took two ambitious leaders to drive a permanent wedge between the churches.”    (“Church History in Plain Language” 2nd edition, by Bruce Shelley, page 149.)
            As I read this description about the early church it reminds us that the church is filled with people that had different ideas and experiences of the faith, shaped by different perspectives.  Even when it was several hundred years old it was not unified.    
11.)      If we look to one leader, one group, one church, or one period of history we will see times when the church got it right and when the church got it wrong. 
            The amazing thing is that if the church was a human institution then when it got it wrong it would no longer be around.  It would be dead.  The Church is the Body of Christ and it cannot be put to death, no matter what happens.  The spiritual forces of evil and Satan have been trying for years to kill it, but just like Jesus’ death, God will bring about Resurrection.   
            You are a part of the something that is amazing and incredible, the Church.               
12.)      Give thanks for the church and the first few hundred years.  What are the beliefs that you have about Jesus Christ?  What do you believe about the scriptures and how often do you read them?  What is your understanding of Christian leadership?  Do you have high regard for pastors and bishops of the church?   These are a few of the doctrines that got clarified in the first five hundred years of the church.     
13.)      Let us pray with a thankful heart and pray that God’s will is being done through this church in the community.  Let us pray for other churches in this community. 
I invite you to name other churches, out loud, as we give thanks for the church.  We understand that even when we make mistakes God’s purpose will continue, as it has for almost 2,000 years.