A Somewhat Slanted Look at the History of the Christian Church – Part XXIV

drhiter-churchseriesThe Jews hardly knew how to approach the rise of the Church, in Jerusalem, in the middle of the 1st Century. Most thought it would die, with its founder, Jesus of Nazareth. It did not, of course, and in fact it grew like Topsy, especially after Pentecost. That it continued to grow and prosper, we can infer from the book of Acts. Indeed, there is no better record of what was going on in the new Church than that book. It is in Acts that we learn of the appointment of Deacons to do the work of the Church, and of the beginning of persecution (by the Jews) when they stoned Steven, one of the first Deacons (Chapter 7). In it, too, we learn of the imprisonment of Peter and John (Chapter 4, and again later), as well as the conversion of St. Paul and his Mission to the Greeks, along with St. Peter’s Gentile vision (Chapter 10). Once they got started, and especially after the Romans got into their first persecution, in the 60s AD, The Church spread more quickly than governments could stop it.

Dr. T.Y. Hiter
Dr. T.Y. Hiter

In the heat of the first Jewish persecution, many Christians were rounded up and banished from Jerusalem and Judaea. Acts doesn’t give us a lot of detail about this persecution, perhaps because Paul, about whom most of it is written, and Luke, who wrote it, were off in Greece, Italy, and other places. We can infer a good deal from Acts, though, if we also look at other sources. It isn’t that no records were kept; it’s just that they didn’t make it into the Bible.

For example, we are told in many ancient sources (though, again, not in Acts or anywhere else in the Bible) that Joseph of Arimathea took sail with 12 companions shortly after the crucifixion, and ended up on the southwest coast of England. There, they established the Celtic, or British, Church in 38 or 39 AD. The Roman Catholic Church supported this story until the English Church left Rome in the 1500s. Likewise, there are persistent stories in the Middle East that Lazarus (yes, the one Jesus raised from the dead) and his sisters Mary and Martha, along with Mary the Mother of Jesus were set adrift in a boat with no oars or sails 15 years after the crucifixion. By the way, that timing matches that of the Jewish persecution mentioned in Acts. The subject boat is said to have drifted all the way to southern France, and the worthies on board were believed to have established what was called the Gallican Church, in both France and Spain. Eventually many features of Gallican worship “leaked” over into England.

St. Patrick, who converted Ireland, was native to the England/Scotland border country. His father and grandfather were Celtic Christian clergymen. Patrick himself was ordained in a Gallican Church. St. Columba, the Saint who converted the Scots was himself Irish, but received his Holy Orders from the Gallican Church. All of this and much more happened in the 4th and 5th Centuries, more than 100 years before Roman missionaries even reached the English Channel.