The First Christian Century
Between the birthday of the Church on Pentecost about the year 30 to the end of the first century of the Christian era, Christian communities spread from Palestine into Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, Egypt and Libya, and began to take on the shape that they would have down to our own day.
From the beginning, the Church taught that Jesus is the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Scriptures and that, because of his birth, teaching, death and resurrection, we can, by believing in him, experience the remission of sins and eternal life.
But what this meant in practice soon became a question. From the beginning it was accepted that different individuals would have different views of the Church’s message or put a different emphasis on it. It was realised that different individuals had different gifts, all of which could be God-given. It was realised that different communities might have different devotional practices and still be part of the one Church.
Some opinions and some practices, however, seemed alien to the Christian faith to the point that those who adopted them appeared no longer to be Christian, and so endangered their salvation. The Church found that it had to identify these ‘choices’ (in Greek, αἱρέσεις, from which we get our word ‘heresies’) of paths diverging from the true faith in order to safeguard the spiritual welfare of the faithful.
But to do this, the Church had to clarify its own understanding of the faith. This work of clarification is ‘theology,’ reasoning about God, and from its beginning about the end of the first century it became an important labour of the Church, one that continues today. But theology was not pursued as an end in itself—its purpose was and is to combat error. It did not reveal new truths but made manifest and clarified the truths already implicit in the beliefs and practices of the Church.