Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem - Wikipedia Commons


Previous: Revelation 3:9 - Continued

"I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.- Revelation 3:8

We continue our brief overview of missionary progress during the first five periods of Church history. We come now to the third era:

Pergamum - The Compromised Church - Revelation 2:12-17
Open Door of Influence

This, as we have already seen, was the period of the worldly influence on the church caused by Emperor Constantine's adoption of Christianity (AD 312 to AD 476). After seeing the sign of the cross in the sky to predict his victory in a great battle, he became a Christian. Then he issued the Edict of Milan (AD 313), which made all religions acceptable. The good news was that this ended the horrific persecution of Christians. At a later date (AD 380), Christianity was adopted by Emperor Theodosius I as the official religion of the empire.

Multitudes of people began to call themselves Christians even though they didn't fully understand its teachings and still clung to many of their old pagan beliefs and practices.

In a sense, Christianity was spread through conquest during this era even though such an idea was foreign to the teaching of Jesus, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6, Matthew 5:38-40; John 14:27 ).

True Christian doctrine was clarified by several Church councils during this time. Magnificent church buildings were built, Bible translation was begun, and there were strong theologians, and notable evangelists. Nevertheless, this phase of Church History lacked the missionary zeal of the Early Church.

Constantine and his mother, Helena, directed the building of great church buildings in the Holy Land such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Excellent scholars clarified the history and doctrine that was beginning to be considered official "Christianity." Jerome was commissioned to translate the Gospels, and later the whole Bible into Latin. He did his translation from a grotto in the Church of the Nativity. Visitors to the Holy Land can still see the cave under the church where he did his work. A Bible in the language of the people became a founding principle of missionary activity.

Eusebius, the Bishop of Caesarea wrote "Ecclesiastical History," about the story of the Early Church. Great theologians like John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, and Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, captured the essence of Biblical teaching about the person and the work of Jesus and the nature and progress of the Church. During this timeframe several Church councils were convened to debate variations of belief about Christ and to determine what had been, and what always in the future should be, considered orthodoxy ("straight teaching"). The Nicene Council in 325 established the belief in the Trinity, and affirmed that Jesus was true God, co-eternal with the Father, and "begotten" from the same "substance," as the Father, therefore not created.

The Council of Chalcedon in 451 declared that Jesus had two natures (Godhead and manhood) in one person; a hypostatic union.

Some who disagreed with the rulings of these councils formed splinter groups, Thus, some of the dissidents from the Nicene Council, called Arians (from Arius, the name of their teacher), were missionaries to the Germanic tribes. Likewise, those who were unhappy with the Chalcedonian doctrine, called themselves Miaphysites ("one nature"). They continued to spread their viewpoint in the Armenian, Syrian, and Egyptian churches. Because their beliefs had been discredited by the Church councils, they were persecuted by the larger church, and were pushed out into more remote areas. This resulted in a missions expansion of some questionable branches of Christianity.

One especially inspiring story of the spread of the Gospel in this era is the story of Aspebet, the sheik of nomadic Arab tribes in the Judean desert.

It comes as a surprise to many in our generation that not all Arabs are Muslims. In truth, there are a great many Arab Christians in the Middle East, although, sadly, recent Islamic uprisings, like the "Arab Spring," have resulted in intense persecution of Christians in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and various other countries, which actually threatens to empty the Middle East of Christians.

Long before Muhammad and the later evolution of Islam, Christianity made great inroads among the Arabs. Even at the "birthday of the Church," the Day of Pentecost, there were some Arabs among the crowd of Jewish converts in Jerusalem who saw the miraculous events and heard Peter's message (Acts 2:11).

Over the course of time, many Arab tribes heard the message of Christianity, the new religion, in the various marketplaces of their world. One Bedouin sheik named Aspebet had a son who became paralyzed. Doctors were not able to cure his ailment. One night the boy asked God for a miraculous cure, and promised to become a Christian if his prayer was answered. He then had a dream in which he saw a monk with a long beard. The monk was identified as Euthyme, who was living by a stream near the road to Jericho.

Aspebet found Euthyme, and the child was healed. Euthyme baptized Aspebet and his son, along with the rest of the tribe. He also renamed the sheik Aspebet-Peter. The sheik considered himself the Apostle of his tribe, and brought new members to be baptized. He built a chapel and monastery, and was appointed a bishop in Palestine, over an area not defined by cities or villages, but only of Bedouin camps.
(Catholic Near East Magazine, Spring, 1978 -

Another example of missionary work during this period from Constantine to the fall of the Western Roman Empire is the familiar story of St. Patrick in Ireland. Patrick was taken captive in his teen years by a wild band of Irish raiders, who took him to Ireland along with thousands of other captives.

Patrick became a believer in Christ while he was in Ireland. After some time he had a dream about how God wanted him to escape. He did leave Ireland, and after some great difficulty, he finally returned to his home in Britain.

As he grew in faith, Patrick felt called by God to return to Ireland as a freelance missionary in AD 432. The Lord blessed his endeavors, and multitudes of people became Christians there, ultimately changing the future of the country.

Come back soon for the next installment of our verse-by-verse study of the Book of Revelation.
Next: Revelation 3:9 - Continued 3


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