For the next eight weeks, we will embark on a journey together through the history of the early church, from around AD 33 to AD 600. This study will be the first volume in a multivolume series covering the entire scope of church history, bringing us to the present-day church. We pray that you will be inspired by our brothers and sisters in Christ who founded the church, and by those who have carried the torch of the gospel to us today. Through this study, we pray that God will help you understand His heart for the church, thereby increasing your heart for the church.
In order to properly understand what we mean when we say the word church, let’s take a moment to define some terms. In the Greek, the word church means a gathering of people, specifically God’s people. When we hear the word church, most of us picture the physical building; but a building alone is not the church. Rather, the church consists of all authentic believers in Christ throughout all time. Scripture also refers to the church as the body of Christ, with Christ as its head (Colossians 1:18). Throughout this study, these terms will be used interchangeably.
Clearly, the church can have a physical location; but for this study, our focus will be on the spiritual church. First Peter 2:4–5 says that we are being built up as a “spiritual house” and “holy priesthood.” The church is not bound by a physical location. Similarly, the church is also both local and universal, since it consists of all believers. The New Testament refers both to the local church in a specific place, as well as the universal, worldwide church. Paul writes to several local churches such as the church in Galatia (Galatians), the church in Ephesus (Ephesians) and so on. The worldwide church is referred to in Ephesians 5:25: "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for the church." Here, Paul is not saying that Christ only gave himself for a specific local church, but rather the worldwide church.
As far as the name of this study is concerned, Anno Domini is a Medieval Latin term, which means “in the year of our Lord.” Anno Domini (AD) refers to a time period in our Western calendar, which is divided into BC and AD: the time before Christ (BC) and the time when Christ arrived on earth and beyond (AD). Since the Christian church began upon the Holy Spirit’s arrival at Pentecost and continues to this very day, Anno Domini is the name of our study on the time period of the church.
What do you think of when you hear the word history? For some of you, history was your favorite subject in school, while others may immediately think of the word boring. Wherever you fall on this spectrum, we pray that you will understand the importance of studying church history and encounter God more deeply through studying the roots of our faith and the beginning of the church. We hope to tell a story: The story of God’s people. The story of God’s favor for the church. The story of those who have faithfully gone before us so that we may know Christ. We hope to connect you to this story through history.
Why Study Church History?
We study church history because it is where we’ve come from. It’s a pivotal piece of our faith. It’s the reason why we have heard the gospel in our lifetime. And it’s the hope of the future: Jesus, His body, the church. As Hebrews 11 highlights, we know who God is through our spiritual ancestors who have faithfully passed down the truth of God and His salvation from generation to generation. By studying church history, we become increasingly grateful for our spiritual brothers and sisters who sacrificed their lives to follow Christ and bring the gospel to us today. This inspires us to do the same for those who will come after us.
By studying the history of the church, we see God’s faithfulness throughout all time, making a way for His church. It shines light on the marvelous works of God. When we remember and observe God’s faithfulness to grow the church, we gain hope and receive encouragement, which helps us further God’s church.
Also, we study church history because Christ dearly and deeply loves the church. So much so that He gave His life for her as a means to present her blameless before God. If we are followers of Christ, our hearts should beat for the same things that Christ’s heart beats for—the church. Ephesians 2:19–22 most accurately defines why we study church history:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
The first two weeks of the study will cover the beginning of the church by walking through the book of Acts and discussing the lives of Christ’s disciples, such as Peter and Paul. Throughout these first two weeks, we will highlight seven different times during which the church grew and the happenings surrounding the growth. For the following six weeks, we will focus on important events and people of the first six hundred years of the church.
Because we are fellow members of the body of Christ with those who have gone before us, may we connect with them as we study the history of the church and carry on the truth of the gospel that they have given to us. All for the sake of Christ and His kingdom.