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Christian History Master of Christian History Written by Gary Edwin Loy, DD

Hello,

This is a sample of lesson 4 of this interesting new course on the history of Christianity. To order this course, go to Christian History.

Welcome to lesson four of the Masters of Christian History program. Each week you will receive a discourse that talks about the history of Christianity. You will be receiving an email for this course approximately once a week. If for any reason you don’t receive one, please write to amy@ulcseminary.org so she can re-send your material.

Master of Christian History

Christian History

www.ulcseminary.org

  Universal Life  Church Seminary

**********

Lesson 4 -- The Spread of the Gospel to the Gentiles

The Spread of the Gospel to the Gentiles

 

The early Christian church, initially made up of Jews, was very slow to recognize the universal nature of Christianity despite the fact that the Apostle Peter was influential in offering the Good News to the first Gentile converts. It was instead the Apostle Paul who took his divine calling into the Gentile world, and he spent most of his life preaching Christ to the Gentiles. All the while Paul did not forget his Jewish brethren. Everywhere he went Paul always preached in the local Jewish synagogue first sharing the Good News with the Jews and Gentile proselytes who were willing to listen.

 

The World of the Apostle Paul

Paul was a man of two worlds. He was a product of both Judaism and the Roman Empire. He had received an excellent Jewish education as a disciple of the great Jewish rabbi Gamaliel. Few profited more from that education than Paul (Philippians 3:4-6). He was a native of Tarsus, the chief city of Cilicia (Acts 21:39). He was also born a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28), and he did not shirk from exercising his rights as a Roman citizen when they would help him in furthering the cause of Christ (Acts 16:37; 25:11). Before coming to Christ, Paul was an observant Jew. Because Tarsus was an intellectual center of its day, Paul was exposed to Greek philosophy. The Roman Empire was the world power of Paul’s time. Therefore Paul lived and labored in a very urban culture for its time.

In a deeper sense, the politics of the Roman Empire might not have been too conducive to the proclamation of the Christian gospel. Octavian [Caesar Augustus] had essentially brought down the Republic and instituted nominal joint rule with the Roman Senate in 27 B.C. Some of Octavian’s successors were generally not as competent as he was. Gaius Caligula (A.D. 37-A.D. 41) was loony. However Claudius (A.D. 41-A.D. 54) was a good administrator and his reign was primarily stable. Paul made most of his missionary journeys during the reign of Claudius. Nero (A.D. 54-A.D. 68) was a mediocre, would-be artist who also loved to see fire burn. He was very cruel and murderous according to the surviving records of Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio. He would not even hesitate to kill members of his own family. It was under Nero that Paul and Peter were martyred during the first major Roman persecution subsequent to the Great Fire of Rome of A.D. 64 which was afterward blamed on the Christians.

Also in a deeper sense, Roman society and morals were more unaccommodating than the politics. Spoils from the empire facilitated the rise of rich new aristocrats who owned slaves and used their new riches for good and bad personal desires. They resented Christianity because its appeal to the poor lower classes threatened their lofty positions in the greater society. Yet some of these new aristocrats were converted to Christ when Paul was a prisoner in Rome (Philippians 1:13).

Paul also had to confront the plethora of religions and cults that were vying for favor with the people. The Romans were tolerant of religions as long as it did not interfere with the state and the state’s religious system which mixed emperor worship with the old republican state worship and claimed the allegiance of all people within the empire except the Jews who were exempt by law from observing these rites. Christians did not participate in this so they received opposition from the Roman state. The subjective mystery cults of Mithra, Isis, and Cybele had many adherents in the empire. Judaism, minus Christianity as a separate sect, showed more opposition.

The Roman intelligentsia accepted many philosophical systems like Zeno’s Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Neo-Pythagoreanism which said that the way to salvation was through thinking philosophically. Zeno’s Stoicism, with its pantheist concept of deity, its view of natural moral law as discovered by human reason, and its teaching of the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man, appeared to offer an intellectual basis for the Roman Empire. Some of the emperors like Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 161-A.D. 180) liked its moral standards. In this mess of competing religions, cults, and philosophies, Paul offered the simple Christian gospel of redemption through Jesus Christ.

Principal dates in Paul’s life and work have been sorted out through the use of archaeology. Paul had spent eighteen months in Corinth when Gallio was appointed proconsul (Acts 18:12-13). A stone inscription dug up at Delphi shows that Gallio started his duties in Achaia in the twenty-sixth year of the Emperor Claudius (A.D. 51-A.D. 52). So Paul’s visit would have started eighteen months before that in A.D. 50. Other dates in Paul’s life can be counted from this date with more or less preciseness.

The conversion of Paul was an objective historical event. Paul himself mentioned it as such in 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8 and Galatians 1:11-18. Paul encountered the risen Christ on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians there (Acts 9; 22; 26). His conversion provided the foundation for his later missionary work, teachings, writings, and theology.

The Apostle Paul as Herald of the Christian Gospel

 

Paul was a wise and dedicated Christian missionary. His life and work show us certain ideals that were manifested in his work. They show us a very effective way of carrying out Christ’s Great Commission. By studying the maps of Paul’s missionary journeys, we can see that the spread of the Christian gospel followed roughly a half-circle stretching from Syrian Antioch to Rome. Paul wanted the Good News to spread west. He was so happy to see Rome even though he was a prisoner with the status of appellant to the Emperor.

Paul also thought about reaching areas through chief cities. He always went to the chief city of an area, and he used those new converts to spread the Good News to the smaller towns and outlying countryside. For this reason, Paul may not have visited Colosse (Colossians 2:1). The strong church that was started there in Colosse may have been because of those persons whom the apostle had sent from Ephesus.

Whenever Paul entered a major city or town, he always stopped at the local Jewish synagogue first where he preached as long as he was accepted there. When he did get thrown out of the synagogue, Paul preached Christ to the Gentiles in any location that was suitable like in the local marketplace. The premise here was that Paul preached to the Jew first and then to the Gentile. This is seen throughout Luke’s accounts of Paul’s journeys recorded in Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s own confession to the Roman Christians (Romans 1:16).

When Paul started a church, he ordered it by appointing elders and deacons so that the church would govern its own affairs after he left. Paul desired firm foundations for the churches that he started.

Paul did not want to be a burden to the churches he started. This is why he practiced a trade on the side in order to finance his real trade of spreading the Christian gospel. Paul made tents while he preached in Corinth (Acts 18:1-4; see also 1 Thessalonians 2:9). This was helpful to Paul, but he did not make this pattern a rule for others to follow. Each church was to support itself. Each church was to multiply itself because each member was to be a witness for Christ to everyone (Acts 1:8). Paul expected each church to control itself in moral and spiritual dilemmas (1 Corinthians 5:5).

Paul relied on the leading of the Holy Spirit in his life and work. This is seen in Acts of the Apostles and his letters to the churches (Acts 13:2, 4; 16:6-7). Paul wanted to be a pioneer for the cause of Christ (Romans 15:20). This produced fruit in that he went all the way to Rome and probably as far west as Spain during his lifetime.

These ideals served Paul very well in the founding and growth of churches that functioned as headquarters for the spread of the Christian gospel at key locations throughout the Roman Empire. Paul always provided for supervision when he left. He always revisited the churches or wrote letters to the churches to encourage and edify them (Acts 15:36). Through this sound leadership led by the Holy Spirit, Paul was able to spread and grow the Christian church in a mighty way.

The Writings of the Apostle Paul

Paul learned about what was happening in the churches through visitors from those churches (1 Corinthians 1:11) or reports from persons he sent out to visit those churches (1 Thessalonians 3:6). When the need arose, Paul wrote, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, letters to the churches to sort out their specific problems. Paul wrote two times to the Thessalonian church to set them straight about the second coming of Christ. The Corinthian church had a load of problems conducive with a church that was in such a sinful city as Corinth was. The first letter addressed these problems. The second letter reinforced Paul’s apostleship that was established in the first letter. The letter to the Galatians expounded on the relationship between the Mosaic Law and Grace for the Christian. The letter to the Romans had systematic doctrine spelled out. The four letters Paul wrote while he was a prisoner in Rome dealt with special problems of the churches in Ephesus, Colosse, and Philippi. Paul’s personal letter to Philemon concerned how Philemon, a wealthy Christian slave owner, should relate to his slave Onesimus who had become a Christian. Paul’s three pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus concerned pitfalls that could face a young pastor.

Paul’s letters came out of certain problems occurring in each of Paul’s churches. These problems are still faced by the Christian church today. Paul’s letters are still valuable today. Paul always tempered theology with practicality.

The Theology and Philosophy of the Apostle Paul

Paul developed fundamental Christian theology in his letters. Christ Himself did not leave a well-delineated theology. This was left under the leading of the Holy Spirit to Paul. Paul’s theology was of course founded upon Christ. Along with that, Paul’s education, observation of nature (Romans 1:19-20), conversion, creativity, and preeminently divine revelation contributed to his theology.

The core of the Gospel according to Paul is this. Paul knew that happiness and worth are fundamental objects that all human beings want to have. These two things in this life and in the next life rely on the obtaining of God’s grace. God’s grace cannot be given if one does not do His will. As an observant Jew, Paul believed that obeying the Mosaic Law, which showed God’s holiness, should vouchsafe a life of happiness and worth. Yet Paul later found to his chagrin that the works of the Law only resulted in realization of sin and left human beings unable to do God’s will (Romans 7). Paul realized on the Damascus road that the crucified Christ was the beginning of the spiritual life. Human beings only need to accept by faith Christ and what He did for them (Romans 5:1).

Paul’s moral philosophy came out of the union of the believer with Christ by faith. This is balanced with the relationship of believers with one another (Ephesians 1:15; 1 John 3:23). Only Christian love is the motivation for Christian behavior. This moral philosophy did not negate Jewish moral law. It was fulfilled on a higher level of love in the family, home, and state. The pagans were amazed by the magnanimity of the Christian faith because of Christians’ high moral standards. Paul’s own life was a tremendous example of this as well.

Paul’s historiography is tied into his moral philosophy and theology. Paul denied the thought of history as being in cycles or consisting of evolutionary progress. Paul viewed history as influenced by God supernaturally leading up to a cataclysm that dealt with unregenerate humanity’s failure and God’s power to accomplish His cosmic plan for the universe. This is applied to nations and the entire human race. Growth can only happen through spiritual clashes through which human beings are given power through God’s grace. In the end God will be triumphant over evil that was in the interim defeated at Calvary by Christ (Romans 11:36; Ephesians 1:10).

 

The Apologetics of the Apostle Paul

Paul always defended Christian truth against the attacks of heresy, and he always tried to win the heretic back to the true way. The issue of salvation’s breadth and means was the first issue dealt by Paul at the Jerusalem Council after his first missionary journey. The Christian church, born of Judaism, had split into two factions. Jewish Christians who were Pharisees wanted the Gentiles to follow the Mosaic Law just like the Jews thus making Christianity a particular sect of Judaism. The opposition wanted the Gentiles to be free from observing the Mosaic Law, and they desired salvation to be founded only on Christ and His work by faith. Salvation in Christ is freely available to both Jew and Gentile.

The Jerusalem Council was called in A.D. 49 or A.D. 50 because a group of Judaizers went to Syrian Antioch supposedly under the authority of James to preach that Gentiles must first become Jews before they can become Christians (Acts 15:24). Bolstered by divine revelation (Galatians 2:2), Paul and Barnabas were sent by the Syrian Antioch church to Jerusalem in the first and possibly the most important council in Christian history. The council ultimately ruled that the Gentiles did not have to become Jews in order to become Christians. The Gentiles were only asked to abstain from a few things that were blatantly associated with sexual immorality and pagan idolatry.

The Jerusalem Council reveals to us how Paul was extremely determined to defend a vital principle. He did not concede to the circumcision of Titus at the council (Galatians 2:3). Yet at the start of his second missionary journey when Timothy became his assistant, Paul had him circumcised (Acts 16:1-3) so that it would not be a stumbling block for the Christian gospel. Paul did not allow Titus to be circumcised because a vital principle had to be defended, that of Gentile freedom. However Paul allowed Timothy to be circumcised because had he not done so it would have been a hindrance to the spread of the Good News.

Christianity received a declaration of independence from Judaism at the Jerusalem Council. From that point on, faith would be the only way for human beings to receive salvation. Since faith is for all people everywhere, Christianity would not be a particular sect of Judaism. The new law founded on love would lead people into observing the Jewish moral law out of love for God instead of duty, and this would be the foundation for Christian moral philosophy. This decision process was also very democratic, and it was sorted out democratically. The whole Christian church in union with the leaders of that church issued the judgment under the leading of the Holy Spirit. If they so decided, Jewish Christians who were saved by faith were free to observe the Mosaic Law voluntarily.

The Jerusalem Council cannot be overlooked. As we shall see in a later course, this same problem popped up for the Protestant Reformers when they saw medieval Roman Catholicism demanding human works in addition to faith in order to get salvation. Also as we shall see in a later course, modern liberals put themselves in the same boat when they center all their attention on pleasing God solely through moral actions. The issues that confronted the Jerusalem Council are still faced by the Christian church today. The solutions that the Jerusalem Council offered are still applicable today and had been applicable throughout Christian history.

Paul was confronted with Greek rationalism within the Christian church in the form of a very early manifestation of Gnosticism. Some people wanted to make the means of salvation purely intellectual like the Jewish Christians had wanted to make them legalistic. This was a particular threat to the church at Colosse. Gnosticism taught that there was a profound division between the spirit as being good and matter as being evil. The link between these was a hierarchy of celestial beings. Christ was viewed as part of this hierarchy. Gnosticism taught that angels were worthy of worship because they participated in this hierarchy (Colossians 2:8, 18-19). This philosophy held that a person could not gain salvation except through acts of self-denial to quash the material, evil body (vs. 14-17, 20-23). Only through secret knowledge can this be done, and it was only available to special Christians. Faith becomes subservient to human pride.

Paul responded to this false teaching by reasserting that Christ as Creator and Redeemer was completely sufficient for faith and salvation (Colossians 1:13-20). Christ is the complete manifestation of God and is not inferior to Him (v. 19; 2:9). This was the only way, Paul believed, human beings could gain any assurance of a savior completely sufficient to remedy the sin problem.

Gnosticism was the first philosophical heresy faced by the early Christian church. Yet it was not the last one. In every period of history false teaching always surfaces, and the causes are usually the same every time. Human beings’ intellectual obsessions usually lead to false teaching as shown at Colosse. Keeping the religious heritage of the pre-Christian era in an individual’s life could foster the syncretizing of truth and falsehood with serious ramifications for salvation. The Judaizers made this error. Misusing and overemphasizing portions of Scripture can also foster false doctrine. At times a leader with mistaken enthusiasm in the protection of truth might in the process undermine truth. This was what Montanus and his followers did in the 2 nd century A.D.

 

Summary of the Lesson

In great faith and audacity, the Apostle Paul was able to bring to the Gentiles the saving message of Jesus Christ and started the triumphant spread of that message across the then known world. He was a unique expositor of what salvation in Christ means to the individual. He protected the faith from the miasma of legalism and human reason. He established order within the Christian churches he founded, and he regularly visited and wrote to them in order to help them solve their particular problems as they arose, all done in a loving but firm Christian manner. Like no one else, the Apostle Paul understood the cosmic impact of Christ for time and eternity. As the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul explained Jesus Christ to the Gentile world.

 

  Questions

1. How did the world in which the Apostle Paul lived contribute to his life and ministry?

2. In what ways was the Apostle Paul a “man of two worlds”?

3. How did the Apostle Paul’s work show a certain genius for missions and apologetics?

You are encouraged to post your lessons on the forum or send them to amy@ulcseminary.org and she will post them for you. The goal is to begin some meaningful dialogue with other ministers and to learn from the different exchanges.

See you next week!

Copyright Notice
 

Copyright 2007 by Rev. Gary Loy. All rights reserved. No part of this lesson may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.

 

 

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