Scholars understand the birthday of the church to on be the Day of Pentecost, as described in Acts 2. It was the Jewish feasts that celebrated the harvest, so Jewish people from all over were in Jerusalem. The Apostle Peter began to preach to the crowd about Jesus and how prophecy was being fulfilled. As he preached, everybody miraculously heard in their native tongue. The Holy Spirit then came in a new way to live within believers. That’s the church’s birthday.
Immediately after this account in Acts 2, is a beautiful description of a community that came together to worship God and share their possessions, and life itself with one another. Some people believe these words to be the purest description of what the church should be like.
Persecution of Christians began almost immediately by Jews and then the Romans, so Christians had to band together for their own safety. They also needed to share their resources to survive.
The church which began as an underground movement, rapidly spread throughout the world, suffered through a long period of persecution and internal debate, until Constantine created the Holy Roman Empire in the fourth century. That ushered about six centuries of Christendom, as church and government were entangled as the source of power in the world. The eastern and the western church split in 1054. Protestantism began in 1517, with a call back to the basics of the gospel and scripture. Then, various sects of Christian groups seeking more freedom from state churches and oppressive governments helped found America.
Along the way institutions developed, hierarchies were formed and more and more divisions happened in the name of God. The church developed some serious baggage. Now, there are power struggles, Christian celebrities, church and denominational jobs and doctrinal positions to protect, subcultures within subcultures, Christian branding for books, music and other products, and most dangerous of all, there is, pride, that comes from believing we are right.
That’s the church. It’s messy!
Photo credit: Reinhardhauke. Creative Commons.