Christianity began in the city of Jerusalem around 35 A.D. After the first church was established by the early believers it was attacked by the Jews who wanted to rid themselves of the followers of Jesus Christ. They had previously crucified Jesus because they viewed him as a threat to their power and as a danger to all of Jerusalem. They honestly believed that when Jesus was crucified that his influence would die with him. They were wrong. The Jews didn’t anticipate that his followers would continue to spread his message to the world. So they slowly started a campaign to persecute the early church. Ultimately, they were able to force many Christians to flee Jerusalem to other parts of the world.
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Persecuted Christians Settle all over the Empire of Rome
The Romans had dominated Jerusalem and the surrounding territories within the ancient Middle East and Mesopotamian area. They also controlled most of the lands around the Mediterranean Sea. When Christians left Jerusalem, they spread out to nearby regions within the Roman Empire. As they settled into these areas they started to form new churches. Most of the pagan people that lived in the areas where the Christians settled into thought they were as an odd and strange cult. People were pagans, and the concept of one god was just too foreign for them to understand.
Polytheism is the belief in more than one deity, and ancient people had many polytheistic religions. The Romans were known to worship a pantheon of gods and when they encountered a group of people who worshiped and honored one god they thought this was rather different than the norm. Many Roman people didn’t take to the Jews concept of monotheism, and they didn’t accept the Christian version as well.
General Animosity Toward Early Christians
Christianity was seen as a pagan religion to the Romans. After churches began to form in various parts of the empire the Romans started to become more aware of Christian practices. Many of them formed the idea that Christians were cannibals and that they indulged in incest. They also couldn’t understand the concepts of holiness, salvation, and sin. These were foreign ideas to pagan men. Even though the Romans did stress ideas such as purity, strength, vigor, justice and righteousness; they were rooted in man’s ability to produce these results and not dependence on God (Jesus) through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Most people do not like it when they encounter other groups of people who are different from themselves. Many early Romans felt this way about Christian worshippers. Roman rulers held the same opinion as their subjects. Since they were charged with keeping order within the empire, they sometimes lashed out against the Christians.
The early Christians were martyred all over the empire by different rulers at different times. Some of the most noted rulers who persecuted Christians were Emperor Nero, Emperor Domitian, and Julian the Apostate. After the early Christians were martyred many of the first believers thought to keep them in remembrance.
Catholic Church Establishes Canonization Practice in Honor of Martyred Believers
The Catholic Church was the first established Christian denomination that was started outside of Jerusalem. The word Catholic means “universal” and the universal church was the first Christian organization that started the worship of martyrs or the worship of Christian saints. The Roman Church began a process of recognizing martyred saints around the 2nd century AD. It is listed on the Bible Timeline between 150-250 A.D. This process eventually became known as canonization and many Christian martyrs who showed exemplary service for the cause of Christianity could be added to the list. The practice still continues, and it is not uncommon for some Catholic believers to pray to these saints so that they could petition God on their behalf. When Christians died after living an outstanding life in Christ, they could be venerated as a saint by the Catholic Church. Famous martyrs over the years have been canonized, and they include Stephen (Acts 6 – 7) who was the first persecuted Christian and Origen and Polycarp, who were early church, fathers.
Acts 6 -7 Martyr of Stephen
Acts 8: 1 The first is persecuted and scattered.
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