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A space for resources to help RE teachers and their students explore the Christian faith
“A huge resource to treasure.”
Lat Blaylock, Editor, RE Today

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The History of the Early Church

How did the Church begin?

brown stones stairstepsThe early Christian Church began in Jerusalem and the surrounding area and grew out of the Jewish tradition. Jesus and his disciples were all Jews. The first Christians, therefore, did not meet in separate churches but continued to meet in the local Jewish synagogues.

St Paul was one of the main leaders in the early church and he believed that the good news of Jesus was for all people and not just the Jews. This belief led Paul to set up Christian churches throughout the Roman empire, including Europe and even into Africa.

You can read about Paul's conversion, along with how he spread the good news of the gospel, in the Book of Acts.

Persecution Begins

Throughout the Roman Empire, everyone was expected to show loyalty to the empire by standing before the statue of the Roman Emperor, putting a pinch of incense on the altar fire and saying, "Caesar is Lord.” The only people who didn't have to do this were the Jews. At first the Romans thought Christians were the same as Jews, but as more and more non-Jews (Gentiles) became Christians, the Roman authorities started to persecute them: punishing people because of their beliefs.

Nero - 54 AD-68 AD

Persecution started with the massacre of Christians in Rome by the Emperor Nero in 64 AD. There was a terrible fire that destroyed the centre of Rome. People were saying that it had been started by Nero to make room for his new palace. However, Nero put the blame onto the Christians.

A Roman historian called Tacitus wrote at the time:

"To kill the rumours, Nero charged and tortured some people hated for their evil practices - the 'Christians'.First those who confessed to being Christians were arrested. Then put to death. They were covered in the skins of wild animals, torn to death by dogs, crucified or set on fire. Nero opened up his own gardens for this spectacle and gave a show in the arena.

Persecution Continues

For the next 250 years, from time to time Christians were rounded up and put to death. Many were thrown to the lions and bears in public arenas as public entertainment. Today there is a cross in the Colosseum in Rome to remember the Christians who died there, though most executions probably took place in the Circus Maximus nearby.

Entertainment in the Colosseum was free, but the Circus Maximus was a paying show. The persecution of the Christians under Roman rule ended when the emperor Constantine became a Christian in 312 AD.

Did you know? Including the seating and standing area, the Colosseum could hold up to 70,000 spectators! This is where the ancient Romans gathered to watch fatal combat between gladiators, and battles between people and wild animals. On occasion, they even flooded the Colosseum with water, to hold naval battles. During the battles, many competitors died but this just added to the entertainment for the Romans.