Volume. XXX, No. 26
Sunday, 27 December 2015


From the Pastors Heart: Birth of Christianity


 
Not too many of us know when and how Christianity came into existence. Before I say anything, I need to caution you that I am not going to talk about the Church, which consists of the believers of both the Old and New Testaments. I do not deal with the Christian churches in this article, according to a theological definition as the people of God from both the Old and the New Testaments. The birth story of Christianity as a separate religion requires wide and deep studies on many historical and religious subjects. Besides, we all know that we do not have any particular day, week, month, or year to celebrate the birthday of Christian religion, separated from Judaism. Generally, we say that the Christian religion began to be identified after the resurrection of Jesus Christ and more or less to be formally recognized after the Jerusalem destruction in AD 70.    
 
The difficulty of knowing the birth of the Christian religion as a unique entity in history is apparent. It is not because their existence was vague in the beginning. Rather, their existence was very obvious and clear. They were persecuted by both the Jews and the pagans. To the Jews, the message of Christ was blasphemous and a stumbling block, while to the pagans, (Greeks or Romans) only foolishness. Christians and their gatherings were crushed by the mob hatred both in Jerusalem and Rome. The history of their persecutions is proof that their existence was markedly clear. At the same time, we know that Christians also worshiped the Lord in the Temple, almost till the time of destruction of Jerusalem. They often visited synagogues, where they preached and debated with the Jewish scholars. The miracles they performed in the beginning of their ministry were seen in the Temple precincts. 
 
Probably, the one most critical historical event that separated Christianity from the Jewish religion (apart from theological and biblical differences) was the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The Roman legions moved toward Jerusalem. This military action against Jerusalem and the Jews was deeply rooted in the Romans’ atrocities against the city and its citizens and the Jews’ deep hatred of the occupying Roman forces. Gessius Florus ruled Judea as Roman procurator, who loved money and hated Jews. When tax revenues were low, he seized silver from the temple. Jewish oppositions and rebellions against him grew, up to the point that he had to send troops to Jerusalem in A. D. 66. His troops massacred 3,600 citizens. It touched off an explosive rebellion, which was the First Jewish Revolt. In Jerusalem, daily sacrifices to Caesar were ceased as a sign of Jewish solidarity against Rome. This revolt began to spread all over Judea and then to Galilee. The Roman governor of the region, Cestius Callus, marched from Syria with twenty thousand soldiers. He besieged Jerusalem for six months, yet failed. He lost six thousand soldiers.
 
Emperor Nero then sent Vespasian, a decorated general, to quell the Judean rebellion. Vespasian successfully put down the opposition in Galilee, then in Transjordan, and then in Idumea. He circled in on Jerusalem. But before he finished his mission, Nero died and Vespasian became the next emperor. One of his first imperial acts was to appoint his son Titus to conduct the Jewish War. By now, Jerusalem was isolated from the rest of the nation, and there were internal factions within the city fighting against each other. As the siege continued, people died of starvation and plagues. The high priest’s wife, who once basked in luxury, scavenged for crumbs in the streets.
 
Meanwhile the Romans devised various military strategies and devices to conquer the city. The two most outstanding tactics were to use new war machines to hurl boulders against the city walls and to assault the fortification of the city walls by battering rams against them. Jewish defenders fought all day and struggled to rebuild the walls at night. They were tired and hungry because of famine. Eventually the Romans broke through the outer wall, then the second wall, and finally the third wall. Still the Jews did not surrender but continued to fight. They scurried to the temple as their last line of defense. Then the end came. The Jewish defenders were killed, and their temple was burnt down. Though there are different stories told about the destruction of the temple, the historian Josephus claimed that Titus wanted to preserve the temple, but his soldiers were so angry at their resilient opponents that they burned it. The remaining Jews were either slaughtered or sold as slaves. The Zealot band that took Masada held it for at least three more years. When the Romans finally built their siege ramp and invaded the mountain fortress, they found the defenders dead - they had committed suicide to avoid being captured by the Romans. Another interesting story has come to us through Sulpicius Severus’ report based on an account from the great Roman historian Tacitus with a different story. According to this report, Titus was eager to destroy the temple. Titus’s reasoning, as reported by Sulpicius Severus, is particularly noteworthy, for he wanted to eradicate the temple, “in order that the Jewish and Christian religions might more completely be abolished; for although these religions were mutually hostile, they had nevertheless sprung from the same founders; the Christians were an offshoot of the Jews, and if the root were taken away the stock would easily perish.” (Quoted in F. F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame: The Rise and Progress of Christianity from Its First Beginnings to the Conversion of the English, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958, 156) It may reflect a common view of people in the general public that Christianity was not much differentiated from Judaism before the time of the Jerusalem destruction. It explains why and how Paul was received by the Jewish communities to share his messages, even with the chief of the Jews in Rome, in Acts 28:17. Even the Jews in diaspora (dispersion) did not know about this new religion. They thought it was just a new teaching within Judaism. 
 
Christianity Today has the following article: “The destruction of the temple also signified a change in the Jews’ worship. The temple’s sad end slammed the door on the Jew’s sacrificial system. They adjusted, of course, creating new rituals for home and synagogue. But the Sanhedrin was dissolved, and the center of Jewish religion moved to the educational institutions of Jamnia. Where were the Christians? Out of town, basically. Many had been driven out of Jerusalem by persecution decades earlier. Eusebius wrote that when the revolt began, in A.D. 66, some of the remaining Jewish Christians fled to Pella, a city across the Jordan River. It could be said that these events threw the young church’s balance of power toward the Gentiles. Missionaries like Paul had originally dealt with a strong (and conservative) Jewish church, based in Jerusalem. But the Christian Jews’ non-involvement in the revolt drove an obvious wedge between them and their traditional counterparts. After A.D. 70, Christians were not permitted in the synagogues. The fall of Jerusalem, then, made the Christians even more distinct from the Jews and impelled the church to develop among the Gentiles.” (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1990/issue28/2808.html?start=2) While Christianity in its very earliest years may, in fact, have functioned like an appendage of Judaism, by the year 70 it was moving out on its own. That move to independence from Judaism was greatly accelerated by the Roman destruction of the Jewish temple and the cessation of the sacrifices that had played such a large role in Jewish worship. All external adverse conditions caused every aspect of the Christian religion to excel. It spread out to every corner of the world quite rapidly. Pliny, the Roman governor of the province of Pontus and Bithynia in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) from AD 111 to 112 described to the emperor Trajan what he had learned of Christian practice. He wrote that, “on an appointed day they had been accustomed to meet before daybreak, and to recite a hymn antiphonally* to Christ, as a god.” (Henry Bettenson, ed., Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 1963, 3-4)
 
Lovingly,
Your Pastor

More Lively Hope

 

Announcements

*Session wishes all worshippers a very Blessed New Year.

*Watchnight Service: Please come early to start on time to share your testimonies.

*Junior & Adult RPGs for Jan-Mar QTR available on the literature table. Donation $1 per copy.

*Bible Witness (Jul-Aug 2015) available free on the literature table.

 

Praise & Thanksgiving

1. Journey mercies: all  arriving safely at their destinations.

2. Visitors & new worshippers.

3. God’s daily mercy, guidance & blessings.

4. Christmas Day Worship Service & Fellowship Lunch.

 

Prayer Items

1. Health & God’s healing - Pastor Ki; Dr Gary Cohen (USA), Dr SH Tow (S’pore); Rev Patrick Tan (S’pore) & George van Buuren; Rev Edward & Sis Lehia Paauwe; & others in affliction.

2. iSketch & Tell Ministry: Pr Hai Seng Lim’s ministry in Melbourne.

3. Cambodia Missions.

4. Other Missions: House of Hope, Cebu - Salvation & healing of drug addicts.

5. New Life BPC (London) - Dr Carl Martin; God’s guidance & encouragement for congregation.

6. Providence B-P Church, Mawson Lakes - Ps David & Sis Susan Weng, & congregation.

7. Youth & Assistant Pastor for Hope B-P Church.

8. Journey mercies: all those who are travelling during the summer vacation.

9. Safe labour & delivery.

10. Interpreters of sermon into Mandarin.

11. Jobs: Those seeking for jobs in Adelaide.

12. Persecuted believers in Islamic countries & Communist countries (N Korea, China & Vietnam).

13. God’s guidance & provision of new church property for worship, office & fellowship activities.

14. Australia: people in this nation to turn to God. Wisdom and guidance for our political leaders.

15. Hopefuls working away.

 

 

 

© Hope Bible-Presbyterian Church
PO Box 398, Fullarton, Adelaide, South Australia 5063