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“So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2: 46-47
It began slowly, as a ripple through time. Only a few at first, just a handful of followers meeting together in homes, sharing bread, praising God. But as a ripple in water expands and covers the surface of the deep, so too this movement gained momentum, flowing freely over the face of the earth until finally it covered the whole, changing everything. From the first meeting in the Upper Room, until this present age, the church has dominated history as a source of meaning, proclaiming that “From Him, and through Him and to Him are all things.” – Romans 11:36
Believers were encouraged to live lives that were different and distinct from those who embraced the pagan culture around them. Yet this would not go unchallenged, for the Enemy could not stand silent as this Christian doctrine, this new movement, known as The Way, reached out and touched the hearts of man.
“Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Matthew 18: 19-20
The early church struggled from attacks outside its ranks, and sadly, even from within, as the Gnostics and Marcionites questioned the teachings of this new faith, even denying the deity of Christ. Yet from this struggle emerged the first ecumenical creeds as leaders within the church attempted to preserve the essence of the Christian faith. Unwilling to participate in the mandated emperor worship, Christians soon found their church persecuted. Nero, Domitian, and Diocletian were particularly cruel, collecting Christians, placing them in the Circus Maximus and the Coliseum for the entertainment of the masses.
Yet, we find that “the blood of the martyr has become the seed of the church.” – Tertullian.
Then in 313AD something happened that defied expectation. The Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, instituting this doctrine as the national religion of the Roman Empire. So the saints rested from their trials for a time.
“Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.” Habakkuk 2:4
As the church grew comfortable, church leaders gained power and prestige. Corruption entered into the ranks of the church. Schisms arose from within, the Empire split in two, and with it the church broke, separated by a wall of division. Disputes and disagreements emerged as the true message of the scriptures was lost to the Dark Ages of time. No longer was salvation a free gift, but a condition to be earned, or bought. Indulgences and acts of penance were seen as a means to work ones soul into heaven. Salvation was relegated to those who had the monetary means to deliver themselves from purgatory.
Then in 1517, a humble monk climbed upon his knees the Scala Sancta, or Holy Stairs, which tradition says Christ descended on retiring from the hall of judgment, where Pilate had passed sentence upon him. Here it was believed that at every step one could earn a year’s indulgence. So Martin Luther in hope, upon his knees, ascended the stairs, when he was startled by a sudden voice, which seemed as if it spoke from heaven, and said, “The just shall live by faith.” – (Wylie’s History of Protestantism)
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In that moment, his eyes were opened. So enflamed was his soul that he took a pen to parchment, he transcribed his 95 Theses, stating that salvation is free to all who ask, and nailed them to the door of the Wittenberg Church. For that he was deemed a heretic and excommunicated from the church.
Even so, Light had dawned. Reformation had begun. From this first catalysts, sprung a myriad of reformers, bringing the people closer to the true worship of God. As a spark ignites a conflagration, the ideas spoken by these reformers burst forth upon the world, setting to flame the hearts of men.
“And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Mark 16:15-16
With the advent of the printing press, word spread, bringing with it the ideas of reformation, erupting into a war of pamphlets and debates. Suddenly, the populace had access to the Word of God and with that access, free thinkers rose to reform the corruption that had plagued the church.
The hearts and souls of mankind were liberated. The fetters that bound the individual, that barred the way to heaven, were lifted. Salvation was for all who asked.
Through the efforts of reformers such as John Calvin, followed closely by Jakob Arminius, and finally John Wesley, England and the entire world were swept by the fever of spiritual renewal. Traditions were put to question. A call was given to return to the true form of worship, the Upper Room kind of worship.
Methodism arose through the four-fold Christian doctrine of John Wesley. His theology stated that the Bible is the sole source of Spiritual instruction. He dismissed the manmade creeds, believing that truth was found only in the Word of God. Salvation was experiential; the work of the Spirit was to be seen in the changed life of the individual. His doctrine of Holiness spread, proclaiming a belief in prevenient grace, personal salvation by faith, the witness of the Spirit, and sanctification.
“For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” Romans 12:4-5
On his heels, the Great Awaking emerged, reaching out across Europe gripping the souls of the New World colonies. As this methodology of personal faith emerged from the 19th-century Holiness movement, Christians, unsatisfied with the confusing doctrines and divisions within the church, pulled together, reclaiming the simplicity of fellowship in God. Many evangelical groups arose as two themes dominated the awakening church: unity in holiness and a mission to the world.
“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” Galatians 6:9
As we come to worship each week, let us cherish those that came before us, to enlighten and inspire us as we lift our hearts in praise to God. Let us return to the simplicity of the Way, gathering together in unity of spirit, in one accord as our forefathers have done. May we continue in this mission of unified believers, reaching out to those in need across the community, providing a place for believers to gather in unity of Spirit.
As instructed in the Great Commission, may we encourage one another to continue in good works, tirelessly and with renewed vigor and passion, extending our hand to the people in our neighborhood, bringing in the lost, lifting fellow believers continually, until all is fulfilled. Then may the Lord say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”