The Book of Acts

LEADER TIMES WEEKEND RELIGION ARTICLE FOR

May 18, 2013 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 

Tomorrow churches around the world will celebrate Pentecost Sunday.  On this Lord’s Day the Church remembers the beginning of the mission to carry the “Good News” of Jesus to the ends of the earth.

The Book of Acts gives us a record of the earliest advances of Christian movement in the city of Jerusalem.  Beginning with 120 Disciples in Acts 1:15 the church grows to 3120 at Pentecost in Acts 2:41.  By Acts 4:4 the number had grown to 5000 believers and by the end of the first five years the numbers had grown significantly including a large number of priests.

The record of the second five years of the Church in Israel is given in Acts 6:8 through 9:31 and by the end of this period the fellowship of believers had spread throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria.  The next five year period (Acts 9:32 – 12:24) finds the Church as far north as Antioch of Syria.  Book four of Acts (12:25 – 16:5) records Paul’s first missionary journey and the establishment of congregations throughout Asia, which is modern Turkey.  The fifth book of Acts (16:6 – 19:20) sees the expansion of the Church into Greece.  The final chapters of Acts record Paul in Rome.  The date is 59 AD.

While we have the record in Acts of the movement of the Church to the West, the other Apostles were involved in moving the message of the Gospel to the East.  Andrew evangelized Scythia.  Philip established churches in central Asia Minor.  Bartholomew and Thomas carried the Gospel to India.  Matthew worked in Ethiopia.  Jude and Thaddeus took the Witness to Mesopotamia and finally they joined the Apostle Simon in Persia.  I have visited the graves of John and Phillip.  John is buried in Ephesus and Phillip in Hierapolis, both in modern Turkey.

David Barrett’s research informs us that by the year 100 AD 6 percent of the world was Christian and the world would have been 28 percent evangelized and the Scriptures translated into six languages.

Our statistical data for the Eastern Church suffers from the utter destruction of these churches in a later time, but this is another story.  About the year 780 Timothy was bishop and Catholicos of the Church of the East.   He was headquartered in the city of Seleucua in Mesopotamia.   During his reign the medieval church in England had two metropolitans, or area senior clergy; one at York and one at Canterbury.  Timothy himself presided over nineteen metropolitans and eighty-four bishops.  The centers of Christian leadership were located at Rai near Tehran, in Syria, Turkestan, Armenia and at Dailumaye on the Caspian Sea.

Even as late as 1050 the region of Asia Minor had 373 bishoprics and its inhabitants were virtually all Christian.

By the year 500 the Christian Church had spread over Syria, Mesopotamia, into Persia, south into Arabia, India, China, Egypt and the North African coast, Ethiopia,  and even as far as Japan.  The history of the rise and fall of the Eastern Church is too complex to cover in these brief articles, but a reminder at Pentecost is helpful so that we understand that Christianity is not a Western faith.  It became a Western faith by default when the scourge of Islam wiped Christianity off the map of the Middle East.  It did not go easily.  The story is heart rending.  But, for now, we need to understand the faithfulness of the Apostles and their followers to the command of Jesus to “go into the entire world.”

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at ravscarle@verizon.net).  END-whs

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