Gone, But Not Forgotten

Have you ever wondered what happened to the church after the New Testament was written and the last disciple of Jesus died?  If you have than this book on church history is for you!  Church history is the study of the church as seen through its important events, places, and people.  This book was written to give you the reader a very basic and clear understanding of the Christian Church from the time of last apostle’s death (John-98AD), through the Great Reformation in the mid 1500’s, and to the 1900's.
Jesus Himself declared in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."  Therefore, it is very important today to know the real history of the true church of Jesus Christ in response to the many attacks Satan has brought against it.  First, there are the counter Christian groups, also known as “cults,” such as the Mormons and the Jehovah Witnesses that teach the true church was “lost” sometime in the fourth century during the “supposed” formation of the Roman Catholic Church and they have been called by God to “restore” the true church of Jesus Christ that differs from mainstream Christianity today.  Second, such religions like Islam teach that Paul was a corrupter of the Christian faith and that true Christians were really just followers of Allah and not the Trinitarian worshippers of Jesus found in the modern New Testament.
However, if these attacks are true than Jesus lied and failed at keeping His word, meaning the gates of hell did in fact prevail against the church.  But this is not the case, as you will soon learn as you examine the lives and events of the people that followed the trail blazed by the first disciples.  You will soon learn that the true church did not die, but rather the true church of Jesus Christ continued to blaze new trails in each and every generation and is here today alive and well! 
These leaders of the early church have earned the name “fathers,” because it is upon their shoulders that today the modern church stands.  Many of them never had the chance to live long lives because they were martyred and killed simply for believing, “Jesus is Lord”.  But for those that had the chance to write down their beliefs and share with us their profound faith we must honor their lives by telling their story.  This book is dedicated to their memory and the love they had for Jesus and for truth.
Though today students are taught in history classes about famous inventors, explorers, and scientists, this book will discuss the lives of people mostly forgotten by history, but forever remembered in heaven for overcoming the attacks of the devil by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of their testimony and for not loving their lives so much as to shrink from death, Revelations 12:11.  The book of Hebrews describes them best when it reads, “the world was not worthy of them," Hebrews 11:38.  Therefore, in a church age when many pastors and Christians leaders spend more time chasing the latest “get big quick” scheme than knowing the deep truths of the persecuted saints of the past, I write their story in hopes of awakening the senses of cold and numb Christians to a fresh fire of like faith.
This book is not meant to be an exhaustive recount of every person and event, but rather a summery of the major events and people that made them happen.  Nor is this book meant to be a detailed defense of every belief in Christianity, but rather it is meant to tell the story of the basic Christian truths the church fathers taught with theirs lives and sometimes with their deaths.  I will not focus on doctrines that that are considered “non-essential” for salvation, but rather I will focus on the core doctrines that unite Christians all over the world and did back then.
My aim is to show you how the true church lived and taught the most important doctrines of Jesus Christ throughout every generation.  Such as; the belief in one God revealed in three distinct persons, the deity and worship of Jesus Christ, salvation through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection, the inspiration of Holy Scripture, and the final judgment of both the saved and damned. 
I pray you will enjoy your journey through church history and become inspired to follow the church father’s example of faith, perseverance, purity, and power.  Please take some time right now to read this passage in Hebrews and pray that you will be able to see the “cloud of witnesses” that went before you and receive strength to fix your eyes on Jesus and run the race now set before you!

Hebrews 12:1-2, "1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."

Brief Timeline | 33-451AD

33AD Death/Resurrection & Ascension of Jesus

33-98 Ministry of the Apostles, Paul’s Missionary Journeys, and writing of the New Testament

40-98 Clement of Rome, disciple of Peter & Paul

50-117 Ignatius, disciple of John

69-155 Polycarp, disciple of John

100-165 Justin Martyr

110-202 Irenaeus

160-220 Tertullian

200-258 Cyprian

293-373 Athanasius

312-313 Constantine’s Conversion & Roman Acceptance of Christianity (Edict of Milan)

325 Council of Nicaea

354-430 Augustine

451 Council of Chalcedon

Chapter 1 | Martyrs, Defenders, & Organizers


After the death of Stephen, the first martyr in the New Testament, the church did not experience peace until the conversion of Constantine and the acceptance of Christianity in Rome in 313 AD.  Therefore, what started with the persecution of Jewish leaders continued with the Roman government for almost 300 years with extreme violence and hatred.  This type of awful persecution was the beginning of the fulfillment of Jesus’ words spoken in Matthew 24:9, “you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.”  
During this time such Emperors as Nero and Diocletian killed hundreds of thousands of Christians by the way of the sword, gladiator fights, burning at the stake, and wild beasts.  Christians were not allowed to meet in public, pray to their God, or celebrate their holy days.  Christians were treated as the worst class of citizens in the whole Roman Empire.  Followers of Jesus could not own property, hold jobs, and if they were found guilty of worshipping Jesus they would face death.[1]
Here are some of the stories of these great soldiers of Christ that were preserved and handed down for our remembrance as told by John Foxe:

“Peter, a young man, amiable for the superior qualities of his body and mind, was beheaded for refusing to sacrifice to Venus. He said, "I am astonished you should sacrifice to an infamous woman, whose debaucheries even your own historians record, and whose life consisted of such actions as your laws would punish. No, I shall offer the true God the acceptable sacrifice of praises and prayers." Optimus, the proconsul of Asia, on hearing this, ordered the prisoner to be stretched upon a wheel, by which all his bones were broken, and then he was sent to be beheaded.” 

“Agatha, a Sicilian lady, was not more remarkable for her personal and acquired endowments, than her piety; her beauty was such, that Quintian, governor of Sicily, became enamored of her, and made many attempts upon her chastity without success. In order to gratify his passions with the greater conveniency, he put the virtuous lady into the hands of Aphrodica, a very infamous and licentious woman. This wretch tried every artifice to win her to the desired prostitution; but found all her efforts were vain; for her chastity was impregnable, and she well knew that virtue alone could procure true happiness. Aphrodica acquainted Quintian with the inefficacy of her endeavors, who, enaged to be foiled in his designs, changed his lust into resentment. On her confessing that she was a Christian, he determined to gratify his revenge, as he could not his passion. Pursuant to his orders, she was scourged, burnt with red-hot irons, and torn with sharp hooks. Having borne these torments with admirable fortitude, she was next laid naked upon live coals, intermingled with glass, and then being carried back to prison, she there expired on February 5, 251.”

“Trypho and Respicius, two eminent men, were seized as Christians, and imprisoned at Nice. Their feet were pierced with nails; they were dragged through the streets, scourged, torn with iron hooks, scorched with lighted torches, and at length beheaded.”

“Julianus, an old man, lame with the gout, and Cronion, another Christian, were bound on the backs of camels, severely scourged, and then thrown into a fire and consumed. Also forty virgins, at Antioch, after being imprisoned, and scourged, were burnt.”

“At Utica, a most terrible tragedy was exhibited: three hundred Christians were, by the orders of the proconsul, placed round a burning limekiln. A pan of coals and incense being prepared, they were commanded either to sacrifice to Jupiter, or to be thrown into the kiln. Unanimously refusing, they bravely jumped into the pit, and were immediately suffocated.”[2]

It is obvious by these accounts that Christians were deeply dedicated in their love for Jesus.  Could you imagine facing such horrible circumstances just for believing in Jesus?  Could you imagine watching the closest people in your lives be put to death just because they refused to accept another god or another way to heaven?  This was the everyday life of the early church Christian and because of the Spirit of God within them they were able to endure these great hardships and receive a much better reward in heaven with Jesus.
However, with a quick glance at the Roman Empire and its plurality of gods and goddess one may ask, “What was the Romans big problem with Jesus?”  “What did the Christians do to make them so mad?”  History shows that the Romans loved to have wild sex parties at the altar of their gods, they committed gross violence to the enemies they fought in wars, and they had tremendous toleration and open-mindedness to practically all faiths and religions, why would a group of “Jesus people” make them so angry?  The answer: the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
During this time Romans loved to celebrate the different holy days to the gods of the Greeks and enjoy the philosophy of the wise men but they had no toleration of Christians because the Christians claimed that the Roman holy days were evil and wicked in God’s eyes, all the wisdom of the world was foolishness to God, and unless a person accepted Jesus as their one and only Lord they would all perish for eternity in hell.
Therefore, the Romans began to remove the Christians and their teachings from off the face of the earth.  But what they meant for evil God meant for good.  During this time known as the Great Persecution the church continued to grow at a rapid rate.  At the beginning of the second century (100 AD) there were only thousands of Christians but by the time of Constantine (313 AD) there were approximately 10-15 million Christians.  The small group of a hundred disciples in the upper room literally led to the overturning of the greatest earthly power of their day in less than 300 years!


1. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, here online.


At the same time the church was facing great persecution it was also being attacked by false prophets and false doctrines from within.  The first council of Jerusalem was brought about by the false teachings of Jews who had accepted Jesus and were teaching all Gentiles to follow the Laws of Moses in order to be saved, Acts 15.  Just a few years after Paul had planted the church of Corinth he was under attack from false apostles in Corinth who were trying to lead the people away from the “real Jesus," 2 Corinthians 11:4-6.  John had to warn his flock against antichrists that had left the truth and were trying to lead the people astray, 1 John 4:1-3.  And just sixty years after Pentecost, Jesus gave John the Revelation of the seven churches to him as a report of their progress and all seven churches were either fighting against heresy or already giving in to it, Revelation 2-3!
From the book of Galatians to the rebuke of Jesus in Revelation the true church has always been fighting for the truth.  Jesus said in Matthew 24:5, “For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ, and will deceive many” and Paul warned in 1 Timothy 4:1-2, “1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.”  Therefore, the early church fathers had to continue to fight against the many attacks of doctrines of demons and the false-christs of their day.
Here is a brief list and description of the different kinds of false doctrines the early church fathers had to fight against:

Gnosticism (90-150 AD) | Gnosticism comes from the Greek work “gnosis” which means “knowledge” and it originates from combining Greek dualism with Christian teachings.  The Gnostics believed all matter in the material world was evil and came from the god of the Old Testament known as the “demiurge” and all good came from the Supreme spiritual being who was Jesus spoke about in the New Testament.  Thus, they believed in two gods, one good, and the other evil.  This was how they explained the existence of both good and evil.  

They believed each person had a divine soul and needed to follow the “hidden knowledge” of Jesus to be free from all material sin and evil.  Because they did not believe soul and flesh could mix they believed sinning in the flesh did not affect their soul.  Therefore, this lead to Gnostics living immoral lives while yet claiming to be followers of Christ.  And because they believed the flesh was evil they did not believe Jesus took on flesh but rather was the illusion of a man and thus never physically died or rose for sins.

Marcionism (144-208 AD) | Marcionism came from the teaching of Marcion; a priest that left the Christian faith to teach a form of dualism likes the Gnostics, but with a more legalistic twist.  Marcion believed the god of the Old Testament-Yahweh (also known as the “demiurge”) was evil and the god of the New Testament-Jesus was good. 

He only accepted the writings of Paul and the Gospel of Luke because he was a companion of Paul.  And in contrast to the Gnostics Marcion taught sin should be avoided and only baptized those who were not married because he believed all sex was a sin.  Salvation was obtained by following the way of Jesus, which is love and forgiveness, and those who rejected it were subject to the demiurge in the lake of fire for eternity.

Ebionites (140-300 AD) | The Ebionites, which means “poor ones”, were opposite of the Gnostics and Marcionites because they believed that Jesus was simply a prophet who was sent by God to bring the lost people of Israel back to God and to follow the Old Testament Laws of Moses.  They did not believe in a New Testament or that Jesus was divine or to be worshipped and they taught that Paul was a false teacher and a corrupter of the teachings of Jesus. 

They only accepted the Gospel of Matthew and rejected the doctrine of “salvation by grace through faith” and taught that a man was saved by faith in Jesus and keeping the Law of Moses.  These people were also known as Judaizers and can be seen in the book of Acts at the council of Jerusalem and the ones being fought against in the book of Galatians.

Arianism (300-500 AD) | Arianism can from the teaching of Arius that taught Jesus was a lesser divine being than God the Father.  Arianism was more destructive and long lasting among the church because it held to most every tenant of the Christian faith except for the triune nature of God.  Arians like modern day Jehovah Witness lived good lives, preached the Gospel, and started many churches, however because they denied the equality of Jesus with the Father they were the first major sect to be condemned in a church council, thus the Council of Nicaea was formed to stop their heresy and solidify the truth of the trinity.[3]

Though there were many other sects and heresies from other groups such as the Manicheans, who made the Gnostic philosophy easier and more popular to follow, and the Montanists, who believed Scripture and prophecy was still being written by new apostles, but the church fathers stood their ground and waged war against the lies of their day and stood on the unmovable truths of Jesus found in the Old Testament and in the teachings of the original disciples.  Just like how Paul taught Timothy the truth and commanded him to teach it to reliable men so that they might teach it to others, the torch of truth was faithfully handed down from each disciple to a new generation despite all the lies and attacks.  Therefore, God’s truth remained firmed and established for all to see in every generation (2 Timothy 2:2).   
Some have made claims that because of all the heresies and divisive sects in the history of the church that it is impossible to know which “gospel” or “Jesus” is the “true Gospel” and the “true Jesus”, but that accusation could not be any further from the truth.  It is because the Christian faith and its core doctrines were tested so severely and publicly that an open-minded observer can clearly see by reading the fathers defenses against these attacks that what was handed down and preserved was indeed the pure truth of Jesus Christ.  


1. Clement of Rome’s Letter to the Corinthians, here online.

2. "Christianity Through the Centuries," by Earle E. Cairns.


During the time of great growth and persecution the first disciples followed the structure of church government set up by Paul in his Pastoral Epistles, mainly Elders and Deacons.  Because it was illegal to meet in large public places the church was forced to learn how to manage and oversee many smaller home churches throughout a city or region.  This type of church planting and governing can be seen during the life of Paul all the way until the time of Constantine.
For the first 300 years of church history there were only two major ways a church was governed.  The first one was called a “two-level leadership” structure.  In the two-level form of leadership the Elders worked together as a team to govern and teach the churches and the Deacons assisted them with the work.  There might have been a chief Elder among the Elders, but for the most part all the Elders had equal authority and worked together with their different giftings and strengths.   
The second was called a “three-level leadership” structure.  In the three-level form of leadership one Elder would be named “the Bishop”, and he would be considered the leader and teacher of the other Elders, which was called “the Presbytery,” and then the Deacons would serve the Presbytery and Bishop, 1 Timothy 3 & Titus 1.   This form of government was more popular because it allowed one Bishop to oversee many different house churches that each had their own set of Elders and Deacons.  This model is also the closest as seen in the Bible.  For example:  Paul the Apostle planted the church of Ephesus and then left Timothy as the “Bishop” to appoint and oversee the Elders and Deacons, 1 Timothy 1-3.
Each apostle or church planter was responsible for their own church and leadership.  Therefore, the first churches were designed to be self-governing and independent.  Eventually after the deaths of the original disciples, other Elders or Bishops voted the new Bishops of Elders of the churches in as often as they need to be replaced. The churches across the Roman Empire were held together by their common beliefs and similar structure, but they were not subjected to each other in a hierarchal fashion.  The mandatory subjection of Bishops to other Bishops did not become a norm until after the sixth century.[4]
Here is a brief description of the three-fold level of leadership:

Bishop | The Bishop being considered the head or lead Elder was responsible for the oversight of one or many churches.  His main role was to appoint new Elders to rule over smaller churches and to maintain the purity of teaching within the Presbytery and Deacons.  He would also be accountable to other neighboring Bishops so that he would continue in the right path and not lead others astray.  When members of his church would sin or need correction he would act as the disciplinarian and bring order to the church.  The example of a Bishop in the New Testament would be Peter and Paul (Acts 14:23 & 1 Peter 5:1-5).  (Note:  Even though Peter and Paul were also considered Apostles - church planters, they were also considered Bishops because they were the first Elders in the churches they started).

Presbytery | The Presbytery would be a group of Elders that worked together in an area to grow and develop the local churches.  Though they were subjected to their Bishop they were held in great honor by the people of God and were given the same day-to-day responsibilities as the Bishop, mainly to the teach the Word of God correctly and maintain order and discipline within the church.  The Elders in Paul and Peter’s various churches would be a New Testament example of a Presbytery (Acts 20:17-38 & 1 Peter 5:1-5).

Deacons | The Deacons were the helpers to the Elders and the servants to the people of God.  They were involved in the servanthood tasks of the church and at times the preaching of the Word.  Just like in the book of Acts they would help feed the poor, clean the tables, and do whatever could to help the Elders spend more time in prayer and in the study of God’s Word.  The first New Testament example of deacons was called “The Seven” who served the widows their daily food (Acts 6:1-7).

This type of church government enabled the disciples to grow and become strong both doctrinally and morally.  For this reason the church could grow from hundreds to millions in just a short period of time.  All of the early church fathers worked within these parameters of church structure and when trouble came by way of heresy or wicked behavior they used the structure of government to keep safe the flock of God so that the church could faithfully be preserved from generation to the next.
Paul said it best in his instructions to Titus, his appointed Bishop of the Presbytery in Crete, in Titus 1:5-16,

5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

10 For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. 11 They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. 12 Even one of their own prophets has said, "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." 13 This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith 14 and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. 16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

            Today’s churches would do well to learn from the early church father’s way of governing and organizing the church.  In modern times a person can leave a church under discipline because of sin and simply “hop” to another church and be received into leadership, however, in the early church the Bishops would never have allowed this to happen for the sake of the purity of the Body of Christ.  Also, TV preachers can change the Gospel of Jesus to a money making program and not be held accountable to other Bishops, when in the early church whole books were written against false doctrine just to warn the saints to avoid such people.  This was normal to the church and was not considered “harsh”, “unreasonable”, or “slanderous” because they wanted purity above all else.  (Also see Acts 5:1-10, 1 Corinthians 5, and Titus 3:9-11).
            The early church was able to maintain both purity in doctrine and character over three continents, with millions of people, and for over 500 years without any telephones, computers, or compromise; truly Jesus’ words were held true that the “gates of hell would not prevail” against His church!


1. What kind of feelings did you get when you read about the martyrs?  

2. Do you agree that its the Christian's job to give a defense of the faith to unbelievers?

3. Do you desire to be an Elder or a Deacon?

4. Pray for the leaders in your church and the leaders in the churches around the world.


1. Ignatius’ Book to the Ephesians, here online.

2. Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, Books 1-5, here online.

[1] Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing, 1981), 87-95. 
[2] John Foxe, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (Found at, 1554), Chapter 2.
[3] Catholic Encyclopedia, (Found at, 1917), “Each name was looked up for details”.
[4] Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity – Volume 1 (New York, New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1975), 131-132 & 182-188.