The Founders of the Church
Posted by foryourfaith on April 25, 2010
In the months and years following the execution of Jesus, the religious movement he began spread throughout the Roman Empire. The flourishing of this new faith was at least partly attributable to the early leaders who gave their lives to it.
In the earliest days, the apostles who had remained together in Jerusalem were the leaders of the church. But soon a few men came to the fore. About AD 53, Paul mentioned three principal leaders of the original church in Jerusalem, “James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars” (Galatians 2:9). Only two of these “pillars” of the church were from the original twelve – Cephas, or Peter, and John the son of Zebedee.
When these men were arrested by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, and their judges “saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they wondered; and they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). This fact set them apart. It meant that they could never go back to their lives as simple fishermen.
While the ministry of Peter ranged widely from Jerusalem to Antioch, across Asia Minor, to Rome, John is believed to have labored for decades in the city of Ephesus.
The third “pillar,” called by Paul “James the Lord’s brother,” devoted his life to leading the Jerusalem church. He was not one of the twelve and indeed had evidently not even been a believer during Jesus’ lifetime. In tradition, he was also called James “the Righteous.” He ended his life as a martyr – thrown from a parapet and beaten to death with a club.
The fourth great leader was Paul, who, like James, was not one of the twelve. Perhaps the unlikeliest of all the early leaders, he had been an implacable enemy of the church. Acts, however, designates him as literally Christ’s “chosen vessel” or, in modern terms, his “chosen instrument” to take the Gospel of the Gentiles.
Amazingly, within 50 years, Christianity had spread across the Roman Empire and perhaps beyond. The New Testament attributes this spread first and foremost to God who empowered and guided the growth of the faith. But it also recognizes the role of those who gave their lives to it.