The Jews Rejecting the Gentiles. Vol. 4, No. 17

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Lending credence to our immediate past edition, it could be observed that the resurrection of Jesus was the starting point of Christian faith, whereas the Acts of the Apostles picture the church itself as only beginning with the Pentecostal explosion of the spirit.
Meanwhile, it is on record that this small community of believers at Jerusalem was led by twelve men who were supposedly chosen by Jesus himself during his life time, and were later named apostles. Their leader and spokesman, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, was Peter (or in Greek, Cephas meaning Rock). According to Paul, Peter was the first to see the risen Jesus, while Acts picture him as the Apostle who preaches the first sermon and works the first miracle.
The story of how this tiny community of believers spread to many cities of the Roman Empire within less than a century is indeed a remarkable chapter in the history of humanity. One thing historically significant here is that the first apostles were all Jews, and so were the first converts. Then, the Church remained completely Jewish, and their new faith did not require them to break with Temple of the Law.
Even at that, some Jewish leaders, notably the saduccees, regarded the Christians as an alien group of nonconformists and wanted to suppress them. But they could not because public opinion favoured the Christians and admired their fervent piety and fidelity to Jewish custom.
Providentially, the spread of the Church beyond Jerusalem occurred very gradually as the disciples carried their message to the numerous Jewish communities scattered along the Mediterranean coast. What actually triggered a general persecution was the martyrdom of Stephen, the deacon and leader of Jewish dissidents with strong Hellenistic ties and unorthodox views on the Jewish Temple.
He was accused for regarding his fellow Jews was “Stubborn people, with…pagan hearts and pagan ears.” This general persecution made his followers to sought refuge elsewhere and began to preach the Gospel wherever they travelled.
At Antioch, they took the revolutionary step that would have momentous consequences for the spread of the Church and the history of the world. Here, they first preached the Gospel to the Gentiles and dared to baptize them. And they made this city the Centre of Missionary Work among the Gentiles. As greater numbers of them began to stream into the Church, the Church was plunged into its first great controversy, which shoot it to its roots; The fundamental question was whether it was going to remain an exclusively Jewish affair or stretch out to encompass all of humanity.
The man who contributed most to the solution of the matter was Saul of Tarsus known by his Roman name, Paul. It was Paul who stripped the Gospel of much its Jewish character and adapted it to appeal to all humanity. For instance, circumcision was no more one of the criteria of becoming a Christian by baptism. It is worthy to note that Paul’s understanding of the Gospel as a liberation from the Law was not some academic theory he had worked out in a study; it was at the very heart of the conversion experience that had changed him from a dedicated devotee of the law to an ardent disciple of Jesus.
In the final analysis, it was with the Gentile that the future of the Church lay and now that the door was open, Paul lost no time in going out to gather them in. His ambition was to take the Gospel to the whole world. Meanwhile, his letters to his fledging communities show Paul as the first and greatest in the ranks of shapers of Church history.
At this juncture, the Holy Mother Church owes its gratitude to the Jerusalem decision for allowing freedom to the Gentiles and to the incredible labors of Paul and other missionaries. Under their auspices, the church spread with remarkable rapidity. By the year 59 AD for instance, Paul felt that he had exhausted his possibilities in the eastern Mediterranean. He now set his sights on Spain, the oldest Roman province and the main center of Roman civilization in the western Mediterranean.

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