Early Church History
Early Church History
Birth of the Church
- ~5 BC
Jesus of Nazareth Is Born
The Resurrection of Jesus
46 Paul Begins Missionary Journeys
The Christian Church is a term generally used by Protestants to refer to the whole group of people belonging to the Christian religious tradition throughout history. In this understanding, the "Christian Church" does not refer to a particular Christian denomination, but to the body of all believers. Others believe the term "Christian Church" or "Church" applies only to a specific historic Christian institution (e.g., the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and Oriental Orthodoxy). The Four Marks of the Church first expressed in the Nicene Creed are unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity.
Thus, some Christians (particularly Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox churches) identify the Christian Church to be visible structure, while others (generally Protestants) understand the Church to be an invisible reality, not identified with any earthly structure or individual denomination. Others equate the Church with particular groups that share certain essential elements of doctrine and practice, though divided on other points of doctrine and government (such as the branch theory as taught by some Anglicans).
Most English translations of the New Testament generally use the word "church" as a translation of the Ancient Greek term "ἐκκλησία" (transliterated as "ecclesia") found in the original Greek texts, which generally meant an "assembly". This term appears in two verses of the Gospel of Matthew, 24 verses of the Acts of the Apostles, 58 verses of the Pauline Epistles (including the earliest instances of its use in relation to a Christian body), two verses of the Letter to the Hebrews, one verse of the Epistle of James, three verses of the Third Epistle of John, and 19 verses of the Book of Revelation. In total, ἐκκλησία appears in the New Testament text 114 times, although not every instance is a technical reference to the church.
In the New Testament, the term ἐκκλησία is used for local communities as well as in a universal sense to mean all believers. Traditionally, only orthodox believers are considered part of the true church, but convictions of what is orthodox have long varied, as many churches (not only the ones officially using the term "Orthodox" in their names) consider themselves to be orthodox and other Christians to be heterodox.