The followers of the Way, as described in the first chapters of the Acts, were Jews centered around Jerusalem. While the Faith entered Roman society under the veil of Judaism, quite soon it became separated. In the time of the Apostles’ preaching, the Way spread from Jerusalem to Antioch, where St Peter preached and baptised and where the followers of the Way were first called Christians (Acts 11:19-26).
It spread to many other cities and areas of the Middle East and surrounding areas including: Greece (where the greatest of the Apostles St Paul preached); Egypt (St Mark); Armenia (St Phillip); Asia Minor, Persia, and Scythia (St Andrew); Rome (Sts Peter and Paul); and as far as India (St Thomas). It is important to note that the Gospel spread purely orally at that time from the Apostles to their followers. The New Testament was written and steadily compiled over the 1st century and it took another 200 years for the current canon to be accepted by the Church.
The most important decision the Church had to make during the 1st century was whether the Gentiles (non-Jews) could be received into the Church without being required to follow the ritual requirements of the Mosaic Law. Based on St Paul’s understanding of the Old Testament and on Saint Peter’s testimony about how the Roman centurion Cornelius received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10-11), the first Council of the Church (which was held in Jerusalem in 49AD) decided that Gentile converts would not be subject to the Mosaic Law (Acts 15). Presided over by St James the Brother of the Lord and the first Bishop of Jerusalem, this council is considered the prototype of all subsequent Church councils.
The Church was founded in each place as a local community. It often met in private houses, such as that of Sts Priscilla and Aquila; first in Ephesus in Asia Minor (where the Apostle John also preached) (1 Cor 16:19) and then in Rome (Rom 16:3-5). These early congregations were led by Bishops or Presbyters who received the laying-on-of-hands (Ordination) from the Apostles. (Acts 14:23) As the Apostles themselves were called to spread the Gospel throughout the whole world, they did not serve as Bishops (ie. local leaders) of any particular Christian community.
Each of the early Christian communities had its own unique character and challenges, as the New Testament writings reveal. St Luke writes that the first Church in Jerusalem “continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and communion, in the breaking of the bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42) The bonds of love and faith were so strong among the first Christians that they “had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” (Acts 2:44-45).
Source: Lychnos July-August 2019