Changing Time, Changing Tactics: An Introduction to the 3rd Century of Christianity

Roman ruins in the midst of modern Alexandria serve as a reminder of the Roman Empire's far reaching influence.
Roman ruins in the midst of modern Alexandria serve as a reminder of the Roman Empire’s far reaching influence.
In an unexpected turn, the site of Christianity migrates into northern Africa, an unlikely place that many would consider for being an influence in the Christian world. Yet, that’s exactly where we find ourselves in the third century. As surprising as this may be, it shouldn’t be. Upon the hellenization of much of the territory around the Mediterranean Sea by Alexander the Great, northern Africa became a source for heavy thinking. Ancient Alexandria is often remembered for its great library of the day, boasting resources unmatched for that era.

There was another shift that began to take place. Up until now, apart from a few defenses from the apologists, much of the teaching was internal, meaning that the writings were directed towards Christians. They were meant to encourage and teach them, making them more grounded in the faith. Yet, in the third century, those that we will look at took the writings external focusing on teaching about Christianity to the secular world. With persecution stepped up, there was a great need to teach others through misunderstandings and false teachings. Despite the stifling of Christian teachings, God grew His church greatly….and indeed it was a literal church as we think of it today. It was during this time that the ‘formal church’ began to be organized and chartered.
There emerged two major centers in northern Africa: Alexandria and Carthage. With a similar purpose. each differentiated itself from the other. While Alexandria was heavily influenced by Platonism, Carthage was influenced by Stoicism. As a ‘thinking’ center for the world, false teachings and cults were rampant in Alexandria and thus, Alexandrian Christians sought to put forth a defense. It was the Alexandrians that melded several backgrounds together, mixing philosophy with Christianity, yet with the idea that there was one way of thinking that was superior to all. Of course, their assertion was that Christian truth was superior to all. Those in Carthage on the other hand, focused more heavily on community and moral living.
With a shift in location and a shift in focus, our journey through historical theology now takes us into a different realm that will bring us face to face with intense persecution that will show us just how strong the power of God is in a believer’s life. Next week, we begin a closer look at some individuals who endured, persevered, and proclaimed.

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