Part 3, Expanding around the World. Lesson 2 of 10.
Lesson 10. Beyond the Roman Empire
Through today’s lesson, we hope you will expand your vision of how God can use you to bring the gospel to many others.
1.Thomas in India. A group of believers in SW India called “Thomas Christians” teach that their church was started when around 52 AD Christ’s disciple Thomas is believed to have come to India. According to a book called “The Acts of Thomas,” Thomas was brought in as a slave by a ruler in order to build a palace, but instead Thomas gave the building money to the poor. The ruler then became a believer when he saw a vision of the palace that had been built for him in heaven. The church grew, and today in India at least six major groups of people call themselves “Thomas Christians.”
2.Jesus people in India. An interesting phenomenon in India is the existence of hundreds of thousands of people who confess faith in Jesus but do not receive baptism and do not join a church. Most of them are women, and most of them are from the lower caste. Many heard about Jesus by attending a Christian school. If they officially join the Christian church, they will lose government privileges. Higher caste believers do not join the church because of fear of rejection by their relatives; one reason the relatives will be angry is because they feel the person is joining a religion that belongs to a lower caste. These believers show it is possible to change religions without changing culture. Although they may visit a church service, much of their worship is in Hindu style, looking at a picture of Jesus. Since they feel the threat of evil spirits, they are glad that Jesus is a God who has power over the spirits, who has love, and who cares about them.
3.Orthodox branches. The rest of the countries in this lesson separated themselves from the three branches introduced in lesson one¹‾¹ when they did not accept a teaching of one of the early church councils. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 declared that Christ is one Person in two natures (divine and human). This is called the “orthodox” teaching, and is accepted by the three branches. The reasoning is that Jesus was both God and Man, and that each nature was distinct but not separate, because only if Christ were truly human could he have felt our pain and died as the substitute for our sins.
4.Another branch. Those who did not accept this wording are called non-Chalcedonian Churches. They preferred to say that Christ has one nature, which is divine and human. They emphasized the God-nature of Jesus, to the point that the human nature of Jesus is dominated by the God-nature. This view is called “monophysitism,” which means “one nature.” The council rejected the idea that Jesus had only a god-nature, so those who disagreed moved east out of the reach of the Roman Empire, so that the Roman Emperor could not force them to accept the decision. This view is held by the historic churches of Ethiopia, Egypt, Syria, and Armenia. Churches with this non-Chalcedonian view are today often called “the Church of the East.” (Various groups within it include the Assyrian Church of the East, Oriental Orthodox Church, Syrian Church of the East.) Even up to today, a good way to determine whether a group of believers is orthodox is to find out what they teach about Jesus – if they teach the Jesus is fully God and fully man.
5.India again. Refugees from the Middle East regularly settled on the coast of India. Many were believers who were escaping from persecution by the empire of Persia (today called Iran), which at that time also controlled Syria. But in 401, Persia allowed religious freedom. These refugees to India were non-Chaldedonian believers who were free to continue their view of Christ because they were outside the control of the Roman Empire. Because of the relationship between the Syrian church and the refugees in India, by the 500’s the Bishop who lived in Babylon, controlled by Persia, had also taken responsibility for the Christians in India. This group is called the “Church of the East.” Today a large number of believers in India still belong to this ancient church, there, which has its headquarters in Syria. The story of Catholic missions in India will be in Lesson 14, and of Protestants in India will be in Lesson 16.
6.Ethiopia. Africa has had Christians from the first century. The Bible tells how Philip told an official from Ethiopia about the gospel . 1 In the fourth century, other missionaries2 established churches there, and the Bible was translated³ into the main language. This historic Ethiopian church did not accept the wording of the Council of Chalcedon, (see paragraphs 3 and 4 above) so it is not one of the “three branches” (Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic) introduced in lesson one, but it remains the dominant church. After the Muslims took over northern Africa, there was little contact with the churches of Europe and the Middle East and Africa. Roman Catholic missionaries came in the 1200’s and there are some churches that accept the pope, but the historic Ethiopian church has remained independent from the Roman Catholic Church. In 2010, 20 million out of the total population of 85 million belonged to the traditional Ethiopian Church (in 2017. the total population is over 100 million). Other Orthodox Churches, Catholic Churches, and Protestant Churches bring the total of those who believe in Jesus to 60 per cent. There are more than 80 different languages in Ethiopia. Only 20 per cent of the people can read the official Bible, which is in one of those languages. At a meeting in 2015, representatives of 5 other languages began to translate the New Testament.
7.Expansion in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is the location of one of the greatest evangelism events in Africa. In 1928 a Protestant missionary doctor4 began work in a province of Ethiopia where there were no Christians. The work was difficult because the people believe in spirits. After nine years there were only 48 Christians, and then the missionaries were forced to leave because of war. The attacking armies tried to destroy the church. They arrested leaders and whipped them – some died, and some were so badly hurt that they could not lie on their backs for months. In 1942 the war had ended and the missionaries returned. They found that the church had grown to ten thousand believers. The church grew because of the warm love displayed by the Christians even while they were being persecuted. The unbelievers were deeply impressed, and the news that this kind of love was possible was spread from person to person. Protestant churches in Ethiopia continue to grow and even to send out missionaries.5
8.Egypt. In early centuries, Egypt was an important center of the church. In Egypt today, most people accept the Muslim faith, which came to them in the seventh century. Now the believers who remain in Egypt are a small minority, about ten per cent of the population. Most of them belong to the “non-Chalcedonian” branch. They are called Copts, which is from a Greek word that means “Egyptian.” In 2010, the Coptic Church, plus other Orthodox, Catholics, and some Protestants, totaled 13 per cent of the population of 84 million. The Coptic church in Egypt supervises the church in Ethiopia.
9.Armenia. The Armenians lived around the area of today’s eastern Turkey. In the early centuries they were an independent country. In AD 301 Armenia became the first Christian nation. They have often been ruled by other countries, but today they are independent. In 2010, half of the 3 million people belonged to the original church, called the Armenian Apostolic Church. There are also other orthodox groups, catholic churches, and Protestant groups, bringing the total of those who believe in Jesus to 94 per cent.
10.China. During the Tang dynasty, in the year 635, a group of non-Chalcedonian missionaries entered China, In English, this group is sometimes called “the Nestorians.” 6 In Chinese, this church group is called “Jing Jiao,” (which means “shining religion”) and also “Messiah religion.” At that time the Tang dynasty was open to many different cultures and peoples, demonstrated by the slogan “Ten doctrines flow, a hundred temples fill the cities.” Jing Jiao flourished, and there soon were churches in many parts of China. Most of the New Testament was translated into Chinese.
11.Buddhism. Buddhism entered China just a few centuries before the Jing Jiao arrived. All religions were welcome in Tang China, and local Chinese as well as foreigners from many places talked freely about their faiths. Let us imagine one of these conversations between a believer and a Buddhist. The Buddhist points out that we can escape suffering through the knowledge that all is illusion, and so there is no material world; the believer answers that God made the material world and God said that it was good; we are included in the things He made. The Buddhist declares that through meditation we can have a spiritual experience in which we sense that all is nothing; the believer answers that through Jesus we can know and then have a good relationship with the source of all being, God himself. The Buddhist shares his hope that he will do enough good works to be in a better position when he is reincarnated; the believer admits that he could never do enough good works to make any spiritual progress, but that God sent Jesus, who is God and man, to pay the penalty that we deserve, so that upon death we can go directly to God and live with Him forever.
12.Suppression. In 845, the Tang emperor prohibited foreign religions, including Buddhism and Jing Jiao. Jing Jiao almost totally vanished from China. It only remained among a few minority groups in the north of China. They grew again during the rule of the Mongols, called the Yuan dynasty, who ruled Chine from 1280 to 1360. In the Mongol language, the name “Yelikewen,” which means “people who tell the gospel” was given to the believers in Jing Jiao, and also to the Catholic missionaries, who began to come during the Yuan dynasty. The catholic missionaries met the Nestorians and wrote about them. In the year 1300, there were 300,000 believers in Jing Jiao in China, and Yuan documents state that there were 72 churches. However, the next dynasty, the Ming, oppressed all foreign religions, and about 1368, the Ming dysnasty prohibited both Jing Jaio and the Catholics, and both disappeared from China. Christian activity ended because the Christian influence had been largely among the Mongols, Tibetans, and foreign visitors, and not as much among the Chinese people. In chapter one we saw that Catholics missionaries returned to China again in 1583, near the end of the Ming dynasty, The story of Catholic missions in China will be in Lesson 14, and of Protestants in China will be in Lesson 17.
1 Acts 8:26-39.
1-1. The three large branches of Christianity are Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant. All these branches accept the Apostle’s Creed and the teachings of the seven ecumenical involving everyone) church councils, including the NIcene Creed, which was authorized at the fourth council. The councils are explained in lesson 27.
2 Frumentius, and Edesius of Tyre.
3 The Bible used in Ethiopia has most of the books in the Roman Catholic Bible plus a few more, such as Jubilees and First Enoch. See lists at Bible Books
4 Dr. Thomas Lambie with Sudan Interior Mission. This story is told in From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya (see bibliography) on pages 298-299, where it is called “the greatest story of Christian evangelism in Africa.”
5 For example, the Lutheran Church in Ethiopia, called Mekane Yesu (pronounced meck-ah-nay Yay-zoos , which means “the dwelling place of Jesus) grew from 65,000 in 1959 to near 7 million in 2015. Web citation:
About 40% of the Ethiopian people belong to the ancient church, called the Ethiopian orthodox church. The largest of the Protestant churches is called Kale Heywet, which had over 8 million members in 2015. (information from the book Living Translation, by Bruce A. Smith, Mailtland, Florida: Xulon Press, 2017, pages 76 to 80.)
6 Nestorius had been bishop in Constantinople from 428 until he was deposed in 431. His followers taught that there were two persons in Christ, in contrast to the decision at Chalcedon in 381 that there is one person in two natures. Though it is disputed whether Nestorius actual taught this, the name Nestorian today is applied to non-Chalcedonian churches in general. (Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian church, article “Nestorius.”). The leader of the group that entered China was Alopen. A large stone which narrates their history was carved in 781, and discovered in 1625 in Xian Province. (details about the church were taken from Dictionary of Asian Christianity, article “Nestorian Church, China.”)
Word List: Alopen 阿罗本 阿羅本 Chalcedon 迦克敦 Copts 科普替教会（會） Ethiopia 埃塞俄比亚 Heterodox 非正统 [fei zheng tong.] Jing Jiao景教 Monophysites 基督一性说派 [ji du yi xing shuo pai] Syria 叙利亚 Yelikewen 也里可温