Art Maier: Tracing origins of first known church building

Art Maier

When was the first church building actually constructed? We may never know, though there are a few clues from interesting history.

Some early Christians of Jewish background worshipped, if possible, at the Temple in Jerusalem. Soon, however, Christians began to hold separate meetings.

Private homes were used. About A.D. 60, the Apostle Paul wrote a brief letter to a fellow Christian named Philemon. The letter was saved, and made part of the New Testament, usually with the Philemon name as a sort of title.

The Philemon letter begins with a greeting that says, in part:

"Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy or brother, To Philemon, our beloved fellow worker and the church in your house" (Revised Standard Version --1946).

Home meetings continued, but historians feel that perhaps a little before A.D. 200, some Christian congregations were holding services in what we would consider church buildings.

The city of Tyre, in modern Lebanon, had a church structure built perhaps before A.D. 254. During Roman persecution, this building was damaged or destroyed.

Religious persecution ended with Emperor Constantine, who ruled from A.D. 306 to 337. With government sanction, a bishop named Paulinus helped organize the rebuilding of the Tyre church on a grand scale, as a cathedral. This rebuilding was finished during the early A.D. 300s.

The redone Tyre Cathredal was dedicated in a huge assembly, about the year A.D. 315. At that convocation, a church official named Eusebius made a speech, in which he graciously praised bishop Paulinus.

Some years later, Eusebius wrote a book of church history, up to and including his time.

In this book, Eusebius gave some space to the dedication of the Tyre cathedral. Eusebius also put in the book a text of the speech he made praising Paulinus. The Eusebius speech, while complimenting Paulinus, also praised the Tyre cathedral itself, and gave a lengthy word description of the great physical looks. Today, preserved in the Eusebius history book, this speech text is the earliest known written description of a church building structure.

Of course, prayer and praise to God are possible in practically any setting. Still, for many people, a church building of some kind is preferred for worship. May we ever have the liberty to put up buildings where the Bible message is given, as an outreach, to a needy world. In church, or some other way, has that message reached you?

The Bible message starts with the fact that we sin. Because of sin, we deserve death now, with eternal punishment to follow. The same message goes on to tell of God’s loving rescue. God was born on earth as Jesus, also called Christ. Through terrible suffering, Christ took our sin penalty.

Anyone who believes in Christ, and what he did, receives free forgiveness of all sins. Believers in Christ also have a future of eternal life in heaven.

Christ calls to the world, offering forgiveness. If you somehow missed Christ’s call before, don’t turn away from it this time.

Put faith in Christ as your savior, now. Then, with this faith, look forward to the vast joys of heaven, your home, forever.

And while looking forward, in faith, to heaven, give a little time to attend a church of your choice. Church organizations, in buildings big and small, have been with us for centuries, offering the gospel. Surely, there is, nearby, a church that can serve you very personally.

Art Maier is a columnist for the Boonville Daily News.