A major key to the expansion and growth of the Early Church was the establishment of apostolic centers. Every time the Church penetrated into a new area or ethnic group, it established a beachhead for the gospel. It was a teaching and training center that gave every Christian access to the fivefold ministry. These were apostolic regional centers or regional churches.
When people are trained and equipped, then miracles becomes common. Origen, in the 3rd Century, described the Church in his day this way, “Even recently converted pagans can heal. Greeks and barbarians who come to believe in Jesus sometimes perform amazing cures by invoking the Name of Jesus.”
Irenaeus, in 195, wrote that prophetic words, tongues, miracles of healing were common in the Church. Then he added that the Church frequently saw people raised from the dead, through the prayers of believers, ordinary Christians. The result was a massive harvest of souls for the Kingdom and the Church growing substantially. By the 4th Century the Church had spread all over the Roman Empire and beyond.
But then, the Church died. The Emperor Constantine seduced the church to compromise and merge with the pagan Roman culture. As paganism entered the Church, God’s Holy Spirit left and the Church died.
In the centuries after Constantine, a shroud of death spread across the Church. By the 6th Century the Early Church only survived where the Roman armies could not enforce Constantine’s edicts. The last remnant of the Early Church was the Celtic Church in Scotland and Ireland.
The Celtic Church was the last surviving outpost of early Christianity. In Celtic lands, apostles like Patrick and Columba continued for centuries to heal the sick, raises the dead, and equip the saints to minister. The last major apostolic center was located on a little Scottish isle called Iona. If we can understand what God did on that little island, it will give us a better picture of what God wants to do today.
To understand Iona, it is helpful to know a little background on Celtic Christianity. The key person in the Celtic Church was Patrick of Ireland. When most people think of Patrick, they assume they know two things about him: He was Catholic, and he was Irish. Actually, he was neither. Patrick was born in Roman Britain about 389, and although raised in a Christian family, Patrick was a prodigal who did not follow Jesus. At age 16, he was captured by Irish raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland.
Sitting on an Irish hillside tending his master’s sheep, the young slave Patrick remembered what he had been taught as a child and turned to God. He said, “Constantly I used to pray in the daytime. Love for God and His fear increased more and more. My faith grew and my spirit was stirred up. In a single day I said as many as a hundred prayers, and at night nearly as many. Before the dawn I used to wake up to prayer.”
Finally God spoke prophetically to Patrick and told him to return home. He ran away, found passage on a ship, and returned home to Britain where for several years he devoted himself to the study of the Bible. Finally, God spoke to him again and told him to return to Ireland and win the land for Jesus. What Patrick did in Ireland changed the world. In 30 years of ministry, he converted the whole land from paganism to Christianity and overturned the religion of the Druids.
Like earlier apostles, Patrick operated in the working of miracles – one of the nine supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. One historian wrote of Patrick, “The blind and the lame, the deaf and the dumb, the palsy, the lunatic, the leprous, the epileptic, all who laboured under any disease, did he in the name of the Holy Trinity restore unto entire health, and these good deeds he was daily practiced.” The report goes on to say, “33 dead men did this great reviver raise from the dead.”
“When Patrick came to Dublin, it happened that in the region nearby the young son of the King lay dead in his chamber. The sorrow over his death was compounded when it was learned that his sister who had gone to bathe in the neighbouring river had drowned mid-stream. Her body was finally found resting on the riverbed, and it was laid out beside that of her brother. Tombs were prepared for both according to the pagan custom. And at this sorrowful time, the rumours spread that Patrick, who in the name of the unknown God had raised many that were dead, had arrived in the village. The King Alphimus promised that he, his nobles, and the whole city would be baptized into the new faith if his two children were restored. Patrick seeing the opportunity for a great gain of souls raised them both to life.”
An old Irish code of law describes Patrick’s ministry at Tara this way, “When they saw Laeghaire and his Druids overcome by the great signs and miracles wrought in the presence of the men of Erin, they bowed down in obedience to God and Patrick.”
Patrick wrote, “The Lord has given unto me, though humble, the power of working miracles among a barbarous people.”
At the end of his life he wrote, “Wherefore those in Ireland who never had the knowledge of God but until now only worshipped idols and abominations, from them has been lately prepared a people of the Lord and they are called children of God.”
What we need to see is that Patrick is not a mythical figure. He did not drink green beer. He did not chase snakes out of Ireland. He was not a Catholic saint. He was a man who walked in apostolic Christianity, operated in the power of God, and saw a nation transformed. History confirms that a totally pagan nation was completely changed in his lifetime.
Where did Patrick’s Christianity come from? We know he was not Catholic because he lived 200 years before the first Roman Catholic missionaries came to the British Isles. Two hundred years after Patrick’s death, a Catholic historian wrote a bogus history that said Patrick went to Rome and the Pope sent him to Ireland. Even Catholic historians admit that never happened.
Another reason we know Patrick was not a Roman Catholic is because the church he planted was not a Catholic Church. The Celtic Church did not believe what Catholics believed. They did not believe in purgatory. They did not submit to the Pope. They honoured Mary but did not pray to her. Priests baptized believers by immersion. They observed Passover and Sabbath. They placed a strong emphasis on equipping the saints to do the work of ministry.
Some have suggested that Patrick’s Christianity is more closely aligned with the Eastern Church than the Roman Church – that Patrick was somehow connected to the church in Egypt or Syria or Greece.
So Patrick is an example of early Christianity. He equipped the saints! He trained the pagan Irish to minister in the power of God. He raised up Irish apostles. Other Celtic apostles include Brigid, who was a woman, Brendon, Colomba, Comgall, and many others. They operated in the power of the Early Church as seen in the book of Acts. They trained disciples and they evangelized Europe.