Church History in 60 seconds

A lot of people wonder about how we went from 12 disciples following Jesus to the present state of churches everywhere and of every denomination. You’re about to find out...
To recap what’s in the New Testament: At Pentecost the Holy Spirit comes to the disciples, but they get persecuted so they flee in every direction, planting Jewish-Christian churches as they go. About this time a guy named Paul, who was one of the persecutors, had a vision and Jesus recruited him to be a missionary to non-Jews (aka Gentiles). So Paul went all over the Roman world planting churches. But Rome didn’t like the way Christians refuse to call Caesar “Lord,” reserving that title for Jesus, so severe persecution came in waves for years. That’s pretty much where the New Testament leaves off. In 312 A.D. Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made it legal, eventually the state religion, which ended persecution. For the first 1000 years there was just one church, the catholic church, partially led by the bishop of Rome, aka the Pope. During this time the Christians forged agreements on important things like what books were inspired Scripture, who Jesus was etc, which we have in Creeds, like the Nicene. They were also winning new converts pretty quickly. The books of the Bible (the Canon) were settled in the late 300’s and early 400’s. From here on we see the Church splitting up over sometimes important, sometimes trivial matters. In 1054 the church split in what is called the Great Schism, into the Western Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. One of the major reasons was a slightly different view of the Holy Spirit. (Ask me, it’s in the Nicene Creed). In 1517 the Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther pounding 95 thesis on the Wittenberg door. He basically was taking issue with the then popular idea of salvation by good deeds, instead he said salvation was by faith and grace alone. To his surprise this resulted in the Lutheran church and unwittingly started the ball rolling for many more new denominations. The Protestant Reformation resulted in 4 main branches: 1) Lutheran, 2) Reformed, 3) Church of England (Anglican) and 4) Anabaptist. More recently in America, there have been a bunch of denominations that have sprung up with little relation to any of the branches, many Charismatic churches with an emphasis on the Holy Spirit. So that’s a brief history of Christian denominations, but there are several other important pieces of history to add in there. First, Christian mission work began right after Pentecost, and has been going on ever since, with missionaries traveling all over the world to preach the gospel, as Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 28:18ff. Second, we have to mention the Crusades. The Crusades were a shameful series of (un)holy wars beginning in 1095 fought against Arab Muslims who had been advancing militarily on other (Anglo) kingdoms and had taken Jerusalem. Similar to Muslim extremist teaching today, Christian clergy preached the virtues of killing Muslims, and considered battlefield death equal to martyrdom. These tragic abuses of Christianity contribute largely to the present animosity between Muslims and Christians. Third, since we’re confessing the sins of the church, we might as well mention the failure during the rise and power of Hitler. The Lutheran church was state-sponsored, so many clergy went along with Hitler out of fear. For the most part, the church failed to resist the evils of the Third Reich. Dietrich Bonheoffer and the confessing church, is a notable exception. He preached against Hitler until his radio program was silenced. He was eventually arrested and executed. Alright, now there are some people and terms from Christian History you just have to know: St. Augustine: One of the most influential theologians. Taught the doctrine of ‘original sin’. Wrote a book of his personal confessions in 401 AD. Constantine: First Christian Roman emperor. Legalized Christianity and made it the official religion of the Empire. Martin Luther: Started the Protestant Reformation, with 95 rebukes for the church. John Calvin: Father of Reformed faith. Namesake of Calvinism, the foundation of Presbyterianism. Charles Wesley: Father of Wesleyan faith, obviously. Father of small groups. Evangelical: Evangelicalism is a movement, not a denomination, so there are Evangelicals in many denominations. Evangelicals emphasize the Bible as the authoritative Word of God and the importance of mission and evangelism. Charismatic: Also a movement, with adherents in many denominations. Charismatics emphasize the gifts of the Holy Spirit and passionate worship. That’s it! ---your crash course in Christian History: the good, the bad and the ugly.

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