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4 Fascinating Ways to Look at Church History


4 Fascinating Ways to Look at Church History
4 Fascinating Ways to Look at Church History: missionary activity, church organization, doctrine and beneficial “effect on human life.”

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Church History: Cut in 4 fascinating ways: missionary activity, church organization, doctrine and “effect on human life,” we come to a fuller understanding of what the church is and the blessings it provides.

Church History is a VAST TOPIC, an academic discipline with its own scholars & libraries. (an asterick * by a name indicates there is a short biography in SPIRITUAL LIVES)

Scottish minister and professor A.M. Renwick (1888–1965) defines Church history “as an account of the Church’s success and failure in carrying out Christ’s Great Commission.” He divided all CHURCH HISTORY INTO 4 CATEGORIES:

  • Missionary activity,

  • church organization,

  • doctrine and

  • “The effect on human life”.


Missionary activity

The ministry of missionaries has been the most productive means of spreading the Gospel in church history. The first assemblies began with preaching repentance by men who had been with Jesus.

Before His Ascension, Jesus told His disciples Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. – Mark 16:15

This was just what they did, but at first, their mission was for Jews only. St. Peter was the first to go to a Gentile, a Roman centurion, but only after a dramatic vision from heaven and a visit from an angel!

Missionary activity was restricted to the Jews until Saul of Tarsus was converted and commissioned as St. Paul*, “apostle to the Gentiles.” All of Jesus’ disciples were Jews and at first, insisted it was necessary to obey the law of Moses to follow Jesus and enter the kingdom of heaven.

When this requirement was abjured, Paul began preaching to the Gentiles, first in Antioch, then Athens, and later in Rome, even to those in the emperor’s household.

Other disciples went out as missionaries, St. Thomas and Mark to Egypt and India, but at first only to the Jewish communities there.

When the apostolic age ended, the Gospel had been preached throughout the Roman Empire, and Rome itself became Christian in the 4th century, the state administering the church.

When Rome fell in 454 and barbarian forces destroyed the central government and its institutions, the church continued to send missionaries to the pagan lands.

St. Patrick*(415-494) and Columba* (521-597) had remarkable success as missionaries to Ireland and Scotland, and Amandus* (584-675), Wynfryd* (St. Boniface) (675-754), and Anskar* (St. Ansgar) (801-865) in Belgium, France, Germany, and Scandinavia.

By the end of the 10th century, all of Europe had been converted to Christianity and the church focused on educating its converts and preparing schools and monasteries to teach people how to live Christian lives.

But two amazing missionaries were still spreading Jesus’ love and Gospel,

Francis of Assisi*(1181-1226) renounced his wealth and lived in poverty as Jesus had lived, ministered to the lepers, and extremely poor. He preached the Gospel to Muslims in Jerusalem, Morocco, and Spain. He visited the Sultan in Egypt for permission to continue his MISSIONARY WORK.

Another Catholic missionary in church history was Francis Xavier (1506-1552), a brilliant scholar from the Kingdom of Navarre and a founder of the Jesuits in 1540.

He went as a missionary to Asia, especially to those in the Portuguese Empire, first in India, later to Japan, Borneo, and the Maluku Islands. He died on Shangchuan Island on his way to preach the Gospel in China.

He is considered the GREATEST MISSIONARY since Paul and led over a million Asians to Jesus.

1492 to 1792: Christianity in the New World

But with Columbus’s discovery of the New World, a new era of evangelistic activity began. The kings of Spain and Portugal sent missionaries to the Americas and Portugal to Africa and Asia as well.

The Jesuits went to India, China, and Japan and founded churches there.

In North America, Catholics, Puritans, and Quakers staked out territories where they could worship according to their convictions.

The “Ivy League” colleges were founded to train ministers of the Gospel. Christian faith and visibility grew during the Great Awakening of the 18th century ignited by the preaching of George Whitefield (1714-1770).


1700 – 1900: Protestant Evangelism and Missionary movement

Count Zinzindorf* (1700-1760) and the Wesley*(1700-1788) brothers energized church history faith by preaching the Gospel out-of-doors to ordinary people and ministering to their everyday needs as well.

John Newton (1725-1807) was saved from his sins and slave trading and encouraged others to abolish slavery in the name of the Gospel.

William Carey *(1761-1834) sparked the modern missionary movement with his translation of the Bible into the languages of India, while others, like David Livingstone (1813-1873), Mary Slessor*(1848-1915), and Oswald Chambers*(1873-1917) went to Africa to spread the Gospel and Hudson Taylor*(1832-1905) gave his life to building the China Inland Mission.

1901 — 2022

2 of the major figures in 20th Century church history were missionaries Albert Schweitzer (1875 – 1965) and Mother Teresa (1910-1997) who won Nobel Peace Prizes for their work and humanitarian aid.

In the 21st century, Reinhard Bonnke *(1940 -2019) preached to millions in Africa with Holy Ghost miracles, healings, and massive conversions. Benny Hinn *(1954 – reached millions with his “Miracle Crusades” and popular “This is Your Day,” the world’s most-watched TV program.

Franklin Graham (1952 – is revolutionizing church history with his evangelical preaching, disaster relief, and social action.

Another twist in the 21st century is the movement among young Christians to send groups to minister and support missions and missionaries working for the Gospel around the world.

Church Organization,

The missionary engine of the church flowed through different organizational structures. Jesus was raised as a Jew and regularly attended the local synagogues and the Temple in Jerusalem.

During His travels, He often met with His followers in private homes, like those of Peter, John, and Lazarus. He sanctioned these small meetings saying,

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Matthew 18:20

After Pentecost in 30 AD, His followers continued to meet in these places until Christianity moved out of the synagogues and Temple and met in churches of their own.

There is much New Testament teaching on these churches or congregations in St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s epistles, but 2 powerful metaphors are

the church as the “Body of Christ,” and a spiritual house founded on the Lord Jesus Christ and made up of “living stones.”

In both these models, individuals were key, and salvation was an individual matter, not a national salvation as the Jews were expecting.

Salvation was necessary for membership, and the process was simple:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. – St. Paul in Romans 10:9

Once saved, a person became a part of the church, pictured as the bride of Christ He is coming again to receive and honor at the “marriage supper of the Lamb.”

There was a formal overall structure or pattern of worship derived from the Last Supper, with the leader presiding over the order of scripture reading, singing of hymns, and administration of the Lord’s Supper. Much of this was taken from the celebration of Jewish holy days like Passover and Pentecost.

Leadership was by apostles, bishops, and pastors, but there was also a role for deacons, teachers, prophets, and other ministries. The leadership was exclusively male, but women had important roles in hospitality and teaching other women.

Church government was in the hands of elders whose moral qualifications were clearly stated, like “the husband of one wife” and “not given to wine.’

These assemblies were local and independent, varying in size, but all within a sphere of influence of an apostle, James, Paul, Peter, and John the most prominent. The apostles passed on their authority to others, and as the New Testament was gradually standardized, the scriptures took a more prominent role.

In the first century, bishops were often overseers of one congregation, and sometimes there were two or more bishops in one large assembly. But later bishops took on oversight for more than one church.

The Catholic church claims St. Peter as the first bishop of Rome. Still, the office did not become geographic and regional until dioceses emerged when Christianity became Rome’s state religion in the 4th century.

The diocese and provinces were usually congruent, and when Rome fell in the 5th century the bishops often exercised civil power as well.

In the 6th century, Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I organized the Church under “METROPOLITAN SEES,” with five rising to prominence…., one was in the West (Rome) and the rest in the East (Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria).

The first great division of church history was the Great Schism of 1054. The central issue was the authority of the bishop of Rome, which the eastern churches did not accept along with the existence of purgatory or the use of images in the church.

The Schism was permanent, the eastern churches developing into the 14 autocephalous (self-governing) national orthodox churches of 220,000,000, million today, 75% in the RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH.

In the West, the papacy took on central authority and control and was the sole Christian church until the Reformation of the 16th century, when PROTESTANT CHURCHES AROSE.

These protestant groups include churches we know as Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican, Episcopal, Baptist, and Calvinists. In later centuries, there would be many further denominations splitting from these early protestants such as Methodists, Evangelical Churches, and Pentecostals.

Sadly, all these original protestant churches have moved away from the authority of the Bible and have inspired corrective conservative churches with traditional Reformation beliefs and standards in each of those groups named above. At the same time, some have shed the denominational affiliations and begun calling themselves Bible, Community, or simply Evangelical/Nondenominational churches.

Attendance at all churches took a large hit in 2021 when governments used a health epidemic to close churches and/or limit attendance. On the other hand, the churches used “zoom” technology and the Internet to reach current believers and evangelize widely.


Doctrine

The third element of church history we must look at is doctrine, the THEOLOGY and principles which are core beliefs that make Christianity Christianity, or the Church the Church.

The foundation of Christian doctrine is the Bible, the Word of God, His revealed plan, and the standard for our lives and for the world. The holy scriptures are the basis of Christian doctrine, and throughout all of church history, Believers have looked to this sacred text to affirm and assess every doctrine.

Behind that assumption lies the premise of right and wrong, good, and evil, and the conflict between them is the basis for all Christian doctrine and theology.

Broadly speaking, theology is simply how we think about God. It makes an enormous difference, between life and death, heaven and Hell, and choosing God or self as the focus of our lives. We are not saved or damned by theology, but it informs and guides our hearts and minds in the way we should live.

Christian doctrine teaches that we all come from God and are born with belief having received life from Him. Christian theology teaches us that God created us as good and sinless so that we could live in fellowship with Him.

Sadly, we have an enemy who long ago appeared as a serpent and deceived Adam and Eve into choosing their own will and breaking their intimacy with God. THAT ENEMY IS AT WORK RIGHT NOW, attacking every person God has created for fellowship with Him with darts of deception and snares to lead us into evil.

But our theology shows us that there is more to the story, a wonderful plan of God drawn before there was a world. God chose us to be saved from this enemy by His Son Jesus, A PERFECT, DIVINE BEING who left His place in eternity to come and save us from perdition.

Jesus paid the debt for all our sins on the cross of Calvary and washed them all away with His blood. He is waiting for us to join Him in the wonderful place He is preparing for us where we will see the beauty and truth of this theology that leads to Him and EVERLASTING LIFE. Praise God!

The Church is the guardian of what we believe and teaches the way of salvation, and although doctrine has a long history, the church has been united in the doctrines expressed in the NICENE CREED for 1800 years.

Until the Protestant Reformation, all this was overseen by the Catholic church, but the protestants saw points of difference between the teachings of the church and tradition and the scriptures; hence the division of the 16th century continues to the present.

The key differences between the two are clearly expressed in the protestant five solas:

The 5 SOLAS OF THE REFORMATION (“solas,” meaning, “alones”) are five principles foundational to the doctrine of salvation that many branches of Protestantism, including the Lutheran and Reformed branches, still teach today.

  • Sola Scriptura, or “God’s Word alone,” maintains that the Bible is the highest source of authority in a Christian’s life, the final court of appeal (though not the only authority: the Bible itself mentions governmental and other authorities).

  • Sola fide, or “faith alone,” affirms that justification—being made right with God—comes only through faith in Jesus.

  • Sola gratia, or “grace alone,” says sinners are saved as an unearned gift of God’s grace, “not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (EPH 2:8–9).

  • Sola Christo (“Solus Christus”), or “Christ alone,” emphasizes the exclusivity of Jesus’ role in salvation: “No one comes to the Father except through me” (JOHN 14:6).

  • And soli Deo gloria, or “to the glory of God alone,” says that the purpose of creation, salvation, and everything—including our goal as Christians—is the glory of God, “that God may be all in all” (1 COR 15:28).

These five “sola’s” were published as a “protest” or reformation of the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church and are what qualifies a church as “Protestant.”

As a rule, Protestantism is simpler and more direct: it identifies two ordinances, Holy Communion and Baptism, while the Catholic church identifies 7 (the additional 5 = Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, Penance, and Extreme Unction)

These are administered by priests in the Catholic Church and ministers in the protestant and remain to this day differentiating and distinctive.

Catholics and Protestants worship the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior throughout all of church history. It is He who is the central and saving figure of Christianity and belief in Him and acceptance of His salvation has been essential and elemental for Christians in all of church history.

Let this one thing be your takeaway from reading this:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. St. Paul in Romans 10:9


“The effect on human life”

The fourth and final element of church history is Christianity’s effect on human life and society. It has been operative since Jesus’ day and grows more every year. Christianity’s gifts to humanity and the earth are continuous and cumulative.

What we see first is Jesus’ love of individuals, demonstrated by his compassion, kindness, and willingness to shed His blood to save us from sin and eternal death.

He turned the social pyramid of power and importance upside down, putting the “least of these,” the servants, at the top calling them the greatest in the kingdom of heaven and showing kindness and mercy to the sick and poor.

One of the most visible steps He took in this direction was ministering to women, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, casting demons out of Mary Magdalene, and raising Jairus’ 12-year-old daughter from death.

When His disciples got irritated because some little children were “bothering” Him, He rebuked them and said,Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14

He honored the faithful women who supported His ministry and showed this through His friendship with Martha and Mary of Bethany and by appearing first to a woman, Mary Magdalene, after His Resurrection.

This respect and honoring of women continued in the early church when Mary and the other women were a part of the 120 praying and waiting for the Holy Spirit to fall on the Day of Pentecost.

Stemming too from Jesus Himself was the Church’s care and concern for the sick. Jesus touched the lepers who were “untouchable” in that Jewish society and ate at the house of Simon the leper. His parable of the Good Samaritan sanctified care of those in distress and became foundational in the early Church.

Most of the early Gentile Christians were slaves who were readily admitted to membership and given places of ministry and authority in the church. All lives, every soul, were precious to God and to the Christian church. This was revolutionary for the time:

“Life was expendable prior to Christianity’s influence… In those days abortion was rampant. Abandonment was commonplace: It was common for infirm babies or unwanted little ones to be taken out into the forest or the mountainside, to be consumed by wild animals or to starve…
They often abandoned female babies because women were considered inferior” Dr. JAMES D. KENNEDY

The Church also valued the family and gave specific teaching on the roles of fathers, mothers, and children. Sexual immorality was condemned, and holiness was valued and promoted.

Children too were valued and considered holy, and parents were encouraged to bring up their children “in the fear of the Lord.” This teaching spurred the creation of schools, local at first and later cathedral schools which eventually developed into universities.

Jesus and His followers valued almsgiving not only to the individual poor but also to groups of widows, orphans, and the disabled. Orphanages and hospitals and other healing ministries arose directly from the teachings we find in church history.

Other worldwide values like liberty, justice, fair treatment under the law, and opposition to slavery and human trafficking grew out of Jesus’ value of all races and opposition to hatred of all kinds.

From the first century, the church has been against cruelty and the debasement or undervaluing of life. Gladiatorial combat, cruel and unusual punishment and superstitious practices, like suttee (the suicide of the wife on the funeral pyre of her husband), the abandonment of infants, and trial by combat were opposed and eliminated by the Church of Jesus Christ.

All the above contributed significantly to the development of science and our understanding of the world and the natural laws that govern it. The Bible teaches that we are to have dominion over the earth, and that means caring for the environment and all the creatures God has created. The list is long and continues to develop.

Today, the church continues to work to protect human life as God has created it. Two areas where the church is at work are the protection of innocent life, especially the unborn, and the honoring of marriage as God created it, between a man and a woman, and a definite clarity between those two sexes which God has created.

All of the above make us thankful for the church of Jesus Christ that has so enriched our lives, culture, and society, but by far the greatest contribution of church history is leading sinners to Jesus, from death unto life, saving precious souls from Hell and leading them to Jesus who loves each one and is preparing a place of each in His Father’s house, the one with “many mansions.”


Concluding thoughts on Church History

We are all a part of it, the question being to which side we belong. I trust that every reader will choose Jesus, who is the central and supreme figure in church history.

THE CHURCH’S ONE FOUNDATION

The church’s one foundation Is Jesus Christ her Lord, She is His new creation By water and the Word. From heaven He came and sought her To be His holy bride; With His own blood He bought her, And for her life He died.
Elect from every nation, Yet one over all the earth; Her charter of salvation, One Lord, one faith, one birth; One holy Name she blesses, Partakes one holy food, And to one hope she presses, With every grace endued.
Though with a scornful wonder Men see her sore oppressed, By schisms rent asunder, By heresies distressed, Yet saints their watch are keeping; Their cry goes up, “How long?” And soon the night of weeping Shall be the morn of song.
The church shall never perish, Her dear Lord to defend To guide, sustain and cherish, Is with her to the end Though there be those that hate her, And false sons in her pale Against a foe or traitor, She ever shall prevail.
Mid toil and tribulation, And tumult of her war, She waits the consummation Of peace forevermore; ‘Til, with the vision glorious, Her longing eyes are blessed, And the great church victorious Shall be the church at rest.
Yet she on earth hath union With God the Three in One, And mystic sweet communion With those whose rest is won. O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we Like them, the meek and lowly, On high may dwell with Thee.

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