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Christian History: An Evangelical Perspective


Christian History: An Evangelical Perspective

Introduction

What is Evangelical Christianity?


Simply put, it is believing the Bible is true, that Jesus Christ died on the cross to save sinners, that His salvation changes us as we believe in Him and have eternal life, and that we are to share His Gospel (Greek for “Good News.”)


Bruce Hindmarsh, professor of spiritual theology at Regent College, puts forth four central characteristics of authentic evangelicalism: conversionism, crucicentrism, biblicism, and activism.


Long ago, every Christian was evangelical, but over the centuries, changes crept in.  Today, in America and Europe, millions are “cultural Christians.”  What kind are you?

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The Bible tells us followers of Jesus*(4 BC - 30 AD) were first called “Christians” in Antioch in 43 A.D, and this is a good place to start this History of Christianity from an Evangelical perspective.

* after a name means that person's bio is in SPIRITUAL LIVES.

Of course, in the larger view of the Bible, it all began when we were “chosen in Him.”

Even from this “time before time began” the dynamic between Growth and Conflict was operational in the conflict between Good and Evil, God and THE EVIL ONE.

This is narrated in the Old Testament, where the scope and content of Christianity are prophesied and foreshadowed. The Hebrew scriptures contain over 300 prophecies concerning the Messiah (the Hebrew equivalent of “Christ,” the anointed one), plus some unmistakable typographical figures, like Abel* (4000BC?), Isaac* (1896-1716 BC), Joseph* (1745-,1635 BC), and David* (1085-1015 BC).

Here we will begin with the documented history of Christianity as the New Testament presents it.
This presentation is in itself “evangelical” in that it accepts as truth the testimony of the apostles and other witnesses and recognizes the Bible as the Word of God as our standard of living and its teaching as the final authority of our faith.

The final and most dramatic prophecy in the Old Testament comes from the prophet Daniel * (623-538 BC) who gave the time of the Messiah’s coming about 500 years after the Jews returned from Babylon and built the Temple in Jerusalem. This happened right when Jesus was born.

Christian History 5 BC to 28 AD: The Life, Death, and Resurrection of the LORD JESUS CHRIST

Our documented, historical foundation of Christianity starts with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Even then He was the focus of conflict as King Herod tried to murder Him.

An angel warned Joseph to take Him to Egypt where He was safe from the wicked King, and after Herod died, Jesus lived with Mary and Joseph in Nazareth working in the family’s carpentry business.

He was simply Jesus of Nazareth until John the Baptist proclaimed Himthe Lamb of Godand baptized Him in the Jordan River when He was 30 years old. Then, something supernatural took place:


When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.
And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:16-17.

Both Jesus’ life and ministry on earth were short and filled with conflict. The Jewish people He came to save, rejected Him. Their religious leaders would not receive His Gospel and plotted against Him.

After just 3 years of proclaiming the Gospel, calling 12 disciples, and affirming His power with miracles, He was crucified at Calvary, shedding His blood to take away the sins of the world.


His enemies thought they had defeated Him and had ended His threat to their religion. But God had planned this very event for His glory and building of His Church and Kingdom.

Three days later, God raised Him from the dead, and He appeared to His disciples and commissioned them to go into all the world to preach the Gospel.

Forty days after His Resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven and commanded His people to wait in Jerusalem for the baptism of the Holy Ghost.


28 AD: The Beginning of the Church

Jesus’ disciples and other believers waited together and prayed as He had commanded them. Ten days after the Ascension, the Holy Ghost fell on His disciples and others waiting in prayer together.

These 120 men and women spoke in “other tongues” or languages to the thousands of Jews who had come to Jerusalem from all over the world to celebrate the holy day of Pentecost.

This was the message of those filled with the Holy Ghost:

“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38

3,000 responded to this word and were baptized. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ had its first miraculous outpouring of amazing grace and rapid growth. Still, the same religious leaders who had plotted His death were just as determined to forbid His followers to meet and prosper.


28 AD to 70 AD The Church of Jerusalem

This initial surge of converts was spurred by the preaching of Peter (1-67) and John*(7-100), who had been Jesus’ disciples, but they were soon joined by James (7-62 or 69), the brother of Jesus who became the leader of the church at Jerusalem, the first in the history of Christianity.


At first, all the converts were Jewish, but God gave Peter a vision that he should go to the Gentiles too.
He traveled to Caesarea and ministered to Cornelius, a Roman centurion who had seen an angel telling him to send for Peter.

While Peter was still speaking to Cornelius and his household, the Holy Ghost fell on them all, and Peter saw that God is not arespecter of persons but has people in every nation. Praise God!

As the Church grew, persecutions intensified, driven by the Jewish authorities and King Herod Agrippa (11 BC - 44 AD) Stephen became the first martyr, being stoned by the Jews, Saul of Tarsus consenting. James the brother of John was killed with the sword, Peter was imprisoned and James the brother of Jesus killed in 62 AD, effectively ending the Church of Jerusalem but opening a wider geographical scope for the history of Christianity to unfold.


35 to 68 AD Saul of Tarsus/St. Paul

But the real pioneer in reaching out to the Gentiles was St. Paul*(5-67), who began his preaching and missionary work soon after his conversion on the road to Damascus. Paul claimed the title “Apostle to the Gentiles,” and dozens of churches were established in Asia Minor and Greece through his ministry and epistles. At the same time, Peter was instrumental in building the church in Rome. Nero (37-68) executed both of these apostles in 68 AD, ending the Apostolic era in the history of Christianity.

Because Peter and Paul’s missionary trips and letters are all part of the New Testament, the work of others in Africa and Asia is sometimes overlooked.


Philip the evangelist ministered to the treasurer of Ethiopia, which later claimed to be the first Christian nation. Around the same time, the Coptic church of Egypt also claimed that the apostle Thomas and the evangelist Mark played important roles in the forming the Church in Alexandria.

According to traditional accounts of Saint Thomas (? - 72), Christians of modern-day India believe Thomas traveled outside the Roman Empire to preach the Gospel, traveling as far as South India.


Christian History 44 to 400 AD: The completion of the New Testament

The Holy Spirit used preaching and testimonies to build the Church as missionaries went worldwide. But at the same time they were preaching, these men of God were writing, writing what we know as the New Testament, and this has had an even greater impact on the Church than the early missionary travels.


James, the brother of the Lord, wrote his general epistle in 44, and Paul wrote his first letter (to the Galatians) in 49, with a dozen more to follow. In 62, Peter wrote general epistles from Rome and Mark his Gospel.
Matthew wrote his Gospel in 50, Luke his sometime before 67 and John his Gospel and 3 epistles in 85.
John’s Book of Revelation completed the New Testament in 96, although some think it was completed before the fall of Jerusalem in 70.

All these NEW TESTAMENT WORKS were in circulation among the churches for years, and they shared them.

Some of these writings have been lost, and others were disputed. The earliest known complete list of the 27 books is found in a letter written by Athanasius dated 367 AD. The 27-book New Testament was first formally canonized during the councils of Hippo and Carthage (397) in North Africa.

However, in the history of Christianity, none of these are as important as Luke’s (1-16-84-100) Acts of the Apostles, which grounds and documents the events he lived through in the 1st century.


300 to 450: Constantine, State Religion, and the Bible in Latin

Rome and her empire were officially pagan until this time, and Christians' refusal to sacrifice to the Roman gods was often used as a reason for persecution. However, in 312, Emperor Constantine*(272-337) was converted, and shortly after, Christianity became the state religion.


Christians could now hold office and became prominent in many areas. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, beginning a trend to putting the scriptures into the language of the people that continues to this day.

The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Old Testament, too, had been translated into Greek, which was now the language of the whole Roman Empire. All educated people communicated in Greek, but ordinary people and slaves spoke only Latin or their native language.


Jerome* (347-420) was an Italian scholar and linguist who knew Greek and Hebrew and set about producing a Bible in Latin translated directly from those original sources.
It was his life’s work, much of it done in Bethlehem, and remains one of the great literary accomplishments of all time.

This was the first major step in putting the scriptures in the people's language. As more people learned to read, interest in the Bible grew, and so did the appetite for people to read it in their native tongue. Mighty men and women of God arose, like Helen, the Emperor’s mother, Ambrose (339-397) AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO, and his mother Monica.


But the Roman army and government were unable to withstand the ongoing attacks of barbarians, and Rome was sacked, and Roman authority destroyed.
Christianity continued uninterrupted in the East, but its institutions suffered breakdown in the West.

This effort preceded the fall of Rome and prepared the Church and the Christians for life without the safety of a stable government and the military protection of the Roman legions. The history of Christianity was at a turning point.


451-800: The Dark Ages

Believers were now at the mercy of the invading tribes and hostile peoples. Wars were constant and displacing. One positive event was the introduction of the Christian calendar in 525 and the gathering of believers in churches and monasteries. From these, missionaries preached to the pagan barbarians and launched Christian communities in Britain and Ireland.


The bishop of Rome gained power and became the Papacy under Gregory the Great who made a concerted effort to convert pagan Europe.
This continued slowly but surely, usually focusing on the conversion of the king and then the gradual acceptance of Christian teaching and doctrine by the populace.

The end of THE DARK AGES can be seen in Pope Leo iii's 800 crowning of Charlemagne* (742-814) as the Roman Emperor. He ruled from Aachen (in western Germany) over what became known as the Holy Roman Empire, which lasted 1000 years.


801- 1300: The Middle Ages

During this period, the Catholic Church was the universal church for all of the old Roman Empire until the Great Schism in 1054. The divide was neatly between believers using Greek and those using Latin in their worship.


The issue sparking it was the authority of the Pope, which the West accepted, and the East did not.
This division between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches continues to this day.

Scholasticism and Gothic architecture flourished during what is often called the “high Middle Ages.” The great cathedrals were built and MEN AND WOMEN OF GOD, among them Olga of Kyiv*(890-969) , Anselm of Canterbury*(1033-1109, Francis of Assisi* (1181-1226), and Thomas Aquinas*(125-1274) lived their lives for Jesus.


1301-1600: The Renaissance and the Reformation

What we call the Renaissance, literally “rebirth,” was the rediscovery of the classical culture of the ancient Greeks and Romans in Italy in the 13th and 14th centuries. Dante’s DIVINE COMEDY kicked it off in literature and renowned artists like Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael in painting. But while the Renaissance reflected Christian subjects and used Christian themes as the subject of art, it was a part of secular culture and not part of the history of Christianity.

What was a crucial part of Christian history was the Reformation, fueled by the publication of the New Testament in Greek by Erasmus in 1514.
From this point on, people looked to the Bible as the final authority on spiritual matters and not the Pope.

Martin Luther*(1483-1546) is officially recognized as the man who sparked the Reformation in Germany. Still, it soon spread across the continent of Europe and into Great Britain, where the Church of England became Protestant.


1492 to 1792: Christianity in the New World

Christopher Columbus (1451–1506)brought his faith with him to the New World, and Portuguese and Spanish conquerors introduced Christianity to north, central and South America in the early 1500’s.


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 educate ministers of the Gospel, and 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 brothers (1707-1788) energized our faith by preaching the Gospel 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 sparked the modern missionary movement with this translation of the Bible into the languages of India, while others, like David Livingstone, Mary Slessor and Oswald Chambers went to Africa to spread the Gospel, and Hudson Taylor gave his life to building the China Inland Mission.

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) became the “prince of preachers” with his eloquent sermons, defense of the Bible, and stand against Darwinism and higher criticism.


1850 to 2021: Modernism and Evangelical Christianity

Along with Darwinism came Julius Wellhausen's*(1844-1918) higher criticism, which attacked Christianity via literary theories denying the truth of the Bible and the existence of the Creator.

Wonderfully, stout and energetic defenders of the faith arose, people like Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), William Jennings Bryan (1860-1935), Aimee Semple McPherson* (1890-1944), and J. Gresham Machen* (1881-1937).

Amidst all of this came the greatest outpouring of the Holy Ghost since Pentecost led by Charles Parham and William Seymour.
What began as a little group on Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906 grew to 600 million Pentecostal believers in 2019.

Standing firmly on the inerrancy of the Bible, PENTECOSTALS believe the gifts of the Spirit are active today and practice speaking in tongues, divine healing, and prophecy.


Evangelists like D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Billy Graham led millions to Jesus in the 20th century preaching the Gospel of the Bible.

Throughout the world today, CHRISTIANITY IS GROWING, everywhere except in those countries where its adherents have stepped away from the Bible and its truth. But this decrease in more than made up for in Africa, Asia, and South America, where belief in the Bible is strong and its standards are upheld.


Closing Comments on the History of Christianity: What is going on now


In North America and Europe, the “mainline churches” are in decline. Why? Because they have adopted the teachings of the world and abandoned those of the Bible. Many attribute this abandoning of the Gospel truth to what they call “science,” which is no longer an honest seeking of truth but a man-centered advocacy of theories and speculation that excludes God from the picture.

It is sad to me, to see these historic churches born in the Reformation taken over by those who have not been born again. But it rejoices my heart to see that even in this “wicked and adulterous generation,” God has called and chosen young people who are “all for Jesus” and are standing up for Him.

And He is now moving among those who do not know the Gospel.

Continuing Growth Worldwide

Not surprisingly, CHRISTIANITY’S GROWTH in Africa and Asia is explosive. On average, using data from THE STATUS OF GLOBAL CHRISTIANITY, between 2000 to 2020, (7,300 days):


  • Africa had 37,825 new Christ Followers every day over the last 20 years

  • Latin America had 16,988

  • Asia had 13,443

  • North America had 1,999

  • Oceania had 473

  • Europe had 8

What a powerful and inspiring history we have. The conflict often overshadows the growth, but the outcome is assured. Sing with me to celebrate Jesus’ Return and His Everlasting Kingdom!

you can listen and sing along here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AoCsWKpTwWI



Jesus shall reign where’er the sun Does his successive journeys run; His kingdom stretch from shore to shore, Till moons shall wax and wane no more. To Him shall endless prayer be made, And praises throng to crown His head; His Name like sweet perfume shall rise With every morning sacrifice. People and realms of every tongue Dwell on His love with sweetest song; And infant voices shall proclaim Their early blessings on His Name. Blessings abound wherever He reigns; The prisoner leaps to lose his chains; The weary find eternal rest, And all the sons of want are blessed. Where He displays His healing power, Death and the curse are known no more: In Him the tribes of Adam boast More blessings than their father lost. Let every creature rise and bring Peculiar honors to our King; Angels descend with songs again, And earth repeat the loud amen! The scepter well becomes His hands; All Heav’n submits to His commands; His justice shall avenge the poor, And pride and rage prevail no more. The saints shall flourish in His days, Dressed in the robes of joy and praise; Peace, like a river, from His throne Shall flow to nations yet unknown.

ISAAC WATTS, The Psalms of Da­vid, 1719.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! HALLELUJAH!

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