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21 Famous Christians in History - One for Each Century

21 Famous Christians in history: 1 individual selected for each century
21 Famous Christians in history: 1 individual selected for each century: O God, to us may grace be given, to follow in their train.

There are thousands of famous Christians in history from all ages, a steady stream of faithful witnesses from the birth of Jesus to His Second Coming. But they are not evenly spaced.

There are some centuries where there are many and even competing believers working to spread the Gospel, but there are other times when they seem scarce, almost invisible.

Below one outstanding Christian has been highlighted for a unique life that stands out in that century. (* indicates there in a fuller narrative in SPIRITUAL LIVES.) Read on and be blessed.

Famous Christians in History: 21 Outstanding Witnesses/1 per Century

Paul* (5-67) was a well-known Pharisee and enemy of the church, but Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, saved him, and made him an Apostle. Already possessed of the finest education available, he was anointed further and caught up into paradise,” where he “heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” (2 Corinthians 12:4)

Paul used all of this to SPREAD THE GOSPEL and to build the first churches in Asia and Europe. He made 4 missionary journeys and wrote 14 of the New Testament’s 27 books.
One of his greatest operations was in orchestrating the separation of the Christian Church from Judaism.

Irenaeus* (130-202) AD was a committed champion of the Lord Jesus Christ and a defender of the faith. We know him primarily through his book “Against Heresies” written in 180, a strong defense of Jesus and the Apostles and a detailed attack against the threat of Gnosticism.

The Gnostics denied that Jesus was the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament, as well as the Virgin Birth, His physical death on the cross and His bodily resurrection.

Irenaeus defended the apostolic faith with the Scriptures and considered both the Old and New Testament as God’s Word laying particular stress on the unity of the Old Testament and the Gospels.

This book is the first example we have of the doctrines of the early Church in the post-apostolic age as well as the earliest confirmation of the four Gospels as part of the New Testament canon.
He testified too that Luke and John were the authors of two of these.

Origen of Alexandria* (184-253) opened a school in Alexandria and became the first great teacher of the Bible. He was a strong defender of the faith, especially the Scriptures, believing and affirming that the Old Testament was the Word of God as much as the New Testament.

He opposed efforts to establish the Church via tradition and ritual.

To Origen, the Church was the body of Christ composed of those who had been “born again,” that is, who had a real spiritual awakening via the power of the Holy Ghost. This Church existed, in Jesus’ words, where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Athanasius Contra Mundum (Latin for Athanasius Against the World). (298-373) was the bishop of Alexandria and a staunch defender of the Divinity of Jesus Christ.

He refused to accept the Arian view, that Jesus was a created being, and, as a result of his orthodox position, Athanasius was deposed and exiled 5 times as all but two of the bishops were under the Roman Emperor’s control.
He stood firm and alone took he took his stand. He also created the Athanasian Creed

“In Athanasius’s lifelong BATTLE FOR THE DEITY OF CHRIST against the Arians, who said that Christ was created, Athanasius said, ‘Considering that this struggle is for our all . . . let us also make it our earnest care and aim to guard what we have received.’ When all is at stake, it is worth contending. This is what love does.”

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was the FIRST GREAT PHILOSOPHER AND WRITER OF CHRISTIANITY. As the Roman Empire was falling, his work offered hope and help for those living in fear and inspiration from his own testimony in the first biography, Confessions.”

His thinking and doctrine on original sin became the foundation for Catholic and Reformed theology.
He is important to all philosophy and discussions of theology because of his “proofs” for the existence of God.

Augustine’s theology and writing made him first among the most influential Christians in the literary and academic worlds.

501-600 Columba* (521-597) was of the Irish royalty with a chance of becoming a high king of Ireland, but he gave this up to serve the Lord, first in his own country and later as a missionary to Scotland, then still pagan.

From an early age he loved scriptures and wrote the hymn we know as “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” based on Psalm 23. He became a renowned man of letters; Columba transcribed over 300 books, most of these on the Psalms and other scriptures, and wrote several hymns which have come down to us.

But he also felt the call to tell others about Jesus and in 563 traveled to Scotland to evangelize the pagan Picts.

The Picts allowed him to settle in the island of Iona, where he started a monastery to serve as a training school for missionaries.
He was an energetic missionary himself, founding several churches in the Hebrides, and was largely responsible for the conversion of the Picts to Christ.

Despite the enormous danger and risk, his trust was fixed in the Lord Jesus;

“Alone with none but Thee, my God, I journey on my way; what need I fear when Thou art near, Oh King of night and day? More safe am I within Thy hand than if a host did round me stand.” Columba

Wynfrid (Boniface) *(675-754) was an English teacher who became a missionary to Frisia, an Anglo-Saxon people, closely related to the Saxons of England. They were fierce, pagan warriors and ruled an area a little smaller than New Jersey in what are today the Netherlands and northwestern Germany.

The great breakthrough in his missionary work came when he confronted the pagan Donar Oak, sacred to the thunder god Thor.
When the missionary took an axe to the tree, the superstitious people were astonished that the god did not strike him dead.
They were further astonished when a GREAT wind came and finished the work the man of God had begun.

Boniface then built a chapel using the wood from the fallen tree. The chapel soon sprouted into a monastery and Christian belief and culture took root.

Bede (672-735) is the father of English history.” His great work, the HISTORIA ECCLESIASTICA, a history of the church in England, begins with the introduction of Christianity into England by the Romans and is the first book to use A.D. dating.

The most learned man of his time, Bede spent his life in constant prayer, obedience to the monastic discipline, and the study of the Bible. He wrote his first book when he was 30 and completed 60 throughout his life. Most of these were on the Bible, which he translated into the Anglo-Saxon language.

Bede became a pioneer in the long stream of faithful men whose lives were dedicated to putting God’s Word into the language of the common people.

Alfred the Great* (849-899) was son of Aethlred, king of Wessex. Long before he became king, Alfred decided that the language of the people was more important than the use of Latin, and this became the focus of his life.

He encouraged the use of the local language in primary education, reserving Latin for those who were to advance into holy orders.
This encouragement of Anglo-Saxon was an important factor in forming a national identity and culture.

Alfred had good military training and experience during his brothers’ reigns, especially in fighting the Viking GREAT Heathen Army that invaded England from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden in 865. The Vikings had immediate success in the east and north, but were unable to conquer Wessex.

Alfred made treaties with them and used diplomacy to maintain and strengthen his kingdom until they were strong enough to overcome the foreign foe. The decisive battle of Edington in 878 gave Alfred the victory, and he then followed the Danes to their stronghold and forced them to submit to his authority.

With this victory, Alfred gained control of London, rebuilt it and began to consolidate his power as King of the Anglo-Saxons.
He reformed the legal codes, created a navy and made England into a nation.
He is the only king in England who has ever been called “The Great.”

Olga of Kiev*(890-969) was a Viking princess who had moved into the kingdom of Kievan Rus, made up of what is today Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, and extending from Scandinavia to the Black Sea.

Olga was a product of this pagan culture. At age 13 she married the king of Kiev, bore him a son, and became regent when the king died. When their enemies attacked, Olga had her men slaughter 5,000 of them and burn their capital and its population.

Shortly after, Olga met the Emperor in Constantinople and became a Christian. This was not popular with the pagan people, and her son refused to convert.
Olga persisted in her faith and brought up her grandson in the faith. When he took the throne, 19 years after her death, Russia adopted Christianity as the state religion.

Olga decided to follow Jesus, even though her people remained pagans. She was faithful even when her son rejected the Lord, but she persevered, and through her testimony the door was opened for hundreds of millions of Russians to come to Jesus!

Anselm of Canterbury* (1033-1109) was a brilliant scholar and approached life’s issues with this governing principle:

For I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand. For I believe this: unless I believe, I will not understand.

Anselm approached philosophy via the works of Boethius and Augustine, who had been the principal intellectual liaisons between Aristotle, Plato, and the Greeks and Christianity. He applied reason to what he believed and is famous for his statement of the “ontological argument” for the existence of God. In essence, this says that God must exist because we can conceive of Him.

Anselm wrote many learned dialogues and was the father of “scholasticism,” the approach to learning characterized as a method of critical thought, where questions and doctrines were discussed and reasoning used to resolve difficulties and contradictions.
It became the basis for the development of the university, and Anselm’s abbey became the first great center of learning in Europe in the 11th century.

Anselm himself went on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury, where he was less successful than as a thinker. His emphasis on thought and reason minimized and/or simply bypassed Scripture and thereby established an intellectual culture that bound together all of Western Europe but at the same time created a wide divide between the clergy (at that time most educated people) and the common people.

This GREAT divide remains with us to this day, and nearly all western philosophers and theologians have elevated reason and “critical thinking” above revelation and the written Word of God.

Peter Waldo (1140-1205) was a reformer and preacher whose direction and emphases were in the exactly opposite direction from the scholastics’.

The Bible became the source of life for him, and soon others found this life as well.
The Word of God spoke to him powerfully and caused him and others to question some of the practices and beliefs that had crept into the Church and had by this time become firmly anchored.

Among these were transubstantiation (which it had become a capital offense to deny) and purgatory. More evident to the ordinary person were the excesses of the clergy, their wealth and privilege, and their elevation of human teachings above the Holy Scriptures.

Waldo preached against all of this and went further, calling the established church the harlot from the Book of Revelation. His message of adherence to the teaching of the Bible and his life of poverty and simplicity resonated with the common people.

By 1170 he had a large following. Often disguised as peddlers, these poor people became known as “the poor of Lyon,” or sometimes as Waldensians.

Waldo championed the first translation of the Bible from Latin into the local language, in this case the Franco-Provencal language, the New Testament completed shortly after 1175.

Thomas Aquinas* (1225-1274) was the foremost scholar and philosopher of the Middle Ages. The leading scholastic of his time, Aquinas married Christian thought with Aristotle’s and the Greeks’ and formulated what became known as Natural Law.

Thomas moved in elite circles, intellectually, socially, and politically. He dined with kings, disputed with professors and was recruited by popes.
His chief task was to reconcile Christian faith and reason, and all of his writing was to this end. He pored through Aristotle and took what he could to buttress Christian doctrine.

The volume of his work is tremendous, but the SUMMA THEOLOGIAE, a systematic theological instruction book in the Christian faith is the one he is remembered for. Originally intended as a starting point for his students, the SUMMA THEOLOGIAE, has become the foundational basis for Roman Catholic theology and doctrine to the present time.

But while his monumental intellectual achievements are what he is remembered for today, Aquinas was also a preacher and humble follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who appeared to him more than once in what are usually described as “mystical experiences.”

In response to a question posed in one of these, What reward would you have for your labor?” Thomas replied, Nothing but You, Lord.”

Shortly after this, Jesus appeared to him again. Thomas said nothing of this experience but simply refused to write anymore. As a result, the SUMMA THEOLOGIAE, remained unfinished. When his secretary pleaded with him to continue, Thomas said,Reginald, I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me.”

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.

John Wyclif *(1321-1384) was a scholar at Oxford University. He came to believe that

“it helpeth Christian men to study the Gospel in that tongue in which they know best Christ’s sentence.”

He translated Jerome’s Latin Vulgate Bible into English, and it became a foundation for LATER REFORMERS LIKE JOHN HUS, Martin Luther, and William Tyndale.

He is sometimes called “the Morning Star of the Reformation.

Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) was a devout Believer and hoped to teach the Gospel to people of every race in the New World he discovered. When he landed in San Salvador HE PRAYED:

O Lord, Almighty and everlasting God, by Thy holy Word Thou hast created the heaven, and the earth, and the sea; blessed and glorified be Thy Name, and praised be Thy Majesty, which hath designed to use us, Thy humble servants, that Thy holy Names may be proclaimed in this second part of the earth.

John Calvin*(1509-1564) was a French lawyer who converted from Catholicism after reading Luther. He is famous for his Reformed theology, built upon the absolute authority of the scriptures and that salvation is all of God, man’s free will has been destroyed by disobedience, and that it is only God’s grace and mercy that saves “the elect.”

His views are summarized as T.U.L.I.P.

Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin) Unconditional Election Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement) Irresistible Grace Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)

Calvin died young, aged 54 in 1564, but remains to this day the most IMPORTANT PROTESTANT THEOLOGIAN. Today, “Presbyterian,” “Reformed” and many Baptist denominations honor him and follow his teachings, honoring the Bible and the Sovereignty of God and His grace in saving the elect through the Lord Jesus Christ.

John Bunyan* (1628-1688) was a tinker turned preacher who was jailed for preaching without a license. While there he wrote, The Pilgrim’s Progress, an instant success that made Bunyan famous and rich.

It presents the Gospel in fundamental terms and is filled with texts from the Bible. Dr. Johnson said, “this is the great merit of the book, that the most cultivated man cannot find anything to praise more highly, and the child knows nothing more amusing.”

George Bernard Shaw rated Bunyan’s characters so clearly and dramatically drawn that in this regard Bunyan is “better than Shakespeare.”

The Pilgrim’s Progress has been the 2nd most popular book among Christians next to the Bible. It remains a “must-read” for every Christian.

John Wesley (1703-1791) was the greatest preacher of his time.

An EVANGELICAL ANGLICAN, he and his brother Charles ministered to the common people and encouraged others to preach the Gospel, often in fields and out of doors. He also ministered to the social needs of the people, those in poverty, in prison, and about to be executed.

But his greatest contribution was his evangelical teaching and doctrine that were a part of Methodism.

Today there are over 75 million Methodists but millions more in the groups inspired by him like the Holiness movement, Pentecostalism, and the Charismatic Christians of all denominations.

Fanny Crosby* (1820 – 1915) changed the world and the nature of Christian worship with her 8,000 hymns and Gospel songs.


Her blindness motivated her to write to win “1 million souls for Jesus.” Jesus used her to do this. Praise God!

Here are some of her most beloved songs:

“Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” “Rescue the Perishing,” “Blessed Assurance,” “The Bright Forever,” “Savior, More Than Life to Me,” and “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.”

Billy Graham*(1918 -2018) started his ministry as an evangelist for “Youth for Christ,” and traveled the United States and Europe preaching.

He also began a radio program and began a series of evangelistic meetings he called “crusades.”
He delivered the Gospel to over 200 million, lacing his sermons with the words “the Bible says.”

For many years he was the MOST ADMIRED MAN in America.

2001- Tim Tebow (1987 – gained fame as an outstanding football player with a powerful testimony for Jesus.

He spread the Gospel message in a unique way, by displaying Bible verses on his EYE BLACK.
His posting of John 3:16 generated 90 million searches on google, and when he switched to Proverbs 3:5-6, 3.4 million searched it.

But his testimony brought a backlash; the NCAA banned messages on eye paint in 2010, and the media labeled this the “The Tebow Rule.” From this point on, Tim faced consistently negative press from the media.

When he went to his knees on the field in silent prayer, the press coined the term “Tebowing” and used every opportunity they could to poke fun at his Christian lifestyle and magnify his shortcomings. Despite all of this hostility, Tebow has remained faithful and full of the joy of the Lord.

“Let’s just love God, and let’s love people and let’s bring people together,” he continued. “How many people can we love in the name of Jesus? How many people can we help in the name of Jesus?
That’s the goal. Nothing else is the goal. Nothing else matters. That’s what matters, plain and simple. And I feel like that’s my passion, and I feel like it’s my purpose, too.”

A Final Thought on Famous Christians in History

The file isn’t closed yet! There is room for you! Blogging is a new medium of communication that was given to me as a gift from my son. It started out as just a hobby, but now the Lord is using it and me to tell people in many nations about Jesus and His love. He will give you a unique way of sharing love with people you know and can show the way to truth and everlasting life. Praise God!

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