Church history

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Church history
Spread of Christianity to 325 AD (dark blue) and 600 AD (light blue).

The church is the body of believers of Jesus Christ. Its history is full of periods of struggle and renewal. Initially, the early Christians spread the good news of Jesus throughout the Roman empire and small congregations of Christians sprang up in many towns. Rome soon became the geographical centre of the church. In the early centuries, debates about the nature of God caused great debates, however the church mostly stayed unified until a major rift finally occurred between the Church in Greece and the one in Rome (it had slowly developed over centuries) culminating in a schism in 1054 AD. In the Middle Ages, people in Christian lands formed armies to "defend" the Holy Lands of Israel from Islamic control. In the mid second millenium, there was a renewal of awareness of the Bible spawning the Reformation, with Christians in northern Europe splitting from the Roman church. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, missionary activity has spread the gospel around the world. Today there seems to be a bewildering array of denominations. Some of the larger ones include Roman Catholicism, the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches and the wide variety of Protestant churches.

The Early Church To AD 325

Christianity began among a relatively small number of Jews who knew and followed Jesus.

The Chuch expands: Jerusalem to Rome

Acts 2 tells the story of Pentecost where 3,000 Jews converted to Christianity on one day. Later in Acts 10, the conversion of the Gentile Roman Centurion Cornelius and his family is told. Following the acceptance of Gentiles by the church, Christianity spread rapidly throughout the Roman Empire.

Persecution of the early church

For about 250 years Christians suffered from persecutions for various reasons, including their refusal to worship the Roman emperor, considered treasonous and punishable by execution. There were persecutions under Nero, Domitian, Trajan and the other Antonines, Maximinus Thrax, Decius, Valerian, Diocletian and Galerius.

Many Christians were willing to die for their faith. The first martyr known of was the apostle Stephen who was stoned by the Jewish religious leaders - the story is told in Acts 7.

Acceptance and Conquestion: 325 to 600

In February of 313 a joint proclamation was made by the Western emperor Constantine I and the Eastern emperor Licinius. The proclamation - called the edict of Milan - established religious toleration for Christianity throughout the Roman Empire.

Constantine and the Christian empire

By 391, under the reign of Theodosius I, Christianity had become the state religion of the Eastern Roman empire.

Christianity was not restricted to the Mediterranean basin and its hinterlands however. The Apostle Thomas tradionally is believed to have taken Christianity to Kerala in southern India, and today many southern Indians are Saint Thomas Christians. Christianity also spread to other regions like Ethiopia and Armenia.

Heresies and Councils and Creeds

Disputes of doctrine began early on. The newly organized church organized councils to sort matters out. Councils representing the entire church were called ecumenical councils. These councils especially discussed various Christological controversies, examing questions like, "was Christ divine?"

Fall of the Roman Empire

Christian ascetics and monks

Christianity in the Dark and Middle Ages: 600 - 1500

The Western Church

The Eastern Church

Great Schism

In AD 1054 the formal split (called the Great Schism) between the church of Rome (the Roman Catholic Church) and the eastern churches (the Greek and other Orthodox churches) occurred. A number of issues led to the split, where the Roman pope excommunicated the Orthodox patriarch, and vice-versa. The main issue causing the split was opposing views to the question Did the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father and the Son, or from the Father alone? Other issues included marriage of bishops, the requirement of bishop to have beards, the correct time to observe Easter, and the requirement of the bishop of Constantinople to recognize the pope as the highest authority.


Between the 11th and 13th centuries, Christian Europe was involved in a number of military campaigns against the Muslims in the Holy Lands.

Reform: 1500 to 1650


In the 16th century, the practice of buying indulgences for the forgiveness of sins became prominent in the Roman Catholic Church. A number of prominent Christians questioned the teaching of purgatory and indulgences, culminating in 1517 AD with the German Martin Luther circulating his 95 Theses disputing indulgences. This marked the start of the Reformation and the Protestant Church. The ideas in Germany were taken up in other northern European countries, England and Switzerland. The Protestant Churches taught that the Bible had sole absolute authority, that every believer could come to God the Father through Christ without the need for a priest, and that justification was through faith alone.


The Roman Catholic response to The Protestant Reformation is known as The Counter Reformation.

Revival and revolution: 1650 to 1800


Expansion world-wide and mission

Christianity came to America with its European colonization. Where the Spanish and Portuguese invaded and settled in South and central America, Roman Catholicism became predominant. A mixture of local superstitions blended into Catholic teaching producing a unique South American style of Catholicism with the veneration of Mary and saints particularly noticeable today. In North America, the British brought the Anglican and Baptist churches. Other Protestant Christians journeyed to Northern Europe forming Lutheran and Mennonite Anabaptist congregations.

In the nineteenth century, with this new religious freedom in northern Europe and North America, many new Christian movements developed. William Booth founded the Salvation Army in England, a Protestant denomination with an emphasis on social justice. The Gideon's were founded in 1899 and became a world-wide organization to distribute free Bibles.

Along with the development of these Christian organizations came a growing belief, especially in evangelical Christians in Britain, that it was their duty to call sinners throughout the world to Christ. A few generations previously, Christians had been calling for an end to slavery of Africans. Now they were calling for missionaries to go to the homes of those people who had been made slaves and to preach the Gospel. Missionaries went throughout the the colonies of the European powers and Christianity was adopted by large numbers of people in Africa, and smaller numbers of people in India and South East Asia.


Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, chapter CXVII. In ANF1, that is, Roberts A, Donaldson J and Coxe AC (1885) Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol 1, at Christian Classics Ethereal Library. [c 160 AD.] [ANF1 footnote: "Note this testimony to the ... Church in the second century...."]

For there is not one single race of men, whether barbarians, or Greeks, or whatever they may be called, nomads, or vagrants, or herdsmen living in tents, among whom prayers and giving of thanks are not offered through the name of the crucified Jesus.



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