The initial converts to Christianity were Jews or proselytes to
Judaism, and the church was centered in
Jerusalem. Because of this,
Christianity was at first seen as a Jewish
sect, akin to the Pharisees,
the Saducees, or the Essenes. However, what the apostles preached was
radically different from what other Jewish groups were teaching. Jesus
was the Jewish Messiah
(the anointed King) who had come to fulfill the
and institute a New Covenant based on His death
This message, with its charge that they had killed their
own Messiah, infuriated many Jewish leaders, and some, like Saul of
Tarsus, took action to stamp out “the Way”
It is quite proper to say that Christianity has its roots in Judaism.
The Old Testament laid the groundwork for the New, and it is impossible
to fully understand Christianity without a working knowledge of the Old
Testament (see the books of Matthew and Hebrews). The Old Testament
explains the necessity of a Messiah, contains the history of
Messiah’s people, and predicts Messiah’s coming.
The New Testament, then, is all about the coming of Messiah and His
work to save us from sin. In His life, Jesus fulfilled over 300
specific prophecies, proving that He was the One the Old Testament had
History of Christianity - The Growth of the Early Church.
Not long after
the doors to the Church were opened to
non-Jews. The Apostle
preached to the Samaritans
many of them believed in Christ. The Apostle Peter preached to the
Gentile household of Cornelius
(read all chapter of Acts 10), and they, too, received the
gift of holy spirit. The Apostle Paul (the former persecutor of the Church)
spread the gospel all over the Greco-Roman world, reaching as far as
and possibly all the way to Spain.
By A.D. 70, the year Jerusalem was destroyed, the books of the New
Testament had been completed and were circulating among the churches.
For the next 240 years, Christians were persecuted by
Rome—sometimes at random, sometimes by government edict.
In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the church leadership became more and
more hierarchical as numbers increased. Several heresies were exposed
and refuted during this time, and the New Testament canon was agreed
upon. Persecution continued to intensify.
History of Christianity - The Rise of the Roman Church.
Then, in A.D. 312, the
Roman Emperor Constantine
claimed to have a conversion experience. About 70 years later, during the reign of
Theodosius, Christianity became the official religion of the
Bishops were given places of honor in the government, and by
A.D. 400, the terms Roman and Christian were virtually synonymous.
After Constantine, then, Christians were no longer persecuted. In time,
it was the pagans who came under persecution unless they
“converted” to Christianity. Such forced conversion
led to many people entering the Church without a true change of heart.
The pagans brought with them their idols and the practices they were
accustomed to, and the Church changed: icons, elaborate architecture,
pilgrimages, and the veneration of saints were added to the simplicity
of early church worship. About this same time, some Christians
retreated from Rome, choosing to live in isolation as monks, and
which was not practiced by the
and the first christians, was introduced as a means of washing away
Through the next centuries, various church councils were held in an
attempt to determine the Church’s official doctrine, to
censure clerical abuses, and to make peace between warring factions. As
the Roman Empire grew weaker, the Church became more powerful, and many
disagreements broke out between the churches in the West and those in
the East. The Western (Latin) Church, based in Rome, claimed apostolic
authority over all other churches. The bishop of Rome had even begun
calling himself the “Pope” (the Father). This did
not sit well with the Eastern (Greek) Church, based in Constantinople.
Theological, political, procedural, and linguistic divides all
contributed to the Great Schism in 1054, in which the Roman Catholic
(“Universal”) Church and the Eastern Orthodox
Church excommunicated each other and broke all ties.
History of Christianity - The Middle Ages.
in Europe, the Roman Catholic Church continued
to hold power, with the popes claiming authority over all levels of
life and living as kings. Corruption and greed in the church leadership
was commonplace. From 1095 to 1204 the popes endorsed a series of bloody
in an effort to repel Muslim advances and
History of Christianity - The Reformation
Through the years several individuals had tried to call attention to
the theological, political, and human rights abuses of the Roman
Church. All had been silenced in one way or another. But in 1517, a
German monk named
took a stand against the Church, and
everyone heard. With Luther came the
Middle Ages were brought to a close.
The Reformers, including
differed in many
finer points of theology, but they were consistent in their emphasis on
the Bible’s supreme authority over church tradition and the
fact that sinners are saved by grace through faith alone, apart from
Although Catholicism made a comeback in Europe, and a series of wars
between Protestants and Catholics ensued, the Reformation had
successfully dismantled the power of the Roman Catholic Church and
helped open the door to the modern age.
History of Christianity - The Age of Missions
From 1790 to 1900, the Church showed an unprecedented interest in
missionary work. Colonization had opened eyes to the need for missions,
and industrialization had provided people with the financial
wherewithal to fund the missionaries. Missionaries went around the
world preaching the
and churches were established everywhere.
History of Christianity - The Modern Church
Today, the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church have
taken steps to mend their broken relationship, as have Catholics and
Lutherans. The evangelical church is strongly independent and rooted
firmly in Reformed theology. The Church has also seen the rise of
History of Christianity - What We Learn from Our History
If we learn nothing else from Church history, we should at least
recognize the importance of letting “the word of Christ dwell
in [us] richly”
Each of us is responsible
to know what the scripture says and to live by it. When the Church forgets
what the Bible teaches and ignores what Jesus taught, chaos reigns.
There are many churches today, but only one gospel. It is
“the faith that was once for all entrusted to the
May we be careful to preserve that faith and pass it on without alteration. And may the Lord continue to fulfill His promise to build His Church. Amen