Church History in About 1000 Words

Rewinding time back to ca. A.D. 30, a Nazarene man, who was a son of a carpenter, asked his disciples who they believed He was (Matthew 16:15-18). One of the disciples, who tend to take a leading role, Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” To that Jesus replied back “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Church (ekklesia in Greek, a gathering of people) in early Christianity and under the leadership of the apostles, was a community of followers of Christ, meeting at homes to worship, pray, encouraging each other, break bread and drink wine in remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This gathering followed Christ’s Matthews 28:19 great commission of going out and proclaim that Christ is the Messiah, baptizing new followers, symbolizing their faith in Kingdom of Jesus, dying with Christ and rising again from the dead.

Starting The First Christian Church

The first church/gathering was composed of believers who accompanied Jesus in his ministry. Believers who witnessed his death and resurrection of their Lord and Savior. This first community of followers included Jesus’ mother Mary, and other kinsmen along with the apostles; Peter, James, and John, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the zealot, and Judas son of James and Matthias a replacement of Judas Iscariot who hanged himself after betraying Christ Jesus[1] and other a hundred and twenty or so believers[2].

It is believed that these first followers of Christ stayed loyal to the Jewish laws for a period of time. They still worshiped in Jewish synagogues [3](Church History In Plain Language, L. Shelly). As a result of Christ teachings, their life-styles were rapid changed. Christ Jesus took the central role. He was the truth, the life, and the way. He alone could lead them (people who hear and apply Christ teaching) to the Kingdom of God. They called this movement “The Way”.

An Explosive Growth in the first church:

On Pentecostal, as Jesus promised, they received the power of the Holy Spirit. The filling of the Holy Spirit, tongues of fire, rested on first community of believers, enabled them to communicate in foreign languages[4]. A sign to take the gospel to the lands, which the Holy Spirit poured the ability to communicate the gospel in their own native tongue.

This event miraculously enabled the apostles to go out into Jerusalem prophesying and speaking in foreign languages, which all foreign visitors in Jerusalem could understand (Acts 2:5-6). About three thousand were added to their number that day[5].

After Pentecostal, believers in Jesus as Christ, spread throughout Jerusalem, Judea and to the end of the World.

Christian Movement In the Gentile Territory:

Antioch, was an administrative capital of the Roman a province of Syria with a population of half a million. That made Antioch the third largest city in the empire, after Rome and Alexandria. It was in this city; Jesus’ followers were labeled/nicknamed Christianoi (Christians which means “devotees of the Anointed One”) by the pagans [6], ca. A.D. 44.

Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of the followers of Christ, encountered the Lord Jesus ca. 36 A.D , and joined the movement. He and other apostles spread Christianity to many cities throughout the Roman Empire and probably east to India.

Christians realized that they were a part of a rapidly expanding movement, which they called it “catholic.” Despite pagan’s ridicule and Rome’s persecution, burning of Christina in Nero time ca. A.D. 44, Gaul in Lyon A.D. 177, Decian’s persecution of 246-251 and Diocletian 303-311, Christianity grew wider and faster. Like a seed, death of martyr’s advanced Christianity.

Influenced by his mother, Helena, Roman Emperor Constantine I (reigning 324-337) became a first Christian emperor, which led Theodosius I to established Christianity as the states religion in 380.

Christian philosopher and theologians (e.g. Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian) defended Christianity from within and without. In 325, a major council was called in Nicea to give forth the orthodox/correct understanding of nature of Christ Jesus, answering Arius’ (ca. 250 – 336), a bishop of Alexandria, who taught a created angelic-Jesus. Arius’ teaching was dividing the Church. Athanasius (ca. 296 – 373) defended the deity of Jesus, “Very God of very God”, resulting in the Church’s condemnation of Arius teaching as heresy (false teaching).

In Ephesus, A.D. 431, another major council, St. Augustine defended original sin and salvation as freely and undeserved gift of gracious God. The church condemned a British monk Pelagius’ teaching as heresy.

In year 1050 came the first split of the state church, Catholic went on it way and Orthodox on its own. In 1095-1291 crusades, “holy wars” claimed thousands of lives, while Middle Ages and Renaissance also saw the execution of less than 15000 witches, both in Europe and America (7a) marking the darkest era of the church. Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109), Thomas à Kempis (ca. 1380-1471), Thomas Aquinas(1225-1274), and more shined in the night of Christendom.

Ca. 1500, reformation began. Martin Luther and other reformers, tried to reform the Roman Catholic Church.

This reformation was at first a purely religious movement, and furnishes a striking illustration of the all-pervading power of religion in history. It was lit out of the concern of what must a man do to be saved. How should a sinner be justified before God, and attain peace?

The reformers were supremely concerned for the salvation of the soul, for the glory of Christ and the triumph of his gospel. They thought more of the future world than of the present, and made all political, national, and literary interests subordinate and subservient to religion[8](Preface, Martin Luther).

The “Birthday of the Reformation” is often listed as 31 October 1517, when Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses[7](95 Theses, Martin Luther) on the Wittenberg Castle Church’s door. This called for a debate with the established church started a chain reaction of change in Western Christendom.

While the Reformation may have officially begun in 1517, it was built upon earlier attempts to reform the corrupt and venal Catholic church. Savonarola in Italy and Hus in Bohemia planted a seeds of a later successful effort. Lutheran church began to take form with the presentation of the Augsburg Confession on 25 June 1530. From this time on, differences with Rome was clear, and both sides saw little hope in reconciliation (A Brief Look at the Lutheran Church, P. Snyder)[9]

1546- 1564, the reformed church grounded itself in the Council of Trent, with Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola gratia, Sola Christo, and Soli Deo Gloria, the fruits of Martin Luther, John Calvin and other reformers’ following Augustinian teachings.

[1] Acts 1:12-14

[2] Acts 1:15

[3] Church History In Plain Language Bruce L. Shelly Pg. 16

[4] Acts 2:1-3

[5] Acts 2:41

[6] Church History In Plain Language Bruce L. Shelly Pg. 19

[7] 95 Theses of Martin Luther

[7a] Jenny Gibbons, ‘Recent Developments in the Study of the Great European Witch Hunt’, article in The Pomegranate, #5, 1998

[8] Luther, Preface Pg. IV

[9] A Brief Look at the Lutheran Church, Walter P. Snyder

NB: I skipped a lot of good history. I welcome correction. My first attempt was to write only 1000 words,  but I  have 121 words more, minus footnotes.