Church History

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Why I love church history.
It reminds us that the church has weathered worst storms than what we are dealing with today.
It encourages us that Christ has always been building His church and no one can destroy it.
We can realize that as we look back through history we as a church are standing on the shoulders of giants of the faith and they can encourage and convict us to continue to spread the gospel and stand for Christ in a fallen and broken world
Now we only have a few hours to cover 2000 years of history so if you are a history nerd we are going to be skipping many different points in church history that are hugely important but for the sake of time we can not dive into them right now.
A few good resources for you if you are looking for more information on church history is
historical theology - Gregg Allison
Church history in plain language - Bruce Shelley
Turning Points Decisive moments in the history of christianity. A survey of church history video series (Free)
TheosU Church History Part 1&2 Paid (15 dollars a month)
We will be covering four main topics tonight (time willing)
The Apostolic Age
The age after the death of Christ to around 100 AD
The Canonization of Scripture
The Councils
Catholic Protestant Split

The Apostolic Age

The apostolic age is the period of time during Christ’s ministry and after His death and resurrection.
In the apostolic age we see a number of key events that begin to form and shape the early church.
Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost is surely the turning point from a small collection of 50-100 followers of Jesus to 3000 people converting to Christianity.
Many of these people were in Jews that were in Jerusalem for religious holiday from all over the world.
They hear Peter’s sermon and they are converted.
This begins happening more and more and as their numbers are growing so is the tension with the Roman government and the Jewish rulers.
Remember the early church is claiming as their leader, King, and God the man that was crucified by the Roman government at the request by Jewish leaders.
At this time there had already been a few other men that had claimed to be the Messiah and they had gathered a number of people to follow them.
Gamaliel addresses this in Acts 5:33-39
Acts 5:33–39 ESV
33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice,
His main claim was we should leave these men (apostles) alone because if it is not from God it will die on it’s own.
And for a while the Apostles were allowed to teach openly about Christ and even teach in the temple regarding Him being the Messiah.
Over time as more people are being converted to Christianity it is becoming increasingly apparent that Christianity would not be a religion that is reserved to one specific people group but would be open for all to convert. (this will be important for later.
Many converts in the early church were Hellenistic jews who were seen as less than across the jewish world.
They had adopted a greek style of living and speaking in greek instead of Aramaic and therefore they were not kindly welcomed by those that saw themselves as “truly Jewish”
This caused one of the first major issues within the church that the disciples had to deal with.
The universality of the Gospel.
That all people can hear and respond to the good news of Christ.
We see this in Acts 6:1-5
Acts 6:1–5 ESV
1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.
Although a small issue in the grand history of the Church it is important because it introduces our very first martyr of the Christian faith.
Most of us know the story of Stephen and how he lays out one of the very first defenses of Christianity an as a result is killed for it.
In contrast with the previous story about the apostles many believe that the reason the apostles were not stoned and Stephen was even though they were preaching the same gospel is because Stephen was a Hellenist Jew and his claims against the Pharisees and the temple worship were seen as particularly egregious.
Regardless of why Stephen is killed he will forever be the first known martyr of the Christian faith.
After the stoning of Stephen which was approved by Saul (Paul) there is the beginning of a persecution of Christians in Judea and this causes the dispersion of believers throughout the region of Judea.
You will be my witnesses first to Jerusalem, then Judea, then the World.
The rest of the New Testament plays out in the roughly 40 years between Christ’s death and Resurrection
In this time we see particular heresies arising and being addressed by Paul and the Apostles.
We see them establishing church order and government.
We see glimpses at the Roman persecution under Nero
Who would cover Christians in animal skins and have them ripped apart in the arena by wild animals.
Who would cover them in wax and oil and light them on fire to light up his gardens and his parties
The Nero persecution would be responsible for the deaths of Peter and Paul
It is important to note that until Nero there wasn’t a focused attack on Christians by the Roman Government.
There were Christians who were killed for not giving honor to Cesar or for not offering sacrifices to Him
They were killed for not attending Roman festivals
This could have been seen as being enemies of the state.
But they were not killed for simply being Christian.
Even Jesus was killed because of His proclamations that He was King.
But now with Nero there is a new kind of persecution.
Nero at this time was becoming increasingly unpopular amongst the Romans
He had his own mother killed
He was literally an insane man who used his power and his influence to do terrible things.
All of this dislike came to a head during the Great Roman Fire of AD 64
Much of Rome was burned and either destroyed or badly damaged.
Many Romans blamed Nero for this fire and in an attempt to throw the blame onto someone else he pointed his fingers at the Christians who had lived in many of the quarters that were the most damaged.
Because of this there was an extreme persecution of believers throughout Rome.
Christians were already unliked for a number of reasons
They were seen as Roman disenters
Romans thought they got together and phyically ate of each others bodies and drank of their blood
They also thought because everyone referred to each other as brother and sister they were having incestual orgies
Because of this Nero was able to shift the blame to the Christians even though most Romans still continued to think he was responsible for the fire.
The Roman Historian Tacitus has this to say about Nero’s persecution
“Yet no human effort, no princely largess nor offerings to the gods could make that infamous rumor disappear that Nero had somehow ordered the fire. Therefore, in order to abolish that rumor, Nero falsely accused and executed with the most exquisite punishments those people called Christians, who were infamous for their abominations. The originator of the name, Christ, was executed as a criminal by the procurator Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius; and though repressed, this destructive superstition erupted again, not only through Judea, which was the origin of this evil, but also through the city of Rome, to which all that is horrible and shameful floods together and is celebrated. Therefore, first those were seized who admitted their faith, and then, using the information they provided, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much for the crime of burning the city, but for hatred of the human race. And perishing they were additionally made into sports: they were killed by dogs by having the hides of beasts attached to them, or they were nailed to crosses or set aflame, and, when the daylight passed away, they were used as nighttime lamps. Nero gave his own gardens for this spectacle and performed a Circus game, in the habit of a charioteer mixing with the plebs or driving about the race-course. Even though they were clearly guilty and merited being made the most recent example of the consequences of crime, people began to pity these sufferers, because they were consumed not for the public good but on account of the fierceness of one man.”
After Nero’s death the persecution of believers subsided for a while and the next major event in the history of the Church would signal the end of the Apostolic Age.

Break? Maybe?

The Fall of Jerusalem

The fall of Jerusalem was particularly important because it marked the end of the Jewish sect of believers.
Up until this point there was a fairly large Jewish church that had formed in Jerusalem.
In fact many of these Christians would attend temple services on Saturday and gather on Sunday to worship as believers.
They were mainly comprised of Jews because that was the overwhelming population of people in Israel.
The fall of Rome occurs in AD 70 three days before passover.
Interesting note here that 40 years after the death of Jesus Christ the Romans begin their attack on Jerusalem.
Nothing but speculation exists in this statement but my old youth pastor used to say things that make us go hhmmm.
Without going to much into the details Jerusalem falls in late August finally and all the gold in the temple is carried off including the gold that was on the temple stones.
To remove this gold the roman soldiers removed it brick by brick.
Matthew 24:2 ESV
2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
The Fall of Jerusalem caused the Jewish church to disperse and flee and because they did not stay behind and fight the Romans with their fellow Jews they were seen as deserters and would no longer be allowed to worship in synagogues after this.
This is the final nail in the coffin of the Jewish Church in Jerusalem and what largely cements Christianity now as a gentile religion. A religion made up of mainly non jews.
By AD 70 many believe that most of the disciples have been killed or have died and they have passed on the leadership of the church to the bishops and other men like Timothy and Titus.
This is what ends the apostolic age and we enter into the Age of the Early Catholic Church


The Early Catholic Church

There are many things that happen between the years AD 70 and AD 325 with the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea
But for the purpose of our class tonight the major one I want to focus on is the canonization of scripture.
Scripture did not simply appear out of nowhere and I certainly wasn’t always agreed upon which books should be allowed in the modern day bible or not.
Between the periods of AD 33 and AD 100 the collection of our NT writings were being penned.
Many but not all believe the Revelation was the last book to be written but it would be hundreds of years before the church had an official 27 agreed upon books that would be canonized into scripture along with the Hebrew Bible.
This however does not mean that a group of men 400 years after Christ got together and picked and chose which books to add as some “TikTok theologians” might imply
some people have claimed that the bible was hand picked books by a bunch of men 400 years after Christ died.
There are several points to make about the canon of scripture.
Paul in 1 Tim. 5 quotes directly from the gospel of Luke indicating a recognition of the letter as good for truthful instruction
In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul claims his words as the direct authority of God
In 2 Peter Peter explains to his readers that the Lord sends commands through His apostles.
There are many other areas in scripture where we see this
Ignatius Bishop of Antioch and Peters successor as well as Polycarp Bishop of Smyrna a disciple of John the Apostle quote from the Apostles letters when writing and teaching
For the first 100 years of the Christian church the apostles were still writing the NT books. They were given the ability to write and speak on behalf of God as God was speaking directly through them. It isn’t until after their death that the process of canonization becomes important.
One reason for this is heresy
Around AD 140-150 there were a few key events that nudged the church toward the canonization of scripture. In AD 140 there was a wealthy man by the name of Marcion. Marcion is considered a heretic by the church but is actually responsible for creating the first collection of books (although they were heavily redacted) of the new testament.
He held the view that the God of the OT is mean and the author of Evil and the God of the New testament is the Good and True God. Because of this Marcion rejected OT scripture and picked and chose passages out of new testament letters like a heavily edited gospel of Luke and certain letters from Paul
Marcion help Paul up to such a high regard that it was little less than worship.
It was quoted to Marcion that “In Heaven, Paul sits at the right hand of Christ who sits at the right hand of God.”
Because of Marcion’s heretical beliefs it caused the church to realize they needed to canonize the scripture so that there was a standard of truth.
Montanus was another heretic within the second century church that caused a realization for the canon of scripture
He focused heavily on prophetic utterences and being “caught up in the spirit”
He eventually ends up proclaiming that anyone that opposed his prophecy was blaspheming the Holy Spirit
He also believed that he and the two prophetesses that traveled with him were the agents of Revelation.
As a response to heresy and a desire to canonize the word of God the first official canon we find in the early church is the Muratorian Canon which was first discovered and published around 1740
The muratorian canon has been dated to around 190 AD as being written
It includes this list of books
Four Gospels (pieces are missing of this portion but it refers to Luke as the 3rd gospel) and has John included
Paul’s letters
1&2 Corinthians
1&2 Thes.
1&2 Tim.
1&2 John
So we see that very early on in church history there already was an agreed upon list of scripture that is accepted as the word of God.
We see around 250 AD Origen (who was also a very complex individual in our faith) compiles his own canon of scripture with a similar list of scripture but not including Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2&3 John, and Jude
Many of these disputed letters at this time were due to questions regarding authorship.
They were unsure if it was a letter written by and apostle or approved by and apostle.
This will be cleared up by the time the canon is ratified by 400 AD
There were four criteria that were used to accept scripture into canon
Apostolic Origin - Attributed to or based on the teachings of the first century Apostles
Universal Acceptance - Accepted by all major Christian communities in the early church up to the 4th century
Litergical Use - Read publicly alongside OT scripture when they would gather for worship
Consistent Message - contains theological ideas compatible with other accepted writings about Jesus (i.e. his divinity and humanity)
Finally by 367 AD we have our first completed list of Biblical Canon show up in a letter written by Bishop Athanasius from Alexandria
Shortly after this in 393 at the Council of Hippo (Go Hutto!) in North Africa and at the Council of Carthage in 397 AD the same list is affirmed and the Canon of Scripture is completed.

Break? POOP?

Is Jesus fully God and Fully man.
He is born of a virgin and he is Gods son.
He is not two beings but one.
These statements we naturally accept as truth in our modern day Christendom but 1800 years ago their was huge debate about the divinity and humanity of Christ.

Ecumenical Councils

Ecumenical Council - Council that reflects the church as a whole.
Part of the reason the canon was affirmed was to address and reject heresy that was cropping up in the church.
Up until the time of Constantinian rule the church had been persecuted and threatened by the Roman empire.
- Despite this the church continued to grow and thrive.
By the time Constantine begins his rule there is a vast number of Christians and churches in the world.
We know this because by the time he calls the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea there are roughly 300+ bishops that are all responsible for churches throughout the world.
At a decisive battle for Constantine he claims he prayed to God and received a sign with the words by this sign conquer
Constantine goes on to win this battle and then signs the Edict of Milan in 313 AD that legalizes Christianity in the Roman world (however it does not make it the official religion of Rome)
Whether because of this event or because Christianity had become so widespread and popular Constantine converts to Christianity and in 323 AD at the recommendation of Hosius of Corduba he convenes the first Ecumenical council to address the issue of the Arian controversy.
Arian Controversy
Began with a controversy between Arius and Athanasius of Alexandria
Topic: Addressed the issue of Arianism
The Nicene creed was created for the most part to address the topic of Arianism and to solidify the belief as Jesus Begotten of God and not Made by God.
Their primary purpose for this meeting was to address the fact that Jesus is Fully God from the same essence of God and he was not created making him fully divine.
The Council was convened in Nicea by Emperor Constantine and it resulted in the Nicene Creed and the rejection and exile of Arius and two other Bishops all of the other 316 Bishops that were in attendance were in agreement.
One of my favorite stories that may be true or may not but I like to think it is.
At the council of Nicea there was a very particular bishop who has become pretty famous.
Today he is depicted as a round old man that wheres a red suit and delivers presents on Christmas.
Saint Nicholas was there and the legend goes that during a heated debate blows were exchanged and he punched the heretic Arius in the face.
In fact many historical painting depict this event.
So the next time you think of jolly old santa clause you will forever picture him punching out a heretic
These Creeds are extremely important because they address doctrinal issues and affirm our belief in who Jesus is and what we believe as a church.
We are able to go back and see the struggle and the toil that these early church fathers put into defending the faith.
At the council of Nicea we also see the topics of when to celebrate Easter as well as other matters in church discipline.
For more info on the council of Nicea the book Turning Points has some great content.
For thousands of years these creeds have affirmed Christian doctrine
Please stand and read with me the Nicene Creed.
We believe in one God,       the Father almighty,       maker of heaven and earth,       of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,       the only Son of God,       begotten from the Father before all ages,            God from God,            Light from Light,            true God from true God,       begotten, not made;       of the same essence as the Father.       Through him all things were made.       For us and for our salvation            he came down from heaven;            he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,            and was made human.            He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;            he suffered and was buried.            The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.            He ascended to heaven            and is seated at the right hand of the Father.            He will come again with glory            to judge the living and the dead.            His kingdom will never end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit,       the Lord, the giver of life.       He proceeds from the Father and the Son,       and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.       He spoke through the prophets.       We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.       We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.       We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,       and to life in the world to come. Amen.
After the council of Nicea there were two other major Ecumenical Councils that addressed different theological issues regarding heresy
but the one that was a real marker in the Christian faith is the Council of Chalcedon
Now by this time Christianity had become the official Roman State religion
In fact the Council of Chalcedon happens in 451 AD and Christianity was made the state religion in 380 by the Edict of Thessolinica.
Because of this, if there was a disagreement within the church regarding theology it often worked its way outside the walls of the church buildings and began causing unrest among the people.
Because of this these councils were also called to bring unity within the Church regarding doctrinal issues.
This council was called to reconcile the idea of how can Jesus be both fully man and fully divine.
How these two are one in Christ Jesus?
So in 451 Emperor Marcian summoned a council that would end the dispute.
520 bishops attended from all over the world and over the course of a number of months they created what is known as the Chalcedonian Definition.
This was not something that was necessarily needing to be recited aloud in the congregation but more of a guide for teachers of the word on what doctrine they should teach.
The Chalcedonian Definition
Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all unite in teaching that we should confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This same one is perfect in deity, and the same one is perfect in humanity; the same one is true God and true man, comprising a rational soul and a body. He is of the same essence (homousios) as the Father according to his deity, and the same one is of the same essence (homousios) with us according to his humanity, like us in all things except sin. He was begotten before the ages from the Father according to his deity, but in the last days for us and our salvation, the same one was born of the Virgin Mary, the bearer of God (Theotokos), according to his humanity. He is one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, and Only Begotten, who is made known in two natures (physeis) united unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably. The distinction between the natures (physeis) is not at all destroyed because of the union, but rather the property of each nature (physis) is preserved and concurs together into one person (prosopon) and subsistence (hypostasis). He is not separated or divided into two persons (prosopa), but he is one and the same Son, the Only Begotten, God the Logos, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the way the prophets spoke of him from the beginning, and Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and the Council of the fathers has handed the faith down to us.
After this council there are three additional councils that address further heresy and doctrinal issues within the church but the council of Nicea and the Council of Chalcedon are two major mile markers in the history of the church.

The Monastic Way of Life

As a result of Christianity being not only legalized but also made the state religion in Rome there were many people who converted simply because it was now the Roman thing to do or it was the popular opinion.
Not passing judgement on this but this is just simply the truth.
It was an easier lifestyle now and the old hardships of persecution that often times encouraged the believers to have a resiliency for Christ were no longer needed because no one was persecuting them.
Christianity was becoming watered down in many peoples opinion.
As a response to this there arose the Monastic way of life.
They focused on their strict schedules that involved prayer, meditation, fasting, silence and other spiritual disciplines.
Monks were not bishops in their day however they could be ordained if the need arose and many bishop positions were filled by Monks
The most notable figure of the Monastic way of life was Benedict of Nursia
Benedict created a Rule in which these monks were to live their life in 530 AD
Benedictine monks made three vows:
Poverty: communal ownership of all property; simple dress and meals
Chastity: celibacy; self-control; pure thought life and body
Obedience: submission to all superiors and all monks who have previously entered the order
Christian monasticism, while primarily concerned with the individual pursuit of the "spiritual life," that is an ascetic pursuit of God, has also arguably been responsible for:
the survival of education and culture during the period following the fall of the Western Roman Empire;
the perpetuation of important Greco-Roman and early Christian manuscripts in monastery scriptoriums;
the development of important early medicines in rudimentary pharmacies;
the beginnings of Western capitalism with early advances in agricultural production, manufacturing, corporation law, and labor division;
important advances in art, music, and cooking;
social stability in Western and Eastern Europe, often serving as an outlet for the second sons and daughters of wealthy aristocratic families;
and for important reform movements within Christendom.

The Great Schism

Division Between the East and the West
By the time of the early first century there was already small differences in the way that eastern and western churches have been conducting services and even in their thinking.
The Roman empire was vast and covered many cultures.
Even today as we look at different parts of the globe we see different expressions of faith.
Some more charismatic than others.
Some using sprinkle baptism verses full imersion
By the date 330 AD the Roman Empire had already split in two
Western Rome spoke Latin
Eastern Constantinople spoke Greek
By the time we get to 1054 AD and the great schism there have been multiple councils addressing multiple issues
Another problem was there was a debate amongst bishops over who had the power in what area. Whose territory was whose and who was really in charge.
Was it the Bishop of Constantinople or the Bishop of Rome aka the Pope
They also disagreed on the use of iconography at the time.
Iconography is the use of pictures or statues of saints as a reminder of what proper living looks like.
Some saw this as idol worship but iconography is still popular in the Greek and Russian orthodox church today which is where
As a result the leaders of the two churches excommunicated one another
There was now the Roman catholic church and the eastern orthodox church.
The Roman catholic church continued to increase in power while the eastern orthodox church lost much of it’s power due to the uprising of Islam, the crusades, in which Constantinople in Turkey was attacked multiple times by both Muslim and Christian armies.
For many of these reasons the Eastern Orthodox Church is a shadow of what it once used to be.

The Reformation

As protestant believers we cannot leave without addressing the importance of the Reformation and the Diet of Worms
No not an actual diet
Martin Luther was a German Monk in the roman catholic church.
He was beginning to question certain practices of the roman catholic church like the sale of indulgences
ways that you could buy your way into heaven
That the pope was the direct mouthpiece of God
and the idea of works + faith as a means of salvation
There are many more thats why he wrote down 95 of them but those are some of the main ones
Many people think that Martin Luther wrote his 95 theses and nails them on the door and bam! He was excommunicated.
Infact he posted his 95 theses in 1517 and it isn’t until 1521 that he is excommunicated from the Catholic church
During the Diet of Worms Martin Luther is asked to recant his statements which he does not
“On a theological level, Luther had challenged the absolute authority of the Pope over the Church by maintaining that the doctrine of indulgences, as authorized and taught by the Pope, was wrong.” Mark Noll Turning Points
“Luther maintained that salvation was by faith alone (sola fide) without reference to good works, alms, penance, or the Church's sacraments. Luther maintained that the sacraments were a "means of grace", meaning that while grace was imparted through the sacraments, the credit for the action belonged to God and not to the individual.” - Agustus Graebner Outlines of doctrinal theology
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