November 9, 2019

Church History in Plain Language

I finally finished reading this book! And it was a good one. It was set up with short chapters with different time periods and stages of the church, which was ideal for reading a chapter here or there.

Why is church history important? Because it's important to God. Many times in Scripture God uses reminders of times gone by to bring His people back to Him.

History is important. Especially church history, it helps us learn and discern what has pleased God and what hasn't. Every story told in Scripture is to bring us closer to Him, to see His love for us and to show us who He is.

History is important because it contains our brothers and sisters in Christ. Those who went before us and stood for truth and justice. They weren't perfect, but our God is and they trusted Him.

The author says here in the prologue, of the importance of church history for the Christian:

"Many Christians today suffer from historical amnesia. The time between the apostles and their own day is one giant blank. That is hardly what God had in mind. 

The Old Testament is sprinkled with reminders of God's interest in time. 

When He established the Passover for the children of Israel, he said, 'Tell your will be like a sign...that the Lord brought us out of Egypt' (Ex. 13:8,16, NIV). And when he provided the manna in the wilderness, he commanded Moses to keep a jar of it 'for the generations to come' (Ex. 16:33, NIV)."

This book is a great start to learning about church history.

I thought I'd share a few interesting historical church facts here, from this book.

How the church was called the church:

"The disciples called their new movement 'The Way,' emphasizing their belief that Jesus would lead his followers to the kingdom of God. Before long, however, the Jerusalem community came to speak of itself  by an Old Testament term used to refer to the assembly of Israel. The Greek equivalent was ekklesia (or church in English) and meant a gathering of people, God's people." Page 18

Explaining theology: 

"Theology comes from two Greek words: theos, meaning God, and logos, meaning word or rational thought. So theology is rational thought about God. It is not identical with religion. Religion is our belief in God and our effort to live by that belief. Theology is the attempt to give a rational explanation of our belief: it is thinking about religion. 

When we err in our thinking we call it heresy or bad theology. Heresy is not necessarily bad religion, but like all wrong thinking it may lead to bad religion.

Heretics, in fact, served the church in an unintended way. Their pioneering attempts to state the truth forced the church to shape good theology: a rounded, well-organized statement of biblical revelation... Page 50

...But theology, don't forget, is not synonymous with God's revelation and effort to express it clearly in teaching and preaching. Theology is using our own language and our own way of thinking to explain God's truth. and we know that people belonging to different times and cultures simply think and speak in different ways." Page 52

On Orthodoxy:

"Good theology we call orthodox, a term that always seems to stir emotions. It is that form of Christianity that won the support of the overwhelming majority of Christians and that is expressed by most of the official proclamations or creeds of the church... Page 50

...Much of orthodoxy was articulated because some heresy had arisen that threatened to change the nature of Christianity and to destroy its central faith... Page 51

About Constantine's conversion, the first Christian leader of Rome: 

 "Some historians have considered Constantine's 'conversion' a purely political maneuver. Plenty of paganism remained. He conspired; he murdered; he even retained his title Pontifex Maximus as head of the state religious cult. 

But a purely political conversion is hard to maintain in the light of his public and private actions. From the year 312, he favored Christianity openly. He allowed Christian ministers to enjoy the same exemption from taxes as the pagan priests; he abolished executions by crucifixion; he called a halt to the battles of gladiators as a punishment for crimes; and in 321 he made Sunday a public holiday. Thanks to his generosity, magnificent church buildings arose as evidence of his support of Christianity... Page 100

...This public Christianity was matched by changes in Constantine's private life. Making no secret of his Christian convictions, he had his sons and daughters brought up as Christians and led a Christian family life." Page 101

How earthly freedom can bring false converts:

Whatever Constantine's motives for adopting the Christian faith, the result was a decline in Christian commitment. The stalwart believers whom Diocletian killed were replaced by a mixed multitude of half-converted pagans. Once Christians had laid down their lives for the truth; now they slaughtered each other to secure the prizes of the church." Page 127

At a time when heresies were abounding about who Jesus was (325-451), some saying he was created, some that he was not fully God, and others saying he wasn't fully human, the church fathers at the time wrote this creed at the forth General Council of Chalcedon. One most Christians believe today:

"We all with one voice confess our Lord Jesus Christ one and the same Son, at once complete in godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man,...acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, or without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way abolished because of the union, but rather the characteristic property of each nature being preserved, and coming together to form one person." Page 122

The pros and cons of the monastic life of the middle ages:

"...the Benedictine conception of the Christian life was essentially unnatural. 'To enter a monastery was to separate from the world, to abandon the ordinary relationships of social life,' to shun marriage and all that the Christian home signifies. and supporting the whole endeavor was an erroneous view of man. The soul, said the monk, is chained to the flesh as a prisoner to a corpse. That is not the biblical view of human life, and it created a fundamental flaw in monasticism. 

To recognize these errors today, however, is not to say that the faults were apparent to the men of the declining Roman Empire or the Middle Ages. For them, generally, the monastic calling seemed the truest form of the Christian life. Nor should we, in noting the evils of monasticism, underrate in the least the immense service the monks rendered in the spread and development of Christianity and of civilization in a trying period of European history." Page 132

On the Roman Church and the first pope (440AD):

"The papacy is a highly controversial subject. No other institution has been so loved and so hated. Some Christians have revered the pope as the 'Vicar of Christ'; others have denounced him as the  'Anti-Christ.' 

All sides agree, however, that Leo (*the first official pope 440AD) represents an important stage in the history of this unique institution. He demonstrates the papacy's capacity to adapt to different environments in its long history: the Roman Empire, the Germanic kingdoms of the Middle Ages, the national states of modern times, and today the developing worlds of Asia and Africa...

...According to the official teaching of the Roman Catholic church, defined at the First Vatican Council (1870), Jesus Christ established the papacy with the apostle Peter, and the bishop of Rome as Peter's successor bears the supreme authority (primacy) over the whole church, Both Eastern Orthodox churches and Protestant denominations deny both of these claims...

...Our primary concern, however, is neither the vindication nor the refutation of the Roman Catholic claims. It is a survey of Christian history. Whatever the absolute claims of church authorities, history indicates that the concept of papal rule of the whole church was established by slow and painful stages. Leo is a major figure in that process because he provides for the first time the biblical and theological bases of the papal claim. That is why it is misleading to speak of the papacy before his time." Page 142

 On the Orthodox Church in Russia:

"Over the years Russia made the aesthetic glories of Orthodox Christianity her own. Gradually Moscow came to see herself as the leader of the Orthodox world. A theory developed that there had been one Rome, in Italy, that had fallen to the barbarians and to the Roman Catholic heresy. There had been a second Rome: Constantinople. And when that fell to the Turks, there was a third Rome: Moscow. The emperor took his title from the first Rome - Tzar is the same word as Caesar - just as he had taken his religion from the second." Page 160

Martin Luther in 1517 shook the religious world by protesting against the evils within the Catholic Church and proclaiming, by Scripture, that man was saved by faith alone:

"Luther saw it clearly now. Man is saved only by his faith in the merit of Christ's sacrifice. The cross alone can remove man's sin and save him for the grasp of the devil. Luther had come to his famous doctrine of justification by faith alone...

...The implications of Luther's discovery were enormous. If salvation comes through faith in Christ alone, the intercession of priests is superfluous. faith formed and nurtured by the Word of God, written and preached, requires no monks, no masses, and no prayers to the saints. The mediation of the Church of Rome crumbles into insignificance." Page 249-250

"Good works do not make a man good, but a good man does good works." Martin Luther

On Protestantism:

What is Protestantism? The description from Ernst Troeltsch has served as a standard. In the early twentieth century he called Protestantism a 'modification of Catholicism' in which Catholic problems remain but different solutions are given. The four questions that Protestantism answered in a new way are, 

(1) How is a person saved? 
(2) Where does religious authority lie? 
(3) What is the church? and 
(4) what is the essence of Christian living?... Page 248

...Luther took four basic Catholic concerns and offered invigorating new answers. 

To the question, how is a person saved? Luther replied, 'not by works but by faith alone.' 

To the question, where does religious authority lie? he answered, 'not in the visible institution called the Roman church but in the Word of God found in the Bible.' 

To the question, what is the church? he responded, ' the whole community of Christian believers, since all are priests before God.' 

And to the question, what is the essence of christian living? he replied, ' serving God in any useful calling, whether ordained or lay.' 

To this day any classical description of Protestantism must echo those central truths." Page 257

 On Denominations:

"Denominationalism, as originally designed, is the opposite of sectarianism. A sect claims the authority of Christ for itself alone. It believes that it is the true body of Christ; all truth belongs to it and to no other religion. So by definition a sect is exclusive.

The word denomination by contrast was an inclusive term. It implied that the Christian group called or denominated by a particular name was but one member of a larger group, the church, to which all denominations belong.

The denominational theory of the church, then, insists that the true church cannot be identified with any single ecclesiastical structure. No denomination claims to represent the whole church of Christ. Each simply constitutes a different form, in worship and organization, of the larger life of the church.

The Reformers had planted the seeds of the denominational theory of the church when they insisted that the true church can never be identified in any exclusive sense with a particular institution. The true succession is not of bishops but of believers." Pages 318-319

These quotes are barely the beginning of the information about the Church found in this book, but I'd be typing for days if I added everything I'd like to share!

I highly recommend this book! I'll leave you with this final quote from the author:

"Its (*the church's) confidence is in a person. And no other person in recorded history has influenced more people in as many conditions over so long a time as Jesus Christ...

...Truly, he is a man for all time. In a day when many regard him as irrelevant, a relic of a quickly discarded past, church history provides a quiet testimony that Jesus Christ will not disappear from the scene. His title may change, but his truth endures for all generations." Page 521

Note: *added my me. 

Buy it HERE on Amazon