An Introduction to Church History
History is a funny and yet profound subject. Every second that passes moves into the category of history. You began reading this blog post in the past. As the seconds turn to days, soon history becomes long periods of time that we study. The profoundness of history turns to irony when we repeat the things we’ve already failed.
As the saying goes, History tends to repeat itself.
Church history has much to teach us and the more we learn from our brothers and sisters in Christ centuries before us, the more we will learn to persevere in persecution and fight against false teaching.
And that’s why I want to spend some time looking at moments throughout church history that will help us today. We won’t cover everything and we won’t dive as deep as we could into the events. My desire is to whet your appetite when it comes to church history.
Before we dive into these moments, let’s lay the foundation by defining a few terms.
History is the study of human achievement. All of history is a part of God’s story. When we learn about history, we learn about topics such as the Vikings and World War Ii and how our country was founded. We can concentrate on one area of history such as the history of the automobile or the history of warfare. Church History is one area of concentration.
Church history is the study of the Christian church in every age since the time of Jesus. When we learn about church history, we are learning about what Christians have done in different parts of the world and events that are directly related to the spread of Christianity. Often our view of the church is shaped by western eyes but there is much to learn from the church in Africa, Asia, and everywhere in between.
We’re going to learn more about different subjects like the Council of Nicea, the Protestant Reformation, the English Bible, and so much more! We’re going to visit Rome and Jerusalem and China and Germany and so many other places where God has done some really incredible things! But most importantly, the biggest lesson we will learn is this:
God is always faithful to His people.
Hebrews 12:1–2 states,
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
What’s the very first word in verse 1? Therefore! Every time we see the word “therefore” in the Bible, we need to stop and go back to what the Bible says before. In this case, we look to Hebrews 11.
Hebrews 11 is what many people have called the “Hall of Faith”. We see stories of Noah and Abraham and Rahab and so many more. Hebrews 11 gives us examples of how to live faithfully to the God who is always faithful to us. Hebrews 12:1 then shows how there are so many more people throughout history who can testify to God’s faithfulness.
Church history tells us the names of some of those men and women. But the story of Hebrews 11 and the stories of the great cloud of witnesses is not about the men and women, it’s about God. Church History teaches us that God is always faithful to His people.
To understand church history, we need to know how it fits in God’s big story.
What’s your favorite fictional story? Mine is the story of Batman. To properly tell Batman’s story, you need time to read about the murder of his parents, his desire for justice, and of course, his immense wealth. Those are major plot points within the character arc of Batman. To know the story of Batman, you need to know the plot.
The plot is the main events of a particular story. Most every book, every movie, every tv show has a plot. The plot of every story has a beginning, middle, and end, all of which flow together.
The Bible is the same way. The Bible was written to tell us who God is and how He was on a mission to save sinners. The Bible is the story of Redemption, covering roughly 6,000 years of history and points us to the future as well. “Every page, every story,” as Sally Lloyd-Jones, author of “The Jesus Storybook Bible”, says “whispers His (Jesus) name”. All of the Bible points to the One who came to redeem sinners from their sin.
God’s story of redemption contains for story lines:
Creation: God made everything perfect and for His glory. (Genesis 1-2)
The story of God does not start with us, it starts with God! God created the world and everything in it and it was good. When God created humans they were made in God’s image and God said they were VERY Good! The Earth was full of God’s shalom, which means peace. The kind of peace in which everything works according to God’s intention. The world was made for human flourishing, there we could live in joy in the presence of God as God’s co-workers caring for this very good creation.
The Fall: Mankind corrupted God’s perfect creation and has fallen short of the glory of God. (Genesis 3)
Humans rejected God’s rule and leadership. They deliberately went away from God’s commands and their actions declared they believed they were wiser than their creator. This resulted in sin and brokenness entering God’s good creation and disrupting everything. Every inch of the earth was touched by the brokenness that swept in. This rebellion results in physical and spiritual death for humanity.
But there is a glimmer of hope in Genesis 3. In Genesis 3:15, God intervenes. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
God’s plan and design cannot be overcome. He graciously covers the sin of Adam and Eve. “Even as he executes sentences against them, he still loves them and cares for them, but their Creator wraps them in clothes of animal skins before they do. For God to love and protect Adam and Eve in that way, something had to die.” (DeYoung) Ultimately, it would be God’s Son Jesus, the offspring of Genesis 3:15 to die for the sins of mankind. Remember, this is a story of redemption.
Redemption: God has delivered mankind from sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Genesis 4 – Revelation 20)
Rightfully the Creator is angry towards the sin and brokenness, but thankfully He so deeply loves humanity and creation that He is determined to redeem the evil and suffering from the disruptive force of brokenness. Redemption is God’s Deliverance from Sin through Jesus.
This movement shows God implementing a master plan for redeeming the world God loves, rescuing the broken humans, and healing the broken world. We see God lay out a plan to redeem His people all throughout the Old Testament, but His people could not uphold their end of the bargain.
The most climactic part of this plot movement is when through the Person of Jesus Christ, God comes to renew the world and restore God’s people. The death and resurrection of Jesus inaugurate and unlock the power of the Kingdom of God and humans are invited to join in the mission of redemption. (Colossians 1:13–14 )
Restoration: God promises to make all things new through Jesus Christ (Revelation 21-22)
The story doesn’t end with redemption, but rather it continues with hope! God has promised to renew the whole world, and the Bible gives us a peak into this glorious future. The restoration of all things will take place when Jesus returns to defeat sin and evil, and He will usher in righteousness and justice. All the wrong things will be made right and all the sad things will become untrue. God’s perfect shalom/peace will cover the earth and God will purge this world of evil once and for all.
Now, where are we in this story? We are recipients of grace living in our Redemption as we await for the day of restoration. Yes, we are still living in a fallen world, but we await a Savior! A Savior who will come and restore all things! We won’t live in a fallen state anymore, because, as Paul writes,
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:20–21)
Church history teaches us that God is always faithful to His people. He’s always faithful because He said He is. Our brothers and sisters before us believed Him and we believe Him today. And we trust and we are “sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”. (Philippians 1:6)