A Brief History of the Church
1st Century Church History
In the first century, the church seemed to center on the theme of
grace. The emphasis was on a personal relationship with God, learned
through the teachings of the apostles. Churches met in small numbers in
the homes of the believers. They were eager to
share with each other the glory of the resurrection of Jesus and a new
resurrected life for believers. The humanity and deity of
Jesus was taught. Sunday was celebrated as resurrection day, when the
people rejoiced for their new life and hope, by coming together to
encourage each other. There was no fasting, kneeling, sadness, or
gloom. The Lord's Supper was practiced regularly. There were regular
gatherings, not just on Sundays, for praise, instruction, and prayer.
The Canon of scripture was determined by prophetic or apostolic origin.
The church services often consisted of simply reading the Bible for as
long as time permitted. Sometimes there was a small amount of discourse
added, in attempt to urge the believers to imitate what they had heard.
Songs were sometimes a part of worship and sharing.
2nd Century Church History
In the second century church, water baptism became an instrument of
unity. It was usually accompanied by a traditional confession of faith.
Church membership was used to identify the members of a local assembly.
There was a demand for right lifestyles. There
were regular assemblies on Sundays for prayer, praise, reading the
scriptures, preaching, prophesying, and celebrating the Lord's Supper.
There was an expectation of a separation from public and secular life.
The emphasis was on discipline. Churches were autonomous, each with
pastors and deacons, and they did not appeal to government.
From 130 to 180 AD, the Apologists began their practice of defending
the faith. From 130 to 160 AD, the Gnostics began their claim to a
greater and deeper level of knowledge, available only to a choice few.
In 139 AD, Marcion theorized that there were actually two
gods, a god of wrath in the Old Testament, and a god of love in the New
Testament. Montanism made a claim for new prophecy. Around 150 AD,
there began an extensive baptismal confession, which later carried over
into the catholic church at Rome, along with various rituals and
sacraments. By 150 AD, there were various attempts to establish the
true New Testament Canon of scriptures. There was also a movement which
allowed no marriages, and demanded complete separation from the world
3rd Century Church History
The third century brought Logos theology and Monarchianism, along with
various opinions on the duality or trinity of the godhead. Some
preached a means of forgiveness through prayer. Some considered certain
grave sins to be irremissible and penitential, often calling for
discipline, excommunication, and/or a "second repentance." In this
period, some pastors began getting involved in the affairs of their
communities. In 215 AD, Clement of Alexandria developed his theory of
how God enlightens man. In 230 AD, Origen preached the importance of
prayer and Bible study. He saw God as creator but not as an existing
There developed a system of clergy (including clerical workers), and
laity. In this century, the first church buildings were built, i.e.
buildings for the specific purpose of housing
church meetings, rather than meeting in the homes of the believers.
There was considerable organization of the various churches, above the
local level. In many churches, the Lord's Supper was conducted every
There was started a practice of conducting a baptism service once per
year. Since it was only an annual event, much was made of it. It called
for fasting on the part of the baptismal candidates all day Friday and
Saturday. Then, at first light on Sunday morning, the baptismal
candidates were stripped, they renounced Satan, they were anointed with
the oil of exorcism, and were led into the water by a deacon. The
deacon washed them three times, then demanded from each one a
three-fold verbal confession in response to three direct questions
about their faith in God. They were then led out of the water, anointed
with the oil of thanksgiving, dried, and clothed. Then a bishop would
lay hands on them and pray. He would anoint them on their forehead, making the
sign of the cross, then they were permitted to celebrate their first
4th Century Church History
In about 300 AD, Diocletian caused great persecution to be inflicted
upon Christians. By 313 however, Constantine had had a vision by which
he was compelled to make Christianity the state religion. In 318, Arius
gained infamy by denying the deity of Jesus. In 325, the Nicaean
Council established various creeds, along with their declaration of the
Canon. Monasticism had evolved by this time, which called for a life of
philosophical exclusion. In 374, Ambrose of Milan and John Chrysostom
became authoritative church
leaders, and Greek exegesis was encouraged.
Also in this century, came the establishment of clerical celibacy, and
celebration of Lent, Palm Sunday, Easter, Pentecost, and December 25
(from an ancient religion's celebration time of the birth of the
unconquered sun). The catechumens housed baptismal candidates
who were traditionally kept ignorant of their faith and rituals during
their initiatory process. The practice of expounding upon the
scriptures was greatly expanded to include lengthy explanations rather
than just reading the scriptures. There was a distinct elevation of the
Virgin Mary, like that of ancient Virgin cults. By
this time, designated worship buildings were prevalent.
5th Century Church History
In the fifth century, the most significant doctrinal challenge came
from the Pelagianists, who claimed that Adam's sin was not imputed.
6th Century Church History
In the sixth century, Gregory the Great was responsible for encouraging
the doctrinal belief in a necessary purgation for sins after baptism.
Middle ages Church History (7th to 10th Century)
During the dark ages, little is known of the church, as well as
mankind. We do know that this period saw a tremendous elevation in the
authority of the papacy. All attempts at reform were solidly squelched.
It was during this period that the Church of England broke away from
the Church of Rome.
11th to 13th
This is the period of the crusades. These constituted the effort of
Christendom to regain the Holy Land from the Mohammedans.
13th Century Church History
The thirteenth century brought with it the Inquisition. This
included the punishment of heretics and the confiscation of property of
those disapproved by the Catholic church. During this period, Thomas
Aquinas elevated natural reason and experiences.
14th Century Church History
This period saw a revival of Mysticism and their superstitions. There
was also considerable unrest in the Catholic Church due to the Avignon
Papacy and the Great Schism.
15th Century Church History
Reformation began to take shape in this period. John Wyclif questioned
the authority of the Pope, and Jan Hus spoke out against indulgences.
16th Century Church History
The sixteenth century saw more changes in the church than at any time
since Christ founded Christianity. During the preceding 1500 years,
there had gradually developed an unbelievable perversion of the mission
of the church, and unprecedented corruption of the Papacy and other
church leaders, as the Catholic church had dominated Christendom for
over 1000 years.
It was then that reformation made its move. Martin Luther boldly stood
his ground and rebelled against the Catholic Church. He elevated grace
and he spoke out against indulgences. He also insisted that the wine
served at the Lord's Supper was literal blood. Zwingle elevated the
teaching of observing God's Will. Anabaptists rebelled against infant
baptism. Another reformer, John Calvin, elevated faith, grace,
predestination, and God Himself, but he disagreed with Luther by
insisting that the wine served at the Lord's Supper was only symbolic.
At the same time, Catholicism was elevating confession.
Socinianism emphasized morality, Arminianism taught predestination and
the importance of individual human merit, and the Puritans and
Separatists sought purification of the church, elevated the Bible above
the church, and questioned the inclusion of church and
state. They also sought to rid the church of Roman superstition which
had run rampant for centuries as carryovers from ancient pagan
religions. They wanted to rid the church of the prescribed clerical
dress of the catholic leaders, based on the grounds of the
priesthood of the believer. They also wanted to get rid of the
mandatory kneeling at the Lord's Supper, the wedding ring at marriages,
and the sign of the cross at baptism. The Presbyterians and Calvinists
developed into strong bodies of believers with tightly organized church
leaders. Also during this time, the Mennonites evolved from the
17th Century Church History
In the seventeenth century, the General Baptists evolved from the
Puritans. The Calvinistic Baptists emphasized baptism by immersion. The
Quakers stressed the importance of the inner man, labeling the outward
man as unnecessary and
misleading. They wanted to rid their church of artificial titles. They
were anti-war, anti-slavery, and strong on morality. Many of these
groups began mass migrations to
18th Century Church
Perhaps John Wesley had more impact on the 18th Century Church than any
other single man. He emphasized the simplicity of the gospel, preaching
over 40,000 sermons in his traveling evangelism. He is responsible for
setting up separate Bible classes, each with their own teacher, as we
know them today. He also started the trends of collecting a penny per
week from members, establishing membership tickets, superintendents,
and evangelical circuits. He preached perfection and morality, but not
predestination. There was autonomy among the churches, and during this
period, the Episcopalians broke away from the Church of England.
19th Century Church History
In the nineteenth century, Charles Finney popularized Presbyterian
evangelism. There was widespread recognition of women workers in the
church, and emphasis on the youth. The Christian Science Church was
started, and various emphasis was placed upon health and healing. In the
1830's Joseph Smith started the Mormon church which stresses faith in
one's works, a sinless life, water baptism, the laying on of hands, and
20th Century Church
The Pentecostals have been in the spotlight in the twentieth century
church. They emphasize speaking in tongues, a second blessing, a third
blessing, and a final blessing. They distinguish between salvation and
sanctification by preaching a baptism of the
Holy Spirit after salvation, by which one can achieve perfection. The
1900's saw the growth of a social gospel, stressing social concerns and
missions. In 1914 the Assembly of God church was formed from the 1900
Pentecostal movement and the revival of
the gift of tongues. The Church of God in Christ was formed as an
all-black church. In 1920, there began an Ecumenical reunion through
the formation of the National Council of Churches (NCC), and the World
Council of Churches (WCC). In the 1960's the Neo-pentecostal movement
began, and it continues to draw charismatics from the old-line
denominations including Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists,
Presbyterians, Roman Catholic, and Baptist Churches.
Owen Weber 2009