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 upon conversion.

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 being!

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 Sunday.

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 Lord's Supper.

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 Century Church History

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 Wycliffe 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. Zwingli 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 Anabaptist groups.

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 History

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 Masonic rituals.

20th Century Church History

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