{1}           Introduction

<< Church History (AD 30–2000) >>

Reference: Gonzalez, volume 1, chapters 1-2

        1.1.1  The study of church history

·         Definition: Church history is the interpreted record of the origin, progress, and impact of Christianity on human society.

        1.1.2  Values of church history

·         PAST: An aid to understanding: Church history examines the origin and development of present beliefs and practices; in order that we can treasure our great Christian heritage.

·         PAST: An inspiration for thanksgiving: Church history demonstrates the reality of God’s providence in guiding and protecting the church; in order that we can appreciate God’s plan and give Him all the glory.

·         PRESENT: A correctional guide: Church history analyzes past problems and difficulties in the church; in order that we can avoid falling into the same doctrinal errors and false practices. [negative application]

·         PRESENT: A practical tool: Church history reviews major events in the universal church; in order that we can comprehend doctrines and movements, and apply the knowledge for today. [positive application]

·         FUTURE: A motivating force: Church history records the toil and sacrifices of past saints; in order that we can empathize their experience and be motivated to follow their example and live a holy life.

        1.2.1  Reason for division

·         For memorization: The division into eras aids readers in remembering the essential facts.

·         For organization: The division helps to concentrating on the themes in that period.

        1.2.2  Division used in this course

30           Founding of the church

            Era 1: Early Church (1): Persecutions (AD 30–300)

300         End of persecution—Victory of Constantine [313]

            Era 2: Early Church (2):  Stability (AD 300–600)

600         Reign of Pope Gregory I [590–604]

            Era 3: Medieval Church (1):  Expansion & Conflicts (AD 600–1000)

1000       Schism between Eastern & Western churches [1054]; beginning of the 2nd millennium

            Era 4: Medieval Church (2):  Growth & Decline of the Papacy (AD 1000–1500)

1500       Ninety-Five Theses by Martin Luther [1517]

            Era 5: Modern Church (1):  Reformation & Struggles (AD 1500–1700)

1700       Beginning of missionary societies—Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge [1698]

            Era 6: Modern Church (2):  Revival & Missions (AD 1700–1900)

1900       Beginning of ecumenism—World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh [1910]

            Era 7: Modern Church (3):  Ecumenism & Adaptations (AD 1900–2000)

2000       Beginning of the 3rd millennium

            Era 8: Postmodern Church: World Evangelism (AD 2000–??)


        1.3.1  Hellenism

·         Hellenism: The Greeks’ way was to equate and mix various cultures and religions so that all people would agree to a common standard. Greek philosophy prepared for Christianity by destroying the older religions.

·         Greek language: Greek was the universal language for commerce, the courts, the educated, and communications. The presence of a universal language known to all helped the spreading of the gospel.

        1.3.2  Greek philosophy

·         Platonism: Plato and his teacher Socrates believed in the immortality of the soul. Platonism taught about a supreme being, perfect and immutable. It affirmed that there was a higher world of abiding truth. Christians used these to teach about God, eternal life, and the gospel.

·         Stoicism: Stoics believed that the purpose of philosophy was to understand the law of nature, and to obey and adjust to it. The ideal was apatheialife without passions. The virtues to cultivate included: moral insight, courage, self-control, and justice. Christianity had similar characteristics.

        1.3.3  Judaism

·         Leading to Christianity: Judaism contributed to Christianity by establishing monotheism, the messianic hope, an ethical system, and the OT Scripture. The synagogues provided a meeting place for evangelism.

·         Jewish sects: Judaism was divided into many groups, such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes. Christians (called “Nazarenes”) were seen as a Jewish sect.

        1.3.4  The Greco-Roman world

·         Political unity: The political unity in the Empire allowed the early Christians to travel without having to fear bandits or local wars. The straight, well-paved, and well-guarded roads also helped spreading Christianity.

·         Spiritual vacuum: Roman conquests led to a loss of belief by many people in their local gods. For the Romans, polytheistic pagan religion became so cold, ritualistic, and meaningless, that many Romans began to seek spiritual sustenance outside their traditional mythological religion.

        1.4.1  Benefits of Greek philosophy

·         Use of Greek philosophy: Some early Christians used what they learned from Greek philosophy to defend Christianity or to communicate their faith, particularly Platonism and Stoicism.

·         Seeking ideals: Both Socrates and Plato taught that the highest ideals are such intellectual abstractions as the good, the beautiful, and the true. They were also concerned about questions of right and wrong, and man’s eternal future. All these concepts fitted well with Christianity.

        1.4.2  Drawbacks of Greek philosophy

·         Dualism: Some theology of the early church was tainted by the application of Greek philosophy to explain Christian truth. For example, the Greek philosophers saw man as essentially twofold: body and soul. The body belongs to this world of becoming and change. The soul is the divine spark from the world of being, and it is rational. The Greeks despised the body and the material world. Gnosticism was a next step.

·         Logos: Greek thought recognized a mediating power between God and this world called Logos, which means both Reason and Word. This concept was used in John chapter 1. But the Greek Logos was clearly separate from God and inferior to him. This led to later Christological controversies in the church.

        1.5.1  Founding of the church

·         Which year? Most historians believed that Jesus was born between 7BC and 4BC, the majority being 4BC. The founding of the Christian church would be around AD30.

·         After Pentecost: After the foundation of the church on Pentecost, Christians were meeting in homes. The number of Christians increased rapidly. Almost all the new Christians were ethnic Jews, or religious Jews.


[1] treasure our heritage

Judaism provides a foundation for Christianity.

[2] appreciate God’s providence

The Roman Empire helped evangelization.

[3] avoid past errors

Caution is needed when secular philosophy is used in apologetics.

[4] apply our knowledge

The concepts of “being” and “becoming” need to be understood.

[5] follow past saints

Good witness can bring people to Christ (Acts 2:46-47).