Church History: Discussion Questions

Textbook: Gonzalez, Justo L. (1985): The story of Christianity.



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


VOLUME ONE. The Early Church to the Dawn of Reformation

1/      Introduction

·         Why should we study church history?

·         Does studying history affect the interpretation of the Bible? If yes, how?



2/      The Fullness of Time

Judaism in Palestine—Diaspora Judaism—The Greco-Roman World

·         Why did the Jews want someone to lead them against the ruling Roman Empire?

·         What is the right response if the government suppresses your religion?

·         Which one of the following is more important, and why? [a] find out the values in the world which is against the Bible and avoid conforming to the world, or [b] find out the values in the world which agree to the Bible and use the information to spread the gospel.

3/      The Church in Jerusalem

Unity and Diversity—Religious Life—The Waning of the Jewish Church

·         After Acts 11, the focus switches to Gentiles and missions. What happened to the original church in Jerusalem?

·         Should a present-day Jewish Christian follow the Jewish tradition like keeping the Sabbath? Why?

4/      Mission to the Gentiles

The Scope of the Mission—Paul's Work—The Apostles: Facts and Legends

·         In what way was the gospel spread in the 1st-c?

·         Should Christians who are not full-time pastors go to missions? Why?

·         In the first two centuries, when newly formed churches taught people about the gospel, where did their authority come from, that is, how did the people know the teaching in the church was correct? What about the churches today?

5/      First Conflicts with the State

A New Jewish Sect—Persecution under Nero—Persecution under Domitian

·         Why did the Roman government persecute Christians?

·         Should Christians rebel or join a revolution if the ruler is a tyrant?

6/      Persecution in the Second Century

The Correspondence between Pliny and Trajan—Ignatius of Antioch, the Bearer of God—The Martyrdom of Polycarp—Persecution under Marcus Aurelius—Towards the End of the Second Century

·         How should Christian respond when persecutions come from other groups/religions? What about persecution from the government?

·         Are there different forms of persecution in today’s society?

7/      The Defense of the Faith

Base Rumors and Lofty Criticism—The Main Apologists—Christian Faith and Pagan Culture—The Arguments of the Apologists

·         Against whom do we defend our faith?

·         What are their reasons when non-believers attack Christianity?

·         How far should we isolate ourselves from the “pagan culture”?

8/      The Deposit of the Faith

Gnosticism—Marcion—The Response: Canon, Creed, and Apostolic Succession—The Ancient Catholic Church

·         What were the main teachings of Gnosticism?

·         When someone spread their “gospel” to us, how do we know if it is true/legitimate or not?

·         What does “Catholic” mean?

9/      The Teachers of the Church

Irenaeus of Lyons—Clement of Alexandria—Tertullian of Carthage—Origen of Alexandria

·         Which beliefs of these Church Fathers are not Biblical? How did this happen to mature Christians like these?

·         Will these non-biblical beliefs reduce the credibility of their theological arguments?

10/    Persecution in the Third Century

Persecution under Septimius Severus—Under Decius—The Question of the Lapsed: Cyprian and Novatian

·         Why did God allow 3 centuries of Roman persecutions?

·         How were the lapsed Christians dealt with? Are these treatments proper? Should the treatment be similar for today? Why and why not?

11/    Christian Life

The Social Origins of Early Christians—Christian Worship—The Organization of the Church—Missionary Methods—The Beginnings of Christian Art

·         Which practices in early church are still found in the church today?

·         Which practices in early church were different from the practice of today? Are these differences important? Should we follow the ancient ways?

12/    The Great Persecution and the Final Victory

·         How do we see God’s providence at work in the victory of Constantine?



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




13/    Constantine

From Rome to Constantinople—From the Unconquered Sun to Jesus Christ—The Impact of Constantine

·         Was Constantine an opportunist by embracing Christianity?

·         Was the behaviour of Constantine as a Christian objectionable?

14/    Official Theology: Eusebius of Caesarea

·         What can we learn from Eusebius’ wavering between Arianism and orthodoxy?

·         What are the problems of Eusebius’ official theology? What lessons can we learn from these problems?

15/    The Monastic Reaction

The Origins of Monasticism—The First Monks of the Desert—Pachomius and Communal Monasticism—The Spread of the Monastic Ideal

·         What were the causes of monasticism?

·         What were the characteristics of monasticism? Are these Biblical ideals?

·         What lessons relevant for today can we learn from monasticism?

16/    The Schismatic Reaction: Donatism

·         What can we learn from the Donatist schism with respect to [a] treatment of the lapsed, [b] rebaptism, and [c] qualification of ministers?

·         How can we prevent fanaticism like the circumcellions (who grew gradually from theological conflicts and resorted to violence after holding extreme theological positions)?

17/    The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea

The Outbreak of the Controversy—The Council of Nicea

·         What were the problems when civil authorities intervene into religious affairs?

·         What were the benefits and drawbacks of councils?

·         How did the battle with Arianism demonstrate God’s providence?

18/    The Pagan Reaction: Julian the Apostate

·         Julian the Apostate attempted to suppress Christianity by forbidding them to teach classical literature and by ridiculing them. What was his purpose for such action? Can we find parallel occurrences today?

19/    Athanasius of Alexandria

The Early Years—Through Many Trials—A Theological Agreement—Further Trials

·         What can we learn from the life of Athanasius with respect to [a] his witness of holy living, and [b] his theological diplomacy?

·         How did Athanasius’ life demonstrate God’s providence (his encounters with Arianist emperors Constantius and Valens, his Arian opponents, and pagan emperor Julian)?

20/    The Great Cappadocians

Macrina—Basil the Great—Gregory of Nyssa—Gregory of Nazianzus

·         Did the great Cappadocians seek the leadership of the Nicene party? How did they become their leaders?

·         What can we see from the leadership of Macrina, a woman, as the founder of monasticism and as “the Teacher”? How did the early church regard women leadership?

21/    Ambrose of Milan

An Unexpected Election—The Bishop and the Throne

·         What can we learn from the career of Ambrose with respect to: [a] his support of the weak, and [b] his confrontations with civil power, including Maximus, Justina, and Theodosius?

22/    John Chrysostom

A Voice from the Wilderness—Return to the Wilderness

·         How did Chrysostom demonstrate his application of Christian principles when in conflict with Eutropius and Eudoxia? Was he correct in his actions?

·         How did Ambrose and Chrysostom symbolize the fortunes of the Western church compared to the Eastern church?

23/    Jerome

·         The early church treated Septuagint (Greek translation of OT) as equally inspired as the Hebrew OT; the Roman Catholic Church treats Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin translation of OT and NT) as equally inspired as the Bible. How should we treat the accuracy of the Septuagint and the Vulgate?

·         Did the intellectual arrogance of Jerome affect his work? Was his behaviour objectionable as a Christian?

24/    Augustine of Hippo

A Tortuous Path to Faith—Minister and Theologian of the Western Church

·         What were the great achievements of Augustine as a theologian and an apologist?

25/    The End of an Era

·         Compare the fate of the Eastern and the Western churches with respect to their respective Roman empires.

·         How did the Church Fathers gain the trust of the early church (including Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine)?



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




26/    The New Order

The Barbarian Kingdoms—Benedictine Monasticism—The Papacy—The Arab Conquests

·         What were the main features of Benedictine monasticism? Should today’s Christians learn to practice them?

·         What were the factors that lead to the development (centralization of power) of the papacy? How much influence was exerted by Leo the Great and Gregory the Great?

·         What were the theological inventions of Gregory I?

·         What were the effects of the Islamic expansion on Christianity?

27/    Eastern Christianity

The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon—Further Theological Debates—The Dissident Churches of the East—Eastern Orthodoxy after the Arab Conquests

·         The first two ecumenical councils dealt with the theology of trinity. What is the main theological issue in the next three ecumenical councils? How did the Eastern and the Western churches react to them?

·         How did political intervention contribute to schism? What were the remote and proximate causes of the East-West schism in 1054?

·         How was eastern Europe converted?

28/    Imperial Restoration and Continuing Decay

Charlemagne's Reign—Theological Activity—New Invasions—Decay in the Papacy

·         What were the theological controversies in the 9th and 10th centuries?

·         What were the factors that led to the corruption of the papacy?

29/    Movements of Renewal

Monastic Reform—Papal Reform—The Papacy and the Empire in Direct Confrontation

·         What were the 4 main aspects of monastic reform?

·         What were the emphases in papal reform? What led to its failure?

·         What were the results of the conflicts between the ecclesiastic and civil authorities (popes vs Germanic emperors)?



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


30/    The Offensive against Islam

The First Crusade—Later History of the Crusades—The Spanish Reconquista—Consequences of the Offensive against Islam

·         How do we evaluate the Crusaders with respect to their influence on the church, on western civilization and society?

31/    The Golden Age of Medieval Christianity

The Mendicant Orders—One Flock under One Shepherd—Theological Activity: Scholasticism—Stones That Bear a Witness: Architecture

·         What influences did the new monastic orders produce in the church?

·         What were the methods used by scholasticism? How much contributions did they make on today’s theology?

·         How does Gothic architecture reflect the glories of Christianity?

32/    The Collapse

New Conditions—The Papacy under the Shadow of France—The Great Western Schism

·         What were the causes of the Babylonian Captivity and the Great Schism? What lessons can we learn from these unfortunate events?

33/    In Quest of Reformation

The Conciliar Movement—John Wycliffe—John Huss—Girolamo Savonarola—The Mystical Alternative—Popular Movements

·         What were the main teachings of Wycliffe, Huss, and Savonarola? Were they judged (as heretics) correctly by the church?

·         Can the ideas of Christian mysticism help to improve our own personal devotion?

·         What lessons can we learn from popular movements before the Reformation, including the Lollards, monasticism among women, fragellants, and the Bohm rebellion?

34/    Renaissance and Humanism

The Later Course of Scholasticism—The Revival of Classical Learning—A New Vision of Reality—The Popes of the Renaissance

·         What is your reaction to the subtle arguments of late scholasticism?

·         What are the differences between the humanism of the Renaissance and those of today?

·         What were the sins of the popes during the Renaissance? How can true Christians become so corrupted?



35/    Spain and the New World

The Nature of the Spanish EnterpriseThe Protest—The Caribbean—Mexico—Golden CastileFloridaColombia and Venezuela—The Four Corners of the Earth: The Inca Empire—La Plata

·         How did the Spanish treat the native Indians? How did the monks sent to the New World react? How do we evaluate and judge the Spanish conquest of the New World? (From the perspective of Christians, were they good or bad?)

36/    The Portuguese Enterprise

Africa—Towards the Rising Sun—Brazil

·         Was Matteo Ricci’s method of evangelism in China a good way?

·         What should our attitude be toward Confucianism (is it a religion?) and ancestral worship (is it idolatry?)?

·         How should missionaries balance the need of evangelization and upholding social justice in the mission field? How much accommodation to the local culture can be accepted?

Appendix: The Ecumenical Councils

·         Were the decisions of the councils correct decisions? Were they following the will of God? If not, how can the united universal church make wrong decision(s)?



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


VOLUME TWO. The Reformation to the Present Day.



1/      The Call for Reformation

·         What were the factors that accelerated the call for reformation of the church?

2/      Martin Luther: Pilgrimage to Reformation

The Long Quest—The Storm Breaks Loose

·         Why did the 95 Theses cause major reaction from everyone?

3/      Luther’s Theology

The Word of God—The Knowledge of God—Law and Gospel—The Church and Sacraments—The Two Kingdoms

·         How did Luther understand: (a) the Bible as the Word of God, (b) constant dialectic between law and gospel, (c) presence of Christ in the holy communion, and (d) the two kingdoms of church and state? Is his understanding identical to what we believe today?

4/      An Uncertain Decade

Exile, Unrest, and Rebellion—The Diets of the Empire

·         How did the political circumstances at that time help the success of Reformation?

5/      Ulrich Zwingli and the Swiss Reformation

Zwingli’s Pilgrimage—The Break with Rome—Zwingli’s Theology

·         The German reformists were willing to retain all traditional uses that did not contradict the Bible while the Swiss reformists insisted that all that had not explicit scriptural support must be rejected. What was the cause of this difference? Which position was the correct one?

·         At Marburg, Luther and Zwingli met. They agreed with almost all the points of faith except how Christ is present in holy communion and Luther said, “We are not of the same spirit.” Do you agree with Luther?

6/      The Anabaptist Movement

The First Anabaptists—The Revolutionary Anabaptists—The Later Anabaptists

·         Why were the Anabaptists persecuted?

·         Can we see the influence of the Anabaptists today?

·         Is pacifism a Biblical mandate?

7/      John Calvin

Calvin’s Early Career—The Institutes—The Reformer of Geneva—Calvin and Calvinism

·         What was the main theological difference between the Lutheran church and the Reformed church? Who held the Biblical position?

8/      The Reformation in Great Britain

Henry VIII—Edward VI—Mary Tudor—ElizabethThe Reformation in Scotland

·         How was the Reformation in England and Scotland aided by the political situation at that time?

9/      Further Developments within Lutheranism

The War of Schmalkald—The Interim—Scandinavian Lutheranism

·         What were the favourable conditions that led the Scandinavian countries follow Protestantism?

10/    The Reformation in the Low Countries

The Political Situation—Protestant Preaching—The Beggars

·         What were the factors that led to the eventual liberation of the Low countries from the severe persecutions of the Spanish?

11/    Protestantism in France

Shifting Royal Policies—The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day—The War of the Three Henrys

·         The Edict of St. Germain (1562, giving the Huguenots religious freedom) was followed by the massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day (1572). What lessons can we learn from this?

·         Henry Bourbon (later Henry IV) changed his religion (between Catholic and Protestant) 5 times due to political expediency. How should we judge his actions?

12/    The Catholic Reformation

The Reformation of Spanish Catholicism—Polemics against Protestantism—New Orders—Papal Reformation—The Council of Trent

·         What were the good and the bad about Jimenez, the Inquisitor General of the Spanish Inquisition?

·         What were the unbiblical decisions made at the Council of Trent? What were the Protestant positions for those issues?

13/    A Convulsed Age

·         What was the main reason for the many religious wars? Was it a legitimate reason?



14/    An Age of Dogma and Doubt

·         Why was the 17th-c described as the age of dogma? What new movements were the reaction to this?

15/    The Thirty Years’ War

The Storm Gathers—The Course of the War—The Peace of Westphalia

·         What were the results of the Catholic-Protestant Thirty Years’ War?

16/    The Church of the Desert

·         What were the results of persecution of the French Huguenots?

17/    The Puritan Revolution

James I—Charles I—The Long Parliament—Civil War—The Protectorate—The Restoration

·         What were the emphases of the Puritans? Were they Biblical?

·         What churches today came from the heritage of the Puritans? How did they affect other churches today?

·         What 2 works of Puritan literature are still influential today?

18/    Catholic Orthodoxy

Gallicanism and Opposition to Papal Power—Jansenism—Quietism

·         What were the different movement within the Catholic church that opposed the official positions? Were they Biblical?

19/    Lutheran Orthodoxy

Philippists and Strict Lutherans—The Triumph of Orthodoxy—Georg Calixtus and “Syncretism”

·         Melanchthon’s position on human free will and presence of Christ in communion were different from the Strict Lutherans. Which position was more Biblical?

·         Calixtus tried to lay the foundation of compromise between different Protestant traditions (confessions) by differentiating essential and secondary doctrines. In contrast, Calovius declared that everything in the Bible was absolutely necessary to be a Christian. Which one is the better position? Why?

·         What was Calixtus’s basis for differentiating essential and secondary doctrines? Was he correct? Was he a syncretist?

·         Does a compromise on peripheral elements of faith a surrender? Will the case be different during time of persecution? How about a different interpretation of the mode of baptism? Is it essential?

20/    Reformed Orthodoxy

Arminianism and the Synod of Dort—The Westminster Confession

·         Is Arminianism heretical? What about Methodists’ adoption of Arminianism?

·         Are the 5 points of predestination in Calvinism fully supported by the Bible?

·         Were the 5 points of predestination (as defined by the Synod of Dort and the Westminster Confession) originally intended by Calvin?



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


21/    The Rationalist Option

Descartes and Cartesian Rationalism—Empiricism—Deism—David Hume and His Critique of Empiricism—New Currents in France—Immanuel Kant

·         How did the different schools of philosophy affect Christianity, including: [a] Cartesianism (Descartes), [b] Empiricism (Locke), [c] Deism, [d] Skepticism (Hume), [e] Rationalism (Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau), [f] Kantianism (Kant)?

22/    The Spiritualist Option

Jakob Boehme—George Fox and the Quakers—Emanuel Swedenborg

·         The leading spiritualists (including Boehme, Fox, and Swedenborg) all claimed direct revelation from God. Were these claims credible? How should we judge their works? Are they presentations of truth?

23/    The Pietist Option

German Pietism: Spener and Francke—Zinzendorf and the Moravians—John Wesley and Methodism

·         What were the impacts of Pietism? Can we still observe the impact of Pietism on today’s Christians?

·         What were the impacts of the Moravians?

·         What were the impacts of the Methodists on today’s church?

24/    The Thirteen Colonies

VirginiaThe Northern Puritan Colonies—Rhode Island and the Baptists—Catholicism in Maryland—The Mid-Atlantic Colonies—The Great Awakening

·         Those who were against the Great Awakening accused it of undermining the solemnity of worship, and substituting emotions for study and devotion. Was there any truth in these criticisms? Was the movement really too superficial?

·         Was the movement a deliberate and intended effort? What were the objectives of the movement?

·         What impacts of the Great Awakening can be seen today?



25/    Political Horizons: The United States

The Independence of the Thirteen Colonies—Immigration—The Second Great A wakening—Manifest Destiny and the War with Mexico—Slavery and Civil War—From the Civil War to World War I—New Religions

·         Was the rise of different denominations God’s plan?

·         What were the differences between the fundamentalists and the liberals? Which one is more Biblical?

·         Is “social gospel” Biblical?

·         What events triggered the revival movement?

·         What are the main errors of: [a] Mormonism, [b] Jehovah Witness, and [c] Christian Science?

26/    Political Horizons: Europe

The French Revolution—The New Europe—Developments in Great Britain

·         What were the meanings of economic liberalism and political liberalism in the 19th-c? Do the same terms mean the same today?

·         What initiatives did the Protestant church get involved in during the time of social upheaval in the 19th-c?

27/    Political Horizons: Latin America

A Panoply of New Nations—The Church in the New Nations

·         Comte theorizes that humanity has gone through 3 stages of development: theological, metaphysical, and scientific. What does this theory imply about the church?

·         What were the effects of large immigration on the church in South America?

28/    Protestant Theology

New Currents of Thought—Schleiermacher’s Theology—Hegel’s System—Kierkegaard’s Work—Christianity and History

·         What were the intellectual challenged presented to Christianity in the 19th-c?

·         What were the different solutions explaining the relationship between faith and reason given by: [a] Schleiermacher, [b] Hegel, and [c] Kierkegaard?

29/    Catholic Theology

The Papacy and the French Revolution—Pius IX—Leo XIII—Pius X

·         In what way did the development of Catholic theology follow an opposite trend to Protestant theology? What examples can be used to illustrate this trend?

·         How do we show that papal infallibility is unbiblical?

30/    Geographic Expansion

Colonial Expansion—The Missionary Enterprise—Asia and Oceania—Africa and the Moslem World—Latin America—The Ecumenical Movement

·         How did the missionary movement lead to the ecumenical movement?

·         The World Missionary Conference in 1910 deliberately exclude the discussion of Protestant missions among Catholics in Latin America. Was this decision correct? Should the same decision made again today?

·         What were the impacts of the conference?



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




31/    An Age of Drastic Change

·         What changes in worldview did the two World Wars bring?

32/    Eastern Christianity

Byzantine Christianity—The Russian Church—Other Eastern Churches

·         What are the main differences between the Eastern Orthodox Church and other Christians? Are they real brothers and sisters in Christ?

33/    Roman Catholic Christianity

Benedict XV to Pius XII—John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council—Theological Developments

·         Pius XII condemned the Nazis for persecuting Polish Catholics but he was silent about mass execution of Jews by the Nazis. What was his reason? Was he correct in his position?

·         What were the main changes in the Catholic church as the result of the Council of Vatican II?

·         What were the main teachings of the Catholic theologians: [a] Teilhard, [b] Lubac, [c] Congar, [d] Rahner? Were they Biblical?

34/    Protestantism in Europe

World War I and Its Aftermath—Renewed Conflicts—After the War

·         What were the main teachings of Karl Barth, widely recognized as the most important theologian of the 20th-c? Were they Biblical?

·         In face of rapid secularization in the western society, what were the answers given by: [a] Bonhoeffer, [b] Moltmann, and [c] Bultmann? Were they Biblical?

35/    Protestantism in the United States

From World War I to the Great Depression—Through Depression and World War—The Postwar Decades

·         Is there any Biblical support toward the government’s policies of organizing a system of social security?

·         Is there any Biblical support for the emphasis by Norman Vincent Peale on positive thinking as leading to mental health and happiness? How about the modern-day health and wealth gospel?

·         Can we support: [a] black theology, and [b] feminine theology?

·         Liberals tend to concentrate on the questions of social and international justice, suffering, hunger, oppression, and human rights. Conservatives tend to concentrate on the questions of orthodox faith, moral values, personal salvation, inerrancy of the Bible. Which side is more Biblical? Do we need to emphasize one set of questions to the exclusion of the other set?

36/    From the Ends of the Earth

The Quest for Unity—Mission from the Ends of the Earth

·         Should we support and participate in the modern ecumenical movement, such as the World Council of Churches? Is the emphasis of the WCC on political questions Biblical?

·         Should we support movements to unite different denominations, such as the United Church of Canada?

·         What are the meanings of North-South and East-West confrontations?