Some Key Stages in the History of the Christian Church




The Christian Church in about 150 AD
From Rev. Ieuan Johnston's U3A course on the 'History of Christianity'
The Biblical story of the growth of Christianity takes us as far as the end of the first century. What happened for the next hundred years is not easy to determine. Very little written material from that period has survived. The best source we have for that period is a book written in the fourth century by Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea called simply 'A History of the Church'.
In the Second Century
From what we are able to know about that period it is clear that Christian groups were present in many places. It is also clear that there was a great variety of beliefs and practices in these Christian groups.

Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea

Constantine: from a mosaic
in Agia Sophia, Istanbul
There was no central authority. Rome and the bishop of Rome did not become the centre of authority until after Emperor Constantine entered Rome with a cross on his shield in 412.
Before Constantine's intervention, the Roman church claimed that the first bishop of Rome had been consecrated by Peter and the second consecrated by someone who had also been consecrated by someone who had been consecrated by Peter or the first bishop. So in this way all Roman Catholic ordinations are traced back to Peter.
Ordinations during the Reformation are said to have broken this line of succession and so in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church the ordination of all non-Catholic priests and ministers is invalid.



The Crusades  –  An Overview
From Rev. Ieuan Johnston's U3A course on the 'History of Christianity'
For many people the Crusades were a glorious element of our past when romantic, chivalrous knights, at great cost to themselves, freed Jerusalem from the awful grip of the terrible infidel, with Richard the Lionheart being admired by many as the model crusader. The reality, however, is quite different.
For many years Christians did not show a particular interest in visiting Jerusalem or Palestine. It was in the 5th century that Helena, the mother of Constantine, the first 'Christian' emperor, made 'the Holy Land' a place of pilgrimage. The number of pilgrims was never very great. Mass travel just wasn't an option at that time.
After a year's siege Jerusalem fell to Muslim forces in 638. Their leader entered in deliberate humility because the city had played a crucial part in Mohammed's life. The Muslim hierarchy was generally sympathetic to those Christian pilgrims who did want to visit the city and other sites in Palestine and rarely put any stumbling blocks in their way. This situation carried on without much change for hundreds of years.
Ancient Jerusalem

Pope Urban II
The First Crusade
Then, during the eleventh century, Pope Urban II announced that the Muslim presence was intolerable and that they should be expelled from the city of Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside. This would allow the city and the land to come under the Pope's control.
There was no justification for this move. The actual reason for Urban setting the Crusades in motion was that it would give him an advantage in his power struggle with the Holy Roman Emperor.  
It was also a good way of focusing all the testosterone-fuelled energy of the knights, who were forever fighting unofficial minor wars.



The Christian Canon
From Rev. Ieuan Johnston's U3A course on the 'History of Christianity'

Perhaps your first reaction was to wonder how an article on a large gun could find a home on a Methodist website.  But that's not what we're talking about here.

Then it may have occurred to you that there are people called 'canons' in the Anglican and Roman Catholic church hierarchies, so perhaps this is an article about Methodist and Anglicans working together. But that is not what this article is about either: there is nothing here about the ecclesiastical office of canon.

The meaning of 'canon' that I am thinking about is a measure or standard. If you wanted to produce a list of great authors of books and plays in English then you might have a list something like this:
Chaucer, Johnson, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Swift,
Bronte, Hardy, Goldsworthy and Thomas!
If this were agreed it would be the 'canon', the standard by which all other authors would be judged.  But, in fact, the main use of this meaning of the word is in relation to the books collected together for the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.



The 'Western Church' before the Reformation
From Rev. Ieuan Johnston's U3A course on the 'History of Christianity'
By 'Western Church' I am distinguishing between the church which turned to Rome for its authority and the Church we usually call the Eastern Orthodox Church. The latter Church turned to Constantinople for its authority.  Later, the 'Western Church' became known to those outside it as the Roman Catholic Church.
st peters basilica rome

Sustainability of Organisations – Failures

Consider the longevity of community cultures, religions, empires, states, universities  –  any group committed to a set of ideas and ways of ordering society.

Most of them find it difficult to remain faithful to their original vision and purpose over long periods. History is littered with examples of failure: ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Zimbabwe, Mexico.

agia sofia constantinople
Sustainability of Organisations – Successes

The five major world religions are very ancient, but are still recognisable as the organisations and patterns of thought they were when they were founded: Hinduism (3,500 years), Buddhism (2,500 years), Judaism (2,500-3,000 years), Christianity (2,000 years), Islam (1,300-1,400 years).

Reasons for Longevity

Consider five factors which may help extend the life of organisations:
a.  A form of government which allows criticism and takes note of it;
b.  A willingness to see the need for change, help to bring it about and manage it;
c.  The ability to create inspirational occasions, encouraging people to devote themselves to help keep it true to its founding ideals;
d.  Involvement of members with ultimate issues;
e.  A willingness to behave attractively to increase the appeal of the organisation and cause it to grow.