1. What is church history?
    1. This question is really the same as, What is the Church? Was the church promised an outward and visible unity? If so, one must take the Catholic view of church history in some form.
    2. Is the church, on the other hand, the name for the entire (invisible) society of actual believers, and the individual churches into which they are constituted? This would be the more Protestant view, and as such, one's Church history would tend to be shaded towards that direction.
    3. Our view on this issue will directly impact our view of church history, even as seen in the outline of the periods of church history, below. As Protestants, since our view is slanted towards believers rather than simply institutions, we will tend to focus more on reformation and less on institutional progress. As Protestant conservatives, you may place less emphasis on, for instance, the Ecumenical Movement (in contrast to the majority of mainstream books on Church History, by the way). As Protestant conservative Independents, you may see earlier Reformations as being incomplete in that they left standing the principle of the state church.
    4. Our view in this class will be Protestant, Conservative, and Free Church (or Congregational(1), or Independent). We certainly will have some problems if we take this view. For instance: how to treat the other traditions of the church. Or, how to explain and confront the rapid (to my eyes) departure from the truth in several areas of early church teaching. Our view of our own Christianity may be enhanced and refined by this process.
  2. Why study church history?
    1. Spiritual growth
    2. Understanding the issues of our day
    3. Knowledge of how Scripture came to be
    4. Theological tools which allow you to evaluate and combat errors
    5. Practical tools which you may not have heard of before
    6. Knowledge of how your particular church tradition came to be
    7. Humility and perspective and charity
    8. Caution when confronted with "new" ideas
    9. Why this topic can never be covered adequately in this class
  3. How can church history be known?
    1. Historical sources
      1. Scripture
      2. Inscriptions
      3. Documents
      4. Art
    2. Ways of interpreting history
      1. Secular/materialistic
        1. Optimistic - man has been improving steadily. Possibly we have grown out of the religions that our forefathers depended upon.
        2. Pessimistic - without a God to arrange history, there is nothing to do but "deconstruct" the past. Possibly history is meaningless. History is nothing but a power struggle in which different factions attempt to wrest the past to serve their present purposes.
      2. Sacred
        1. Catholic. God has superintended his church's development and has provided it with saints and popes. The present state of the church has been infallibly directed, and infallible direction is still available when the Pope speaks ex cathedra.
        2. "Default" Catholic. I first noticed this phenomenon when I was in college. Reasonable, reputable, and even rationalistic popular history texts (i.e. not specifically church history texts), almost invariably take the Catholic view of early Christian history when they touch upon it. E.g., Peter was the first pope, bishops always ruled the church, etc.
        3. Protestant. The church has always been divided into various factions. Church oneness and unity has never really been achieved. There have always been Nestorians, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, etc. to challenge or ignore the primacy of Rome. Most specifically Roman doctrines have their origins in a very measurable and specific historical time period, not in the Bible.
  4. Periods of church history
    1. Ancient
      1. Apostolic 30-100
      2. Ante-Nicene 100-313
      3. Nicene 313-590
    2. Medieval 590-1517
    3. Modern (using Shelley's periods)
      1. Age of Reformation 1517-1648
      2. Age of Reason and Revival 1648-1789
      3. Age of Progress 1789-1914
      4. Age of Ideologies 1914-
  5. Backgrounds - the culture before the church
    1. Very cultural and cosmopolitan
    2. Recently established Empire. One Empire, one law.
    3. Free movement all around the Mediterranean
    4. Roman system of roads
    5. Greek as a universal language (and culture)


      "The educated man from the second century B.C. spoke Greek and Latin. As Roman military might and political administration moved east, Greek culture flowed west and came to prevail even in Rome. Horace stated the situation epigrammatically: 'Capture Greece took captive her savage conqueror and brought civilization to rustic Latium' (Ep. 2.1.156).

    6. Greek philosophy had also weakened the old religions. They were not dead, but they were considered non-exclusive. Many of the major gods were identified with each other so that the number of deities remained fewer than would have otherwise happened in a large empire. Greek philosophy also had a tendency towards monotheism, but this was not consistently followed, and it was not used to displace the lesser gods. The emperor began to be considered a deity very early in the imperial period - basically at the time of Jesus' birth.
    7. New religions, superstitions, magic and astrology were on the increase in the empire.
    8. Jewish residency throughout the Empire helped the Christians in several ways
      1. The Greek Scriptures became the Bible of the early Christians
      2. Legality of their religion aided the early Christians since they were seen as Jews
      3. The synagogue system was a ready made model for the early churches



1. "Others, however, repudiated the whole concept of a state church and favoured the 'gathered church' principle. These became known as 'Independents' and were the forerunners of the Congregationalists. They contended that the church should consist only of those who had personally responded to the call of Christ, and who had covenanted with him and with one another to live together as his disciples." Article, "Congregationalism," in the New Dictionary of Theology, ed. Sinclair Ferguson et. al.

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Copyright © 1997, 1999 by Mark S. Ritchie. Permission is granted to use materials herein for the building up of the Christian Church. Bibliographic entries for published works quoted may be found in Bibliography page.