History of Christianity's:The Surprising Of 2,000 Years

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The History of Christianity
The History Of Christianity

History of Christianity

History is not quite a favorite topic in all aspects or topics as most people define it by numbers and dates and it can be quite the information overload. However, history when devoid of the daunting dates to be memorized can be quite fun! For one, Christianity has a rich history and understanding how it entered as a faith two thousand years ago will help shed some light as how it came to be and remains to be the most widely-followed religion in the world.

The Demographic Statistics of Christianity’s History: The Most Widely-Followed Religion

In a 2015 demographic analysis by the PEW Research Center, Christianity remains to be the biggest religious group in the world accounting to a third or thirty-one (31%) percent of the earth’s entire population. In numbers, that is roughly around 2.3 billion followers. Recent data reported in 2020, although not confirmed, the numbers seem to remain the same, putting Christianity as the most predominant religion in the world with Islam at a close second.

Interestingly, Christianity is most-widely practiced in East Timor where almost all of its populations are Christians, which is at 99.1%. This is followed by American Samoa at a 98% out of its whole population. In terms of countries with the largest number of Christians, the US tops the list followed by Brazil. Aside from the two mentioned, Christianity is also widely-followed in Mexico and the Philippines in history of christianity.

What is Christianity? What do they believe in?

Christianity is a monotheistic religion wherein they only believe in one true God with three persona namely God the Father, Jesus Christ the son, and the Holy Spirit who created everything, from heavens to the earths known as history of Christianity. The foundation of the religion lies in Jesus Christ and his resurrection. Jesus Christ lived among the people and was the sacrifice for mankind’s sin— the Messiah, the Savior.

The Holy Bible that Christians use outlines the teachings of Jesus and written by many of his Apostles (especially the Twelve Apostles who were his primary disciples/followers during his time on earth) and serves as a guide to Christian followers until today. It is a collection of sixty-six (66) books separated into the Old and New Testaments. At present,  history of Christianity has branched out into different types and the interpretation of the Bible differs from one to another as much as other Church practices but all of these stay true to the core belief of the one true God.

Two Thousand Years Ago: The History of Christianity

Christianity has a very rich history that dates back two thousand years ago. And it is important to understand the basic setting during that time to cement the understanding of Christianity’s history.

During the time of Jesus in the first century AD, the Roman Empire had control over three regions namely Mediterranean Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. According to N.R. Needham in his book 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, since these are areas of diversity, they are united by three main and common forces: (1) political loyalty, (2) economy, and (3) intellectual culture.

Here, we go a little bit in depth into these forces.

The history of political loyalty during this time is rather bloody. When Rome was first established in 753 BC, its political setup was one man ruled the empire which is called the monarchy. It only lasted for a few centuries and in 510 BC, the reign of kings was finally overthrown and Rome became a Republic where power no longer rested on one man or king but rather upon the hands of the society’s upper class (the Senate). 

This transition led to severe social tensions and has thrown the Roman Republic into a bloodshed of civil wars. At this point, history marked one of its most prominent figures. The unrest has called for a single strong ruler who can restore peace and order and has also introduced Rome into a dictatorship: Julius Caesar. Rome then became an empire.

But the unrest and climb to power had not been buried with the birth of a powerful dictatorship in the history of Christianity. In 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated by Brutus and Cassius who believed in the Roman Republic and the power of the Senate in the history of Christianity . His death was supposedly expected to halt the dictatorship and restore the power of the Republic but it has only brought fresh civil wars. It was Julius Caesar’s nephew and adopted son, Octavius Caesar who brought back peace and stability in the Roman Empire after his successful defeat of the assassinators and all rivals of the state. 

He was then named “Augustus” by the Senate which means “exalted one” and he has proved his name in his 45 years of governance. Some accounts had shown that Augustus had grown from a power-hungry dictator into a wise and mature leader. He reigned from 31 BC to AD 14 and coincided with the birth of Jesus as he was mentioned in the Scripture in Luke 2:1 when he ordered the census which led to the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem where Jesus was born.

The Roman Empire was also bound by the great trade and commerce during that time which led to a common economy.

And last but not the least is a common intellectual culture among the diverse regions of the empire. Despite being called the “Roman” empire, the prevalent intellectual culture during this time was the Greek or what was called Hellenism which came from the Greek word Hellas meaning Greece  in the history of Christianity 

During this time, religion also flourished. In concept, religion and culture have what they call a reciprocal interaction. Religion is greatly determined by culture as you will see as you read on but religion can also influence a culture.

History of Christianity: Early Christianity

(1) The traditional pagan religion — which was Rome’s official faith endorsed by the state. If you know Percy Jackson and your Greek mythology, then you’re good. If not, here is what you need to know, the pagan religion worships the family of gods headed by Zeus and is characterized mainly in method of sacrifices.

(2) Emperor-worship — In its culture, Hellenism put emperors on a high pedestal as divine and god incarnates thus people worshipped emperors or rather the divine work behind them.

(3) The Eastern Mystery Cults — which is a more intimate and emotional faith than traditional pagan religion. It was considered for a time a rival of Christianity as it was a more inclusive and personal experience for a worshipper and had certain parallels with the Christian Church and faith. It was a religion where one needed to join by their own personal will and was initiated into the religion through a ceremony.History of Christianity even promises eternal life after death.

(4) Philosophy — It was a way of life by everyone who practices it though this was more tied to the educated class of the society. At that time, there were three major philosophies that ruled. First was platonism named after the great philosopher, Plato. Many early Church fathers were converts from Platonism as it has close resemblance to Christianity as it believes in God as the Supreme Being of history of christianity. 

Second was Epicureanism which was an anti-religious philosophy and believed that true happiness can be achieved in a life of peace, quietness, and self control. And lastly was Stoicism which believed that humanity can only find true fulfillment if they live in harmony with Reason. This school of thought has influenced the early Christian thinking relating to ethical issues and divine providence.

Continuing on the history, in 63 BC, Rome successfully entered Jerusalem with Hyrcanus defeating Aristobulus to the Jewish throne. Hyrcanus was named political leader and high priest of Judaea under the supervision of the Roman king of Syria but unrest followed with the rebellion of Hyrcanus’ son, Alexander. 

The rebellion had led to a restructured governance and the Romans placed Herod Antipater as ruler while Hyrcanus was deprived of all political power and remained as a high priest. If you are familiar with children’s bible stories, you might have heard the name Herod. You’re right. He is the same Herod who wanted infant Jesus dead. His son, on the other hand, executed John the Baptist.

In AD 6, a Jewish rebellion broke out against Rome but Roman armies defeated them and Augustus who was emperor at that time, put Palestine under direct Roman supervision.Pontius Pilate was the assigned Roman governor and this was also during the time of Jesus’ public ministry. This was the same man who sentenced Jesus to his death at the cross. As discussed before, Christianity is rooted upon Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection. Shortly after the death of Jesus, Christianity was born.

As it is with anything new, opposition and persecution flooded Christians mostly from unbelieving Jews or pagan Gentiles. But the peak of Christian persecution happened under the rule of Nero in AD 64. This was also the first official persecution from the government of Rome. It was during that time that a great fire burned ten out of the fourteen districts of Rome which was blamed on the Christian community. This persecution has also cost the lives of two apostles, Peter and Paul. For two hundred and fifty long years, Christians endured persecution yet Christianity flourished even more despite all of this and later on became the most predominant religion in Rome.

How did Christianity spread throughout history?

History of Christianity exists in different forms and groups which highlight the different aspects of the belief. There are three major types namely the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant Christians and all stress in varying fashion the need for correct doctrine. On the other hand, mystics, saints, pietists, evangelicals, and pentecostals speak in divergent ways of an immediate experience of God.

Other Christians underscore the ethical imperatives of the faith while others are primarily concerned with the life of the community, its institutional forms, traditions, and self-government. Because of its two thousand year history and global extension, Christianity has become astonishingly complex, and a predominant characteristic throughout history of christianity.

The First “Churches” of the History of Christianity

The earliest Christians did not have church buildings. They typically met in homes. Dating about 231at Dura Europos on the Euphrates, the first actual church building was found so far. During the early time, they didn’t have any public ceremonies that would introduce them and they also had no access to the mass media.

In the first few hundred years of Christian history, it did not run across many “big names” as missionaries after the Apostle Paul. Instead, the faith spread through a multitude of humble and ordinary believers whose names have been long forgotten.

Originally, early Christianity was an urban faith and established itself in the city centers of the Roman Empire. Most of the people lived close together in crowded tenements. There were few secrets in such a setting. The faith was propagated as neighbors saw the Christian believers’ lives up close on a daily basis in the history of christianity.

The early Christians appeared powerless and weak and they were easy targets for ridicule and scorn. They had no financial resources, no social status, no buildings, no government approval and no respect from the educators. And after they finally became separated from their first-century association with the Jewish synagogues, they lacked institutional backing and also an ancient tradition to appeal to but what finally mattered is they had faith, fellowship, a new way of life. They had confidence and strongly believed that their Lord was alive in heaven and guiding their daily lives. These were the important things and it made all the difference in laying a Christian foundation for all of Western civilization.

During the 1900s, the two world wars in Europe, the spread of communism, and the growth of secularism brought an effective end to the perceived link between Christianity and Western culture. Following World War II, there had been an astonishing expansion of Christianity in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. China, with only a million

In 1949, Christians were somewhere between 50 and 100 million in population and there were an estimated count of ten thousand new converts every day. In Africa during the 1900s, the Christian population mushroomed from 9 to 335 million in history of christianity.

During the last decade, millions of Dalits in India (formerly known as “untouchables”) have converted to Christianity. While the churches of Europe are losing members, and those of North America are statistically stagnant, the situation in the developing world is different. The intense prayer, evangelistic fervor, and openness to the miraculous that characterize the Pentecostal movement—now numbering 524 million adherents—could set the future direction for the world of Christianity.

And today, missionaries from Korea, Brazil, and China are being sent out to evangelize Muslims, and some are going as missionaries to secular Europeans, a trend that Philip Jenkins has dubbed “the empire strikes back”.

History of Christianity: How did it spread? 

Christianity’s history in Europe began primarily with Paul. While he was inside the prison in Rome, Italy, he wrote his epistles. Christian history states that Peter was in Rome for a brief time and was crucified during the Neronian persecution of Christians. After AD. 70, Rome became one of the chief centers of Christian development.

Christianity in Europe at this point was missionary in spirit. Christians looked upon themselves as a replacement race and possessing a heavenly citizenship reaching right down to earth. To become a Christian, an individual had to believe the reality of the Christian message, commit to live the Christian lifestyle, and repent.

After that, an individual could belong to the church through baptism. Services occurred on Sundays and on other days as well. There have been two types of meetings: one was a gathering where reading the Scriptures, preaching, song, and prayer happened. The other one was a standard evening meal followed by the Lord’s Supper (communion) but by the time Justin Martyr wrote his Apology in Rome in 153, the common meal had disappeared. The communion occurred at the conclusion of the assembly of preaching in history of christianity.

The church in Rome became widely known as a source of true Apostolic teaching and passed on from the apostles to the succeeding bishops. Due to the Gnostic crisis within the church, a creed developed. By the time of Hippolytus, the creed involved three questions posed to the baptismal candidate that gently became the Apostles Creed. This shape developed by about 400, but its final phrasing didn’t occur until the eighth century. By the time of Justin (153), the Gospels and therefore the Old Testament prophets were a neighborhood of the church services in Rome. The canon of Scripture came from Rome.

Because of the apostles’ association, especially that of Peter and Paul, with the church at Rome and its generosity and steadfastness within the face of persecution, it gained an area of leadership and prominence. The Roman practice of celebrating Easter with a vigil and therefore the Lord’s Supper persisted Sunday became common practice about 200, but not before Victor, bishop of Rome (189-198) had excommunicated those that disagreed with this practice.

The church became dominant in Europe following the autumn of the Roman Empire . The sole religion recognized in Middle Ages Europe was Christianity and specifically Catholicism. Christianity within the middle ages dominated the lives of both peasants and therefore the nobility. Religious institutions including the Church and therefore the monasteries became wealthy and influential given the very fact that the state allocated a big allowance to religious activities.

While the word Christianity might conjure up images of monumental cathedrals and powerful bishops, the religion was not always so powerful. In fact, Christians were persecuted throughout the Roman Empire for centuries. Some, like Emperor Nero, famously blamed Christians for whatever went wrong, including a fire that burned much of Rome as mentioned earlier. As a result, Christians remained secretive, sometimes going as far as to meet and worship in underground catacombs. However, this persecution couldn’t stop the spread of Christianity.

Many people were tired of Roman state rituals that seemed empty and were attracted to the idea of social equality, justice, and the promise of an afterlife that Christianity offered. As a starting place in the Middle East, Christianity had begun its spread north and west into Europe, carried by missionaries, soldiers, and merchants. Of course, the Roman imperial government couldn’t ignore the fact that despite the persecutions Christianity was growing stronger.

As a result, in AD 313, the Edict of Milan was passed, which guaranteed legality of religion throughout the Roman Empire, ending the persecution of Christians. Such measure was partially designed to help the people have more faith in the Roman Empire. In AD 391, under Theodosius I, Christianity was named as the state religion of Rome. Ultimately, however, this wouldn’t be enough to restore people’s trust in the Western Roman Empire, which fell in the year 476.

Furthermore, Gregory I the Great played a significant role in establishing a strong and influential papacy and church machinery. His first step in asserting the control of the papacy is elaborated by the fact that he sent monks to convert the Anglo-Saxons whom he considered pagan. He was also able to establish an early system in which the Church yielded as much power as the State and sometimes more. Archbishops would supervise the bishops and the pope would supervise the archbishops.

Those who succeeded Gregory continued to expand the church’s influence in both the social and political aspects of medieval society. English missionaries in the 8th century influenced the French to adopt a system of papal governance. However, the rise of feudalism threatened and curbed the influence that the Christian church had amassed. This saw the Church fall under the influence of secular local rulers and kings, toward the end of the ninth century.

However, during the 5th century, when the Roman Empire had begun to fall, Germanic barbarian tribes took over Rome. This has triggered what is widely known as the Dark Ages in history, which saw the establishment of the Christian Catholic Church as the exclusive source of moral authority. The term Catholic came from the English term catholik, the Latin term catholicus, and the old French term catholique, all of which mean universal. Throughout most of the medieval era, any religion outside of Christianity was considered heretical.

The Christian Church had its own lands, laws and taxes. Additionally, the Church was so influential that it also collected taxes from its followers. The Church also accepted various types of gifts from anyone who was looking for divine favor and from the nobility as well. As the role of the Church grew, archbishops, bishops, and the pope bore bigger influence on the reigning kings in Europe. Those who spoke negatively of the church or opposed it were excommunicated so that they were not eligible for communion or to attend services in the church.

History of Christianity: The Arian Controversy

Although Christianity has spread all over the world and has earned the title of the largest religion in the world, it had its fair share of internal conflicts. The Arian Controversy was known to be the greatest theological controversy in the whole two thousand year history of Christianity as it asks the most fundamental question about the one true God.

In AD 324, Constantine, who was the first Christian emperor, had found that Christianity is divided by a very fundamental and fierce doctrinal dispute. It started with Arius in AD 318, a preacher in Libya who had started preaching about God the Father alone. He believed in the fundamental monotheism of Christianity therefore acknowledging Jesus Christ would ultimately contradict the oneness of God.

Origen, who was the Church’s first systematic theologian, had a different idea. He argued that there were levels of divinity and Christ the Son in an inferior level of divinity compared to God the Father. This concept was revered by most Eastern bishops as they thought highly of Origen and his works.

Alexander, Arius’ bishop, on the other hand did not believe any of these. Instead he insisted that Christ the Son was as absolute as God the Father. And as the controversy started to spread, Alexander assembled a council of bishops to depose Arius for heresy but Arius stayed true to his belief and gathered his own people who would support his claims.

Since this was clearly a divide of a supposed united Church, Constantine summoned a council of around three hundred bishops to settle this doctrinal dispute in Nicaea in North West Asia Minor. This brought upon the Creed of Nicaea.

The Creed of Nicaea stated that the Son is the one true god and not created out of nothing, but begotten out of the very essence of the Father which is opposed to the arguments made by Arius. But not only did Arius lose the dispute, he was also anathematised from the Church — meaning he was declared to be outside of the Church, worse than excommunicated — as he refused to sign the Creed. He was then sent into exile with two of his supporters who also refused to sign, Secundus and Theonas.

The Big Divide in Christian History: The Reformation of the Church

This is a quite a familiar scene of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses being hammered into the door of the Catholic Church in 1517. This reformation that Martin Luther pushed has made significant effect and became the founding basis for one of the major branches of Christianity, Protestantism in history of christianity.

Reformation or what also other sources call as Protestant Reformation started in the 16th century. It was the result of the Church’s alleged corruption with indulgences, the increasing wealth and power, which clearly undermined its spiritual authority. Although it has been said that this reformation was not at all unexpected as the Church had already been addressed about these questionable actions, Martin Luther pointed out his difference. His reformation perspective was from a theological root rather than the corruption. He was attacking the Church at its core, questioning the indulgence system and the authority of a Church pope over purgatory and the doctrine about the saints people worship on which were only a few of his 95 Theses.

His key theological reforms were founded on sola scriptura meaning the Scripture alone is authoritative and sola fide which means justification is by faith and not by works. Because of this, Luther was excommunicated in 1521 and has since then inspired a wave of reformations in different places.

One of the waves of this reformation is Calvinism named after John Calvin. Calvinism is actually known for its five points named in mnemonic as TULIP.

Total Depravity – this describes the nature of man to incline into sin, to serve man’s own interests alone. Man is a born sinner, he does not love God. Therefore man is inherently bad.

Unconditional Election – this asserts that God has elected or has chosen whom he saves solely by his choice and not because of any foreseen merit or good work. It is only by his mercy that one can be saved and nothing else.

Limited Atonement – only the sins of the elect have been atoned for by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Irresistible Grace – those he has chosen has been elected and has been brought to a saving faith.

Perseverance of the Saints – again, in connection with the mentioned above, those who have been chosen by God will ultimately lead a life of faith until the end.

The Christianity Map Now

Christianity is considered as the world’s largest religion with over two billion followers. As it primarily began with the son of a Jewish carpenter, the religion was spread around the world first by Jesus’ disciples, then by missionaries, emperors, and kings. Through conquests, crusades, and simple word of mouth, Christianity has had a profound influence over the last two thousand years of world history.

Jesus came to this world and chose a group of men who would be the beginning of his “church”, the ones called out of this world to serve him and spread the “gospel” good news about his life, death, and resurrection. Their message began to spread especially when Saul of Tarsus, who later because Paul the Apostle to the gentiles made a lifetime commitment evangelize the world. He went on three missionary journeys to plant and grow churches in major cities throughout the Roman Empire. After Paul died his work was established in fertile ground and “Christianity” became a dominant force even recognized by Rome.

The Christians were persecuted by many of the Roman Emperors but the more that were martyred the more that would accept Jesus and multiply. Jesus gave the Holy Spirit as a promise gift to the church to empower them. Before Jesus left this world he told his followers that he would be with them even unto the end of the world.

A century ago, this was not the case. According to historical estimates by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, about two-thirds of the world’s Christians have lived in Europe, where the bulk of Christians had been for a millennium in 1910.

Today, only about a quarter of all Christians live in Europe estimated around twenty-six percent. A plurality – more than a third – now are in the Americas and about one in every four Christians lives in sub-Saharan Africa and one-in-eight is found in Asia and the Pacific.

Sources:

  • Hackett, C. and McClendon, D., 2020. World’S Largest Religion By Population Is Still Christianity. [online] Pew Research Center. Available at: <https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/05/christians-remain-worlds-largest-religious-group-but-they-are-declining-in-europe/> [Accessed 9 August 2020].
  • Worldpopulationreview.com. 2020. Most Christian Countries 2020. [online] Available at: <https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/most-christian-countries> [Accessed 9 August 2020].
  • History.com. 2020. [online] Available at: <https://www.history.com/topics/religion/history-of-christianity#section_7> [Accessed 9 August 2020].
  • Rome.net. 2020. Roman Republic (509 BC – 27 BC) – History Of Rome. [online] Available at: <https://www.rome.net/roman-republic> [Accessed 9 August 2020].
  • Needham, N.R. 1998. 2000 Years of Christ’s Power Part One: The Age of the Early Church Fathers.
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