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Backgrounds to Modern Church History

How the Tree Main Branches of Christianity Came About

The organized church of modern times is composed of three large branches: Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant. These three segments of Christendom developed over a period of fifteen centuries. The Christian church of the first several centuries was unified structurally and had not yet taken on the threefold divisions that is so familiar to us today. Only in the developments of the next several centuries did these particular designations begin.

Originally the early church had major centers throughout the Roman Empire, over each of which arose a bishop who directed the affairs of the church in his particular region. The major centers of the second century were Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Ephesus, and Rome. Ephesus later lost influence, and the influence of Jerusalem was reduced following its destruction in A.D. 70 and the paganizing of Israel by the Romans after Bar Kokhba revolt in A.D. 135. Prior to the sixth century there was no bishop who was viewed as being over the entire church of Christ throughout the empire; instead there were five separate patriarchs who shared equal oversight.

Starting with the bishop of Rome called Gregory the Great, however, that bishop began to be recognized as chief among the peers. Based in this, one could place the formalization of the Roman Catholic Church at the end of the sixth century. Meanwhile, the eastern church retained considerable freedom from Rome and eventually became known as the Orthodox Church. Its leadership came from the bishop of Constantinople, the eastern capital of the Roman Empire.

The Protestant branch of Christendom separated from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century after the Reformation led by Martin Luther. The reformation, which emphasized Scripture and deemphasized tradition as the standard of church doctrine, completed a split with Rome which had been initiated by Christian dissenters as early as the 13th century.

Historical Factors Prior to the Protestant Reformation

Errors of doctrine began in the Christian Church almost as soon as the church began. The apostles contended with false teachings about the requirements for justification before God (legalism), and about the nature of the physical body of Christ and of reality itself (early forms of gnosticism), Between the first century and the modern era numerous heresies have arisen: 
Ebionites denied the true deity of Christ, as did later Dynamic Monarchianists and Arians; modalists denied the Trinity; Eutychians and Nestorians struggled with the doctrine of the person of Christ in His human nature. These are only some of the more prominent errors, many of which are found in contemporary cults. Other heresies concerned the matter of human sin (Pelagianism) and the nature of the atonement. Heresy did have a positive result of forcing the church to more clearly define orthodox biblical doctrine, much of which has been expressed in the various creeds.

The early church went through ten separate persecution. The harshest and most pervasive were the persecution of Domitian at the end of the first century (c.90-96), the persecution of Decius (249-251) in the midst of the celebration of the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of Rome, in which there was a major push for return to the ancient religions; and, last and most severe, the persecution of Diocletian (303-311). The church braved these tribulations, however and grew even stronger.

Soon after the persecution of Diocletian, a subsequent emperor, Constantine, became a Christian. He began to use the machinery of the Roman government to strengthen his newfound faith, and he finally declared Christianity to be the official religion of the empire. Constantine's mother Helena, who was also a Christian, heard of the disrepair of many of the biblically significant shrines, some of which are now situated under ancient churches. Constantine was instrumental in bringing about affirmation of Christ's deity at the Council of Nicacea, as expressed in the consequent Nicean Creed.

In the seventh century anArabian named Mohammed claimed to have revelations from God, which ultimately gave rise to the Koran and the faith of Islam. Mohammed claimed that this faith was the final revelation of God, though he recognized the genuineness of earlier revelations given to Moses and Jesus, both of whom he considered great prophets. He enforced this new faith through the power of the sword, and eventually conquered many of the lands that had been largely Christian. These events eventually led to the Crusades of the 11th through the 13th centuries.

A call to deliver the Holy Land from the Muslim conquerers began in the late 11th century. The first crusade was successful in capturing the major cities of Asia Minor and the City of Jerusalem. Following this came several other crusades which turned out not to be of lasting success. To attract solders for these crusades some prospective enlistees were offered immediate entrance to heaven if killed, or forgiveness of debts and freedom from taxed if they lived.

The Reformation
The Roman branch of the church held unfettered sway in the west from the 6th century until the reformation of the 16th century, which sought to restore the ancient faith of the first several centuries. The centers of the Reformation were Germany with Martin Luther, Switzerland with John Calvin and Huldereich Zwingli; and Scotland with John Knox.

How Christianity Has Affected Secular History
What would life be like if Christ had not come and Christianity had not spread throughout the world? It would most likely be much different. Although Greece gave western civilization much art, philosophy and literature, and Rome provided law and government, it was the Christian worldview that provided the basis for modern science, efforts to alleviate poverty, universal education, and the ideals of equality and liberty enshrined in the documents of many governments. The God of order and beauty provided for the view that nature was predictable and orderly. Th Christian belief that all humanity is a creation of God gave the foundation to the self evident truth of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Since people are made in the image of God they are valuable apart from their station in life, amount of wealth, or utility to society. People are helped, educated, and protected simple because they are made inGod's image. Loss of these Christian ideals would undoubtedly be a tragic loss to the well-being of humanity.

Doctrine in Scripture

The Development of Doctrine in the Bible
To understand the development of doctrine, it is necessary to understand two concepts: progressive revelation, and how the church developed it's theology.
Progressive revelation means that God worked over time, with different persons and through different means, to reveal Himself and His truth in the Bible. A clear indication of this in Scripture is found in Heb. 1:1-3 as well as 1 Peter 1:10-12.

God's Supreme Revelation

Hebrews 1:1-4
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

Because of this, we often weigh the later portions of Scripture more heavily regarding doctrine, for they provide the fuller explanation of many teachings. However, later biblical writers sometimes presuppose certain well-developed knowledge on the part of their readers and do not state the assumed knowledge. In such cases, earlier portions of Scripture may give us a fuller understanding of certain aspects of doctrine.

Theological development in the church has been necessary because of the occasional and nonsystematic nature of the New Testament writings. The Bible contains enough truth for the establishment of clear, coherent doctrine, but it rarely presents that truth in a systematic teaching. Therefore, the people in the church have necessarily and appropriately and extended within their own historical and intellectual setting.


The Practical Importance of Doctrine
Biblical teachings. or doctrine, is not intended by God to stop with the enlightenment of the intellect. Enlightenment is a necessary first step, but truth is intended to impact the thinking, habits, and behaviors of it recipients.
Examples of this are abundant in Scripture (see for example Rom. 12:1; 2 Pet. 3:11).
It is the intended pattern of Scripture that understanding of truth should motivate application of truth. Always learning but never acknowledging the truth (2 Tim. 3:7) is a description of the process of Christian thought short-circuiting at the mind and not getting to practical outworking.  The writer of Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 5:11-14 that Christian maturity comes through practicing biblical truth, not just possessing the knowledge. James writes that we are able to be "doers of the word and not hearers only" (James 1:22).

† James 1:22
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

It is a theological and practical error, however, to reverse the order and take an application of truth and build a doctrine from it. As an example, the application of self denial for one person should not become a prescription of lifestyle for another. Romans 14 illustrates clarity in conviction and charity in extension of that conviction to others. Dogmatic practices without foundational truth become a system of religion without power.


 Classifications of Theology

Theology is simply organized thinking about God. Different ways of organizing those thoughts has resulted in different types of theology, each with its own merit. Christian theology presupposes the existence of God (theology proper) and His revelation of Himself in the Bible (bibliology). The presuppositions are not without firm intellectual foundations; in fact, they comprise two large categories of doctrine in their own right. Theology proper and bibliology form the staring point and foundation for true Christian theology. The more the doctrines are studied, the more certain the foundation becomes; bit they are necessary presuppositions if the student of the Scriptures is to start correctly. As the adage goes, "Well begun is half done."
Doctrine is the summation or description of the truth found in the Bible. Theology is the process of arriving at that doctrine. The major ways to approach the study of theology are biblical theology, historical theology , systematic theology and practical theology.

Biblical theology concerns the unfolding of truth in specific books and passages of Scripture. It recognizes the progressive revelation of God (defined below) and therefore does not necessarily aim to present the whole of a biblical doctrine, but to establish that Portion of doctrine taught in the Scripture under consideration. The different books of the Bible were occasioned by specific circumstances and needs. Therefore, often the intent of the author was not to develop a doctrine fully, but rather to teach the truth necessary to accomplish a purpose that the occasion required.

Historical theology deals with the theological perspectives set forth by Christians through the centuries. This approach looks at the teaching as it has developed over time. Studying the way that the Scriptures have been understood helps the modern seeker of truth to clarify his or her own thought concerning many important doctrines.
Systematic theology is the organized presentation of the various doctrines, with full consideration of both biblical theology and historical theology. Doctrines are developed and articulated as a part or subset of the total structure of systematic theology. This does not mean that tradition has equal weight with the Bible in development of doctrine. Rather, it humbly respects the fact other thinkers through the ages have wrestled with the same biblical truths, aided by illumination of the same Holy Spirit. The conclusions and thoughts of the people of God through the centuries can contribute to the present understanding of the Scriptures.

Practical theology emphasizes the correlation of theology to life's needs. It shows the connections between doctrine and application, paying attention to the ways in which theology pertains to issues concerning ethics and society, the interaction of people, and the mission of the church.

The Major Categories of Doctrine and Key Books 

Bibliology - Deuteronomy , Psalms Matthew, 1 & 2 Timothy 
(The doctrine of the Bible)

Theology Proper - Genesis, Job, Isaiah, John, Romans
(The doctrine of God)

Christology - Isaiah, Micah, John, Philippians, Colossians, Hebrews
(The doctrine of Jesus Christ)

Pnematology - Genesis, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians 
(The doctrine of the Holy Spirit)

Angelology - Genesis, Job, Daniel, Zechariah, Matthew, Acts, 1 Corinthians,
2  Corinthians, Hebrews, Revelation
(The doctrine of angels including Satan and demons)

Anthropology - Genesis, Psalms, 2 Corinthians 
(The doctrine of Man or Humanity)

Hamartiology - Genesis, Job, Psalms, Romans
(The doctrine of sin) 

Soteriology - Genesis, Psalms, Isaiah, John, Romans, Hebrews
(The doctrine of salvation)

Ecclesiology - Acts, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians
(The doctrine of the church)

Eschatology - Genesis, Major & Minor Prophets, Matthew, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 2 Peter
(The doctrine of last things)


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