History of Christianity

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jump to: navigation, search
Part of the series on

History of Christianity
Ecumenical councils
Great Schism

The Trinity
God the Father
Christ the Son
The Holy Spirit

The Bible
Old Testament
New Testament
The Gospels
Ten Commandments
Sermon on the Mount

Christian theology
Salvation · Grace
Christian worship

Christian Church
Orthodox Christianity

Christian denominations
Christian movements
Christian ecumenism

This article outlines the history of Christianity and provides links to relevant topics.


Roots of Christianity

The Jewish background

Main articles: Christ, Messiah

Jesus and his first followers were Jews and Jewish Proselytes. His teaching was based on the Hebrew Scriptures, and he sometimes referred to other traditional writings of Judaism. Christianity continued to use the Jewish scriptures (the Tanakh became their Old Testament) and accept such fundamental doctrines of Judaism as monotheism, (and thus, in turn, Judaism's sole deity YHWH) and the belief in a moshiach (Hebrew term usually rendered messiah in English, which is equivalent to the term, ChristChristos in Greek). However, from the outset, according to the New Testament, the teachings of Jesus were seen by the Jewish religious leaders as being incompatible with Judaism, which itself was very diverse during the time of Iudaea Province.

In a New Testament account which is contested by many Jews as being non-historical, the temple priesthood and the Sanhedrin (the supreme religious and civic court of Jerusalem, at that time) conspired to have Jesus put to death by the Roman authorities. He taught things about his identity and authority which they believed were incompatible with the Mosaic Law, and the Jewish traditions of doctrine and the worship of the God of Israel. "This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God." (John 5:18 (ESV)). Some testified that he sought to destroy Herod's Temple: "Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death" (Matthew 26:59 (ESV)). From the time of his crucifixion forward, the Jewish leaders are said to have attempted to suppress those who followed his teaching. But, after his death and resurrection, according to the Acts of the Apostles, the apostles formed a community, a church distinct from other Jews and Greeks, into which they allowed uncircumcised Gentiles to enter by baptism, while openly declaring Jesus to be the Christ, and they began to be called Nazarenes and Christians.

Christianity also continued many of the patterns found in Judaism at that time, such as adapting the liturgical form of worship of the synagogue to church parishes, prayer, use of sacred scriptures, a priesthood, a religious calendar in which certain events and/or beliefs are specifically commemorated on certain days each year, use of music in hymns and prayer, giving tithes to the Church, and ascetic disciplines such as fasting and almsgiving. Christians initially adopted the Greek translations of the Jewish scriptures, known as the Septuagint, as their own Bible, and later also canonized the books of the New Testament.

The Life of Jesus of Nazareth

The earliest emergence of Christianity

Christianity began among a small number of Jews and Jewish Proselytes. Acts of the Apostles 1:15 says about 120. By the third century AD, Christianity had grown to become the dominant religion of the northern Mediterranean world. It also gained important extensions to the east and south of the Mediterranean. The core History of the Roman Catholic Church is said to extend in an unbroken timeline from this period. This section will examine those first 300 years.

The Earliest Church

The term "Early Jewish Christians" is often used in discussing the early History of Christianity. Jesus, his twelve Apostles, the Elders, and all or essentially all of his early followers were Jewish or Jewish Proselytes. Hence the 3,000 converts on the Pentecost following the Crucifixion described in Acts of the Apostles 2 were all Jews and Proselytes and all converts to Christianity were non-Gentile prior to the conversion of the Roman officer Cornelius by Simon Peter (Kephas) in Acts 10 who is traditionally considered the first Gentile convert to Christianity. The major division in Christianity prior to that time was between Hellenistic and non-Hellenistic Jews or Koine Greek (Acts 6) and Aramaic (Acts 1:19) speakers. However, after the conversion of Cornelius and his acceptance as a Christian, there was now another group — Gentile Christians. As an eschatological movement, they anticipated that the Gentiles would turn to the God of Israel as for example prophesied by Isaiah in verse 56:6-8. The New Testament does not use the terms "Gentile-Christians" or "Jewish-Christians", rather Paul of Tarsus wrote against those who were circumcised, who separated themselves from the uncircumcised:

"Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all." Epistle to the Colossians 3:11

Circumcised and uncircumcised are generally interpreted to mean Jews and Greeks, who were predominate, however it is an oversimplification as 1st century Iudaea Province also had some Jews who no longer circumcised, and some Greeks (called Proselytes or Judaizers) and others such as Egyptians, Ethiopians, and Arabs who did.

His Epistle to the Galatians is a vigorous tract against those who would "force the Gentiles to follow Jewish customs" (2:14). He writes in strong terms that if the Gentiles keep these customs as an obligation, and are circumcised, then "Christ will be of no value to you at all" (5:2) and if that were not so, and these ordinances were a requirement, then "Christ died for nothing" (2:21).

Paul claims in the letter, and elsewhere, that this message of his was not a contradiction of the 12 Apostles. Rather, it was entrusted to him for the sake of those who were not circumcised, just as much as Peter was sent to those circumcised, as he writes in Galatians 2:7-9:

"On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised." (NRSV)

In support of the view that Paul was not acting independently, the Council of Jerusalem, according to Acts of the Apostles 15, determined that circumcision was not required of new converts, but counsels them to avoid "pollution of idols, fornication, things strangled, and blood" (KJV, Acts15:20). The basis for these prohibitions is expressly clear, Acts 15:21 states: "For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath" (NIV); meaning that, these measures are based on the Law of Moses. Some interpret this to mean the Gentiles are instructed to comply in these matters, not as a principle of law, but rather in order not to give offense to those among whom they live who are under the ancient instruction of the synagogues. Some argue that the small set of requirements imposed on the Gentile Christians by the Council was not arbitrarily chosen but corresponds to teachings of Pharisaic Judaism concerning God's covenant with all nations, in their common father Noah, and are therefore called Noahide Laws.

But Paul did frequently clash with a group of "Judaizing Christians". In 2 Corinthians 11:5 and 12:11 he called his opponents super-apostles. He wrote to the Galatians describing how he rebuked Peter in public for lending credence by his actions to the view that adherence to Christ included food laws. Nevertheless, the requirements of the Law in ethical, as opposed to cultural terms, are clearly upheld by Paul, as he is understood by the mainstream of Christian interpretation. Paul upholds the Law as mediated through Christ rather than through the ordinances of God which before Christ's coming set the Jews apart from the Gentiles. In contrast to these ordinances, which divided Jew from Gentile, Christ makes them into one people, according to Paul (Ephesians 2:14-15):

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

The New Testament depicts Paul as Law-observant, for the sake of the Jews. In Acts 16 he personally circumcised Timothy, a Greek, whose father was Greek, because his mother was of the Jewish faith; and in Acts 21, James challenged Paul about the rumor that he was teaching rebellion against the Law. Paul followed James' recommendation to go to Herod's Temple with four Nazarite pledges to show that he "kept and walked in the ways of the Law"; however, when some people from Asia Minor (Paul's home area) saw him, it started a major riot.

Paul is a complex person, in 1st Corinthians 9:20-22, he wrote:

"To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some." (NRSV)

Also, 2nd Peter 3:16 on the Letters of Paul states:

"... There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures." (NRSV)

The use of Paul (or abuse, as traditionalists hold) to invent a radical separation between Christianity and all things Jewish has frequently flared up, beginning in earliest times and throughout the history of the Christian Church. Marcionism a 2nd century sect, still called the "most dangerous" heresy ever confronted by the Catholic Church, rejected the Apostles, and interpreted a Jesus who rejected the Law of Moses using 10 Pauline Epistles and the Gospel of Luke. Modern tendencies to claim that the Old Testament doesn't contain valid Christian instruction for today or to claim that Paul's "freedom in Christ" meant antinomianism as the rumor cited in Acts 21:21, though common, are still condemned under the name of Marcionism. Irenaeus in turn rejected Marcion and praised the Apostles in his Against Heresies 3.12.12:[1]

"...being brought over to the doctrine of Simon Magus, they have apostatized in their opinions from Him who is God, and imagined that they have themselves discovered more than the apostles, by finding out another god; and [maintained] that the apostles preached the Gospel still somewhat under the influence of Jewish opinions, but that they themselves are purer [in doctrine], and more intelligent, than the apostles."

Many modern scholars wonder what happened to those who required circumcision for Gentile converts. Referring to the "non-Pauline" apostles as Nazarenes (James,Peter and John), these scholars have pieced together evidence that Jewish sects of Christianity grew and thrived for a while in Judea and the surrounding areas, which they speculate were more closely followers of the Nazarenes in contrast to the Pauline Christians. They attempt to trace these early Nazarene Christians through later groups, such as the Ebionites and Elkasites, who are derogatively called re-Judaizers and who rejected the Christian movement as it was developing among the Gentiles. In other words, they believe that contrary to the writer of the Galatians, a rift between Paul and the other apostles was radical and permanent. These controversial views have strong endorsement from modern academia, and the theories are advanced as a significant correction of the Church's account of its own history, which tradition has lost.

The Didache and other writings in the Apostolic Fathers collection further document early church practice.

Observance of the Sabbath and Quartodeciman were also early issues.

The Martyrs

The Apologists

House Churches

  • Dura-Europos, Syria is the site of the earliest discovered identifiable Christian house church.

The writings of the New Testament apocrypha

The early Christians produced many historically significant canons and other literature described church organization. One of the earliest of these is the Didache, which is usually dated to the late first or early second century.

Early Heresies

Disputes of doctrine began early on. The newly-organized church organized councils to sort matters out. Councils representing the entire church were called ecumenical councils. Some groups were rejected as heretics.

Although most writings of Arius were destroyed by the early Catholic Church and the Roman Emperor Constantine, we can infer from Athanasius' arguments against Arius some idea of the movement. Basically, Arius was a leader of Christians who had a very particular understanding of the early trinitarianism movement, reflecting the divine nature of Christ. Arius' hypothesis, to our knowledge, was that Jesus was created by God (as in, "There was a time when the Son was not"), and hence, was secondary to God. His primary proof text was John 17:3. Athanasius' position was that Jesus was and always had been divine, and had a divine nature along with the Father and the Holy Spirit.


A Greek philosophical/religious movement known as Gnosticism had developed at roughly the same time as Christianity. Many followers of this movement (Valentinius being one of the most well-known) were also Christians, and taught a synthesis of the two belief systems. This produced a major controversy in the early church.

Gnostic interpretations differed from Mainstream Christianity because orthodox Christians took the literal interpretation of the Gospels as the correct one, whereas Gnostics tended to read them as allegory; thus the orthodox branch attracted greater numbers of adherents. This was observed quite early, for example, the second century Celsus (whose words are preserved in Origen's Contra Celsum, a text designed against Celsus) states that Christianity

continues to spread amongst the vulgar, nay one can even say it spreads because of its vulgarity, and the illiteracy of its adherents. And while there are a few moderate, reasonable, and intelligent people who are inclined to interpret its beliefs allegorically, yet it thrives in its purer form amongst the ignorant

Competing religions

Christianity was not the only religion seeking and finding converts in the 1st century. Modern historians of the Roman world often discern interest in what they tend to call mystery religions or mystery cults beginning in the last century of the Roman Republic and increasing during the centuries of the Roman Empire. Roman authors themselves, such as Livy, tell of the importation of "foreign gods" during times of stress in the Roman state. Judaism, too, was receiving converts and in some cases actively evangelizing. The New Testament reflects a class of people referred to as 'believers in God' who are thought to be Gentile converts, perhaps those who had not submitted to circumcision; Philo of Alexandria makes explicit the duty of Jews to welcome converts.


Worship of Mithras (known as Mithraism) developed in the Roman army during the first century BC, though it is currently unknown how this particular mystery religion originated, as it appears to have little to do with the Zoroastrian Mithra. Since it developed amongst a group of highly mobile people (professional soldiers), it quickly spread to the outer regions of the empire. It soon proved to be amongst the most popular of the mystery religions, and at Rome, by the start of the third century emperors were openly encouraging it, as the religion favored their rule.

The Mithras religion is sometimes thought to have its ultimate origin in the cult of Mithra, a deity connected to popular forms of Zoroastrianism (though it is important to note that strictly, early Zoroastrianism is dualist, and modern Zoroastrianism is monotheist, and neither includes Mithra).

By the end of the 3rd century, the popular cults of Apollo and Mithras had started to merge into the syncretism known as Mithras Sol Invictus or simply Sol Invictus (the unconquerable sun—a term also used by other cults), and in 274 the emperor Aurelian made worship of this form official.

After the decree of Theodosius in 391, and subsequent suppression, many Mithraeums were converted into Christian churches (such as Notre-Dame du Taur, and the Church of San Clemente); these were often dedicated to the archangel Michael.


The Mandaeans were a Gnostic religion which revered John the Baptist instead of Jesus. According to legend, Mani was a Mandaean. Mandaeanism still exists.


Manichaeism was one of the major ancient religions. Though its organized form is mostly extinct today, a revival has been attempted under the name of Neo-Manichaeism. However, most of the writings of the founding prophet Mani have been lost. Some scholars and anti-Roman Catholic polemicists argue that its influence subtly continues in Christian thought via Augustine of Hippo, who converted to Christianity from Manichaeism and whose writing continues to be enormously influential among Catholic theologians.

The religion was founded by Mani, who reportedly was born in western Persia and lived approximately 210-275 AD. The name Mani is mainly a title and term of respect rather than a personal name. This title was assumed by the founder himself and so completely replaced his personal name that the precise form of the latter is not known. Mani was likely influenced by Mandaeanism and began preaching at an early age. He claimed to be the Paraclete, as promised in the New Testament: the Last Prophet and Seal of the Prophets that finalized a succession of men guided by God and included figures such as Zoroaster, Hermes, Plato, Buddha, and Jesus.

The Manichees made every effort to include all known religious traditions in their faith. As a result, they preserved many apocryphal Christian works, such as the Acts of Thomas, that otherwise would have been lost. Mani was eager to describe himself as a "disciple of Jesus Christ", but the orthodox church rejected him as a heretic.

Second and third centuries

In the second century conventionally educated converts began to produce two kinds of writings that help us understand the developing shapes of Christianity - works aimed at a broad audience of educated non-Christians and works aimed at those who considered themselves inside the Church. The writing for non-Christians is usually called apologetic in the same sense that the speech given by Socrates in his defense before the Athenian assembly is called his Apology - the word in Greek meant "speech for the defense" rather than the modern more limited denotation of "statement expressing regret". The Apologists, as these authors are sometimes known, made a presentation for the educated classes of the beliefs of Christians, often coupled with an attack on the beliefs and practices of the pagans. Other writings had the purpose of instructing and admonishing fellow Christians. Many writings of this period, however, succumbed to destruction from the Early Catholic Church as heretical, or in disagreement with their message. Thus, today we are surprised by such findings as the Gospel of Thomas in 1945.

  • Polycarp (bishop of Smyrna and saint)
  • Melito of Sardis a bishop who held several views that differ from the Church of Rome, even though it considers him to be a saint
  • Irenaeus (bishop of Lyons and saint)
  • Tertullian (became a schismatic in about 207 and became a Montanist)
  • Marcion (considered by the Roman Catholic church to have been the most dangerous enemy they have ever had)
  • Clement of Alexandria (bishop of Alexandria and saint)
  • Origen (catechist and scholar, but some of his teachings were condemned in 588)
  • The pagan revival of the third century
  • Many of the early writings are translated into English in the Ante-Nicene Fathers collection. A particularly useful text found in the collection, the Apostolic Constitutions, documents much of early Christian thought.

During this period church government began to take on a hierarchical form that matched the Roman government.

Fourth century

Development of the canon of scripture

Christianity legalized in the Roman Empire

Constantine I

The Emperor Constantine I was, like emperors before him, high priest of the Mithraic religion. However, he was also interested in creating unity for the sake of ease of governance, and to this end involved himself in a dispute between Christian groups over Arianism, summoning the First Council of Nicaea; this Council produced the Nicene Creed.

Constantine mitigated some differences between orthodox Christianity and its main competitor, the official religion of Sol Invictus. For example, he moved the date of celebration of Jesus' birth to December 25th (since this was the celebration date for the birth of Mithras and Bacchus, and also the date of other winter solstice festivals such as Saturnalia). In addition, Constantine instituted use of the Chi-Rho symbol, representative of Christianity, also alleged by some scholars to have had use as an obeloi for "auspicious" thus serving both Christian and non-Christian purpose simultaneously.

Popular legend holds that Constantine I was Christian; however, he never publicly recanted his position as high priest of Mithras Sol Invictus, and the only alleged occurrence of Constantine I converting was on his deathbed (as reported by later Church Fathers), which is impossible to verify. However, it was not that unusual for people in the fourth century to avoid fully converting to Christianity until quite late in life, because of the strong warnings against continuing in sin after having converted and the spiritual consequences thereof.

Constantinian shift

Critics of the merger of church and state point to this shift of the beginning of the era of Constantinianism when Christianity and the will of God gradually came to be identified with the will of the ruling elite; and in some cases was little more than a religious justification for the exercise of power.


Arius (250 - 336 CE) proposed that Jesus and God were very separate and different entities: Jesus was closer to God than any other human being, but he was born a man, had no prior existence, and was not a god. On the other hand, God has been in existence forever. Arius felt that any attempt to recognize the deity of Christ would blur the lines between Christianity and the Pagan religions. If Christianity recognized two separate gods, the Father and Jesus, it would become a polytheistic religion.

Nicene Creed


Fourth-century pagan revival by Rome

Shocked by these developments, the emperor Julian the Apostate (denoted "the Apostate" because of his rejection of Christianity and conversion to Mithraism and Neoplatonism) attempted to restore the former status among religions by eliminating the privileges (exemption from the heavy burden of taxation and tax collection duties for Christian clergy for example) given by former Roman Emperors like Constantine I, forbidding one sect of Christians from persecuting another Christian sect and recalling bishops who had been banned for Arianism, while encouraging both Judaism (including a failed attempt to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem) and a sort of neo-paganism.

Nicene Christianity opposed by Byzantine emperors

Christianity becomes a state religion

Julian's opposition was short lived, as emperors such as Constantine II repealed Julian's actions and encouraged the growth of Christianity. This state of affairs was finally enforced by a series of decrees by the Nicene Christian emperor Theodosius I, beginning in February of 381, and continuing throughout his reign.

Other material from this era

The Christological controversies

The Christological controversies include examinations of questions like the following. Was Christ divine, human, a created angelic being, or beyond simple classification into one category? Did Christ's miracles actually change physical reality or were they merely symbolic? Did Christ's body actually arise from the dead or was the resurrected Christ a supernatural being not limited to a physical frame?

Fifth century

The conversion of the Mediterranean world

Developing Christianity outside the Mediterranean world

Christianity was not restricted to the Mediterranean basin and its hinterlands; at the time of Jesus a large proportion of the Jewish population lived in Mesopotamia outside the Roman Empire, especially in the city of Babylon, where much of the Talmud was developed.

The Development of the Papacy

The rise of Islam


Spread of Christianity to central and eastern Europe

Church and state in the Medieval west

Schisms between East and West

  • Great Schism
    • This was a long time in developing; key issues were the role of the Pope in Rome, and the filioque clause
    • The "official" schism in 1054 was the excommunication of Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople, followed by his excommunication of the pope's representative.
    • The personal excommunications were mutually rescinded by the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople in the 1960s, although the schism is not at all healed.

The Great Schism was between "Roman Catholicism" and "Eastern Orthodoxy". Both place great weight on apostolic succession, and historically both are descended from the early church. Each contends that it more correctly maintains the tradition of the early church and that the other has deviated. Roman Catholic Christians often prefer to refer to themselves simply as "catholic" which means "universal", and maintain that they are also orthodox. Eastern Orthodox Christians often prefer to refer to themselves simply as "orthodox", which means "right worship", and also call themselves catholic. Initially, the schism was primarily between East and West, but today both have congregations all over the world. They are still often referred to in those terms for historical reasons.

The later Middle Ages

Early America

  • Conquistadors
  • Santería, a fusion of Catholicism with traditional west African religious traditions originally among slaves

The Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation

Protestantism and the Rise of Denominationalism

Discusses the rise of the major denominations after the Reformation, and the challenges faced by Catholicism.
Lots missing here.

19th century

The Second Great Awakening and Restorationism

Anti-clericalism and atheistic communism

In many revolutionary movements the church was associated with the established repressive regimes. Thus, for example, after the French Revolution and the Mexican Revolution there was a distinct anti-clerical tone in those countries that exists to this day. On a more extreme level, Karl Marx condemned religion as the "opium of the people" [2] and the Marxist-Leninist governments of the twentieth century were generally atheistic; of these, only Albania officially declared itself to be an atheistic state. All of these Marxist governments repressed the exercise of religion in varying degrees.

20th Century

Christianity in the 20th century was characterized by accelerating fragmentation. The century saw the rise of both liberal and conservative splinter groups, as well as a general secularization of Western society. The Roman Catholic Church instituted many reforms in order to modernize. Missionaries also made inroads in the Far East, establishing further followings in China, Taiwan, and Japan. At the same time, persecution in Communist Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union brought many Eastern Orthodox Christians to Western Europe and the United States, leading to greatly increased contact between Western and Eastern Christianity. In addition, Christian ecumenism grew in importance, beginning at the Edinburgh Missionary Conference in 1910.

Catholic reforms

Non-catholic developments

Another movement which has grown up over the 20th century has been Christian anarchism which rejects the church, state or any power other than God. They also believe in absolute nonviolence. Leo Tolstoy's book The Kingdom of God is Within You [3] published in 1894 is believed to be the catalyst for this movement.

The 1950's saw a boom in the Evangelical church in America. The post World War II prosperity experienced in the U.S. also had its effects on the church. Although simplistically referred to as "morphological fundamentalism", the phrase nonetheless does accurately describe the physical developments experienced. Church buildings were built in large numbers, and the Evangelical church's activities grew along with this expansive physical growth.

Another noteworthy development in 20th century Christianity was the rise of the modern Pentecostal movement. Although its roots pre-date the year 1900, its actual birth is commonly attributed to the 20th century. Sprung from Methodist and Wesleyan roots, it arose out of the meetings at an urban mission on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. From there it spread around the world, carried by those who experienced what they believed to be miraculous moves of God there. These so-called miraculous, Pentecost-like manifestations have steadily been in evidence throughout the history of Christianity- such as seen in the two Great Awakenings that started in the United States, et al. However, Azusa Street is widely accepted as the fount of "the modern Pentecostal movement." Pentecostalism, which in turn birthed the Charismatic movement within already established denominations, continues to be an important force in western Christianity.

Modernism and the fundamentalist reaction

Main articles: Liberal Christianity, Christian fundamentalism

As the more radical implications of the scientific and cultural influences of the Enlightenment began to be felt in the Protestant churches, especially in the 19th century, Liberal Christianity sought to bring the churches alongside of the broad revolution that Modernism represented. In doing so, new critical approaches to the Bible were developed, new attitudes became evident about the role of religion in society, and a new openness to questioning the nearly universally accepted definitions of Christian orthodoxy began to become obvious.

In reaction to these developments, Christian fundamentalism was a movement to reject the radical influences of philosophical humanism, as this was affecting the Christian religion. Especially targeting critical approaches to the interperetaton of the Bible, and trying to blockade the inroads made into their churches by atheistic scientific assumptions, the fundamentalists began to appear in various denominations as numerous independent movements of resistance to the drift away from historic Christianity. Over time, the Fundamentalist Evangelical movement has divided into at least two main wings, with the label Fundamentalist following one branch, while Evangelical has become the preferred banner of the more moderate movement. Although both movements primarily originated in the English speaking world, the majority of Evangelicals are now elsewhere.

The Rise of Evangelicalism

In the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, there has been a marked rise in the evangelical wing of Protestant denominations, especially those that are more exclusively evangelical, and a corresponding decline in the mainstream liberal churches. In the post-World War I era, Liberalism was the faster growing sector of the American church. Liberal wings of denominations were on the rise, and a considerable number of seminaries held and taught from a liberal perspective as well. In the post-World war II era, the trend began to swing back towards the conservative camp in America's seminaries and church structures. Those entering seminaries and other post-graduate theologically related programs have shown more conservative leanings than their average predecessors.

The neo-Evangelical push of the 1940's and 1950's produced a movement that continues to have wide influence. In the South the more moderate neo-Evangelicals, represented by the likes of Billy Graham, have experienced a notable surge displacing the caricature of the pulpit pounding country preachers of fundamentalism. The stereotypes have gradually shifted. Some, such as Jerry Falwell, have managed to maintain credibility in the eyes of many fundamentalists, as well as to gain stature as a more moderate Evangelical.

Evangelicalism is not a single, monolithic entity. The Evangelical churches and their adherents cannot be easily stereotyped. Most are not Fundamentalist, in the narrow sense that this term has come to represent; though many still refer to themselves as such. There have always been diverse views on issues, where popularly Evangelicals seem too easily pigeon-holed, such as openness to cooperation with non-Evangelicals, the applicability of the Bible to political choices and social or scientific issues, and even the limited inerrancy of the Bible.

However, the movement has managed in an informal way, to reserve the name Evangelical for those who adhere to an historic Christian faith, a paleo-orthodoxy, as some have put it. Those who call themselves "moderate evangelicals"(although considered conservative in relation to society as a whole) still hold fast to the fundamentals of the historic Christian faith. Even "Liberal" Evangelicals label themselves as such not so much in terms of their theology, but rather to advertise that they are progressive in their civic, social, or scientific perspective.

There is some debate as to whether Pentecostals are considered to be Evangelical or not. Their roots in Pietism and the Holiness movement are undisputedly Evangelical, but their doctrinal distinctives differ from the more traditional Evangelicals, who are less likely to have an expectation of private revelations from God, and differ from the Pentecostal perspective on miracles, angels and demons. Typically, those who include the Pentecostals in the Evangelical camp are labeled neo-evangelical by those who do not. The National Association of Evangelicals has numerous trinitarian Pentecostal denominations among their membership. Another relatively late entrant to wide acceptance within the Evangelical fold, is the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Evangelicals are as diverse as the names that appear- Billy Graham, Chuck Colson, J. Vernon McGee, Benny Hinn, J.I. Packer, John R.W. Stott, Pat Robertson, Jimmy Carter, etc.- or even Evangelical institutions such as Dallas Theological Seminary(dispensationalist), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Calvinist, Boston), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Chicago), Wheaton College (Illinois), the Christian Coalition, The Christian Embassy (Jerusalem), etc. Although there exists a diversity in the Evangelical community worldwide, the ties that bind all Evangelicals are still apparent. A "high view" of Scripture, belief in the Deity of Christ, the Trinity, salvation by grace through faith, the bodily ressurection of Christ, to mention a few.

There has also been a polarization of the Anglican Communion worldwide chiefly because of actions taken by some Anglicans and Episcopalians in the U.S. and Canada.

Evangelism in the 10/40 Window

Evangelicals defined and prioritized efforts to reach the "unreached" in the late 20th and early 21st centuries to focus on countries roughly between 10 north and 40 degrees south latitude. This area is mostly dominated by Muslim nations, many who do not allow missionaries of other religions to enter their countries.

The spread of secularism

In Europe there has been a general move away from religious observance and belief in Christian teachings and a move towards secularism. The "secularization of society", attributed to the time of the Renaissance and its following years, is largely responsible for the spread of secularism. For example the Gallup International Millennium Survey[4] showed that only about one sixth of Europeans attend regular religious services, less than half gave God "high importance", and only about 40% believe in a "personal God". Nevertheless the large majority considered that they "belong" to a religious denomination. Numbers show that the "de-Christianization" of Europe has slowly begun to swing in the opposite direction. Renewal in certain quarters of the Anglican church, as well as in pockets of Protestantism on the continent attest to this initial reversal of the secularization of Europe, the continent in which Christianity originally took its strongest roots and world expansion.

In North America, South America and Australia, the other three continents where Christianity is the dominant professed religion, religious observance is much higher than in Europe. At the same time, these regions are often seen by other nations as being uptight and "Victorian", in their social mores. In general, the United States does lean towards the conservative in comparison to other western nations in its general culture, in part due to the Christian element found primarily in its mid-western and southern states.

South America, historically Catholic, has experienced a large Evangelical and Pentecostal infusion over the past ca. 80 years due to the influx of Christian missionaries from abroad. For example: Brazil, South America's largest country, is the largest Catholic country in the world, and at the same time is the largest Evangelical country in the world (based on population). Some of the largest Christian congregations in the world are found in Brazil.

Australia has seen renewal in different parts of her Anglican Church, as well as a growing presence of an Evangelical community. Although more "traditional" in its Anglican roots, this nation-continent has seen growth in its religious sector. Some of its religious programming is even exported via satellite.

21st century


Noted historians of Christianity include:

See also

Print resources

  • Gonzales, Justo. The Story of Christianity: Vol. 1: The Early Church to the Reformation. San Francisco: Harper, 1984. ISBN 0060633158
  • Gonzales, Justo. The Story of Christianity, Vol. 2: The Reformation to the Present Day. San Francisco: Harper, 1985. ISBN 0060633166
  • Latorette, Kenneth Scott. A History of Christianity, (2 vols.).
  • Shelley, Bruce L. (1996) Church History in Plain Language (2nd edition) ISBN 0849938619.

External links

The following links give an overview of the history of Christianity:

The following link provides quantitative data related to Christianity and other major religions, including rates of adherence at different points in time:

  • Theandros, a journal of Orthodox theology and philosophy, containing articles on early Christianity and patristic studies.
Personal tools