History of Christianity - a 'New View'
Introduction: How we think about history of Christianity
Many histories of Christianity written by Christians focus on how the faith and theology developed, and what Christians did. Those written by humanists tend to focus on the social aspect, historical power relations, or such things as economics, the oppression wrought by religion, or the dialog with science.
A 'new view' weaves all these together, trying to see how the aspects of faith, morals, justice, art, economics, social structures, language, formative power and science all affect each other. But it also does more: the tapestry the 'new view' weaves from all these is hung on the wall of God's Cosmic Plan, which is understood to be created reality rejoicing and working well together with God. So, this 'new view' of the history of Christianity looks at the outworking of this Plan in and among human beings and the rest of creation - warts and all.
Most histories of Christianity by believing Christians treat Christianity as the only true religion, while most by agnostics or atheists treat Christianity as, at best, only one religion among many. This 'new view' sees Christianity slightly differently. It is not assumed that all true followers of Jesus Christ are Christians, nor that all Christians are true followers of Christ, but it sees Christianity as that community of thought and practice that has grappled with Jesus Christ and the unique revelation God made through the Old and New Testament Scriptures - and it has done so more than any other over the past 2000 years.
This page is a draft, because the history of Christianity is a huge, ongoing project.
The history is divided into four eras of approximately 500-600 years each, with some overlap.
The First 500 Years of Christianity - Outward Spread and Development
After the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ in Palestine/Judea around 30 AD/CE, his followers multiplied and became known as 'Christians'. During the next 50 years or so they were dispersed by both Christ's command to go to all nations and by persecution, some going to Greece, some to Rome, some up into Syria, and thence down into India, some down into Africa, some into Egypt and Libya, and thence along the North African coast into Spain and Britain. See the map.
His followers took with them what they believed to be good news that God had acted in the world through Jesus Christ, to save us. Where they went they brought some degree of joy and health to society and individuals alike, because God was with them, but they also met persecution often from rulers. Their belief and lifestyle both affected the people to whom they went and was affected by them, especially being affected by persecution. Several main streams may be discerned, which are shown on the map, though there are others:
- Greek stream: To Greece and surrounding areas. It was influenced by the dualism of pagan Greek thinking, which divides spirit from body. Arguably, this is the root of the dualistic versions of Christianity which decry the material world, and such things as sexuality. So commitment to Christ and God was seen in terms of becoming 'spiritual' and shunning material and physical aspects of life as much as possible. From Greek culture came a concern to theoretically define the nature of things, so in the early days there was much debate (and disagreement with other streams) about the nature of Jesus Christ.
- Roman stream: To Rome, capital of Roman Empire, and spread out from there northwards, north-east, north-west up into British Isles. It was influenced by the Roman love of power and authority and the state, so Roman Christianity eventually became very hierarchical. It was also influenced by Greek dualistic thinking, which became the divide between sacred and secular. Commitment to Christ and God was seen in terms of the ruler (e.g. Emperor Constantine) making Christianity an official religion.
- Desert Fathers: To Egypt and surroundings. Piety and commitment to God and Christ was seen in terms of withdrawal from the world, e.g. as hermits, and a life of piety and asceticism.
- Celtic Stream: From the Desert Fathers the gospel moved along the North African coast, and up into Spain. From thence it moved into Ireland, reaching Scotland around 500. From there it crossed Scotland, down into England, and across the North Sea into the Low Countries.
- Ethiopian stream: Followers of Jesus Christ went down into eastern and sub-saharan Africa, especially Ethiopia, where there was a community of Jews.
- Syriac Stream: The Syriac stream borrowed much from Rabbinic Judaism and from Mesopotatmian culture. This stream became separated from Western Christianity around the Council of Ephesus 431 AD/CE.
- Thomas Stream: The Apostle Thomas travelled to India (it is thought by ship from the Red Sea , spending time in Kerala and being martyred where Chennai now stands (where it is claimed his relics lie). The Thomas stream is closely linked with the Syriac stream, but also mingled with Brahmin Hinduism. They were also influenced by Jewish styles of worship.
The Greek and Roman streams became dualistic, being influenced by pagan Greek dualism, with the result that life is seen as divided into sacred and secular or spiritual and material compartments. By contrast, both the Celtic and Ethiopian streams seemed to have escaped this influence to some extent, and life is seen in more holistic terms, such that God is seen as relevant to everyday life, such as of crops and the home.
The Second 500 Years of Christianity - Development into Christendom
To be written:
Development of European Christianity:
- Development of the Nature-Supernature ground-motive
- Development of the idea of Christian domination
- Development of the idea of the Christian State and Empire
- Domination of Scholarship
- Development of Theology as Queen of Sciences
- Domination of Economics and Commerce
- Domination of Language
- Domination of Social life
- Domination of Religion and Reaction to Islam
- Domination of the Church
Also some movements of God during this era.
The Third 500 Years of Christianity - Corruption
To be written.
- Corruption. With domination comes corruption, but it develops gradually and imperceptibly.
Movements of God during this Period
- Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)
The Fourth 500 Years of Christianity - Reformation, Reaction and Repercussions; Reaching the World
To be written:
(I put movements of God first, because of my belief that God is active and proactive in His world, and that much of what we see today would not have come into existence without them.)
Movements of God During This Period
- "Sola Scriptura"; Access for everyone
- Valuing the Everyday and Secular (Three Dimensions)
- Dutch Art and European Science
- Focus on Being Put Right With God (Dimension 1)
- The Worth of the Ordinary Individual
- Moving Towards Righteousness (Part of Dimension 3) [both individual rightness and national justice e.g. slavery]
- Focus on Immediate Experience of God here and now (Dimension 2)
- The Holiness Movements
- Focus on Responsibility to Rest of Creation (Dimension 3)
Changes in Society and Lifestyle
- Reformation in belief, vision and commitment
- The State
- Commerce, trade and economics
- Philosophy and Scholarship
- Reaction. Tendency to be motivated by reaction against what is perceived wrong with the current state of affairs.
- Reaction in Philosophy
- The Atheist reaction
- The Liberal reaction
- Liberal theology
- Environmental Degradation
Note 1. These statements about the Apostle Thomas are from Wikipedia page 'Saint Thomas Christians' accessed 5 December 2010.
This page is offered to God as on-going work in developing a 'New View' in theology that is appropriate to the days that are coming upon us. Comments, queries welcome.
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2010, but you may use this material subject to certain conditions.
Written on the Amiga with Protext. Number of visitors to these pages: .
Created: 5 December 2010.
Last updated: 15 October 2013 filled in some bullet points for each of the three empty sections.