A deep dive into the defining events in the history of the church. These stories give context to where we have been and allow us to consider future possibilities.
Photo credit: David Roberts - The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70.
Following the first of three major Jewish revolts against the Roman Empire, the Roman army invaded Jerusalem three days before Passover. Breaking through the three walls of the city, Roman forces then burned the Second Temple to the ground and destroyed the mother city. This led to a great shift in Jewish structure, eliminating the importance of sects and establishing the religion as Rabbinic. Many of Jesus's followers survived the destruction and spread his teachings throughout the Roman Empire, giving rise to Christianity.
Photo credit: DuraEuropos-TempleOfBel
The earliest known public church was the Dura-Europas church, a house church or domus ecclesiae. It was a private home provided to the community for Christian worship located in Syria. It remains the oldest surviving church building in the world. The first building specifically built for the purpose of Christian worship came in the second half of this century, though it and many others were destroyed in the Great Persecution.
Photo credit: The Emblem of Christ Appearing to Constantine / Constantine's conversion, oil on panel painting by Peter Paul Rubens, 1622. Public domain.
Constantine converted to Christianity after the Battle of Milivian Bridge. When he defeated Emperor Maxentius, he credited his victory to God. He was the first emperor to convert to Christianity. Alongside Licinius, he wrote the Edict of Milan, which assured the legal rights of Christians (including the right to have organized churches). Suddenly, Christianity went from a persecuted minority to a state-approved religion. Later, Constantine left Rome to the Christian people, forming his new capital, Constantinople.
Photo credit: Anonymous, Icon of the Fathers of Nicea
Held in present-day Turkey, this council was the first in Christian history to address the entire body of believers. It was convened by the emperor Constantine to address and abolish the Arian belief that Christ was not divine,. This established among believers the equality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the Holy Trinity.
Photo credit: Augustine
Augustine converted to Christianity in 386 and quickly became a prominent theologian and philosopher. His theology dominated Catholicism, Reformed theology and Armenian theology. His introduction of fatalism, the belief that humans have no free will in what comes out of their lives. This led to a great oscillation of theologies. People either believed they had control or had none.
Photo credit: Debate between Catholics and Oriental Christians in the 13th century, Public Domain
The Great Schism split Christianity into two divisions, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. It greatly weakened the power of the Roman Catholic church following hostilities between Western and Eastern Christians. This made way for the age of division, followed by many crusades.
Photo credit: Biblia latina (Bible in Latin). Mainz: Johann Gutenberg, Library of Congress
Gutenberg’s printing press led to the Bible being the first book printed in Western Europe. With these widespread copies of the Word, believers no longer had to rely on the church to relay Scripture. The Christian walk could become something more personal and carefully read. This led to the growth of literacy, personal faith, and a questioning of official interpretations and practices of the church.
Photo credit: Ferdinand Pauwels - Luther hammers his 95 theses to the door
Enraged by the idea of indulgences, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses, declaring that the Bible is the ultimate Christian authority and that people can only get into heaven through faith in God, not through any payment or deed. The Protestant reformation was counteracted by the Catholic reformation, embodied in the Council of Trent. The Council acted as a clarification of the Church’s doctrine in light of recent changes and oppositions. Amidst this clarification, the Anabaptists, ignited by Ulrich Zwingli, paved a path of reform to criticize Catholic church practices such as tithing and infant baptism (hence the name “Anabaptists”). Henry VIII later severed England from any ecclesiastical link to Rome and made himself the head of the Church, to set apart from Catholic rule. Though this act was not entirely due to a “new religious awakening” as he wanted the power to divorce his wife. The Reformation led to the development of Protestant denominations.
Photo credit: North Wind Picture Archives
In four great waves, the Great Awakening sparked a newfound devotion to Christianity following the widespread idea of secular rationalism. This largely Protestant movement, ignited by the Moravian church, made way for the creation of many new religious movements and denominations. This movement made religion less of a public ceremony and more of a private, personal faith.
Photo credit: Vatican-assemblee-1870
Started by Pope Pius IX, this council served as a way to modernize and establish the rules and doctrines of the Catholic church after 20 centuries of life. It defined the catholic doctrine concerning the church of Christ, setting rules and traditions apart.
Graph credit: Corner of Church & State, an RNS blog
Starting in the early-to-mid Sixties, church participation began to decline, first in Europe and then in the United States. Although Christianity spread rapidly in many African and Asian countries, those in the Western world who consider themselves practicing Christians, attend church, or hold to the Nicean Creed began to decline. What started as a slow decline has become exponentially rapid.
Photo credit: Saddleback church Lake Forest building
To try to buck the trend of declining church membership, megachurches started to follow a “seeker friendly” approach, attracting big crowds. Though it is debated what the first megachurch in America was, the trend kicked off in 1980 in California. One of the largest megachurches in America remains California’s Saddleback Church with over 19 locations and 200 ministries. Defined as having over 2,000 members, there are now over 1,800 megachurches in America. Though many believe this to be a prominently American practice, it is prevalent in many other countries, even before its popularity in America.
Photo credit: Terren Hurst for Unsplash
Following the isolation and online services of the pandemic, many believers left the traditional church structure for good. This led to the creation of many house-churches and other kinds of micro-churches, which continue to grow today. 1 in 5 U.S. adults admit to attending church less than they did before the pandemic as they are searching for a new definition of what church is. Tired of online or traditional structure, people are creating new and communally centered definitions of what it means to be the church.
Church history: Gutenberg produces first Bible
Gutenberg’s metal-movable-type printing press is one of the most important inventions in the history of mankind For the first time, knowledge could be disseminated rapidly. The pri
Church history: The destruction of Jerusalem
Following the death and resurrection of Christ, Christians began to separate themselves from the practices of Judaism. The destruction of Jerusalem that Jesus prophesied signified