History of Christianity:
Christian history starts with Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew born in a small corner of the Roman Empire. Little is known of his early life, but approximately in the age of 30, Jesus was baptized through John the Baptist and had a vision in which he attained the blessing of God. After this event, he started a ministry of healing, teaching and miracle-working. He spoke of the "kingdom of God," condemned religious hypocrites & interpreted Mosaic Law in novel ways. He spoke before crowds of people, but also chose twelve disciples whom he privately taught. Eagerly they followed him, believing him to be the long-awaited Messiah who would usher in the kingdom of God on earth.
After a few years, however, opposition mounted against Jesus, and he was finally executed by the Romans by crucifixion. Mostly Jesus' followers dismayed scattered at such an unexpected outcome. But after three days, women who went to anoint his body reported that the tomb was empty and an angel told them Jesus had raised from the dead. Initially the disciples were skeptical, but later on came to believe. They reported that Jesus seemed to them on many occasions and then ascended into heaven before their eyes.
The remainder of the first century AD saw the number of Jesus' followers, soon who were called "Christians," grow quickly. In the spread of Christianity Instrumental was a man, Paul, a zealous Jew who had persecuted Christians, then changed to the faith experiencing a vision of the risen Jesus later on. Taking advantage of the wide system of Roman roads and the time of peace, Paul went on many missionary journeys all through the Roman Empire. He begun churches, and then wrote letters back to them to offer further counsel and encouragement. Several of these letters would become part of the Christian scriptures, the "New Testament."
In the second & third centuries AD, Christians struggled along with persecution from outside the church and doctrinal debates from in the church. Christian leaders, now who are called the "church fathers," wrote down defenses of the false claims made against Christians (apologetics) in addition to arguments against false teachings spreading in the church (polemics). Doctrines were developed, explored and solidified, canon of the New Testament was created, and the notion of "apostolic succession" established a system of authority to guard against wrong interpretations of Christian teachings.
In Christian history a major turning point came in the early 4th century AD, while the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. The Christian religion persecution ceased, became legal and now thousands of pagans found it convenient to convert to the emperor's faith. Allied along with the Roman Empire, Christianity gradually rose in power and hierarchy until it became the "Christendom" that would encompass the entire western world in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
Emperor Constantine expected that Christianity would be the uniting force of his empire, so he was upset to hear of argument over Aryanism, which held that Christ was more than a man but less than God himself. In the year of 325 AD, Constantine called Council of Nicea so that the bishops could work out their differences. They fated Arius & Aryanism and declared the Son (Christ) to be of "one substance" along the Father. After the council, St. Athanasius of Alexandria continuous to battle the Arians, however the orthodox eventually view won out for good. Then the church turned to issues regarding Christ's divine and human natures, which were resolved essentially at the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD).
In the meantime, the considerable cultural, religious and political differences among the Western and Eastern churches were becoming apparent increasingly. Religiously, the two parts of Christendom had distinct views on topics as the use of icons, the nature of Holy Spirit, and the date on which Easter must be celebrated. Culturally, the Greek East always has tended to be more abstract and philosophical in its thinking, whereas the Latin West tended toward a more legal-minded and pragmatic approach. As the old saying: "the Greeks built metaphysical systems; the Romans constructed roads." The political aspects of the split started with the Emperor Constantine, he moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople (in modern Turkey). Upon his death, the empire was separated between his two sons, one of whom ruled the western half of the empire from Rome whereas the second one ruled the eastern region from Constantinople.
These several factors lastly came to a head in 1054 AD, whereas Pope Leo IX excommunicated the patriarch of Constantinople, the leader of the Eastern Church. In return the Patriarch condemned the Pope, &the Christian church has been separated officially into West ("Roman Catholic") and East ("Greek Orthodox") ever since.
In the year of 1400s, some of the western Christians began to publicly challenge aspects of the church. In Christian leadership, they spoke against the abuse of authority and corruption. They called for a return to the gospel and a stripping off of customs and traditions like purgatory, the cult of the relics and saints, and the withholding of the communion wine from non-clergy. They start to translate the Bible then obtainable only in Latin into the common languages of the people.
Though, these early reformers did not have extensive success, and most of were executed for their teachings. Legend has it that while Jan Hus, a Czech reformer whose surname means "goose," was burned at the stake in the year of 1415, he called out: "Today you roast a goose, however in 100 years, a swan will sing!"
In the year of 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther (who bore little resemblance to a swan) posted ninety seven complaints against the practice of selling indulgences on a church door. He had experienced a personal alteration to the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and also shared several of the ideas of those early reformers. Raising German nationalism and the invention of the printing press make sure that Luther would have greater defense than his predecessors and his teachings would be quickly spread. He was excommunicated and escaped barely with his life on more than one occasion; however Luther lived out his life spreading the Reformation, and died as natural death. His ideas had spread throughout Germany already, and same reforming movements sprung up in Switzerland and England. In a civil war soon much of Europe was embroiled, along Protestant nationalists fighting Catholic imperialists for political and religious freedom.
In the 17th century, Christians of various ideologies embarked on the risky journey across the Atlantic, to the promise of religious economic and freedom prosperity in New World. Quakers came to Pennsylvania, Catholics to Maryland, and Dutch Reformed to New York. Later on came French Huguenots and Swedish Lutherans, English Baptists and Scottish Presbyterians. With the exception of some of the Puritan communities, there was no attempt to enforce religious uniformity in America.
The period from approximate 1648 to 1800 was an age in which reason (as opposed to revelation and dogma) became important increasingly, but so did religious revival. Benjamin Franklin exemplified his time's common attitude towards religious matters while he remarked, a few weeks before his death:
As to Jesus of Nazareth...I have...some uncertainties as to his Divinity, tho' it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it.... I see no damage, however, it it’s being believed, if that belief has the good result...of making his doctrines more respected and better observed.
At the similar time that religious toleration and skepticism were growing in the west, so too were revival movements which required returning to masses to genuine faith in Christ and the gospel of salvation. In 1739 George Whitefield arrived in colonies from England, and experienced extensive success with his revival sermons. Jonathan Edwards was popular for his fiery sermons in which he defined in detail the torments of those who don’t have personal faith in Jesus Christ. John Wesley was revivalist priest and a personal friend of Whitefield, but he strongly differed from his Presbyterian friend on the doctrine of predestination. Wesley founded a small group of preachers & bible students, who targeted on holy living and came to be called the "Methodists."
Nowadays, Christianity is the largest world religion, along approximate 2 billion adherents. It is the majority religion of Americas and Europe, and there are churches in almost all nations in the world. There are possibly thousands of Christian denominations, all believe in the basic doctrines established at the Council of Nicea but differ in other matters of practice and doctrine. In recent years, there has been a raising movement among these denominations to work together in unity for the good of the world. In the year of 1948, the World Council of Churches was founded to that end.
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