The Timetables of History

The history of the Christian Church is a major thread through the history of the world.  But while we often relate Old Testament events to the world history timeline, we seldom make such connections for the Church Age.

I have a large, heavy book called The Timetables of History, a Horizontal Linkage of People and Events.  This book is basically a timeline in the form of one huge table.  It starts in 5000 BC and goes through 1990 AD.  It chronicles the major events in History & Politics, Literature & Theater, Religion/Philosophy/Learning, Visual Arts, Music, Science/Technology/Growth, and Daily Life.  It is interesting to see the developments in each of these areas over the centuries, but what I find most instructive is to see what else was going on in the world at the same time as major events in Christian history.

For example, The Timetables of History has entries in all categories for 1517 and 1518.  This is when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses in Wittenberg, and was subsequently summoned by Cardinal Cajetan to Augsburg where he refused to recant.  In those same years when the reformation was born, the Turks captured Cairo, and coffee came to Europe for the first time.  Juan de Grijalva explored the coast of Yucatan and discovered Mexico.  Eyeglasses were developed for nearsighted people.

As another example, the 570’s were when Mohammed was born, Benedict I became Pope, and Buddhism was established in Japan.  The Byzantine empire (home of Christianity) was at war with Persia.

OK, I won’t bore you with any more historical trivia.  I just wanted to introduce another resource that I will be using in order to establish historical context as I continue to learn more about the history of Christianity.  Context matters.  The geopolitical situation has always been an  influence on how Christianity has been interpreted and practiced over the centuries.

Introduction to the Church Timeline

There have been many significant events over the past centuries that have shaped the practice and organization of Christian churches today.  In future weeks I will build a graphical timeline showing some of those events, and comment on their impacts.  As I began to catalog some of these defining points in the life of the Church, I selected a few “C” words to get us started.

Christ – 1st century – Of course, He is the beginning of all things Christian.

Churches – 1st through 3rd centuries – Christians met together in their communities, mostly in homes and often in secret due to widespread persecution.  “Church” meant the congregation of believers, not organizations or buildings.

Constantine – 4th century – The first Christian Roman Emperor, edicted that Christians should no longer be persecuted.  Later he called a council at Nicea for the leaders of the churches all across the world.  We will have a lot more to learn later about the Council of Nicea, but for now we will just say that this was the first serious attempt to unite all of Christendom with a common doctrinal base.  The resultant Nicean Creed is still used in some churces today.

Conquest by Mohammedans – 7th century – The Islamic invasion swept through Palestine, Egypt and northern Africa into Spain, which later led to an aggressive armed response from the Christian world.

Crusades and Cathedrals – 11th through 13th centuries – This was a time of great political power for the organized church, but it was also a time when some very unhealthy religious practices began to take root.

Calvin – 16th century – Calvin and other reformers such as Luther and Zwingli “protested” against the worst abuses of the Church … hence they were the first “Protestants”.

Colonies – 17th century – The early American Colonists brought their diverse Christian beliefs and practices to the New World.  They later brought this heritage to bear on the establishment of a new nation that is based on Christian principles, but with the promise of religious freedom for all.

See for an  interactive graphical timeline of church history with much more detail.

As we look at all of the changes in the Christian Church over the centuries, we may be tempted to ask how Christians and their leaders could stray so far from 1st century principles.  However, we need to remember that these shifts took place gradually over many generations.  Each generation pretty much accepted the “Church of their fathers” and made only minor changes in accordance with their evolving cultures and political situations.  Over the centuries these additions and modifications to Christian doctrine and practice have built up layer on layer to bring us to where we are today.  This is why I have set myself to the task of going back through those layers and learn more about the heritage of modern day Christianity.