Christian history has had a lifespan of over 2000 years. Many people have come up with top key events that have occurred in Christian history. I have chosen eight key events that I think have been extremely influential. These range from the earliest years of the church to the late nineteen hundreds. These events have shaped Christianity into what it is today.
The first and most important event began in 325 A.D. when the Council of Nicea determined that Jesus really was and is God. The council was issued by Constantine after many riots had erupted over arguments about Jesus’ divinity. More than three hundred bishops attended the council. The bishop Arius led the thought train that Jesus was like the Father but not truly God. After debating, the bishops condemned Arius’ view. They declared statements about God the Father and about God the Son in place of Arius’ view. In these statements they declared that the Son is “true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the father.” This declaration, I believe, is critical for the church to hold. It is the basis from which all other doctrines follow. God sent himself to earth to forgive us of our sins; this is the basis of Christianity. It could not have happened any other way.
A second doctrine, the full divinity and full humanity of Christ, was brought to the table at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. The church in Rome had begun to emphasize Christ’s divinity over his humanity. In contrast, the church in Antioch had begun to focus on Christ’s humanity more than his divinity. The two churches clashed over the other’s opposite view. Some heretical views, surfaced, such as Monophysitism; stating that Christ’s nature was lost in the divine. After much heated argument, Pope Leo finally asked the emperor to summon a council. The council did not solve how Christ could be both natures, however, it did build fences around the doctrine, stating that Christ was both natures and that these natures came together into one person, neither of them losing their identity. As Christians, this council was a necessary part of our history. It defined an important part of our belief, and an important part of Christ’s person.
As time wore on, Christians felt the need to distinguish between writings that were inspired and those that were not. Pressured by developing radical views, the Christian community decided on two major criteria to identify the New Testament canon. They said that a literature must have both apostolic origin (including Paul), and that it must also be used by many churches. These criteria helped develop much of the New Testament; however, doubt remained whether books such as Hebrews, Revelation, and James, were actually inspired by God. In A.D. 367, Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria wrote his annual Easter Letter to his church. In it he listed twenty-seven books that were to be considered the New Testament canon, and he also stated that no others were to be added to the list. Later, in A.D. 397, the Council of Carthage confirmed his list of the New Testament canon and since then churches have not greatly changed it. That act of determining which books are canon is most important to our history because it drew a line between man’s voice and God’s voice. This list is the same list that we hold to be true today, and is therefore a very important part of our history.
Power not only corrupts, but it also is not easily shared. In A.D. 1054, the leader of the Eastern Church and the leader of the Western Church excommunicated each other from one another and also from their respective churches. For years the two churches had been growing distant from one another because of cultural differences, language barriers, and different worship forms. This was not an act of purging the church; this was a battle for power. Both leaders wished to be the head of the universal church. Instead, the church split and became two separate identities. This act separated the body of Christ in a way that cultivated hard feelings toward one another. This is a very sad and unfortunate part of our Christian history, but is also a very important one because it paved the direction the church would continue to follow. More splits would occur, sometimes over small differences, others over heretical views.
Another noteworthy split occurred over eternal theological differences. Beginning some time before the split of the East and West, the Catholic Church had been slowly slipping away from the traditional belief that Christ alone was the way to heaven. By 1517 A.D. they had incorporated many additional pieces to salvation. Martin Luther saw these work mindsets and material items as corrupt and heretical. Luther wrote a page of ninety-five things that were wrong with the church. He then posted them on the church door in hopes that the church would clean itself of these things. Luther’s intent was not to split the church, but to fix it. However, when the church clearly stated it would not fix itself, a group broke off from the Catholic Church. This important event defined Protestant churches to be what they are today. This is a rather unfortunate event; however, it is a great model for us to not be tolerant of eternal differences.
In A.D. 1456 a revolutionary change occurred for the better for God’s Kingdom. Johann Gutenberg created the printing press and then began producing many Bibles. This, coupled with translations into ordinary languages, made it possible for the ordinary class to have access to the Bible. The new equipment made it possible for household training to begin. Now ordinary men and women could read the Bible and feel that they too were a part of God’s plan. This new tool provided a chance for literacy and gave God’s Word to the world.
Soon thereafter, the church found new ground to spread to, and more people to include in God’s Kingdom. Europeans quickly populated the eastern coast of North America. A spiritual lull also slowly populated the eastern coast, and dulled the enthusiasm for the Gospel. However, in A.D. 1735, the Spirit of God began working in a church pastored by Jonathan Edwards. This spark set the whole East Coast on fire for Christ and the Gospel. Later called the Great Awakening, this period of time prevented a great dull spot in our history. This event, I believe, sparked interest in founding a country on Biblical laws. Many lives were saved over the course of the Great Awakening, and I hope that we as a church will look at the Great Awakening and study it and use it as a blueprint for today’s day and age.
Another great revival occurred among college students around A.D. 1886. During a conference at Mt. Hermon conference grounds in Northfield, Massachusetts, a group of students became devoted to the cause of missions. They sparked a wide movement of students to volunteer to join the mission field. This movement ignited a flame of excitement for missions across the United States. The years that followed were a great time in our history. It was a time of giving of lives for the reaping of souls.
These eight events in Christian history have had a great influence both when they happened, and even now as the aftermath of them leaks into today’s Christian life. Good and bad, they have shaped our church to be what it is today. Biblical doctrines declared then are still held to be true and are the basis of what we believe. The New Testament decided on then is the same we have now. Christians found life again at revivals and rededicated their lives to Christ. We are reminded of these re-awakenings and strive to recreate them at conferences and rallies. Splits of the church separate us into different denominations and churches; some for good theological reasons, and others for nit-picking details. All of these events that have happened in the past have shaped Christian history immensely. These eight events are my top key periods of Christian history.
*- Check out the resource book The 100 Most Important Events In Christian History