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What Does the Bible Say About..Church History?

I would like to know and have factual data to back up the order of the churches (chronologically) and know why there became denominations of the true church.


There are several good books that give a much more detailed history than I could give in a short space. My favorites are "The Eternal Kingdom" by F. W. Mattox (out of print, but possibly available through Lubbock Christian University bookstore; he was longtime President of the college) and "The Church, The Falling Away, and The Restoration" by J. W. Shepherd. I will give a brief summary of the history of the church and the rise of denominations.

The church of Christ (that is Christ's church, not a name for the church) technically began at the death of Jesus in about 29-31 AD. The commonly given date for the beginning of the church is the Shavuot (Pentecost) of the same year, when the apostles preached the first gospel sermon and about 3,000 souls were added to the church (Acts 2). This church spread from Jerusalem throughout the area, and after about 15 years the members of the church were given the designation "Christians" (Acts 11:26). Each congregation of the church was independent of all others although they shared a common belief, assembled on the first day of the week (and often on other days), regularly participated in "the Lord's Supper" (possibly weekly), and sometimes shared preachers. They were most notable for a missionary spirit and a willingness to die for their beliefs.

During the reign of Constantine as Roman Emperor Christianity was officially recognized and shortly thereafter was made the "official" religion of the empire. By this time the governmental plan of the empire had crept into the church, with some bishops (elders) claiming authority over several congregations. There soon developed three, and later five, "sees" (governmental areas) centered around the largest cities of the empire (Rome, Antioch, Byzantium, Alexandria) and Jerusalem. None had authority over the others. The development of this hierarchical system and the ecumenical councils to make decisions for all the church can fairly be said to be the beginning of the Roman and Orthodox Catholic churches.

Over a period of years the Bishop of Rome claimed supreme authority over the other bishops. Other doctrinal issues were involved as well, but in 1054 the Bishop of Rome "excommunicated" the Bishop of Constantinople (Byzantium). Most people give this date as the start of the Eastern Orthodox Church, although it is really a date for the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church being separate from the scriptural government, and therefore the true body, of the church. The Eastern Orthodox faith has remained essentially independent of the western church from that time.

The Catholic Church maintained its supremacy in western Europe for several centuries. Then came what is commonly called the "Protestant Reformation." The commonly given date for the beginning of the Reformation is 1517, when Martin Luther sought to debate certain errors he saw in Catholic doctrine. The historical, philosophical, and cultural setting was ripe for a number of groups to splinter off the Catholic church. The next 300 years found the beginnings of a number of denominations of the Protestant movement. This would include the Anglicans (as a result of Henry VIII's disputes with the Popes in Rome), the Calvinists (including Presbyterians, Baptists, and others), the Methodists (in a reaction to the Anglicans much like Luther's reaction to Roman abuses), the Quakers, the Deists, and many smaller, sometimes short-lived groups.

The next major developments in Christian denominations came in America in the 1800's. Due, in part, to America's "freedom of religion" and the rise of philosophers like Emerson and Thoreau, several diverse groups appeared in upstate New York and neighboring New England. These were the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), the Church of Jesus Christ Scientist (Christian Science), the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Seventh Day Adventists. Since that time America has spawned numerous other denominations. The most recent would include the Church of Scientology (based on the science fiction writings of L. Ron Hubbard), the New Age movement, and the "non-denominational" movement (many of whom espouse a variation of Baptist doctrine without the Calvinism).

Also in America in the early 1800's a group of men, primarily in "the West" (Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee) independently developed what has been called the "Restoration Movement." Men like Thomas and Alexander Campbell, "Raccoon" John Smith, and Barton W. Stone questioned certain doctrines and wondered why men should "reform" the Catholic Church instead of just "restore" New Testament Christianity. They proposed to "speak where the Bible speaks, and remain silent where the Bible is silent." Men in different areas independently chose to study the Bible and decided that it taught such things as baptism (immersion) to take away sin, that infants were not subjects for such baptism, the possibility of falling away after one had been saved, and congregational autonomy. Thus they sought to go back not to the original Catholic Church but to the original, first-century church.

I believe that throughout all this history there were those few people who continued to believe and worship like the church of the first century. In spite of departures from the original pattern of faith, Jesus had promised that "the gates of hell" should not prevail against his true church.