If the Lord wills, we will examine the history of the Restoration Movement in our Bible Study period next Sunday. As a way to prepare, here is a brief outline of major events in the history of Christ’s church (Matthew 16:18).
Apostolic Period (AD 30-150): The doors to the church of Christ were opened 49-days after the resurrection of the crucified Jesus (Acts 2:1, 38). Over the next 65-years, the apostles of Christ Jesus preached the gospel, baptized believers, organized churches, and wrote the 27-books of the New Testament. The Holy Spirit inspired their message and performed miracles through the apostles and those on whom they laid hands (Acts 8:17; Hebrews 2:3-4). Within 120-years, the apostles and the miraculous signs of the Spirit had passed and the Bible was complete.
Ante-Nicene Period (AD 150-325): The Holy Spirit warned of changes to Christ’s church (Acts 20:30; I Timothy 4:1-3). Instead of autonomous churches overseen by a plurality of elders; local churches came to have one bishop or presiding elder. These bishops began to oversee groups of congregations. They also began meeting to discuss issues in the churches and eventually the first universal church council of bishops occurred in the city of Nicea in AD 325. The document produced at this council is known as the Nicene Creed (Mark 7:8-9). It must be admitted here, the majority of these men had good intentions (to preserve the true teaching of Christ). However, they used human reasoning and solutions to solve problems instead of trusting God’s word.
Early Middle Ages (AD 325-1054): The church had endured Jewish and Roman persecution from its inception. When emperors Constantine (AD 313) and Theodosius I (AD 380) instituted orders tolerating and then endorsing Christianity, the church changed. Instead of churches influencing the world, the world rushed into the church. After Rome fell in AD 476, church leaders filled the power void as a dominant Roman church emerged. The bishops of Rome began to claim primacy over leaders from the other Christian centers (the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem). In AD 1054, the bishop of Rome (or Pope) and the Patriarch of Constantinople both claimed universal authority over the church and excommunicated each other. The Great Schism separated the Latin church in the West from the Greek church of the East.
Late Middle Ages (AD 1054-1517): The popes in Rome had power over the church and secular kingdoms in this period; and they became incredibly corrupt. The Roman church acquired land, wealth, and power. The popes even built armies to carry out Crusades to retake Jerusalem from Muslim rulers. The doctrine of transubstantiation (the elements of the Lord’s supper become Christ’s literal body and blood), and the selling of indulgences (forgiveness of sins for money) arose during this time.
The Reformation (AD 1517-1800): Pope Julius II began construction of the gigantic and opulent Saint Peter’s Basilica in 1505. To fund the project, the Roman church sold indulgences they claimed would forgive sins and even release the souls of the dead from purgatory. These abuses forced men back to the Bible to find authority for these practices (made possible by Gutenberg’s printing of Bibles in 1440). In 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church. In this document, Luther rejected indulgences, the authority of the popes, and the church of Rome. He planned to re-form the church on Scripture alone. The Protestant Reformation led to the formation of the Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist churches among others. Though free of Rome, these groups instituted man-made creeds and organizations to rule over them.
Next week, we will examine the movement to restore the ancient faith, worship, and practice of the first century to the church.
Sources: The Story of the Christian Church by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut and Church History by John D. Cox.