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History of Christianity

A brief look at some of the key events/people who make up the History of Christianity


The History of the Christianity is the story of the continuing work of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, through the Church, which is his Body in the earth, Acts 1. It is a huge topic, and the aim of this unit is to introduce students to a few of the key events and people, and perhaps to some who are not so key in world terms. More importantly it is our history, and it is the history which we are writing right now. So, unlike the history of Ancient Rome, it is a living history in which we all participate. It begins with the spread of the Gospel starting in Jerusalem to the ends of the earth and is long and complicated, intertwined with the equally long and complicated history of the world in general, which itself is a fulfilment of God’s command to fill the earth in Genesis. For students, this history can seem irrelevant and hence boring. Yet, they are part of this history and the same kinds of questions and issues they face today are what make up the history of the Church. These questions and issues are things like:
  • There were lots of books written about Jesus in the early Church, why do we only use the ones we find in the Bible today?
  • Who is Jesus really? Why do we worship him? There are alternatives to this view, why not choose them?
  • Should we obey God or the Government? What happens when the Government turns against the Church? How do we handle persecution or when the Church is portrayed as being bad?
  • There are lots of social justice issues in the world. What is the Church supposed to do about them?
  • Do we hear from God through the Church, or in some other way? Is salvation through the Church or some other way?
  • What about racism? Is the Gospel really for everyone?
In looking at Christian History in this way, it is not a list of dates but our brothers and sisters dealing with the same kinds of questions and same kind of issues that we deal with today. It is our story.

Key Concepts

  • The History of Christianity is the history of what Jesus began to do and teach, and continues to do so now through the Holy Spirit, through the Church, Acts 1
  • It is also the history of how Satan has attempted to pervert and destroy the Church through the ages, and continues to do so now
  • The same questions that we face today are the same questions which comprise the History of the Christianity – the events/people need to be linked to the most fundamental questions of life which are true for every generation
  • This history is not only, indeed primarily, made up of large events and important people, but small events and otherwise unimportant people. The great bulk of the work is done by the unseen working unnoticed.

Note: The terms Christianity and Church overlap but are not always interchangeable. The Bible speaks of an Israel within Israel, and hence a Church with the Church. That is, there is an outward organizational form of Christianity/Church which is sometimes faithful to God and sometimes not, and yet still carries the label and in the eyes of the world is Christianity. This outward form is sometimes called Christendom. There is, however an inward reality which is known only by God, which is the Church, or perhaps the true Church, made up of those who have real faith in Jesus. There is an overlap between the ideas and sometimes they cannot be separated. The focus in this and related units is on the true Church, not the various aberrations which have occurred over time. It may be necessary in some instances to explain this idea to students, while at the same time not hiding our sins. Only Jesus is perfect and it is he we preach, not ourselves.

Scripture References

Book of Acts - the history of the Church starts here, see especially Acts 1 and 2, 13 and 28:28-31
Hebrews 8:8-12 - quoting Jeremiah, God’s plan for history
Matthew 13:24-50 - parables of the Church
Matthew 28:18-20 - the Great Commission, the fulfillment of which is the History of the Church

Each period in Church History tends to focus on different parts of scripture as they deal with the key issues of the time. These relevant passages will become evident as the the period in view is studied.



Suggested Book:

Church History in Plain Language- This is the Kindle version of Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. This could and perhaps should be used as the basis for teaching Church History to students along with the Christian History Magazine

Turning Points in Church History by Mark Knoll - Kindle Edition

Church History Timeline and many short articles on prominent people in the History of Christianity

http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/church-history-for-kids/ - great list of possible people to look at keyed to a Church history timeline, with short articles to support each person.
YouTube video on the spread of Christianity
Websites for Christian inspired NGO’s:


https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/ - access to online version of the Christian History Magazine. Great articles at the right depth for students and teachers. Makes Church History very real and interesting

http://www.monergism.com/topics/history-christianity - many articles on every era of Church History

https://soundcloud.com/5churchhistory - 5 min sound bites on Church History. More focused and so detailed but at 5 mins each easy to digest

http://www.theopedia.com/church-history - great timeline overview of Church History, with brief outlines and links to other sites and resources




There is a large selection of videos on Church History on YouTube. These will need to be vetted before being used but are a rich resource, either for teacher preparation/interest, or to be used in class. For example:

  is an extensive series of videos covering the first 1000 years or so of Church History which is suitable for teachers



Amazing Grace


Mother Teresa

Ideas/Strategies for Lessons

Quick overview of the main periods, see Church History in Plain Language, by using the various videos and timelines above. Perhaps begin with a brainstorm to find our much students know and what their perceptions are about the Church. Edmodo or similar could be used to do a quick survey which would form the basis of a discussion
As a follow on of the above, this could then allow the students to suggest that they would like to find out
Study the History of Christianity by focusing on key events or time periods and the underlying issues. See Church History in Plain Language for this approach


Pose the key question in terms of today and get students to suggest their answers and then compare with how it was dealt with in Church History – e.g. How can we decide which books, if any, are to be part of the Bible and which should be rejected?

Take key issue in Church History and students debate different sides

Study by focusing on key people. The History of Christianity has a huge number of such people. Possibilities include: The Apostle Paul, The Martyrs of the early Church, e.g. Polycarp, Athanasius and the Arians, Francis of Assisi, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, William Wilberforce, Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa, John Flynn, William and Catherine Booth, Martin Luther King Jr, Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Fry, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Francis Bacon, Galileo Galilei, Hudson Taylor, David Livingstone, Jim Elliot

Focus on local people, pastors and others, who are not ‘key’ but are part of this history. Ask them to come and share their story, share your story

Short movie clips on key events, e.g. the crusades

Church History Suggestions - Don Smith