Church History

Join Dr. Brian Cosby as he introduces John Flavel (c.1630-1691) – his life, ministry, and influence.

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Before you sign off thinking this is just another boring blog post about the early church, the contemporary church needs to heed the warnings of the past—if we are to press onward in the culture war of today.

Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria

I have been studying the early church, their trials, mission, and how they loved the Scriptures and Christ. One of the early church fathers which I highly admire was Athanasius (296-373). He was very well educated in philosophical thought, a pupil of the Alexandrian school and Greek language, saturated in the Scriptures, withstood three emperors, and forever dedicated his life to stand up for Christ and the opposition of the Arian teachings (that Jesus could not be God, but was created and therefore had a beginning, not always existing). To Athanasius, Jesus was the Word incarnate, He always was, is, and will be, and he adamantly professed his deep conviction, without apology.

For instance, it is recorded that once when Athanasius was to be exiled, he took a ship to Constantinople and surprised the Emperor Constantine, by hurling himself before his royal chariot, seizing the horse’s reins, to climb aboard and reprimand him concerning the proper doctrine of the faith.

Athanasius was a bull-dog of a servant for Christ, yet people that knew him described his love and gentleness regarding the grace and mercy of Christ. He was a true man of God, elected and nominated by Alexander himself as “the good, the pious, a Christian, one of ascetics, a genuine bishop.”[1] However, like every good story, there is an antagonist, and his name is Arius.

Arius, The Heretic

Arius was no slouch of intellect; he was well educated too and became a fierce opponent of Athanasius. However, unlike Arius, Athanasius would prove not to hate his fellow man, only his erroneous theology. Arius was very vindictive and persistent in that his doctrine was correct, but was reprimanded and removed by the church. That never stopped Arius or his flowers. When Constantine had exiled him for his error and persuasion, the Arians did not cease their cunning and deceit. They managed to somehow deceive the Emperor’s court to forgive and pushed for reinstatement of Arius, which Constantine tried. He gave orders for Athanasius to reinstate him, but Athanasius saw through their deception and refused. For it, he was exiled (he was exiled 5 times throughout his life).

Many times, Arius and the Arians brought up preposterous and outlandish claims regarding Athanasius, here’s one account:

“In the year 335…One story was, that [Athanasius] had killed an Egyptian bishop, named Arsenius, that he had cut off his hand, and had used it for magical purposes (…was said by his enemies to be a sorcerer!), and the dried hand of a man was shown, which was said to be that of Arsenius. But when the time came for examining this charge, what was the confusion of the accusers at seeing Arsenius himself brought into the council! He was dressed in a long cloak, and Athanasius lifted it up, first on one side, and then on the other, so as to show that the man was not only alive, but had both his hands safe and sound. The leaders of the Arians had known that Arsenius was not dead, but they had hoped that he would not appear. But, happily for Athanasius, one of his friends had discovered Arsenius, and had kept him hidden until the right moment came for producing him.”[2]

Upon the unsuccessful attempt to have Athanasius deposed, the Arians could not defame his character or Christian witness, so they conjured up lies and presented them to the Emperor stating that Athanasius was going to block the exporting and importing of grains and food to Egypt. While Constantine may not have believed it, he did exile Athanasius (again!) to Treves. But the Alexandrian church loved their bishop and prayed for him continually and would not allow Arius’ reinstatement; but the Emperor had other wishes!

For Arius’ hatred, many think his death was fitting, but Athanasius proved to be fuller of grace. Here is what is described as Arius’ last day:

“The bishop of Constantinople, whose name was Alexander, and who was almost a hundred years old, was grievously distressed at this; he desired his people to entreat God, with fasting and prayer, that it might not come to pass, and he threw himself under the altar, and prayed very earnestly that the evil which was threatened might be somehow turned away: or that, at least, he himself might not live to see it. At length, on the evening before the day which had been fixed for receiving Arius into the Church, he was going through the streets of Constantinople, in high spirits, and talking with some friends of what was to take place on the morrow. But all at once he felt himself ill, and went into a house which was near, and in a few minutes he was dead!…But Athanasius, although he felt the awfulness of the unhappy man’s sudden end, did not take it on himself to speak in this way.”[3]

The Culture War of Today

So, what can we learn from Athanasius and Arius; this one thing, the church has always and will always be opposed by culture—that is the message of the Cross. Arianism was no novelty doctrine; it was steeped in intellect and human wisdom, it persuaded people to think and rationalize God; while Athanasius’ preaching of the Cross, the Trinity, and Jesus as God incarnate, was thought as foolish.

Why do we perceive today that homosexuality, inclusivism (all ways lead to heaven), or false “religions of peace” are any different? Today, the church needs more men (and women) like Athanasius—people of character, integrity, conviction, truth, and love. Yes, love—but love as the modern culture knows it, is not love, but appeasement and acceptance of sin. True love, one which God sent by His Son, our only Master and Savior, Jesus Christ, and one which was sent by His Holy Spirit, convicts us of wrong and should terrify and mortify us. True love exposes sin as what it is—separation from a holy God whose only desire is for us to be closer to Him. But the teaching of sin in this culture is viewed as intolerance and ignorance.

This does not mean that I point fingers at people, but I self-examine me, my life, and live accordingly. I uphold the truths of the faith and let people know that there is forgiveness, redemption, and a new life at the Cross. That sin is sin, and true love is what Jesus did for us. In this time, the church must focus on being diligent in grace, mercy, and forgiveness, while holding strong to the fundamentals of the faith.

Church, stand with love and courage, as the writer of Hebrews states, “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (11:32-38 ESV).

[1] Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers: Athanasius, Select Works and Letters. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson) Ch. II. 4. xxxvii.

[2] Church History A.D. 33-604: Chapter XII: St. Athanasius, (Accessed June 4, 2013).

[3] Church History A.D. 33-604: Chapter XII: St. Athanasius, (Accessed June 4, 2013).

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I am so very thankful for the recent resurgence among the “Young, Restless, and Reformed”—as Collin Hanson with The Gospel Coalition would call it—who preach the gospel and it’s core doctrine of justification by faith alone week by week. Sadly, this is not the case across America.

Luther called the doctrine of justification by faith alone “the head and cornerstone” and explained that “without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour?” He writes in his commentary on the book of Romans that “all men are sinners and in need of [God’s] righteousness.” It was not simply a general “salvation,” but God’s righteousness that provided the foundation for salvation. Calvin wrote, “Wherever the knowledge of [justification] is taken away…the hope of salvation is utterly overthrown.”

Indeed, sola fide was the battle cry of the Reformation and remains the bond between the various branches and denominations of the Protestant church. Certainly this doctrine is not just central to the Christian life or the hope of the church; it should also central to teaching and preaching.

So what do we mean when we say “justification by faith alone?” What is the historical, Reformed, and biblical understanding? The Westminster Shorter Catechism states: “Justification is an act of God’s free grace wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us a righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”

Justification is the declaration of “not guilty” or “righteous” of a believer in Christ based on the imputation of the believer’s sin to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to the believer. This is called double imputation and is the foundation of God’s pardoning and declarative act.

Justification in Paul’s letters, expounded by the Continental Reformers and Post-Reformation Puritans, is chiefly a forensic term. That is, it is understood in the context of law, guilt, grace, and pardon. The current attack on the doctrine is over this basic belief and insists that justification has more to do with a process of staying in the covenant community of God’s people than with God’s one-time declarative act.

The “great exchange” of the gospel is our sin imputed (or credited) to Christ and his righteousness to us. Richard Gaffin notes, “Justification in Paul is essentially, primarily soteriological. It is a ‘transfer’ term describing what takes place in an individual’s transition from wrath to grace.” He goes on to build the relationship between our union with Christ by faith and the doctrine of justification: “In union with Christ, his righteousness is the ground of my being justified. That is, in my justification his righteousness becomes my righteousness. This…is to be at the notion of imputation. His righteousness is reckoned as mine.”

As the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” It is this imputed alien righteousness that is missing in our current, post-modern preaching and teaching. The present challenge to justification “obscures half of Christ’s glory in the work of justification…it denies the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.”

Paul makes the case in Romans 4 that the righteousness “credited” to our account is received by faith and not “works of the law.” He makes the same argument in Philippians 3:9, where he writes that righteousness comes “through faith in Christ.” Moreover, it is this ideology and belief that Jesus attacks throughout the gospels, predominately recognized among the Pharisees and “teachers of the law.”

If we don’t preach justification, we don’t preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. To be sure, justification is the core of the gospel, the “article on which the church stands for falls,” and the only hope for guilty sinners. It is the means by which we lay down our attempts to justify ourselves and trust in the sufficiency of Christ.

I am grateful for the recent conscientious reaffirmation of the doctrine of justification. Let us thank God for counting us “righteous” in his sight based on the merits of his Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ.

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The Rise of the Papacy

Posted By on Oct 10, 2012

In the days after the Apostles died there was a need to clarify what exactly the church was and who was to lead it. In this essay I will trace the history of the Papacy and those who had an influence upon it as well as it’s dominance over Western Europe. I will also briefly discuss some of the positive and negative things the papacy did.

The rise of the Papacy began in the fourth quarter of the second century and came about through Polycarp Bishop of Smyrna. His belief was that the Apostles had transmitted faithfully and accurately what had been taught to them by Christ and had not, as the heretics asserted, intermingled with them extraneous ideas. He was emphatic that the Apostles had appointed as successor bishops to whom they had committed the churches and in doing so had undoubtedly passed onto them what had been entrusted to the apostolic company by Christ. These bishops had been followed by others in an unbroken line who were also guardians and guarantors of the apostolic teaching. He singles out that the Church of Rome which he holds to have been founded and organized by Peter and Paul.[1]

Eusbius’ writing in the first quarter of the fourth century was the most famous of all the early historians of the Church. He gave lists of the bishops. We need not then enquire whether they are accurate or not because the fact they existed shows the evidence of conviction and their desire to preserve the line of apostolic succession. The succession of bishops assured that the Gospel had been conserved and properly handed down. The Bishop of Rome claimed greater authority than the other bishops which was fitting since Rome held more political and religious sway in the world.

From the fifth to eight century western Europe was swept by a series of invasions that brought chaos to the land, and destroyed a great deal of learning of antiquity. The invaders brought with them two religious challenges that until then could have seemed to be a matter of the past: paganism and Arianism. Eventually both pagans and Arians were converted to the faith of those who they had conquered.  This was the Nicene faith, also called “orthodox” or “catholic.” In the process of that conversion, and also in the effort to preserve the wisdom of ancient times, two institutions played a central role and thus were strengthened. These institutions were monasticism and the papacy.[2]

The Papacy began to rise in power during the sixth to ninth centuries. The first pope in the modern sense of the word was Pope Leo the Great. In 452 Italy was invaded by Attila and the Huns, who overtook and sacked the city of Aquileia. The road to Rome was open to them, for there was no army between them and the ancient capital. The western emperor was weak both in character and resources, and the East had given indications that it was unwilling to intervene. It was then that Leo left Rome and marched to meet “The Scoured of God.” What was said in that interview is not known. Legend had it that Attila saw Saints Peter and Paul marching with the Pope, and threatening the Hun. Whatever was said, Attila decided not to attack Rome, and turned towards the north, where he died shortly thereafter. Leo was still Bishop of Rome when the Vandals sacked the city. He was unable to stop the invaders, and it was he who led the negotiations with Genseric the Vandal leader, thus avoiding the burning of the city. These events helped Leo the “Great” to have great authority in the city of Rome. He was convinced that Jesus had made Peter and his successors the rock on which the church was to be built, and that therefore the Bishop of Rome, Peter’s direct successor, is the head of the church.[3]

The consecration of Gregory I as the bishop of Rome constitutes a watershed that divides the ancient period of church history from the medieval period.[4] He was born into a noble family of Rome where he studied law. He would become a monk, and an ambassador representing the Roman bishop at Constantinople. He was also Abbot of Saint Andrew’s Monastery. To Gregory I asceticism was a way to glorify God.

Pope Gregory I would become one of the noblest and ablest leaders of the Roman church. He was noted as a man of humility and a zealous missionary. He was one of the most able administrators of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. His influence was to expand the power of the Roman Bishop. Although he disclaimed the title of Pope, he exercised all the power and prerogatives of the later popes. This he did to assert the spiritual supremacy of the Bishop of Rome. Pope Gregory I was an outstanding theologian. He is ranked with Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine as one of the four great doctors of the Western church. His theology laid the groundwork for the Middle Ages until Thomas Aquinas formulated his Summa.  The pontificate of Gregory is indeed a landmark in the transition from ancient to medieval church history. Later successors built on the foundation that he had laid as they created the sacramental hierarchical system of the institutionalized church of the Middle Ages. He systematized doctrine and made the Church a power in politics.[5]

One of the major contributions Pope Gregory I made was in the area of salvation. As a disciple of Augustine, Gregory tried to follow Augustine’s teaching. In doing so however he violated the creative spirit Augustine embodied. Gregory laid aside Augustine’s doctrine of predestination and irresistible grace to focus on the question of how we are to offer satisfaction to God for sins committed. He believed that this was done through penance which consists of contrition, confession and the actual punishment or satisfaction. Those who die in the faith and communion of the church, but without having offered satisfaction for all their sins, will go to purgatory before they attain their final salvation. The living can help the dead out of purgatory by offering masses in their favor. Gregory believed that in the mass or communion Christ was sacrificed anew. This notion of the mass as sacrifice eventually became the standard doctrine of the Western church until it was rejected by Protestants in the sixteenth century.[6]

As Constantinople’s influence began to weaken by the middle of the eighth century, Rome began to look north for help. They developed an alliance between the papacy and the Frankish kingdom that would eventually lead to the crowning of Charlemagne as emperor of the West.

Charlemagne, although not an educated man, was a patron of learning. He revived and reformed the schools that already existed and called to his court deacon Alcuin of York, whom he had met in Italy, and who reintroduced among the Franks the knowledge that had been preserved in British monasteries. From Spain, Charlemagne brought Theodulf, whom he made bishop of Orleans, and who ordered that thoughrought his diocese there should be a school in every church, and that these were to open to the poor as well as to the rich. Soon other bishops followed Theodulf’s example and there was a significant revival of learning that was aided by the many scholars who flocked to Charlemagne’s domains.[7]

Charlemagne was a man of war. He engaged in fifty campaigns during his life which expanded his kingdom into Italy where he defeated the Lombards, into Germany, where he conquered the Saxons. He spread Christianity through the use of force and this process spread among his conquered people. In 800 AD he became emperor in the West when the people crowned him Imperator Romanorum (Emperor of the Romans). The entire empire was held together by him, so when he died his empire died shortly after him.[8]

As we have seen in this brief sampling of church history during the sixth and ninth centuries there was quite a lot of positive things that Rome did to better the culture of the day. During this time period we have seen Rome establish schools, educate the people, and organized around a pope. We have also seen the negative of the Catholic Church in that they often imposed themselves upon a people through the use of force. We can learn a lot of lessons from this time period of church history. The greatest of these lessons is that the purpose of the Gospel is to change people’s lives. The Gospel does not need to be imposed or forced down people’s throats as it was by Pope. The Gospel needs to be clearly preached and presented. Our need today is the same as it was in the sixth to ninth centuries; is for bold, relevant, empowered preaching that focuses on Christ, not upon power or manipulation.


Earle E. Cairnes, The Christianity Through The Centuries, Third Edition (Michigan: Zondervan, 1996).

Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, no. 1 (New York: HarperCollins, 1984), 33.

Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity Beginnings to 1500, no. 1 (Peabody: Prince Press, 2000).

[1] Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity Beginnings to 1500, no. 1 (Peabody: Prince Press, 2000), 131.

[2] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, no. 1 (New York: HarperCollins, 1984), 238.

[3] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, no. 1 (New York: HarperCollins, 1984), 243.

[4] Earle E. Cairnes, The Christianity Through The Centuries, Third Edition (Michigan: Zondervan, 1996), 159.

[5] Earle E. Cairnes, The Christianity Through The Centuries, Third Edition (Michigan: Zondervan, 1996), 161.

[6] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, no. 1 (New York: HarperCollins, 1984), 247.

[7] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, no. 1 (New York: HarperCollins, 1984), 268.

[8] Earle E. Cairnes, The Christianity Through The Centuries, Third Edition (Michigan: Zondervan, 1996), 180.

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Biblical Christianity is a living organism that breathes life into the areas where it’s effects are felt. When Biblical Christianity is taught souls are converted, sin is exposed and people who were held in bondage to darkness are brought into the light of God’s presence. When this occurs Churches are birthed and communities are changed as the Word of God is proclaimed and entire societies once bound by sin are changed by God’s grace. While many Western commentators have declared that Christianity is in decline and that it must modernize its beliefs or risk being abandoned by its followers or, even worse, becoming irrelevant altogether; Professor [Philip] Jenkins contends that just the opposite is true: Christianity is on the rise again and leading to a very different religion that barely resembles the Western perception of it. It is a variation of Christianity that most Westerners are not accustomed to seeing.[1]

It was European expansion and conquest in modern times that brought Christianity back to most of the continent of Africa, beginning with the explorers of the 15th century who sailed down the western coast in an attempt to reach the Orient. Today African Christianity coexists to varying degrees with Islam.[2] The first Christian missionaries came from the Anglican Church Missionary Society and arrived in Buganda in 1877. Roman Catholic priests from the Society of Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers), a French religious order, arrived two years later. Catholic and Protestant missions competed for converts in southern Uganda and became embroiled in local politics. Christianity grew quickly in Uganda in the nineteenth century by both Protestant and Catholic missionaries. This was due in large part because the missionaries used the native culture to raise up indigenous leaders to lead the churches.

Nearly 200 years after the first wave of missionaries arrived in Africa, Christianity is growing faster here than anywhere else in the world. There are more than 390 million Christians in sub- Saharan Africa today, up from 117 million in 1970, a trend due mostly to evangelism, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity in South Hamilton, Mass. There’s a lot in Africans’ circumstances that makes Christianity really resonate with them,” said Jonathan Bonk, the editor of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research in New Haven, Conn. “It’s a faith of hope for poor people.”[3]

“Christianity is at its lowest ebb in Germany,” says Fritz Stenger, who teaches at the Catholic University of East Africa in Nairobi. “In Africa it is on the march.” Stenger has lived on the continent for 30 years. He has already resided in Ethiopia and Zambia, and has lived in Kenya for three years now. And in each country he has made the same discovery: “The incidence of faith increases in direct proportion to the level of poverty. The permanent threat of war, sickness, criminality and political corruption means that the people seek consolation in the church. “No one goes to a political party meeting, but the churches are packed,” says Stenger.[4]

Today, Africans, Asians and Latin Americans are more typical representatives of Christianity than Americans or Europeans. What might it mean for the future of Christianity that its center of gravity continues to move south and east? Three key factors bear watching: (1) whether Southern Christians will challenge Northern Christianity’s 1,000-year dominance in theology and ecclesiology by producing their own reflections and practices, hearkening back to the earliest Christian centuries when they were in the majority; (2) whether the dominant languages of Christianity will continue to shift south (already by 1980, Spanish was the leading language of church membership in the world, and Chinese, Hindi, and Swahili are increasingly important languages of Christianity); and (3) whether the closer geographic proximity between Christians and Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists will on balance result in greater conflict or dialogue. With all three factors, the central question remains: “How well will the new global Christianity navigate its increasingly diverse composition and southern majority?”[5]

Professor Jenkins notes that the character of Global South Christianity is much more “conservative” than its Western counterparts in terms of belief in the supernatural and in the authority of the Bible. At the same time, the Church is more “radical” in being a Spirit movement and a people-movement more than an institutional. I agree with Philip Jenkins that social and religious trends in the Global South are more encouraging than many Christians in the West might have thought. But I would warn against any sense of inevitability about the Next Christendom. There is a battle being fought out here, and we need the prayers, the interest and the support of brothers and sisters in the stable and affluent North. In particular, I am pleased to announce the formation of the Global South Institute for Mission, Leadership and Public Policy at Uganda Christian University, which will be officially launched in mid-2003. It is our hope that this Institute will provide a venue for Christian leaders of Church and society to meet, consult and prepare for their role in the development of the African continent. In particular, the Global South Institute will feature an Anglican Identity and Mission track, which will assist Anglicans from Africa to plot their own course in the new millennium.[6]

Ugandan evangelicals have forged close ties with the powerful evangelical movement in the United States. Backed by American contributions, Ugandan churches play a growing humanitarian role, building schools, health clinics and orphanages, including in the impoverished northern half of the country, which has been wracked by civil war for the past two decades. In the 1990s, Uganda had one of the world’s highest rates of HIV infection, about 15 percent. Churches, backed by the government, launched an innovative program to educate Ugandans about the disease. By 2002 the HIV rate was down to 6 percent.  Evangelicals helped shape Uganda’s controversial, U.S.-backed anti-AIDS strategy, which emphasizes abstinence over condom use. As a result, Uganda is one of the biggest recipients of money under President Bush’s global AIDS-relief program — $239 million in the past two years — which earmarks money for abstinence programs. There’s a definite sense that the movement has grown in Uganda,” said Martin Ssempa, the 38-year-old pastor of Makerere Community Church, on the campus of Makerere University.  Now, thanks largely to Ssempa’s 8-year-old church, Uganda’s leading university has become a hotbed of Christianity, with more than 50 established prayer groups. My direction is to raise leaders for Christianity,” Ssempa said, “and the best leaders are found on college campuses. The aggressive push by evangelists such as Ssempa to recruit believers doesn’t sit well with leaders of the country’s other major religions — chiefly Islam, which claimed 12 percent of the population in a 2002 census.[7]

Christianity in Uganda is growing not only in numbers but in influence throughout Africa and the world. The characteristic of Ugandan Christianity are a high view of Scripture, Jesus and an emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit. In the Book of Acts the early Christians were driven by a model of ministry which emphasized the Word and the Spirit. For example in Acts 2 Peter preached and three thousand people were saved. It was not Peter who saved those people but the Holy Spirit used Peter’s preaching to prick the heart of his hearers, and lead them to repentance. It is such preaching that God uses even in this day and age. When the Word of God is honored with integrity God will use the preacher to bring revival to any nation of people.

When the Word of God is preached with clarity and boldness then it will pierce the dark cloud of man’s sin which results in revival both individually and corporately. Anyone who has served as a missionary can appreciate the efforts by local and international ministries to reach out to fellow brothers and sisters in foreign lands. The Lord is at work in Uganda raising up leaders for the fame of Jesus and for the usefulness of His kingdom. The Body of Christ should pray for the Churches in Uganda that they will continue to ground themselves in the Word of God and the mission of Jesus. The American Church has not learned the lesson of falling away from its first love, unlike the in Ugandan counterparts which have not had to learn the lesson of moral failures and corruption that churches in America have today. Christianity is growing in Uganda because the Churches there keep to the first love and are proactively on the mission of Jesus.


Hill, Jonathan, History of Christian Thought. Downer Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006.

Johnson, Todd M, “Christianity in Global Context: Trends and Statistics, 23 October 2008, accessed 1 December 2008.

Jenkins, Phillip & Myers, Joanne J. “The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, 17 April 2002, accessed 1 Decemmber 2008.

Noll, Stephen. “Global South Christendom: Is it Inevitable?, 23 October 2008, accessed 1 December 2008.

Shashank Bengali Knight Ridder Newspapers “Uganda is leading Africa’s boom in Christianity“. Deseret News (Salt Lake City). . 11 Dec. 2008.

Thielke, Thilo. “The Growing Continent of Christians: Part 2: Part Two: Will Pentecostals win out in Africa?, 4 April 2005, accessed 1 December 2008.,1518,351292-2,00.html

[1]Phillip Jenkins & Joanne J. Myers. “The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, 17 April 2002, accessed 1 December 2008.

[2] Jonathan Hill, History of Christian Thought. Downer Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, 324-325.

[3] Shashank Bengali Knight Ridder Newspapers “Uganda is leading Africa’s boom in Christianity“. Deseret News (Salt Lake City). . 11 Dec. 2008.

[4] Thilo Thielke. “The Growing Continent of Christians: Part 2: Part Two: Will Pentecostals win out in Africa?, 4 April 2005, accessed 1 December 2008.,1518,351292-2,00.html

[5] Todd M Johnson. “Christianity in Global Context: Trends and Statistics”, 23 October 2008, accessed 1 December 2008.

[6] Stephen Noll. “Global South Christendom: Is it Inevitable?, 23 October 2008, accessed 1 December 2008.

[7] Shashank Bengali Knight Ridder Newspapers “Uganda is leading Africa’s boom in Christianity“. Deseret News (Salt Lake City). . 11 Dec. 2008.

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The twentieth century was a time of great flux and anxiety in Europe as the supremacy of Christianity in Europe was being challenged by the fronts of biblical criticism, and evolution. When people raise the question of the decline of Christianity among nations or a people group one question that normally arises is, “How is this occurring?” The number one reason this occurs is the local church devalues the role of the Bible. This leads to an unhealthy church that doesn’t reach its surrounding area with the Gospel. Understanding, “What is Truth?” is of great importance for by understanding Truth as coming from God’s Word lays the foundation for understanding justice, morality, ethics, and religion.

Dr. Harold J. Berman, professor of law at Harvard University wrote The Interaction of Law and Religion in which he discusses how Western culture has had a massive loss of confidence in law and religion. This has caused a double loss of confidence and a radical separation between the two. Berman concludes that you cannot have workable rules for behavior without religion, because only religion provides an absolute base on which morality and law can be based. He fears that western society is doomed to relativism in law because of the loss of an absolute.
How can moral principles be grounded and social organizations legitimized in the absence of a religiously based culture? Cultures that break away from the idea of an authoritative religion, and even from the concept of God break away from the possibility of absolute truth. The result is that the only remaining resources are existential relativism a slippery, unstable, and every-changing base on which no authoritative system of law or morals can be built. Religonless law can never command authority.

Rationalism of the Enlightenment and idealistic philosophy of the Romanitc era were thus the parents of a criticism that tries to destroy the supernatural nature of the Bible as a revelation that makes the Bible the record of subjective evolution of religion in human consciousness. Higher or historical and literary, criticism has come to be associated with the destructive views of liberalism and is the careful study of the historical background of each book of the Bible; and lower, or textual criticism is the study of the text of the Bible in an attempt to ascertain whether the text that we have is one that came from the hands of the writers. Lower criticism has result in the granting to the text of the Bible a high degree of accuracy so that we can be sure that we have the writings of the original authors of the Bible. Thus no doctrine or ethical teaching of Scripture can be called into question by the most radical criticism. It has been radical higher criticism rather than lower criticism that has destroyed the faith of many persons in the divine revelation in the Bible.

Higher criticism was popularized by Jean Astruct who divided the book of Genesis into two parts. Johann G Eichorn laid down the dictum that the Bible was to be read as a human book and tested by human means. Karl Graf and Julius Wellhausen developed an elaborate system known as the Graf-Wellhausen theory which stated that sections in which the name Jehovah is used constitute the early document, another part by another author is known as E, still another in Deuteronomy as D, and P. In this fashion the unity of the Pentateuch and its Mosaic authorship are denied. Hermann S Reismarus denied the possibility of biblical miracles and advanced that the New Testament writers were frauds. Gotthold Lessing argued that the Scriptures served man as a guide during the primitive phase of his religious development but that reason and duty were sufficient guides in more advanced state of religion. Ferdinand Baur argued that the early church had emphasized the law and Messiah. In the twentieth century men like David Strauss denied both the miracles and integrity of the New Testament as well as the deity of Christ, whom he saw as a man who thought He was the Messiah.

Charles Darwin wrote Origin of Species in 1859. What was new about his theory was his powerful and persuasive explanation of how the process of evolution works the theory of “natural selection.” He pointed out that creatures are similar to their parents but not identical; there is apparently random minor variations in each generation. And he argued that those individuals that happen to be well suited to their environment will survive, prosper and give birth to new individuals sharing their characteristics, while those less suited will die out. So any new characteristic with which an individual is born is likely to be passed on if it is useful. In this way species evolve and develop in a process that is not random, or determined by God, but follows natural laws. At another level, the theory of evolution contradicted fundamental Christian notions about humanity and sin. In 1871 he expanded on his ideas in the Descent of Man, in which he argued that human beings evolved naturally from lower creatures. So not only does life itself follow natural laws but the human mind and soul are not some supernatural element breathed into the body by God. They evolved from nothing. Even more fundamentally, however, Darwin’s theories left a shrinking place for God. In the Enlightenment scientists had described a world that functioned according to laws laid down by God: God had set everything up and then left it to its own devices. This was deism. But now it seemed that the world in its present state was not directly created by God.

The theory of evolution denied the direct creation of man by God and the greatest damage came from the application of that theory to the development of religion. God and the Bible were looked upon as the evolutionary products of man’s religious consciousness, and the books of the Bible were dated accordingly. The biblical eschatology in which perfection would come into this world only by the direct intervention of God through the return of Christ, was replaced by the evolutionary view of a world that was being increasingly improved on by human effort. Because man was not guilty through original sin there was no need of Christ as Savior. Evolution was also used to justify the idea of race superiority because the idea seemed to fit in with Darwin’s concept of the survival of the fittest. It has also been used to justify having no absolute foundation or norm for ethics. Good conduct is merely those actions deemed suitable by each generation for the proper conduct of society. The doctrine of evolution has also been used to glorify war as the survival of the fittest. All these conclusions have been reached by the application of a biological theory to other fields through an unwarranted use of the argument from analogy.

Germany during Hitler’s reign illustrates the lengths to which people will go when they deny God’s revelation in the Bible, and when they replace revelation with reason and science as the authority for thought and action.

In Europe the Roman Catholic Church emerged from World War I with an enhanced prestige and vigor that carried it through the troubled period when much of mankind was despairingly hoping that there would be an introduction to permanent peace but which proved to be a prelude to an even more gigantic war. During and after World War I Benedict XV again and again addressed the world calling to its attention principles for establishing peace and urging the belligerents to compose their differences. He used the facilities of his church to alleviate the sufferings from the war through negotiating the exchange of prisoners and civilians in occupied countries, aiding the sick, furthering the repatriation of prisoners of war and the correspondence of prisoners with their families, and promoting the relief of devastated areas.

The upheavals of the first half of the twentieth century were felt most strongly in Europe. That continent had been the cradle of much of the optimistic philosophy and theology of the nineteenth century. It had dreamt that under its leadership humankind would see a new day. It had convinced itself that its colonial ventures were a vast altruistic enterprise for the good of the world. European Protestantism had been far more involved in this illusion than its Catholic counterpart, for Catholicism during the nineteenth century had reacted to this modern world with wholesale condemnation, while Protestant liberalism had practically capitulated before the new age. Therefore when the two world wars and the events surrounding them gave the lie to the dreams of the nineteenth century, Protestant liberalism was shaken to its very foundation. During the nineteenth century, partially as a result of the failure of Catholicism to respond creatively to the challenges of the modern world, skepticism and secularism had become common in France. In the twentieth century, partially as a result of the failure of Liberalism and its optimistic hopes, those areas where Protestantism had been traditionally strong-Germany, Scandinavia, and Great Britain also witnessed a decided increase in skepticism and secularism. By the middle of the century, it was clear that northern Europe was no longer a stronghold of Protestantism and that other areas of the world had taken the position of leadership in Protestantism that had once belonged to it.

Protestantism was sorely lacking in a theology that could help it understand the events of the times, and respond to them. Liberalism with its optimistic view of human nature and capabilities had no word for the situation. During the previous century, German liberal scholarship had depicted Luther as both the forerunner of liberalism and the embodiment of the German soul. Now other scholars, first in Scandinavia and also in Germany, took a second look at Luther’s theology, and discovered there was much that was not in agreement with the interpretations of the previous century.

Bill Bennett, director of communications for Greater Europe Mission commented in the Christian Post that, “The church to Europeans is seen as an economic and political power representing the religion of the rich world. Europeans have a more formal, ritualistic view of Christianity partially because in its history, a person’s landlord decided whether he would be Catholic or Protestant rather than any personal conviction.”

By understanding the primary objective of missions we can begin to prescribe the change that is necessary to the missionary enterprise in Europe. Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exist because worship doesn’t. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory. Missions begins and ends in worship. Breaking the code requires a belief that there is a code to be broken. Breaking the code means that we have to recognize that there are cultural barriers (in addition to spiritual ones) that blind people from understanding the gospel. Our task is to find the right way to break through those cultural barriers while addressing the spiritual and theological ones a well.

The issue of contextualization focuses on the methods used to reach people for the Gospel while remaining faithful to the Word of God. Before the Apostle Paul began preaching to the Athenians in Acts 17 he went around looking for a starting point from which to preach the Gospel to them. What he found was they were worshipping an unknown god.

When going into a culture to minister to people understanding the values and beliefs of the culture in order to effectively communicate the Gospel to them is vital. This highlights the fact that all people need the message spoken in a way they understand while staying faithful to the text of Scripture. The only way for a culture to be reached is to raise up church leaders who are grounded in the Scriptures but who will love the culture by understanding its values but lovingly confront the culture with the Word of God. By doing this missions will be focused on challenging the cultural values of the people while being faithful to the Word of God. In this way the European people can be faithfully reached for the Gospel and become worshipers of the Lord Jesus Christ.


Gonzalez, Justo L, The Story of Christianity: The Reformation to the Present Day, no. 2 (New York: HarperCollins, 1985).

Hill, Jonathan, History of Christian Thought. Downer Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006.

LaTourette, Kenneth Scott, A History of Christianity Reformation to Present, no. 2 (Peabody: Prince Press, 2000).

Piper, John, Let The Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 17.

Stetzer, Ed & Putman, David, Breaking the missional Code: Your Church Can Become a Missionary in Your Community (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006), 4.

Vu, Michelle. “U.S. Christians Ignorant of Europe’s Spiritual State”, 8 April 2007, accessed 22 November 2008.

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