South African Bible Believers
THE 7 PERIODS OF CHURCH HISTORY
- INTRODUCTION AND IMPORTANCE -
Purpose: 1. To understand God's programme for the Church
2. To present Church history in a simple, easy to understand Scriptural way.
Passages: Rev. 2-3; Matt. 16:18; Matt 13.
Church history makes both
fascinating and formidable study.
Fascinating study. It is
fascinating, enriching, encouraging and edifying because we see the hand of the
Lord Jesus Christ guiding His Church through 2000 years of spiritual and
corporeal growth, doctrinal illumination, persecution and triumph, decline and
restoration, discharge of duties and responsibilities to a lost world, towards
its fulfilment - the Rapture.
Formidable subject. Yet it is
formidable in its complexity, perplexity and multiplicity of dates , events,
personalities, ecclesiastic systems and denominations, doctrines, governments,
controversies, heresies, cults and sects, literature both apologetic and
polemical, etc, so that many are discouraged when confronted with this massive
accumulation of details.
Formation of Church. Yet
Church history is important because the Lord Himself built His Church (Matt.
16:18) laid it upon the surest Foundation - Himself (1 Cor. 3:11; 1 Peter 2:6),
promised to guide, preserve and protect it, and encourages each believer to
learn from its history (Rev. 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22; Matt
So let us seek to know and
understand Church history.
Familiar approach to Church history.
Protestant historians divide
Church history into 3 periods - Ancient (AD 30-590) Medieval (590-1517) and
Modern (from 1517). This conventional method is convenient and natural, the
basis of division being the watersheds of Roman Catholic ascendency and decline.
This, however, renders Church history unwieldy and difficult to
Fuller understanding of Church history
It is possible to see further period sub-divisions based on important distinct turning points or watersheds. In the 20th Century devout Bible scholars, believing that the Lord must have given a prophetic foreview of Church history, discovered 7 watersheds, and, comparing the circumstances within these turning points with the Lord's counsel and admonition to the seven churches of Asia, found that Church history dovetails perfectly with conditions outlined in Rev. 2-3 (and Matt. 13) (Of course Rev. 2-3 are validly interpreted as of local, contemporary and personal applications to the seven churches themselves, and also as descriptive of each assembly in its cycle of testimony.)
The prophetic view not only provides an outline of Church history in seven distinct periods, but bridges the gap between John's vision of the First Century and the coming Great Tribulation. Otherwise this gap of almost 2000 years is unexplained by Scripture.
These Bible scholars also discovered that the name of each church or assembly (Ephesus, Philadelphia) is very significant and that the sequence of names and conditions cannot be rearranged, that certain names and events are either symbolic or requires a future fulfilment not experienced by the assembly mentioned - i.e. "tribulation ten days" refers to a long period of persecution, but limited in duration and intensity. Thyatira's Jezebel is cast into a future Great Tribulation and Philadelphia is to be preserved from this time of trouble, although both Thyatira and Philadelphia churches have disappeared.
The watersheds dividing Church history into seven divinely ordained periods are:
2. Death of last apostle
3. Constantine's conversion
4. Ascendency of Roman Catholicism
5. The Reformation
6. Full restoration of New Testament truths and missionary enterprise
7. Rejection of the Lord and His Word.
Doctrinally Matt. 13 reveals the following:-
1. the Sower and the seed (Matt 13:1-23).
2. the wheat and tares (false doctrine introduction)(24-30;36-43).
3. mustard seed (unnatural growth, worldliness)(31-32).
4. the leaven (departure from the truth)(33-35).
5. the hidden treasure (discoveries of Scriptural truths)(44).
6. pearl of great price (the Lord's Name and Word acknowledged)(45-46).
7. the dragnet (separating the true from the false) (47-50).
We approach Church history from the standpoint of the progress of the Faith. "The Faith" is that body of truth embodied in the Bible (esp. the N.T.) delivered by the Lord Jesus Christ through His apostles once unto the saints Jude 3. Paul especially exhorts all the saints to "keep the Faith", "stand fast in the Faith", "continue in the Faith", and not to "depart from it" or to "deny it". The Lord Jesus said of the end of Church history, "When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find the Faith upon the earth?" (Luke 18:8) Obviously not the pure Faith delivered by Him.
Church history then is the progress of that Faith, which after delivery by the Lord was vigorously defended and died for, but now after 2000 years denied by large numbers calling themselves "Christians"
The Seven Periods of Church History
1. Apostolic Period - Pentecost - AD 100. The Faith Defined.
2. Roman Persecution Period - AD 100-313. The Faith Defended.
3. Old Catholic Period - AD 313-590. The Faith Disputed.
4. Roman Catholic Period - AD 590-1517. The Faith Defiled.
5. Protestant Period - AD 1517-1795. The Faith Discovered.
6. Missionary and New Testament Assemblies Period - AD 1795-1870. The Faith Discerned.
7. Modernist &
Ecumenical Period - AD 1870 - Rapture. The Faith Denied.
The following lessons deal with each period of Church history.
1) Pilgrim Church - E H Broadbent
2) Story of the Church - A M Renwick
3) Christianity through the Centuries - E E Cairns
4) Revelation - H A Ironside
5) Revelation - William MacDonald
6) History of Christianity - Lion's Handbook
7) Story of Theology - R A Finlayson
8) Eschatology & How this world will end - Peter H L Wee
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