Christianity was founded about 2000 years in Judea. At that time, Israel (Judea) was a cross-cultural hub that was under the leadership of Rome. Some Jews conformed to the polytheistic beliefs of Rome while the others stood against Rome. Jesus taught his disciples the New Covenant and the will of God. Christianity seemed to be a plethora of competitive and mutually exclusive church bodies, denominations and confessions by the 18th century. There was a significant harmony among Protestants but no consensus existed between the Catholic faith, Protestantism and eastern Orthodoxy. Protestants disagreed with Catholics about Papal infallibility and the doctrine of Purgatory. Protestants disputed the fact that Peter was the “Rock”, upon whom the Church of Christ was built. Catholicism claimed to have set the Canon of Bible, whereas Protestants believed that the Holy Spirit set the Canon of the Bible. Confession of sins or repentance is the key to the faith of salvation.
Christians put more emphasis on preaching the gospel in the 18th century; they focused on salvation and the new birth. There was a shift from public devotion to private worship. Protestants encouraged people to study the Bible personally. The Unitarian denomination was established in 1773. The Moravians (descendants of Jan Hus) were the first protest denomination to send out missionaries. Americans transformed the Church of England into the Episcopal Church after the US independence. Baptist churches in England rose from 25 to about 270 from 1740 to 1790. Baptists protested against infant baptism; they formed the first modern missionary society by 1792. In 1795, the Congregationalists also set up missionary societies. Mission churches, schools and hospitals started to be established around the world. Baptists and Congregationalists’ main goal was to preach gospel to people who had not heard about it.
Catholicism and Calvinism
The Roman Catholic Church is the oldest church. Catholicism emphasized more on church doctrines. A wave of reformation started in the 16th century due to abuses of the Roman Catholicism. Issues that led to the reformation include papal abuses, elevation of monasticism, captivity of the word, Papal Pretentiousness, usurped mediation and the role of good works (Beeke J., n.d.). The reformers believed in the Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone and Glory to God alone. On the other hand, Catholicism was centered on:
- Scripture and tradition
- A believe in Christ, Mary and the Intercession of the Saints
- Glory to God, saints and the church doctrine/hierarchy
- Faith and works
- A believe in Grace and Merit
After reformation, Protestantism could not agree on the nature of the Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. This led to the split of Protestantism into Lutheranism and Calvinism. Lutherans differed from Calvinist in the understanding of worship, the prime function of law, the understanding of predestination and in their approach to salvation. Calvinism stood the test of time since most protestant denominations have their root in the Calvinistic faith. Such denominations include Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists and Congregationalists. Reformation theology was quite significant until the 19th century when it was diluted due to enlightenment in Europe and America. Calvinism declined drastically by mid-20th century. Currently, Calvinism is being revived despite the fact that the world is becoming wicked day by day. Consequently, there is a steady increase in the number of Calvinistic churches and denominations (Beeke J., n.d.). Nowadays, reformed churches are found in places such as Netherlands, Poland, UK, North America, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Brazil, Philippines, some African countries and some Asian countries. Calvinistic conferences are constantly increasing in many regions.
Followers of Martin Luther were mainly centered in Scandinavia (Iceland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden). Lutherans began to migrate to the USA in the 17th century leading to establishment of church bodies. The American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches and the Lutheran Church in America merged in 1988 to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). ELCA later (1997) declared full communion with the Reformed Church of America, Presbyterian Church and the United Church of Christ.
Evangelical Awakening and the Missionary Movement
The earlier German Pietism is the root of evangelism. The Pietist movement was very significant in the history of the modern church; it focused on personal commitment and spiritual growth. Pietism led to start of the protestant missionary movement. The source of Evangelism differed according to different regions. In Britain, Evangelical revival came through Wesley and Whitefield, the growth of Methodism and the establishment of the Evangelical party. The Evangelical party was held in the Church of England. Jonathan Edwards was an outstanding leader of Evangelism in the US. Evangelical awakening led to the start of voluntary movements, societies and organizations that preached the word of Christ (Philip T., 1999). Missionary societies sent out many evangelists to the different regions of the globe in the 19th century. Missionary movement was also affected by other factors like the fight for equality, liberty and fraternity. The French revolution had a great impact on missionary movement by 1789.
Separation of the church and missionary work occurred in the 19th century (Justo L., 2010). This separation was brought about by the disrespect of denominational and religious lines; its focus was on the salvation of nations. Evangelicals goal was to unit all those who had been ‘washed in the blood of Christ’. Mission and church separation had a negative impact. This prompted Bishop Reginald Stephen to think about the uniting the church and missionaries in 1876. He devoted himself to restructure the missionaries work and the other activities of the church. An unprecedented degree of unity was realized among Armenians, Calvinists, Churchmen and Dissenters after much resistance. After destroying denominational bigotry, evangelists co-operated in spreading the Gospel to the heathen. Evangelicals started to worship together. In 1795, Christians from different denominations formed the London Missionary Society. In the west, the missionary societies considered the unity and co-operation because they were afraid of the high growth of ‘younger churches’ (Philip T., 1999). Towards the end of the 19th century, churches started to focus on the principle of sanctification and speaking in tongues.
After the holiness movement in the 19th century, evangelism turned to elaborate praise and worship crusades in the 20th century. Tent revivals also occurred over this time. Evangelists started to use the radio to preach the Gospel. The Calvary Episcopal Church did the first radio preaching on January 2, 1921 in Pennsylvania (Evangelism, n.d.). More than 50 religious groups were having their own broadcast stations for evangelism by 1927. Televisions facilitated missionary activities from 1950s. Christian novels were also published and used as a means of evangelism. Evangelistic websites started to be developed in 1990s. Nowadays, there are sophisticated websites that can offer multi-media presentations, written words, movies and video graphics (Evangelism, n.d.). Such sites also offer online training forums.
The History of the Methodists
John Wesley established Methodism in 1739. This movement began in England. Wesley was backed by his brother and started evangelism with a focus of holiness and conversion (Wesley J., 1742). George Whitefield is very famous for awakening the Methodist faith in America (1714-1770). Whitefield differed from Wesley due to the doctrine of predestination. A number of divisions characterized Methodism in America. The three kinds of Methodist churches in America reunited in 1939 to form “The Methodist Church” (Richard P., n.d.). The Church of the United Brethren and the Methodist Church united to form The United Methodist Church in 1968.
Some Challenges Faced by Christianity
The spread of the Gospel to all parts of the globe has not been easy. Many factors limit efficient evangelism. The first missionaries faced language barriers due to diversity in cultures. Some regions like Africa had a multiplicity of languages that made communication between locals and missionaries very challenging. This led to the translation of the Bible into local languages. Geographical barriers such as forests and rivers restricted the missionaries’ free movement. Poor infrastructure was also a major drawback to the spreading the Gospel. Missionaries met hostile tribes and wild animals in some parts, lack of supplies like sufficient money and drugs hindered evangelism.
Christians believe in death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, Christians have varied practices and faiths. Catholics and Protestants are the main groups that form Christianity. The Roman Catholic Church has not undergone much reformation for very many years. More and more denominations of Protestants have come up since the 16th century. Computer technology has been quite helpful in the preaching of the Gospel. Preachers and missionaries can reach a large number of people without having to move from one place to another. The history of Christianity tends to repeat itself as the faith of Protestantism and Catholicism remains the same.