This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #188, titled, “Eastern Christianity.”
When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.
Our Scripture for today is 1 Corinthians 1:10 which reads: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
Our History of Christianity quote today is from John of Damascus. He said: “When I have no books, or when my thoughts, torturing me like thorns, do not let me enjoy reading, I go to church, which is the cure available for every disease of the soul. The freshness of the images draws my attention, captivates my eyes…and slowly leads my soul to divine praise.”
Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Eastern Christianity” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).
Although in the last chapter our attention has centered on Western Christianity, one must not forget that at the same time there was an Eastern branch of the church. For Christians at that time, both East and West, the church was one. Historians, however, can now see that by the early Middle Ages the two branches of the church were drifting apart, and that the final schism, which took place in 1054, was long in the making. Apart from the obvious cultural differences between the Latin-speaking West and the Greek-speaking East, the political course of events produced entirely different situations in the two branches of the church. In the West, the demise of the empire created a vacuum that the church filled, and thus ecclesiastical leaders–particularly the popes–also came to wield political power. In the East, the empire continued for another thousand years. It was often beleaguered by foreign invasion or by inner turmoil, but it survived. Its autocratic emperors kept a tight rein on ecclesiastical leaders. This usually led to civil intervention in ecclesiastical matters, particularly in theological debates. Theological discussion came to be tainted with the ever-present possibility of appealing to the emperor to take one’s side, and thus crushing an enemy one could not overcome by mere argument. Given that power, many emperors made theological decisions on the basis of political considerations, which led to even greater acrimony. For these reasons, theological controversy became one of the hallmarks of Eastern Christianity during the early Middle Ages.
This is not to say that such controversies were not important. The issues at stake were often central to the gospel. Furthermore, since Christians at that time considered themselves members of the same church, the decisions made in the East, sometimes with little or no Western participation, came to be regarded as normative by both East and West. Finally, out of these debates the first permanent schisms developed within Christianity, giving rise to separate churches that still exist.
Next time, we will begin looking at “The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon [KAL-SEH-DON].”
Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.