This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #187, titled, “The Arab Conquests, Part 3.”
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 Timothy 2:5 which reads: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;”
Our History of Christianity quote today is from St. Basil the Great. He said: “And so let us be glad and bear with patience everything the world throws at us, secure in the knowledge that it is then that we are most in the mind of God.”
Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Arab Conquests, Part 3” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).
These invasions had enormous significance for Christianity. For one thing, many of the ancient centers of Christianity–Jerusalem, Antioch, Damascus, Alexandria, and Carthage–were now under Muslim rule. Although seldom persecuted, Christians in those areas were placed under severe handicaps. Most often conversion to Christianity was harshly punished. Although the church in these areas produced a number of notable apologists, at times any defense of Christianity was considered an offense against Muhammad, punishable by death. In Carthage and the surrounding area, Christianity completely disappeared. In the rest of the vast Arab holdings it was tolerated, but ceased growing, and eventually was content with holding its own.
The Byzantine Empire, which until then had vast territories in the Near East and the northern coast of Africa, was pushed back to what is now Turkey, and to its holdings in Europe. In the next chapter we shall see that, since many of those within that empire who had dissented from its policies were now under Muslim rule, and therefore the Byzantine emperors no longer felt the need to take their views into account, Byzantine Orthodoxy could now ignore the objections of Monophysites and Nestorians.
Furthermore, the entire geographic configuration of Christianity changed. Until then, Christianity had developed along the Mediterranean basin. Now, it would find its center along an axis that ran from north to south, including the British Isles, the Frankish kingdom, and Italy. Constantinople would be increasingly alienated from that axis. Therefore it is no coincidence that a few years after the Arab conquests, in 800 ce, the pope felt inclined to crown Charlemagne emperor of the West, and both he and Charlemagne were ready to ignore the protests that came from Constantinople.
In the field of theology, Islam affected Christianity, not only in that the latter produced a number of apologies–written both within and beyond the borders of Muslim power–but also in the manner in which Christian leaders sought to respond to Islamic criticism. This was particularly true in the debate regarding the use of images, which would rage in the eighth century, and in the need to clarify the doctrine of the Trinity, which Muslims claimed was a denial of monotheism.
But above all, the Muslim invasions, and Christian reaction to them, continued and accelerated a process of militarizing Christianity that had long been developing. The earliest Christians, following the teachings of Jesus, had been strict pacifists. Slowly, however, as Christianity made way among the ranks of the military, concessions began to be made. Even before Constantine’s conversion, some Christian writers held that strict pacifism was required only of monastics. After Constantine Christians, now finding themselves responsible for the safety and order of the state, developed the Just War Theory, which made it acceptable for Christians to use violence under some circumstances. Then came Germanic invasions from the north, and Muslim invasions from the south. The Germanic peoples were assimilated, and in the process the church came to adopt many of their traditional warlike customs. To the East and South, Islam presented itself as a constant threat to be held back only by armed force, with the result that Christianity became radically militarized, and a few centuries later would undertake an offensive against Islam–the Crusades–whose violence and cruelty equaled any perpetrated earlier by the Muslim invaders. Thus was created an atmosphere of violence and suspicion that would continue to bear its bitter fruit half a millennium later.
Next time, we will begin looking at “Eastern Christianity.”
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.