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Church History Diagram

Below is a basic graphic depiction followed by a cursory explanation of the two thousand year history of the Church. It gives you a general idea of how the Church has experienced schisms and division over the centuries. The remarks conclude with the prophetic direction that God has for the Church, showing the great hope that still exists for the followers of Christ.


Early Christianity
Councils in the
    Fifth Century
The Great Schism
The Reformation
The Great Revival
The Great Hope

(This graphic may be found on wikipedia.com and is free for distribution under the GNU license. If you want to study Church history in detail, click here. Please note that we do not endorse outside web sites and may not agree with some of the information presented.)

The explanation below generally follows the manner of division depicted in the graph above. The graph does not necessarily show the beginnings of trends or movements and, therefore, does not exactly align to the prophetic seven churches in Revelation chapters 1-3. However, this is an excellent presentation of the results of the major divisions that have occurred.

Here is a summary list of the actual points of division:

  • Early Orthodoxy followed by Constantine's Roman Catholic Church (before AD 431)
  • Nestorians (AD 431)
  • Oriental Orthodox (AD 451)
  • Eastern Orthodoxy (11th Century)
  • Eastern Rites (Middle Ages) - Eastern Churches that remained in fellowship, or renewed fellowship, with Western Roman Catholicism
  • Protestantism, Anabaptism, Anglicanism (AD 1517-1648; Protestant Reformation)
  • Restorationism (18th Century)
  • Pentecostalism (19th Century; not included on chart)

Early Christianity

The Lord Jesus Christ ministered from three to three and a half years, was crucified, resurrected, and ascended to Heaven. Ten days after His ascension, on the Jewish feast day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples and other believers gathered in an upper room of a building in Jerusalem. It was the beginning of the Church Age.

The Holy Spirit empowered the believers of the first century, and Christianity spread to many parts of the Roman Empire. But the Church generally lost its immediate dependency on the Holy Spirit, and the manifestations of power lifted for the Church at large around AD 90; though manifestations continued to occur in places for some time.

From about AD 64 to 312, the Church underwent pressure from two major evil sources. Outside pressure came in the form of horrible persecution by the government of Rome. Inside pressure developed through the false teachings of the "wolves in sheep's clothing"—the Gnostics.

When the Roman general Constantine came to the throne, he not only legalized Christianity but made it the religion of the Empire (Roman Catholic Church). He did this to help bring unity and strength to society in order to preserve the Roman Empire from being overtaken by the foreign barbaric tribes who had already been causing problems. The strategy worked. The military Western Roman Empire lasted until AD 475.

However, Constantine did not fully comprehend the nature the Christian message. Coming from a pagan background he was superstitious. And though over the years he gradually began to grasp the difference, it was because of his misunderstanding and of his needs for the empire that he fostered a political Church. This became the basis of the Church of the Middle Ages and the State-sponsored churches of the Protestant Reformation.

It should be noted that some minor Christian groups did not align themselves with the Roman Church. Constantine only supported the Catholic church because it suited his view and need, at least in part, for a hierarchical structure that would sustain the empire.

Councils in the Fifth Century

Teachings and doctrines continued to be a problem. Often councils of bishops were brought together to decide upon the validity of doctrines and to officially either reject or establish them as Church doctrine. Unfortunately, this had the effect of splitting the Church.

Two such councils were the Council of Ephesus (431) and the Council of Chalcedon (451). The first dealt with Nestorianism. Nestorius, patriarch of the eastern capital Constantinople, taught that Jesus was actually two persons: (1) a man and (2) the Son of God. The council rejected the teaching and a schism occurred. The Assyrian Church of the East (Nestorians) split from the Byzantine Church and continues today as the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East.

The later council had to deal with a teaching of Eutyches who taught that the divine nature of Christ swallowed up the human nature, so that Jesus was only divine, not human. This was rejected and what developed was the Oriental Orthodox family of churches. Today's Egyptian Coptic Church belongs to this family.

The Great Schism

It was Constantine who relocated the power of Rome to Constantinople during his reign. He had hoped to establish the city as a truly Christian city away from the pagan environment of the city of Rome. For the Church, what resulted historically was the empowerment of the bishop at Constantinople. The bishopric at Rome had risen in importance during the previous centuries of persecution. Now there were two competitive bishoprics.

There were many factors involved and numbers of centuries of history that brought about the Great Schism. Part of the problem was political. Part of it was language: the West was Latin and the East spoke Greek. Other factors were arguments over territorial jurisdiction, which authority was higher, the rise of Islam, the issue of celibacy, and more.

The deteriorating relationship between the two churches ebbed and flowed over time. Formal mutual excommunications occurred in 1054, though the Christian populous was generally unaware of the event. It was the Fourth Crusade in the first years of the 1200s, in which the armies of Western Europe sacked Constantinople, that brought a permanent break between the two churches. From that point Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy existed independently.

With time however, a number of the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches renewed fellowship with the Roman Catholic church, though keeping various aspects independent. And there are a small number of Eastern Catholic Churches that claim to have never separated from Rome. These are the Eastern Rights of the Roman Church, also known as the Eastern Catholic Church. Those churches under the full authority of Rome are known as the Western Rights.

The Reformation

Growing nationalism and education spawned by the Renaissance in Europe set the stage for the Protestant Reformation in 1517; however, it was worldliness and corruption in the high echelons of church authority that became the catalyst. Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic monk, wanted to discuss some serious issues in an effort to reform the Church. He was not attempting to split with Rome. However, the worldly leadership persecuted nonconformists as heretics. When the confrontation was over, Martin Luther, having been protected by numbers of German knights and a prince, established the Lutherans. Protestantism had begun.

Within a few short years, others split with Rome and began their own Protestant groups, generally supported by their respective country. John Calvin, Zwingli, and others formed denominations that became sponsored by the various States of Europe. Some groups, however, were persecuted by these State-sponsored Protestants; most notably, the Anabaptists. Also, Henry the Eighth of England parted with Rome, but for reasons different then Martin Luther and others; he want to divorce his wife so he could remarry. He founded the Church of England (Anglicans).

The hatred and coldness of the Protestant Reformation brought the nations of Europe into conflict. There were repeated battles. Finally the infamous Thirty Years War broke out, devastating Germany and other parts of Europe. The treaty in 1648 ended the war and the era known as the Protestant Reformation.

The Great Revival

After the treaty of 1648, a movement developed that stressed personal Bible study and personal devotion to God. It became known as Pietism. This movement was the start of the rekindling of the modern revival of vibrant Christian living.

The movement spread to America. Then from about 1720 to after 1740 (some say into the 1760s) a wave of revival spread throughout the Colonies in what has become known as the Great Awakening. This occurred mostly among Calvinist Protestants but affected Baptists and others.

Then throughout the 1800s, a number of movements appeared: Revivalism, Holiness, Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism, and international missions. Also, the beginning of Pentecostal manifestations appeared in places such as Scotland in 1831, India in the 1860s and 1870s, and the United States around the turn of the 1900s.

However, after the Great Awakening a separatist movement (Restorationism) began what was a type of protest against the Protestant movement. The groups of this movement felt that God actually intended to throw off the bands of traditional Protestant religion and go forward with new institutions. Using the general theme of returning to the Bible, numbers of groups formed—the Latter Day Saint movement, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and others—each having their own set of doctrines.

The Great Hope

What has occurred in the Church worldwide since 1648 has been a supernatural recovery of the empowerment of God. The manifestations that were present in the first century have been increasingly manifested throughout the world.

This is not to say that Pentecostalism or the Charismatic or other like movements are the final solution to Christianity. There is division among these groups in their doctrines just as with the other modern Christian movements.

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is intended to be for every Christian in every venue of Christianity around the world. The prophet Joel said that in the last days God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh, and that people would prophecy and see visions and dreams (Joel 2:28, 29). What he could not say, because it was a later revelation for the Church age, was that people would also speak in tongues, prayerfully speak miracles and healing into existence, raise the dead, cast out demons, and so on.

As we approach the Resurrection of the Church, the anointing of Holy Spirit is going to fall upon an army of believers across all venues of Christianity. They will fill the earth with miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit that will pour out like water from a faucet. These people will not be stopped.

When the backlash rises against this spiritual army, then the resurrection of the Saints of all history will occur. The Church and the Saints of the Old Testament will be glorified. It will be the official end of the Church Age on earth.

Immediately afterward, the world will experience the worst time of judgment ever known to man. Those who are not walking with Christ at that time will have to go through the Tribulation.

Pat Reynolds
Wayne Parks Ministries