Throughout history Christ has built His church. How does He do this in time and space? In this volume Needham provides insight into church expansion that spans controversy and growth from the first through the mid-seventh centuries.
Basic foundations are laid in the opening chapters as the author explains elementary facts on denoting time in terms of B.C. and A.D. He then explores the cultures of Rome and Israel so that the reader can better understand philosophies, pleasures, and problems that Christians faced.
In successive chapters we learn how the Jews and Gentiles grappled with their unique relationship in the early church. Together these Christians bravely faced persecution and sought to defend their faith sometimes by pen and sometimes by martyrdom. God used their steadfast witness to fan the flames of church growth.
The church today is not only attacked from without but also from within. As Needham points out, this was true in the early church. Believers had to develop an answer to the Arians who taught that God the Father alone was God. Christ was created. The Arians had to wrestle with the personhood and nature of the incarnate Christ. Another group, the Sabellians, taught that God existed in different modes in history while remaining one person. Aspects of fallen creation were misinterpreted by others. The Gnostics taught that the physical creation was evil and not even created by God. Pelagius taught that human nature has not been corrupted by Adam’s sin. Man’s free will is able to choose Christ.
Against such errors God raised up able apologists for the faith — Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Augustine.
A number of controversies brought leaders together into church councils so that Biblical doctrine regarding the Trinity could be hammered out. The convening of church councils by the state evidenced the reality of another looming problem — the relationship of the church and state. That problem remains under discussion even into our day.
Knowledge of church history is important. We need to know how Christians have answered controversial questions. Church history also gives us a greater appreciation for our Christian heritage. The tenacious love of Christians even at death’s door reminds us of the importance of our remaining faithful. The teaching of Christians in the midst of constant controversy evidences the fact that the first century church did not grow in a peaceful atmosphere. Like our own day it was a time of spiritual warfare that God sovereignly used to sanctify and multiply His followers. Needham’s account allows the reader to see God’s people then and now as sinners. Personalities became too important at times. Scripture was occasionally misinterpreted by those zealous for righteousness. The Christian’s right relationship to the world included the extremes of living in solitude or with a small group secluded from the world, as opposed to living out the faith in the world.
Needham’s writing is concise and helpful. He provides fine summaries of ongoing controversies and how leaders answered attacks to Christianity. Chapters conclude with a list of important people in the church and in the state. Of particular interest to me is the inclusion of selected writings of influential people at the end of each chapter. Footnotes include explanations as well as references to the sections where people were first introduced in the book. This limits confusion when a reader may fear he or she is becoming overwhelmed by the numerous people Needham has had to include to adequately cover the topic.
A very helpful glossary, bibliography, and index make this a volume with easily accessed information.
The second volume in this series is also available. It covers the Middle Ages. Needham employs the same format he used in his first volume. The author’s first chapter covers the rise of Islam in the seventh century. From here the author covers the next seven centuries of church history including its stand against Islam.
These volumes are valuable as a resource for those who desire to review or to be introduced to church history. The author evidences the necessary scholarship and scope needed to produce stimulating volumes. He conveys knowledge in a manner that is profitable for adults who have varied understandings. Parents will find these volumes useful as texts for teaching their children.
Topics: Church History