Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What are the 10 most important events in Church history?

What made this difficult (aside from my general ignorance) is how to deal with historical events that profoundly shaped Church history, but aren't distinctly Christian (Gutenberg's printing press, destruction of the Spanish Armada, invention of Twitter...). Another question is how to deal with major events that fall within the scope of the "Church," but had relatively little impact on the trajectory of the gospel. The Great Schism strikes me as the prime example.

I decided to narrow my list to explicitly Church-related events that affected the trajectory of the evangelical faith. And I'm not cheating off someone else's list (except for Wiki's help on dates), so I probably brain cramped and left out something big. Oh, and I'm starting with the close of the canon. Here goes...
  1. Constantine's Edict of Milan legalizes Christianity (313)
  2. Council of Nicea articulates biblical Christology (325)
  3. Conversion of Augustine (387)
  4. Publication of Luther's "95 Theses" (1517)
  5. Conrad Grebel ("re-")baptizes George Blaurock in Zwingli's Z├╝rich (1525)
  6. Publication of Luther's German translation of the Bible (1534)
  7. Council of Trent formalizes the RCC's rejection of the Reformation doctrine of justification (1547)
  8. Publication of Calvin's Institutes (definitive Latin edition, 1559)
  9. Separation of church/state and freedom of religion in Rhode Island (1637)
  10. William Carey initiates the modern missions movement (1792)
Obviously, there's a big gap in the middle, and nothing from the past two+ centuries, though the next five that I left out would shift that a bit. It's probably difficult at this point to evaluate any event from the 20th century objectively, but which do you think is most likely to be included by a 23rd century evangelical historian?


brad said...

Might want to consider the emergence of Pentecostalism, the Jan. 1 Agnes Ozman event, etc. Your list is good but has a decidedly Reformed slant.

This is not an event I am particularly enthused by, but I think church historians do/will find it significant.

Ben said...

Yeah, gotta confess it never entered my mind. In fact, I'm unfamiliar with that particular event. So I'd be curious to hear you make the case and tell me which of mine has to go.

Jim Peet said...

It's hard to reduce anything to a list of 10!

Brad's comment above is valid: Azusa Street Revival

brad said...

My "case" would be that there really isn't much of contemporary global Christianity that has not been impacted by the Charismatic movement. I don't really keep up it too much, but I think it is the fastest growing branch of Christianity world-wide. Jim's mention of the Azusa Street meetings is more well-known, so maybe that should be included or combined with mine.

Which, to cheat a little, maybe you could do with your original list: instead of having several publication events on the list just list the printing press and then influential events that spawned.

That said, I would replace #9.

Josh said...

Tough list to create . . . I think it would be easier if the list was "10 positive historical events in Christianity" and "10 harmful. . ." Still not sure how my list would look. For instance, the Rhode Island separation of church and state was mostly good, I guess . . . but we could also trace a whole bunch of heresies that have crept into the church because in a culture as free as the USA, faith comes with almost no sacrifice. Persecution purifies the church. . .

Michael said...

One event that hasn't quite come to completion yet but that might be significant in the 23rd century is the identification/inclusion of Mormons among those termed "evangelical."

Will 23rd century historians point to the likes of Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck as instrumental in having the LDS recognized, at least in the culture at large, as "evangelical"? A few scholarly works have appeared with articles by LDS scholars alongside those of evangelicals. Those volumes seem insignificant now but that may not be the case two centuries from now.

Ben said...

I'm more familiar with Azusa than Agnes Ozman. What makes one bigger than the other.

And I'll buy one of those over #9. I think one of #5 and #9 has to be in the top 10, but the other could go. Several in my initial list came down to a duel between two (Luther's translation vs KJV, Calvin's Institutes vs 1646 WCF, etc.)

Now, would you argue for a Pentecostal event over the emergence of Finneyite theology/methodology in the Second Great Awakening?

Anonymous said...


Not sure how you could leave these out:

Burning of Servetus by Calvin

Founding of Pensacola CC

On a more serious note:
I don't know the exact date, but when the catholic church decided to keep the word from people by chains or dead language. That cause 1000 years of dark ages.


The abuse of freedom is always the fault of freedom. Good point.

William Dudding said...

I think the great awakening of the 1740's should be on the top ten since it was the undercurrent work of God that gave birth to the USA a few decades later...and it can't be underestimated the impact that Christianity in the USA has had on the world.

Anonymous said...

The "conversion" of Augustine is an interesting choice. I would argue that his hermeneutic shift which had major influence on consolidating power in the Roman church was a bigger deal. Look at all the catholic nonsense that exists because of Auggy.

Ben said...

Will, maybe, just wasn't clear enough to me, at least in comparison with the others.

James, I went with his conversion because Augustine has been so profoundly influential in so many ways that it was difficult to pick one particular event. And unlike Luther, for example, his conversion is more historically identifiable as an "event."

Josh said...

Not sure if I said that the abuse of freedom was the fault of freedom . . . but my point was that almost anything on the list can be shown to have had both negative and positive effects. Luther did some great things . . . but his teaching also gave rise to the "dangerous idea" that men can illegitimately interpret Scripture by themselves (solo scriptura).

Ultimately, this is a tough list to fill in.

Anonymous said...

Josh, when you said, "Luther did some great things . . . but his teaching also gave rise to the "dangerous idea" that men can illegitimately interpret Scripture by themselves (solo scriptura)"

I immediately assumed that it was the Apostle John who said that you don't NEED a teacher.

Do you believe Luther wrote 1 John?

Josh said...

I misspoke, replace the word "illegitimately" with "legitimately." Luther's teaching did not directly teach "solo scriptura", but aspects of the Reformation started to undermine "sola scriptura." The Reformation started with a return to the Bible as the final authority and ended with every man interpreting that "final" authority according to what was right in his own eyes.

My only point is that when it comes to major events in church history, there are often 2 sides to the coin.