In "Building Bridges," a Tapestry of Faith program
The history of the early church is explained.
Christianity begins with the birth and death of Jesus. Jesus was Jewish and the story of his life was played out primarily among the Jewish people. Following Jesus' death, his followers created a new faith, with Judaic roots. In the beginning, these believers were spread out and disorganized. Adherents were persecuted, sometimes even to the death. Still, the beliefs spread. Parker Palmer, a Quaker theologian, wrote, "In the early church, it was said of the Christians, 'See how they love one another.'" This message of love—as evidenced in the parables, Beatitudes, the Lord's Prayer, and many other words attributed to Jesus—was so strong, that this new faith gained great popularity in Rome, despite hundreds of other competing religious sects at the time.
It was around 318 CE, when the leader of the Holy Roman Empire, Constantine, converted to Christianity that the Catholic Church came into being. With Constantine's conversion, the Catholic Church begin to attain more and more power. Remind participants of the Council of Nicea in 325 CE, that made disbelief in the Trinity blasphemy and turned other beliefs —including many, like the Trinity, not found in the Bible—into church doctrine. The word "catholic" means "universal" and for nearly 1,500 years, the Catholic Church was the dominant Christian church in the Western world.
In 1054, the Great Schism divided the Church into to major forms of Christianity. This East/West divide finalized differences in doctrine between the Western world and Eastern areas, creating the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox religions. No other Christian denominations—Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, etc.—came into being until after 1517 with the Protestant Reformation.
During the Middle Ages, as Christianity became the dominant religion in the Western world, the church and its doctrines and practices continued to change from its origins in the early Church. Some significant changes included:
Not only did imagery and doctrine become grimmer, the Roman Catholic Church became more militant. In 1095 CE, the Catholic Church leadership called for a military assault on Jerusalem to reclaim it from "the infidels"—the city was held by Muslims at that time. These religiously sanctioned military campaigns against Muslims—and at times, Greek Orthodox Christians—were called the Crusades. Between 1095 and 1291, a series of attempts to reclaim Jerusalem and what the Church considered the Holy Land were conducted with initial successes, but ultimate failures. The Crusades may have also served to distract people from the troubles at home and give them something to work on together. Distribute Handout 2, Brief Overview of the Crusades.
Give participants time to look at the handout. Then lead a discussion with questions such as the following:
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Last updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.
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