Historical Theology: The Shifting Sands of Christendom.

Historical Theology has many different definitions.

Historical Theology often refers to the development of Dogma or of the chronological study of the doctrines of the Christian Church.  Christian Doctrine has not grown systematically.  Theology: Systematic, Biblical or Historical (among a few of the perspectives), only serves as a resource for obtaining a better perspective of that which is outlined in God’s Word.  Consider the parable of our Saviour in Matthew 13.; or Luke’s contribution through the Spirit authored history – the Acts of the Apostles and John’s ‘Book” of the Revelation of Jesus Christ – as in chapters two and three.  All of this Scriptural form of history – Biblical, prophetic, historical joins to reveal the genuinely obvious usefulness of the study of the Scriptures …”along with” any added studies of the church, its doctrinal understandings and its spiritual walk and growth.

Studying the source materials – especially the letters and commentaries of those involved in “making” history is absolutely vital!  How we, as believers, think of the Truth of Scripture or its doctrinal content – in the light of the history of theology and the church … can change our understanding of the will of God. In fact, our view of God Himself can come under the major influence of both good and dangerous historical forces. Our own spiritual well-being can be enhanced or revearsed due to our understanding or ignorance of the historical development and/or the historical regressions of the church’s understanding of the Truth, as God’s Holy Word.

Simply stated: Systematic Theology is designed to be topical and logical, and Historic Theology is meant to be chronological and philosophical. Whatever historical theology is, it is far more than the “study of the interpretation of Scripture and the formulation of doctrine by the church of the past.” (Allison) If we decide to study “historical theology” we are not simply looking at the church, or its doctrinal or creedal statements and those forces’ impacting on the history of the church. The church, rather, needs to be seen as progressing or regressing or even possibly (?) becoming dormant for a period. The reality of Historical Theology is that it is not meant to be limited to a study of Christianity Worldwide but should be studied regionally, geographically, biographically and then chronologically, all converging – if not at once, then certainly through your lifetime of study.

Historical theology will give nothing more than perspective and any effort to make more of its revealed ‘facts’ will inevitably lead to bias, or provincialism. The ability to distinguish truth from heresy is a matter of prayer, the Holy Spirit and the resulting insight that comes from exegetical study of God’s Word. In other words, Historical Theology and even Church History provide us with the opinions of a relatively biased author’s own viewpoints and opinions. Even the historian’s personal insights regarding what is soundly  orthodoxy or what might be ‘rightfully’ understood as heresy stands on his own presuppositions. The idea of a truly “objective historian” is a most “amazing” idea… in that it is simply unrelated to anything that even slight tastes of reality. The historian collects and by his means of collection he or she interprets.

Ephesians 3:14 “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; 17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” 

Historical Theology or the History of Dogma can do little more than share the variations in biblical interpretation that have developed over the centuries. Historical studies, at best, can do nothing more than summarise the formation processes of the historic creedal outcomes produced in synods, counsels and confessions. The biographical and chronological nature of Historical Theology is meant to place faces and personalities and human tensions with the rise and fall of Christian history and it should not be expected to accomplish more.

To imply that Historical Theology as ‘chronica’ can do anything similar to the biographical truth taught in the lives of Israel’s Fathers or Kings or Prophets is absurd. The Word of God is more clearly the Word of God whenever compared to the paltry efforts of Historical Theology’s biographical efforts.

Historical Theology or the history of Dogmatic Theology can either protects and promote the various views of this or that denomination or it can reveal the failures of the same. Historical Theology offers the church of Jesus Christ the ability to understand the historical compromises that can reveal the weaknesses in its denominational beliefs. The research into the modern church’s history (or the philosophical history and political forces behind these modern ideas) should assist the sincere and dedicated student in identifying the fundamentals errors and strengths in various periods, geographic regions or systems of thought that might have developed.

The question of the overshadowing power of God, or of the providential acts of God in history, should be addressed and may be better understood through the study of Christian history. The idea of something being “good history” is usually the idea of colecting and collating theology through-out those periods of natural secular and religious historical development. The idea that one aspect of doctrine can be developed in and of itself with only some minor attention to a balanced chronological methodology will fail to address the underlying forces for good and evil behind its development within the whole of the reality of history.

The goals of a strong and useful Historical Theology should include addressing the Word of God at each of the various ‘normal’ chronological and geographical junctions. The history-makers must be studied as sourced from their own writings rather than that of their enemies alone. The shifts in the sands of belief need to be understood, not just identified and the central truths of eschatology and ecclesiology should not be given second place to theology since history has often been influenced by the one as much as the other.

Dr. Marc S. Blackwell Sr., D. Th. (Church History), 2003, Univeristy of South Africa

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Genius of Mediaeval Christianity

Facilitator’s Notes – The following modification of Schaff, Newman, fisher and others is provided to encourage your own research in these texts.

Genius of Mediaeval Christianity.[2]


Mediaeval Christianity is, on the one hand, a legitimate continuation and further development of ancient Catholicism; on the other hand, by its successes and failures was Providentially ….a preparation for Protestantism. Its leading forms were the papacy, monasticism, and scholasticism, which were developed to their height, and then assailed by growing opposition from within Christianity.  At its first introduction, Christianity had to do with highly civilized nations; but now it had to lay the foundation of a new civilization among barbarians.  The apostles planted churches in the cities of the Jews, Greeks, and Romans, and the word “pagan” i.e, villager, backwoodsman, gradually came to denote an idolater.  They spoke and wrote in a language which had already a large and immortal literature; their progress was paved by the high roads of the Roman legions; they found everywhere an established order of society, and government; and their mission was to infuse into the ancient civilization a new spiritual life and to make it subservient to higher moral ends. 

But the early styled missionaries of the dark ages had to visit wild woods and untilled fields, to teach rude nations the alphabet, and to lay the foundation for society, literature and art. Hence, many historians believe or explain that, Christianity assumed the character of a strong disciplinary institution, a training school for nations in their infancy, which had to be treated as children.  Hence the legalistic, hierarchical, ritualistic and romantic character of mediaeval Catholicism.  Yet in proportion as the nations were trained in the school of the church, they began to assert their independence of the hierarchy and to develop a national literature in their own language.  Compared with our times, in which thought and reflection have become the highest arbiter of human life, the middle age was an age of passion.  The written law, such as it was developed in Roman society, the barbarian could not understand and would not obey.  But he was easily impressed by the spoken law, the living word, and found a kind of charm in bending his will absolutely before another will.  Thus the teaching church became the law in the land, and formed the very foundation of all social and political organization.

The middle ages are often called “the dark ages: Nonetheless …“truly, if we compare them with ancient Christianity, which preceded, and with modern Christianity, which followed; to compare them and judge them falsely and unjustly is the only result – especially if the church is made responsible for the darkness.  Christianity (though in various strengths and weaknesses) was the light that shone in the darkness of surrounding barbarism and heathenism, and (to some degree) gradually dispelled it.  Industrious priests and monks – though filled with inconsistency and anomaly –  saved men from the wreck of the Roman Empire. They also “saved” the treasures of classical literature, together with the Holy Scriptures and patristic writings, and transmitted them to “better times.”  The mediaeval light was indeed the borrowed star and moon-light of ecclesiastical tradition, rather than the clear sun-light from the inspired pages of the New Testament; but it was such light as the eyes of nations in their ignorance could bear, and it never ceased to shine till it disappeared in the day-light of the great Reformation.  Christ had his witnesses in all ages and countries, and those shine all the brighter who were surrounded by midnight darkness.

On the other hand, it is worth noting that the “middle ages” are often called, especially by Roman Catholic writers, “the ages of faith.”  They abound in legends of saints, which had the charm of religious novels.  All men believed in the supernatural and miraculous as readily as children do now.  Heaven and hell were as real to the mind as the kingdom of France and the, republic of Venice.  Skepticism and infidelity were almost unknown, or at least suppressed and concealed.  But with faith was connected a vast deal of superstition and an entire absence of critical investigation and judgment.  Faith was blind and unreasoning, like the faith of children.  The most incredible and absurd legends were accepted without a question.  And yet the morality was not a whit better, but in many respects ruder, coarser and more passionate, than in modern times.

The church as a “visible organization” never had greater power over the minds of men.  She controlled all departments of life from the cradle to the grave.  She monopolized all the learning and made sciences and arts tributary to her.  She took the lead in every progressive movement.  She founded universities, built lofty cathedrals, stirred up the crusades, made and unmade kings, dispensed blessings and curses to whole nations.  The mediaeval hierarchy centring in Rome re-enacted the Jewish theocracy on a more comprehensive scale.  It was a carnal anticipation of the millennial reign of Christ.  It took centuries to rear up this imposing structure, and centuries to take it down again.

The opposition came partly from the anti-Catholic “sects,” which, in spite of cruel persecution, never ceased to protest against the corruptions and tyranny of the papacy; partly from the spirit of nationality which arose in opposition to an all-absorbing hierarchical centralization; partly from the revival of classical and biblical learning, which undermined the reign of superstition and tradition; and partly from the inner and deeper life of the Catholic Church itself, which loudly called for a reformation, and struggled through the severe discipline of the law to the light and freedom of the gospel. The common interpretation of historians – especially Reformed Historians is, that: The mediaeval Church was a schoolmaster to lead men to Christ.  The Reformation was an emancipation of Western Christendom from the bondage of the law, and a re-conquest of that liberty “wherewith Christ hath made us free” (Gal. v. 1).

 Periods of the Middle Age.

The Middle Age may be divided into three primary periods:

The missionary period from Gregory I. to Hildebrand or Gregory VII., A.D. 590-1073.  The conversion of the northern barbarians.  The dawn of a new civilization.  The origin and progress of Islam.  The separation of the West from the East.  Some subdivide this period by Charlemagne (800), the founder of the German-Roman Empire.

The palmy period of the papal theocracy from Gregory VII. to Boniface VIII., A.D. 1073-1294.  The height of the papacy, monasticism and scholasticism.  The Crusades.  The conflict between the Pope and the Emperor.  If we go back to the rise of Hildebrand, this period begins in 1049.

The decline of mediaeval Catholicism and preparation for modern Christianity, from Boniface VIII. to the Reformation, A.D. 1294-1517.  The papal exile and schism; the reformatory councils; the decay of scholasticism; the growth of mysticism; the revival of letters, and the art of printing; the discovery of America; forerunners of Protestantism; the dawn of the Reformation.

These three periods are related to each other as the wild youth, the ripe manhood, and the declining old age.  But the gradual dissolution of mediaevalism was only the preparation for a new life, a destruction looking to a reconstruction.

The three periods may be treated separately, or as a continuous whole.  Both methods have their advantages: the first for a minute study; the second for a connected survey of the great movements.

Attention should be given to…. [3] 



The Character of Mediaeval Missions should be focused on the conversion of the new and savage races which enter the theatre of history at the threshold of the middle ages, was the great work of the Christian church from the sixth to the tenth century.  Already in the second or third century, Christianity was carried to the Gauls, the Britons and the Germans on the borders of the Rhine.  But these were sporadic efforts with transient results.  The work did not begin in earnest till the sixth century, and then it went vigorously forward to the tenth and twelfth, though with many checks and temporary relapses caused by civil wars and foreign invasions. Then the Christianization of the Kelts, Teutons, and Slavonians was at the same time a process of civilization, and differed in this respect entirely from the conversion of the Jews, Greeks, and Romans in the preceding age.  Christian missionaries laid the foundation for the alphabet, literature, agriculture, laws, and arts of the nations of Northern and Western Europe, as they now do among the heathen nations in Asia and Africa. Salvation and the Gospel message was most often side-lined to the sects. “The science of language,” says a competent judge,  “owes more than its first impulse to Christianity.  The pioneers of our science were those very apostles who were commanded to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature; and their true successors, the missionaries of the whole Christian church.”  The same may be said of every branch of knowledge and art of peace.  The missionaries, in aiming at piety and the salvation of souls, incidentally promoted mental culture and temporal prosperity.  The feeling of brotherhood inspired by Christianity broke down the partition walls between race and race, and created a brotherhood of nations. 

The “mediaeval Christianization” was not personal conversion but rather a wholesale conversion, or a conversion of nations under the command of their leaders.  It was carried on not only by missionaries and by spiritual means, but also by political influence, alliances of heathen princes with Christian wives, and in some cases (as the baptism of the Saxons under Charlemagne) by military force.  It was a conversion not to the primary Christianity of inspired apostles, as laid down in the New Testament, but to the secondary Christianity of ecclesiastical tradition, as taught by the fathers, monks and popes.  It was a baptism by water, rather than by fire and the Holy Spirit.  The preceding instruction amounted to little or nothing; even the baptismal formula, mechanically recited in Latin, was scarcely understood.  The rude barbarians, owing to the weakness of their heathen religion, readily submitted to the new religion; but some tribes yielded only to the sword of the conqueror.

 This superficial, wholesale conversion to a nominal Christianity must be regarded in the light of a national infant-baptism.  It furnished the basis for a long process of Christian education.  The barbarians were children in knowledge, and had to be treated like children.  Christianity, assumed the form of a new law leading them, as a (loose sort of) “schoolmaster,” to the “manhood” of Christ rather than the substitutionary death of Christ..

The missionaries of the middle ages were nearly all monks.  They were generally men of limited education and narrow views, but devoted zeal and heroic self-denial.  Accustomed to primitive simplicity of life, detached from all earthly ties, trained to all sorts of privations, ready for any amount of labor, and commanding attention and veneration by their unusual habits, their celibacy, fastings and constant devotions, they were upon the whole the best pioneers of Christianity and civilization among the savage races of Northern and Western Europe.  The lives of these missionaries are surrounded by their biographers with such a halo of legends and miracles, that it is almost impossible to sift fact from fiction.  Many of these miracles no doubt were products of fancy or fraud; but it would be rash to deny them all.

Supplementary Notes for the Student’s further investigation…

The Reformation: Some General and South African World History highlights and a sampling of dates of some of the early Reformers and  “Radical Reformers” (Anabaptists).

 Year                            Event Sometimes missed

(1369–1415)                 John Hus

1400                             John Wycliffe’s revolutionary writings spread

1415                             John Hus burned at the stake

(ca. 1420–1473)            Gregory the Patriarch

                                      Slave trade with Africa begins

1488                             Bartholemeu Diaz, Mossel Baai, South Africa

1453                             Gutenberg first prints Bible

1457                             Unitas Fratrum (Moravian Church) organized

(1460–1528)                  Bishop Luke of Prague

1490                              Munzer, Thomas and the Zwickau Prophets

(1483–1546)                  Martin Luther and the German Reformation

1492                             Columbus sails to New World

1498                             Savonarola martyred

                                         First Protestant Hymnal

                                         Vasco da Gama – Southern Africa

1500s                            Persecution—thousands of Moravian Brethren flee.

1484 b.                              Zwingli and the Swiss Reformations/revolution.

                                          Hans Hut and Melchior Rinch (Influenced by Münzer)

                                          Hofmann, Melchior and Jan Matthys (Netherlands)

                                          Grebal, Conrad  ~ Biblical Anabaptist from Switzerland.

                                          Blaurock, Georg, (Basel.)

                                          Hubmaier, Balthazar. (Waldshut)

                                          Reublin, Wilhelm, (Basel and Wytikon)

                                         Castleberg, Andreas & others so – Brötli Manz, Stumpf                     

(1564–1616)  Shakespeare

1579–1593  Bible translated by Bohemian Brethren

(1592–1672) Bishop John Comenius (Poland-Amsterdam-England)

               ‘Hidden Seed’ of persecuted Brethren in Moravia

1611     King James Bible

1618     Synod of Dort  (Rigid dogmatism ascends)

1620    America’s Plymouth Colony: Puritans.

            The Thirty Years War in Germany.

1792   Baptist minister, William Carey, published a pamphlet entitled An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use means for the Conversion of the Heathen. In the same year, on 31 May, Carey preached a notable sermon on the theme of missions, calling on his hearers to “Expect great things from God, Attempt great things for God.”

1652-1795   The Netherlands’ South African Period with great  Influence from the Dutch East Indies Company.    1795 the British first occupied the Cape.

The evangelical awakening that had swept through England in the eighteenth century led to a new Protestant missionary movement that was to reach out to the whole world.

[1] Blackwell, Marc S. Sr., Modifications as Resource Material for use with Classroom / Socratic Discussions. Not ‘Lecture’ material.

[2] Schaff, Philip,  History Of The Christian Church,  Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1910, Charles Scribner’s Sons, loc# 39-3700 Isbn 0-8028-8047-9, Reprinted, February 1994, © Copyright In Electronic Form 1996 By Historical Exegetical ‘Lectronic Publishing. (Approved for partial and limited use).

 [3] According to our division laid down in the introduction tt the first volume, the three periods of the middle ages are the fourth, fifth and sixth periods of the general history of Christianity.

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Understanding Christianity’s Early Centuries …


Struggling to understand the Early Centuries of Christianity?

The following notes are general notes (even random, at times) to assist our (CCMI) Cape Church Ministries Institute Church History & Historical Dogmatics students in their various CHH or KDGM courses. These ‘Notes on Church History’ or thoughts and excerpts from sources are the responsibility and reflect the collected thoughts, references, sources and are opinions used by Dr. Marc S. Blackwell, Sr.
In our Historical Dogmatics (Undergraduate and Honours levels) sessions or seminars use a Socratic method rather than a lecture or classroom approach. We do have compact ‘lectures’ by students using Tutorial sessions and these notes may be used with student’s preparing their Tutorials (Oxford Styled).  Students are expected to think for themselves and form their own opinions … these notes are meant to be useful only as socratic catalysts … advancing our ‘group thinking processes’ and these notes and ‘collected sources’ do not reflect “the final word!”

PROVIDENTIAL & MISSIONAL? “AND YE SHALL BE WITNESSES…”         The history of the early church is a history of voluntary missionary outreach (The Acts of the Apostles) and involuntary but providentially approved and/or directed dispersions of believers. This missional outreach was as often as not  “…due to persecution and final sealed through the Jewish War and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The Roman procurators from A.D. 44 onward were oppressive and especially corrupt. In A.D.66, a Jewish uprising occurred in Caesarea. Florus plundered the Temple, and Jewish Zealotry grew. Final Jerusalem came under direct Roman attack and some one million or more were slaughtered, over one hundred thousand were made slaves, thousands of the choicest young men were selected for gladiatorial exhibitions. The Temple was destroyed under Titus…” (Newman, 117-119)

For Christianity all these disastrous events played a vital historical role: (A.) This final ‘dispersion’ of Jews and Jewish Christians guaranteed the spread of the gospel at a much quicker if not much broader level than otherwise imagined. (B.) Christianity was freed from the previous influence and domination of Jewish believers, the Church at Jerusalem (with potential seniority) and the great catastrophe was a direct fulfilment of the Lord’s predictions as recorded in Matthew 21:43; 23:37-39 and in Luke 21:20-28. The writings of the Early Church. (Focus: Early Canonics.) We should first establish that an Apostle was one who had been a personal witness of Jesus Christ, and in addition was commissioned to “propagate the truth by oral announcement” (Neander, 73).


The “gift of prophecy” was also given by the Spirit to the church for the purpose of edifying the church with the New Covenant message with it’s interpretive role over the Older Testament. But as long as the Apostles lived, and the prophetic gift continued in the churches the oral giving of the New Covenant message would be regarded as the prime source of Christian knowledge. As they became available, the writings of the Apostles were considered equal to this special oral message and were carefully collected and used with the Old Testament.

A clear evidence of a New Testament book’s validity was its ability to be compared to all pre-existing books without conflict in content or concept. Their original writing was presided over by both the direct inspiration (breathing) of the Holy Spirit and was preserved (canonized) by Divine Providence. The inferiority of the very best of the writings of the time and the fact that no pagan or Greek or other philosophical teaching or influences can be found further confirm the selection process of the New Testament canon. By c. 150 a definite New Testament “canon” was recognisable. General Christian consciousness of the acceptable books – held over centuries secured the list of book we now have. Some would include or exclude mention of certain of the books, but the reason for this is speculative. The fact of divine protection, and direction of this process by the Holy Spirit is beyond doubt! All the Gospels except that of Mark (A. D. 65) were probably written after the destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70).

The Gospel and Epistles and Apocalypse (Revelation) of the Apostle John were written in his later years. Irenaeus stated that the Gospel of John was, in part, written as a polemic against the heretic Cerinthus and the Ebonite denial of the deity of Christ. (Archbishop Usher, Historia dogmatica controversiae inter orthodoxos et pontificios de Scripturis et sacris vernaculus. ed. Wharton: London 1690)

The First (A.D. 96) and Second Letter A.D. 140) of Clement (addressed to Corinth), Shepherd of Hermas (A.D. 97 or 140 from Rome), The Seven Letters of Bishop Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 111 addressed to Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna.) The Letter of Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna (A.D. 155 addressed to Philippi), The Letter of Barnabus (A.D. 138 A strongly legalistic collection), The Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord, (A.D. 125, by Bishop Papias of Hierapolis, fragmentary, Chiliastic), The Didache, or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, (A.D. 120 Moral and Ecclesiastical precepts.) The Preaching of Peter (Praedicatio Petri, pseudonymous and fragmentary.)

See: drMSBsr, “The early heresies.” (Focus: Gnostics). [ with special notes on: Marcion, and Montanus].

SOMEWHAT RANDOM BACKGOUND HISTORICAL DETAILS OF VALUE: New Testament heretical chronological history should begin with Dositheus, a contemporary of Jesus, who according to the “Clementines” was a disciple of John the Baptist, who declared himself to be the ‘hestos’ (divine manifestation). Simon Magnus (Acts 7) added to the Jewish element a strong mixture of the heathen. The Gnostics: An eclectic religious cult which included influences and teachings of old pagan cosmological and myths; Oriental (Persian, Babylonian, and Indian) and Greek pagan philosophies; the Judaism of Philo and mixtures of Christian teaching and that of heretical and cultish forms of Christianity. In Irenaues ‘ book “Against Heresies” he indicates that numerous and varied groups clearly existed. Saturnus headed a Syrian school of Gnosticism; In Egypt, Basilides led another school. In Rome, Valentinian. Yet, Marcion (138, of Pontus) and his followers seem to have been the most influential of the groups linked with Gnosticism. (Cairns, E.E., Christianity Though the Centuries,1954, 107)

GNOSIS: Read: Colossians 1:19; 2:9. ‘Gnosis’, a supernatural knowledge supposedly obtained by divine revelation, gave the ‘gnostikoi’ (the men who know) a ‘higher knowledge.’ The Gnostics believed they were the only true and acceptable universal religion. Using heathen mysteries, mystical experience, symbolic forms of enchantment and by practicing asceticism higher -redemptive- life was to be achieved. The Gnostic doctrines: Originating in (Persian) Zoroastrianism dualism was central to Gnostic thought. In Zoroaster’s dualism had been physical, i.e. two antagonistic principles -light and darkness.

In the Gnostic’s interpretation of dualistic philosophy light and darkness became a complex metaphysical and antagonistic dualism of spirit and matter. The world of matter under the governance of evil was from all eternity in violent conflict with the world of the spirit ruled by the ‘good god.’ Man: The Alexandrian theory of speculative cosmogony and theogony theorised that from the hidden god there emanated a long series of divine essences (aeons) and the further away the spiritual element moved it lost its power until finally it made contact with matter and was imprisoned in a material body, i.e. man was created. The Creator or Demiurge [Demiurgos] was identified with the Old Testament God of the Jews, Jehovah-God. He was viewed as inferior, antagonistic and ignorant of the ‘good god’. Redemption: Salvation was liberation from the world of matter and made a partaker of the world of light. The ‘Highest Aeon’ came as a redeemer to secure perfect emancipation. Jesus Christ was this redeemer, but atonement for sin through death was not required. Only a teacher was needed! The Gnostic view of Christ was Docetic, i.e. Christ could not unite with the finite – a body, thus illusion was accepted for Christ. (Nygren, Heick and Neander) Additional Reading: ‘Notes on Church History’ – Marc S. Blackwell, Sr. The Apologists. (Polycarp, Justin, Tatian, Athenagoras & Theophilus of Antioch.)

Under the influence of men such as Polycarp of Smyrna (d. 155) a disciple of the Apostle John, a dogmatic spirit grew in the process of repulsing Gnosticism. To preserve the peculiarities of Christianity against Gnosticism Neander reminds us that Christianity “wore a polemic aspect and would keep no terms with the enemy… and … it endeavoured to satisfy the want which had given birth to Gnosticism by a gnosis of its own, built on the ground of faith (‘pistis’) and animated by a Christian spirit.”

Montanism: Vedder informs us that Montanus was a native of Phrygia, a converted priest of Cybele, and began his teachings about 150. Two key women left their husbands and became evangelists, Maximilla and Priscilla (Prisca). Montanus taught three central ideas: (1.) Churches should include only true believers through whom the Holy Spirit gives special revelations, gifts of prophecy, divine inspiration, ecstatic tongues and trances all mixed with soothsaying and divination (2.) The Chiliastic doctrine: the speedy coming of Christ to reign with His saints for a thousand years, and these teachings were tinged with fanaticism and this led to their, (3.) emphasis on ascetism and discipline. They were not condemned as heretics, but as an independent or schismatic church (Moller: Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia.)

Manichaeism, similar to Gnosticism, founded by Manichaeus (216-276) of Mesopotamia. Christian thought, Zoroastrianism, and asceticism with a strong priestly caste and celibate practices all led to a thoroughgoing dualistic philosophy. Persecutions and Schism Early Persecutions: Diocletian and Decius. Ten persecutions are commonly mentioned by the Christian of this period. Three of these were especially marked with bitterness and prevalence throughout the Roman Empire. Christians had experienced persecution from the beginning. Often from the Jewish leadership’s hands, but before long on local levels through Roman governors. By A.D. 49 all Jews were being persecuted by edict from the imbecile Emperor Claudius. By A.D. 64 Nero (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17; the abrupt ending to the book of Acts [?]) openly persecuted Christians, burned Rome itself (Pliny, others) and accused the Christians of the deed. Vedder, In his “Short History of the Baptists,” states that … “The first general and systematic persecution was begun by Decius Trajan (249-251). Fabian of Rome, Alexander of Jerusalem and Cyprian of Carthage are some who perished in this persecution.”

Yet, A. H. Newman, in his “Manual of Church History” indicates the early persecutions may have been more organised and wider-spread than Vedder acknowledged. In A.D. 81-96 Persecution of Christians under Domitian (the son of Jewish persecutor Vespasian and Flavia Domitilla) were based on his demand that everyone worship him as God – Jupiter, and Lord. Many Romans, Flavius Clemens, others were killed, exiled to the island of Pontia, John to Patmos, etc, The first Epistle of Clement of Rome refers to “sudden and repeated calamities and adversities.” Diocletian began the last great persecution (303-311). He ordered the cessation of meetings of Christians, the destruction of churches, imprisonment, destruction of Scriptures by fire and a later edict ordering the Christians to sacrifice to the pagan gods upon pain of death if they refused to do so.(Bettenson, p.20, Eusebius, Church History, VIII:2-12) .

TOLERATION (BEFORE POST-MODERN ‘TOLERATION’) In 311, an edict of toleration was published, confirmed in 313, and with the triumph of Constantine in 323 as sole emperor, Christianity became practically the “state religion.” Schism: Ebionites, Alogi, Docetae, Dynamic and Modalistic Monarchianism. Notes on Schism: The Hypostases: Arius {Theos Deuteros] and Athanasius (Also noting the Originistic Party of Eusebius of Caesarea). Discuss Apollinarius, Bishop of Laodicea (d. 312): {Christ’s ‘logos’ took the place of his human ‘pneuma’- spirit]. Additional Reading: ‘Notes on Church History’ – by Marc S. Blackwell, Sr. (are available for those interested by e-mailing <drmsbsr@icloud.com). Request the article: “Early Charismatic and Pentecostal heresies from an Independent Baptist perspective.”

GREEK PHILOSOPHICAL INFLUENCES: The early Catholic Fathers (Anti-gnostic Fathers) Following the Apostolic Father’s contributions in Ethics, (Clement of Rome,) Against Heresy, (Ignatius,) and Christ’s authority, (Polycarp); the Apologists (Justin, Athenagoras, and Irenaeus), keen to win men to Christ and yet to stand against Greek philosophical errors, often themselves confusing the issues further.

THE UNIQUENESS OF TERTULLIAN AND ORIGEN:  Of the Church Fathers Tertullian stands out as making the best theological contributions and doing much to undue the confusion of some of the others; and Origen stands out as causing the greatest inroad of error. In the post-apostolic Christian literature the tendency toward three distinct, yet converging ideas is obvious. The churches were dividing or uniting over the idea of a universal visible (Holy Catholic) church; a priesthood (monarchal* bishops, and episcopate); and a view that grace depended on sacraments (initially baptism and the Eucharist).

Novatian was possibly the first known “clinic” baptism of a sick person (250). Infants were baptised ‘for their regeneration’ by Tertullian’s time, if not as early as Irenaeus. (*Those that reign as monarchs i.e.”monarchal” – not to be confused with the Second Century Heresy of Dynamic Monarchianism (Unitarianism) or Modalistic Monarchianism or Sabellianism – where the Godhead is perceived as three modes in which God manifested himself. See Tertullian’s response.) Reminder: Persecution led many to unite and schism increasingly was “reckoned the deadliest sins a Christian could commit.” (Vedder, 45)

Earnestly contending for the Faith: Eastern Apologists …. such as Justin Martyr (c 100-165), his pupil Tatian, Theophilus of Antioch, and then Athenagoras looked to the Scriptures (but depended-on and allowed their educational schooling in Greek Philosophy to directly influence) their efforts … to defend the church against philosophy, the Roman Emperors and the gnostic heresies. The Eastern Apologists were regretfully to remain themselves much confused over the Greek teaching they so bravely battled. The Western Church was represented by apologists that were emphasising the distinctiveness of Christianity and was somewhat more exegetical it style. They taught literalisticly i.e. the resurrection of the flesh, based on Christ’s literal resurrection and the indwelling of the Spirit; they taught a coming world Anti-christ and apostasy. They believed Christ would literally appear for the saints, some believed in a first resurrection (rapture), some understood a Millennial Kingdom of peace, as a ‘sabbatic rest,’ some understood the place of the New Heavens and a New Earth.

POLEMICS IN THE LARGER CITY CENTRES OF EARLY YEARS.  Irenaeus: An anti-gnostic polemicist. Born in Smyrna, was acquainted with Polycarp of Smyrna (d. 155), a disciple of the Apostle John. He became a missionary bishop to Gaul. His famous work: ‘Adversus Haereses’ – against the Roman Gnostic Valentinian – condemning Marcion – defended organic unity and succession and vindicated the doctrine of the resurrection. He attacked the idea of matter as eternal and as the source of evil. He was not altogether consistent in his representation of the work of redemption. Sometimes his theology becomes somewhat mystical, i.e the necessity of a living union of Christ with the subjects of the redemption, but this is probably due to his language not his actual thought on the subject.

AN EARLY REFORMER? Hippolytus: Student of Irenaeus. Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. IV., 20) refers to him as in or near Rome, calls him a Presbyter, and was exiled to Sardina with the bishop Pontiatus, A.D. 235. Possibly martyred in Rome. Possibly a Novatianist, but surely at variance with the church at Rome in its increasingly Catholic forms. He wrote a number of works, but his best-known was:” The Refutation of All Heresies” where he places the blame for all theological heresies and perversions of doctrine linked to the speculations of the Greek Philosophers. Tertullian, Quintus Septimus Florens (A.D. 160 – 220) Presbyter of Carthage. Tertullian looks to the Scriptures to base his arguments. Building his doctrine of authority on the truth of God’s Word. The famous Dr. B.B. Warfield points out that though Tertullian lived during the time in history when the “Logos speculation” held a great spell over the world of theology and philosophy, Tertullian, nonetheless held to one thing that he considered more fundamental … “the Rule of Faith – the immemorial belief of Christians, grounded in the teaching of the Word of God… and he recognized it as his first duty to preserve it whole and entire.” (B.B. Warfield, ‘Tertullian and the Beginnings of the Doctrine of the Trinity,’ The Princeton Theological Review, vol IV, No. 2, April 1906; and Collected Studies, New York, Oxford University Press, 1930, p. 107)

Tertullian … like other of the Apologists placed the majority of the blame of theological heresy on the influence of the Greek Philosophies on Christian thought. Cornelius van Til in his Christian Theory of Knowledge refers to Tertullian’s point that “the Platonic theory of knowledge leads to the destruction of knowledge Plato separated intellect and the senses … Tertullian replied: “For is it not true, that to employ the senses is to use the intellect? And to employ the intellect amounts to use of the senses? What indeed can sensation be but the understanding of that which is the object of the sensation? And what can the intellect or understanding be, but the seeing of that which is the object understood? (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Tertullian, Apology, p. 198 XVIII”)

Tertullian also shows that Plato’s theory of a soul being out of touch with the body means that this “platonic soul” could in fact attain to no knowledge at all. (Ibid,203-205 XXIV) He found it necessary to create a new language for himself … but … the subjectivity of his thinking contributed to the obscurity of his language. Frequently injustice has been done him, by culling some of his paradoxical positions from his works and regarding them as characteristic of the whole… Tertullian intended to assert that paradox belongs to the essence of Christianity in opposition to the triviality of the ‘sensus communis, Veritas in medulla, non est in superficie;’ in God everything is rational. (Neander, 55-56)

Tertullian is credited by L. Berkov as the “first to assert the tri-personality of God and to use the Word ‘Trinity’ – three persons of one substance, susceptible of number without division. Yet he did not reach the proper Trinitarian statement, since he conceived of one person as subordinate to the other. (History of Christian Doctrine, p. 67) Tertullian’s Traducianism”: “tradux animae, tradux peccati” i.e. the propagation of the soul involves the propagation of sin. Berkov credits Tertullian for giving us the first defined theological trace of the doctrine of original sin. Evil became as it were a ‘natural element in man, present from birth and that this condition passes over through generation upon the whole human race. (Berkov, History 68)

NOTE: (The earlier Hellenists’ (Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius and Chrysostom) ‘creationism,’ i.e. the doctrine of ‘innate evil’, was later substituted in the Western Latin Theology for “innate sin”. Cyprian, Ambrose and Hillary also taught that all men sinned in Adam, and thus born in sin, but they did not hold to total depravity of the human will.) Tertullian opposed Sabellius, Praxeas and Noetus of Smyrna who developed the Eastern arm of Modalistic Monarchianism and Tertullian accused it of: “He drove out the Paraclete and crucified the Father” Tertullian is also credited for freeing the philosophical concepts of the “Logos” from the Greek philosophers by his simple stress on the “Logos” as a real subsistence, an individual person who was begotten by God and thus “proceeded from Him, not by emanation, but by self-projection… same substance, but differs from Him in mode of existence as a distinct Person.” (LB, History p69)

Melito was alone his equal in explaining the God-man and His two natures. Christ was fully human, distinct in two natures, with each one retaining its own attributes. According to Tertullian “There was no fusion, but a conjunction of the human and the divine in Christ.”(ibid p70) It is nonetheless valuable to remember that Tertullian’s own theology was developmental and when you are reading his writings over the length of his life you will find differences of theological viewpoint. Repentance, satisfaction for sin, mortification of sin and other issue seem to remain confused in some of his writings. Some believe that he may have “embraced” Montanism in his later life – but this view is primarily due to his fervour against the lax spirit of the age. Request the drmsbsr@icloud.com …article: “Councils & Creeds from an Independent Baptist perspective.

The Alexandrian Fathers: Clement and Origen (Hellenistic, Gnostic and Eastern theological influences uniting in an allegorical and literary interpretation of the Bible.) The Alexandrian Fathers on account of their studying the Grecian Philosophy, exposed themselves to the danger of being influenced with the heresy of others. (Neander, 63). They taught “the free will of man … man has the power to accept God’s offer of salvation. (i.e. early .Pelagianism”). Neither of them believed in the resurrection of the body or in a literal millennial kingdom.

Clement serves as an example. He tried to keep faith and knowledge (gnosis) in balance, but his teaching ‘intellectus’ must precede from faith using Isaiah 7:9 LXX. as locus classicus on the subject – in time evolved to a Platonic intellectualism that distinguished between adhering to historical facts as literal in favour of the ‘Gnostic’ on which man raises himself to higher ideas – the allegorical. (Strom, vi. 663-680; Neander 65-67) Clement’s friendliness toward philosophy and sometimes taught that Christian Theology should be a bridge between the gospel and gentile learning. He was docetic, i.e. confused the integrity of the two natures of Christ and confused the concept of Logos by distinguishing between ‘a real logos of God and the Son-Logos’ He sometimes called Christ, ‘Theos Deuteros’ (Berkov, History p. 76).

Origen followed and carried the thought that “spiritual communion with Christ is the fountain of divine life and knowledge… and …as the earthly manifestation of Christ was an image of the Divine activity … by spiritual communion with Him … we understand Him also in His manifestation.” Origen was a rigorous ascetic. He was one of the most educated thinkers of his time. Origen taught that there was two ways to gaining salvation, one by faith (exoteric) and another  knowledge (esoteric). Like many of the Apologists and Fathers he confused repentance and confession of sins before God with faith as linked to the condition for salvation. Origen opposed the Gnostics and Monarchianists, but became a heretic himself by teaching that man pre-existed as a rational spirit co-equal and co-eternal. Origen discriminates between a church proper and an empirical church. He also taught a separate priesthood. The sacraments are all spiritualised and become mystical divine influences and gracious operations of the Holy Spirit.

Origen, like his teacher, Clement believed the heathen could repent in Hades and that “eternal” punishment was purifying and thus not truly “eternal.” Even Satan and the demons would eventually, according to Origen, be restored. Origen did not search for the Spirit in the letter with a sound scientific exegesis but arbitrarily from his preconceived philosophical notions, attached a spiritual meaning to the letter. (In this way he was a forerunner to existentialism and modern “hyper” criticism denying the historical correctness for a dogmatic – philosophical subjectivism).

Student’s Additional Reading: ‘Notes on Church History’ – by Dr. Marc S. Blackwell, Sr. Request the article: “Early Anabaptists from an Independent Baptist perspective.” Additional Reading: ‘Notes on Church History’ – by Marc S. Blackwell, Sr. Request the article: “Pre-reformation Anabaptists from an Independent Baptist perspective.” And “Early Radical Reformers from an Independent Baptist perspective.” < drmsbsr@icloud.com >

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Crossing over between Biblical Studies and the History of Theology can be complicated, but keeping matters simple will be the goal going forward…

Lesser Known lessons from Historical Theological

The “Tutorial” is one of our core methods in the CMI / Church Ministries Institute (or OBK) at this stage of its ‘evolutionary’ development. The new student should not fear the “tutorial” or mistake it as a major “complication” – in their lives. Historically, one can look into the Oxford Tutorial, or the “Precept Tutorial” of Princeton Seminary to obtain a broader overview of the subject. But for our own immediate purposes, the following will get us started:

  • A “tutorial” is an assigned “reading” of about 10 to 15 minutes in duration.
  • Usually one central theme is to be developed by the student and presented to the class or group.
  • Tutorials should present the student’s own views and quotations should be reference and short.
  • Tutorials ‘critically evaluate’ the issue under consideration with life-application issues addressed.
  • Tutorials are followed by group discussionand an assessment by the Facilitator.
  • To prepare for a…

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Planting Wild Olive Trees …

You are invited to investigate and come to a better understanding of  Historical-Theological sources.

Historical Theology investigates relationships.  Researching both the Bible, as God’s verbal plenary inspired Word, and centuries of socio-historical influences under the Lord’s Providential development of His church yields a better understanding of the rise and fall of theological thought, decisions, and directions. The focus of Historical Theologians is centred on discovering the positive providential development of theology amidst the seeming chaos of Church History.

With God’s grace, these discoveries may lead you to a level of spiritual insight that could be compared to something not unlike that of … Planting Wild Olive Trees {Olea europaea sbsp africana]

“The branch of My planting,  The work of My hands,  That I may be glorified.” Isaiah 60:21b nkjv

“The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;  That they may be called trees of righteousness,  The planting of the Lord, jthat He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:3b nkjv

“I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!  For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree…” Romans 11:11-17 nkjv

 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,  And whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,  Which spreads out its roots by the river,  And will not fear when heat comes;  But its leaf will be green,  And will not be anxious in the year of drought,  Nor will cease from yielding fruit.”  Jeremiah 17:7-8 nkjv

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