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The story of Christianity

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1st century: Pentecost

The final instruction of Jesus to his followers was to wait in Jerusalem and expect to be made powerful.  His closest followers (all Jewish) and maybe one hundred others did so.  They met to pray regularly. 

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1st - 2nd century: Jews and Gentiles

Persecution sent the followers of Jesus scattering through the towns around the Mediterranean Sea, talking about their new beliefs as they went.  This presented their leaders with a problem.

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3rd century: Persecution

Thousands of Christians died in arenas as a spectator sport, alongside other hated minorities.  The church was divided over
how to respond.  Some leaders saw the State as evil and encouraged martyrs to be seen as honoured people who should never be forgotten.

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3rd - 4th century: Empire

Unity became a priority for the church.  An issue that had to be faced was whether Christians who had forsaken their faith during the decades of persecution should be accepted back.

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4th - 8th century: Mission

The Christian church was now large, highly structured and powerful, and that made it harder to be true to its founder.  The intellectual explanations of God’s nature seemed far removed from the simple devotion which Jesus’ original  followers had.

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9th - 15th century: Crusades

In Rome in 800 the Pope crowned a new leader with the title Holy Roman Emperor.  This was Charlemagne, and he had a vision for a glorious Christian culture in which government and religion were one.  The combination of a Pope with colossal control and an Emperor expanding his territory by conquering people created a mighty force – Christendom.

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16th century: Reformation

The world was changing and there was an increasing awareness that the way the Christian church needed to lead people in their faith needed to change with it. 

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17th century: Counter-reformation

The foundation of Protestant churches provoked changes in the Catholic church in response.  In 1537 a damning report drew attention to corruption and recommended substantial reform.  In Spain a former soldier called Ignatius, from Loyola, founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).

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18th century: Reason

Scientific study accelerated during the 18th century.  Alongside it came an energetic faith in the logical power of ‘reason’.  Hope grew that the more humans could comprehend, the more their knowledge could be made to benefit the world. 

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19th century: Challenge

The Roman Catholic Church experienced a turbulent period, from which it emerged revived.  Pope Pius IX oversaw the loss
of huge areas of Italy over which he was effectively king.  At one point he was forced to flee Rome in disguise.  When he returned it was to the tiny city-state within the city called the Vatican.

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20th century: War

In the early years of the 20th century a movement began in Los Angeles which had a dramatic impact worldwide.  In local churches events were taking place which seemed like those in the very first church in Jerusalem after Pentecost.  Christians were speaking ecstatically in unknown languages (‘tongues’).  Healings were taking place in ways that could not be explained by medicine.  This was happening in response to prayers for the Holy Spirit of God to work in powerful ‘charismatic’ ways. 

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20th - 21st century: World

The most telling feature of world Christianity in recent decades has been the move away from a hierarchical church, dominated by priests, to one where the whole people of God together form the church.  This was evident when Pope John XXXIII called the world’s Roman Catholic leaders together in 1962 for the second Vatican Council. 

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