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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.