The Christian Broadcasting Network

Greatest Moments in the History of the Church

By The 700 Club - Over the past two millennia after the birth of Jesus Christ, the world has witnessed key events and leaders who have bravely shaped our Christian faith. Church history professor Peter Prosser reveals and explains those pivotal moments in light of the third millennium.

PAT ROBERTSON: Here to share with us about the leaders and events that have shaped Christianity before and since the turn of the first millennium is Regent University professor of Biblical Studies, Dr. Peter Prosser. Peter, it is always good to have you back with us.

PETER PROSSER (Regent University Professor): Thank you, Pat. It is nice to be here.

P. ROBERTSON: Let's go way back because the millennium began with Rome and the persecution of Christians, actually if we could consider it, the birth of Jesus, the Apostles. I suppose we talk about the Book of Revelation being written around A.D. 90. And then Augustine, we are looking at, give or take, A.D. 400--what? -- A. D. 430 or thereabouts?

PROSSER: A.D. 390, yeah.

P. ROBERTSON: 390, 400. Okay. But Rome was collapsing and Christianity was rising up as the Roman Empire was collapsing. Who was the figure, if you can point to one, in the church who was sort of holding it all together?

PROSSER: Ironically, as the Roman society was falling apart, the Roman Catholic Church that was developing basically took over the vacuum. And you could arguably say, that since Augustine was the Christian thinker who converted out of heathen philosophy and became one of the world's great thinkers in his own right and his view, first of all, conversion in his book called Confessions and then in his large book The City of God, he set out what it would mean to have a Christian society in the place of the ruined Roman society, and that basically ruled the church for the next thousand years until the Reformation.

P. ROBERTSON: So, if you take two towering figures, you are talking about Martin Luther on the one side, and about Augustine on the other side. These were the two great pillars.

PROSSER: That's right. Constantine, who allowed Christianity -- some people think that he forced Christianity on people, but he did not; one of his sons did -- he brought Christianity in as the regularized religion of the empire. Augustine really gave the philosophy and the theology of the church.

P. ROBERTSON: Well, Constantine was really A.D. 323. Isn't that right?

PROSSER: He got converted in 313.

P. ROBERTSON: 313. I have got 10 years on him. So the western part of the empire, he is in the eastern part, but the western part is collapsing. The Goths, the Visigoths, the vandals -- they are overrunning Rome

PROSSER: He was in Rome and moved to the eastern part because of the collapse, and that is how we got Constantinople, or Istanbul. But Augustine really ruled the thoughts and theology of the church for the next thousand years. And Luther, of course, if we look back on Luther, Luther was an Augustinian friar. John Calvin took most of his theological ideas from Saint Augustine. The ideas of sovereignty, predestination, individual rights, separation of church and state all come out of those writings and are developed by later church leaders. Luther, with his salvation by faith; Calvin, with his ideas of civic responsibility, theology, and work, the whole theology of work -- really affected our society, our western society.

P. ROBERTSON: From the visible point, not the philosophical or theological, but it was a pope, Pope Leo who was the pope with the titular head of what was the Roman church and a survivor of the empire.

PROSSER: That's right. When the barbarian hoards were pouring in and attacking Rome, it was largely Leo who stepped forward, actually, and turned aside the Huns, the Hun tribe, and said, 'Don’t destroy Rome because the Christians here are trying to preserve society, not destroy it.' With a word he sent them on their way. It was the only place that the Huns didn't wreck.

P. ROBERTSON: Look at the period, say, between 400, or thereabouts, and the year 1000. We've got Charlemagne coming in. But what went on? There was a Pope Gregory who was a missionary pope. But what else was happening with Christianity during that period of time? Some of it is known as the Dark Ages; we went into a period of severe decline.

PROSSER: Yes, the Dark Ages start really after Pope Leo, after he dies. Saint Augustine can see it coming. That is why he writes The City of God, one of Rome's most famous books in history. Then the Dark Ages come in, largely because the barbarian tribes are coming in and wrecking civilization. Everything goes on hold for six hundred years.

P. ROBERTSON: Six hundred years is a long time! But Roman society literally collapsed. Rome became just a little swamp

PROSSER: And the only thing in its place was Christianity. You can see that in the third millennium, what's happening to us.

P. ROBERTSON: But there was corruption in the Roman church.

PROSSER: Certainly

P. ROBERTSON: And when did that begin to be most manifested? Of course, you have the so-called Holy Roman Empire at about 800 A.D. and Charlemagne and they say it wasn't holy and it wasn't Roman and it wasn't an empire

PROSSER: The comments of Winston Churchill.

P. ROBERTSON: But what was going on? I mean, we have a move from that into the Reformation and the Renaissance where civilization begins to wake up again. What were the key transitional points around about 1000?

PROSSER: I think that, although the papacy certainly started to fall apart, it was the monks, especially the monks of Ireland, who went out and evangelized Germany, what is now Holland, northern Germany, Scandinavia. It was really the monastic movement that evangelized during the Dark Ages, and that set up the world for the coming of Saint Francis of Assisi, for instance, in Italy.

P. ROBERTSON: We've got to fast forward a little bit because our time is running out. The key events: you've got the Reformation with Luther, you've got Calvin, and then you've got the great revival of John Wesley in the 1700s. Move all the way up to our present time. What are the single events and what do you see?

PROSSER: For our modern time, I think the Pentecostal revival that began at the beginning of the century, which is now estimated to be five hundred million people or more; the Charismatic renewal after the Second World War, which has certainly affected all the churches and even the Jewish people themselves; at the century, I think the worldwide missionary movement, which is trying to complete the Great Commission that God gave to us, which is to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, everybody needs to hear -- at the end of this century, I think those are the pivotal things: the power of the Holy Spirit, the missions movement, doing what God told us to do, completing the task, so that if Jesus wants to comes back we are ready for Him.

P. ROBERTSON: How do we stand at the end of 2000 vis--vis the way the church stood at the end of 1000, in your opinion?

PROSSER: We are very different, yet very similar, at the same time. At the year 1000, many people thought that Jesus would come back and they were worried, like Y2K. Many people were saying, 'Praise God! So let Him come.' I think that there was a great sense of expectancy, expectation. I think that that is happening again. I think that those are the similar things, the expectation is certainly the thing.

P. ROBERTSON: The church now-- of course, in those days, as far as Europe, the church was everything. Everybody would say that they were a Christian. I guess the whole

PROSSER: Yes, Christendom, as you mentioned earlier.

P. ROBERTSON: Christendom. Christianity is the largest religion in the world. It has one billion -- what?--eight hundred plus million adherents and it is growing at an incredible rate. Are we as powerful as we were then as Christians, or are we a beleaguered minority? How do you see it?

PROSSER: I think that when we live here, we think that we are a beleaguered minority in America. But as somebody said, America and Europe are probably the only two areas in the world where Christianity is not growing much. Everywhere else it is growing like crazy. I was in China this summer. There are a hundred million Christians there, and this is after fifty years of being persecuted by Communism. I think maybe we need to realize that is not so much the power of number, but what those people are doing: evangelizing, and so on. That is what is really going to change the Earth and the world.

P. ROBERTSON: Well, ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate professor Prosser who is a professor of church history at Regent University for this overview of an incredible millennium and the time prior to that. It gives us a great deal of hope as we move into the third millennium after Christ.

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