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The Church’s Story: A Survey of Church History

Recently we studied The Church’s Story: A Survey of Church History, based on a (paid) video series produced by the Center for Christian Studies and taught by Dr. Keith Stanglin, a professor of historical theology and an excellent teacher. Our class access to these videos has lapsed, but you or your church can purchase access to their video course.

Each week we had live, guided class discussion for each lesson.  The videos of additional lecture and our discussions, the topics and the readings are available on this study page, but they assume you have access to and are designed to complement the CCS video study.


Why Study Church History?

Although we usually study a Biblical text, there are some great benefits to studying the history of the church.

First, understanding how the church progressed and matured helps us understand church doctrine.  Often, the church had to wrestle with the meaning of the Scriptures to address a particular heresy. Understanding the problems they were addressing helps us understand the resulting doctrine.

Second, we know from looking around at the many types of Christian churches today that the church divided into multiple traditions – from Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox to the huge numbers of Protestant churches.  Church history helps us know why and how that happened.  

Third, there were early church writers who wrote about many beneficial subjects.  For example, there are texts about the worship practices of the earliest church, the reasons Christians shouldn’t be persecuted by Rome, and the way to interpret Scripture in light of Jesus.  Knowing who these writers were and when they wrote helps make their writings more accessible.

Finally, studying church history helps us focus on the strong elements that every Christian tradition holds in common, such as our worship of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the lordship of Jesus Christ.  

Why use a video series?

As a professor of historical theology, Dr. Keith Stanglin is an expert source for this very large subject. Deanna took his two-semester graduate class on this subject and it was excellent! Although we won’t cover as much in just these 12 sessions, we’ll have all the benefits of Dr. Stanglin’s expertise at a survey level.  

Dr. Stanglin is also a good teacher who makes a big subject accessible, even if you’re new to the material. In addition, we’ll have the benefits of class discussion as we engage together after every video.  


Lesson 1 (Jan. 10, 11): The Importance of Studying Church History

Preparation Readings and Questions for this lesson:
  1. Read these five passages in which Paul uses the word “traditions” – 1 Cor. 11:2, Gal. 1:14, Col. 2:8, and 2 Thess. 2:15 & 3:6 (“traditions” is the literal translation of the 
    word rendered “teachings” in the NIV in the last two passages). Are “traditions” good or bad in each of these verses?
  2. What do you think of when you think about “history?” How about “tradition?” In what ways are these positive? Negative? 
  3. In what ways are you interested in, or not interested in, studying church history? Why? Do you have objections to studying church history? Why or why not?
  4. What might the study of church history have to offer contemporary Christians and churches?

Link to printable Lesson 1 Handout

Lesson 1 Handout with answers filled in

If you missed class, Watch Video Module 1 on the CCS page (contact Deanna if you need the login info), then watch the video discussion linked above. You can also watch The Tuesday video here

Lesson 2 (Jan. 17, 18): Apostolic Fathers

Preparation Readings and Questions for this lesson:
  1. What reason for studying church history spoke to you after last week’s class? What do you think you can gain from this study?
  2. Read Phil. 4:1-9. Which elements of this passage are specific to the time/place of writing? Which are applicable to all readers? How can we tell? Make a note of the personal names.
  3. If you wanted to make a timeline of Earliest Christianity, the period of the NT to 311AD, what are some significant events you could put on it?
  4. What are some “central themes” or main messages of the New Testament?

Link to printable Lesson 2 Handout

Lesson 2 Handout with answers filled in

Read Didache here

If you missed class, watch Video “Module 2” on the CCS page (contact Deanna if you need the login) when indicated in the video discussion above. 

You can also watch The Tuesday video here

Lesson 3 (Jan. 24, 25): Trouble from Without – Persecution

Preparation Readings and Questions for this lesson:
  1. What was noteworthy or striking to you about Didache? What did you notice about the practice of Baptism? The Lord’s Prayer? The Eucharist? What were the overall messages of this text?
  2. What else did you take away from last week’s lesson on the Apostolic Fathers?
  3. Read Acts 17:1-9. What were Paul and his companions charged with? What kind of charge is that? What group instigated the action against Paul and company? What group was supposedly threatened by their claims?
  4. Read 1 Peter 2:9-12 and 4:1-4. What situations can you imagine that Peter could be speaking to? What does it sound like is happening among Peter’s readers? What is his counsel to them?

Link to printable Lesson 3 Handout

Lesson 3 Handout with answers filled in

Read Ignatius’ Letter to Rome here

If you missed class, watch Video “Module 3” on the CCS page (contact Deanna if you need the login) when indicated in the video discussion above.

You can also watch The Tuesday video here.

Lesson 4 (Feb. 7, 8): Trouble from Within – Heresy

Preparation Readings and Questions for this lesson:
  1. What was most striking to you about Persecution in the Early Church? What stood out to you from the letter of St. Ignatius to the Romans?
  2. Read the following list of passages (Dr. Stanglin will use this list of passages in the video). Which passages strike you? 
    What is the overarching concern? 
    *The easiest way is follow this link to Bible Gateway and view them all. Or look up just a few!
    Mt. 7:15-20; Mt. 24:23-24; Acts 20:28-35; 1 Cor. 11:23; 1 Cor. 15:3-5; 1 Cor. 16:21; 2 Cor. 11:13; 2 Cor. 12:11-12; 2 Cor. 13:5-6; Gal. 1:8-9; Gal. 6:11-16; Phil. 3:2-3; Phil. 3:17-19; Col. 4:16-18; 2 Thess. 2:1-2, 2 Thess. 2:15; 2 Thess. 3:17; 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 3:1-9; 2 Tim 4:3-4; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; 2 Pet. 3:14-16; 1 Jn. 4:1-3; 2 Jn. 7-11; Jude 3-4; Rev. 2:6, Rev. 2:14-15; Rev. 2:20; Rev. 2:24
  3. What do you think of when you think of “heresy?” Is it an important factor in the life of the church? What counts as heresy and what does not?
  4. How does our society view the material world as opposed to the spiritual world? What about the body as opposed to the spirit? What does Scripture teach about this?

Link to printable Lesson 4 Handout

Lesson 4 Handout with answers filled in

The additional reading is Irenaeus, Against Heresies: Preface; Book I ch. 8 paragraph 1; Book I.10:1-2; Book III chapters 3-4. All sections available at https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103.htm.

If you missed class, watch Video “Module 4” on the CCS page (contact Deanna if you need the login) when indicated in the video discussion above.

You can also watch The Tuesday video here

Lesson 5 (Feb. 14, 15): Christology – The Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople

Preparation Readings and Questions for this lesson:
  1. What is important about doctrinal controversy in the early church? How should Christians recognize what is right teaching and what is false? Have you observed any ways that Gnostic-like matter vs. spirit dualism (matter bad/spirit good) is present in our culture?
  2. How would life change for early Christians if the Great Persecution suddenly ended, and then Christianity quickly became the favored religion of the Roman Empire?
  3. Read Acts 15:1-21. What steps did the Jerusalem Council follow? How might the church use that as a pattern for resolving doctrinal questions?
  4. In John 10:30, what is Jesus saying about his nature in relation to the nature of the Father? If they are one, how does Jesus use the joint subject “I and the Father” and the plural verb “are?”

Link to printable Lesson 5 Handout

Lesson 5 Handout with the Blanks filled in

The creeds for additional reading are included in the handouts. A further additional reading is a series of letters from Arius and from another Bishop about Arius.  Find it from the CCS website or here.  

If you missed class, watch Video “Module 5” on the CCS page (contact Deanna if you need the login) when indicated in the video discussion above.

You can also watch The Tuesday video here

Lesson 6 (Feb. 21, 22): The Rise of Islam and The Crusades

Preparation Readings and Questions for this lesson:
  1. What were Arius’ claims about Jesus? Why did the nature of Jesus and God matter so much? What was most striking to you about the period of the Ecumenical Councils?
  2. With what religion would you associate Confession of Faith, Prayer, Fasting, Giving to the Poor, and Pilgrimage? To what kind of life do these practices lead? 
  3. Read Phil. 2:6-11. What is the Christian concept of power and how it is to be used?
  4. Do you believe Scripture supports the idea of “just war?” What passages would be for or against?

Link to printable Lesson 6 Handout (no blanks this lesson)

See the video on the spread of many world religions at https://youtu.be/AvFl6UBZLv4

You can read the following texts mentioned in the videos:

If you missed class, watch Video “Modules 6” and “Module 7” on the CCS page (contact Deanna if you need the login) when indicated in the video discussion above.

You can also watch The Tuesday video here

Lesson 7 (Mar. 7, 8): Monasticism

Preparation Readings and Questions for this lesson:
  1. What was most interesting to you about the Rise of Islam and its effect on the church? What was most surprising to learn about the Crusades?
  2. How would you characterize the church of 1000AD compared to the church of 500AD? What differences can you identify from what we’ve studied so far?
  3. Read Mat. 19:21 and Luke 12:33-34. What do these passages mean? How do you think they are meant to be applied? 
  4. What do you know about monks or monasteries? Have you heard of St. Benedict, St. Francis of Assisi, or other individual monks or nuns? What do you know about them?

Link to printable Lesson 7 Handout

If you missed class, watch Video “Module 8” on the CCS page (contact Deanna if you need the login) when indicated in the video discussion above.

You can also watch The Tuesday video here

Lesson 8 (Mar. 21, 22): Reformations

Preparation Readings and Questions for this lesson:
  1. What was important about Monasticism? How did it influence the church? Can you sum up how the church was different in 1000 from the church of 400?
  2. Consider the impact on the West of the increased trade and awareness that followed the Crusades. If the West had more trade and contact with Eastern sources (who has preserved many ancient writings that had been lost in the West), what results would have have in the West?
  3. What was the Renaissance? Look up a definition and consider how it fits into what we’ve talked about so far. We’ll also introduce it in class.
  4. Read Eph. 2: 1-10. How are we saved? What is the role of good works?

Link to printable Lesson 8 Handout

You can read Luther’s 95 Theses here: https://www.luther.de/en/95the…

You can read Luther’s “Preface” to his Latin works here: https://www.bluffton.edu/cours…

If you missed class, watch Video “Module 9” on the CCS page (contact Deanna if you need the login) when indicated in the video discussion above.

You can also watch the Tuesday Lesson 8 video here

Lesson 9 (Apr. 4, 5): Arminian Controversy

Preparation Readings and Questions for this lesson:
  1. What did you learn about the Protestant Reformation? What motivated the Reformers and what were their points of contention with the Roman Church? What are some legacies of the Reformation (good and/or bad)?
  2. Once the Reformation was fully underway, meaning groups have separated from the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), what would you expect to happen next? How would you guess those who separate from the RCC will proceed?
  3. Read John 6:25-47. What does Jesus say about coming to Jesus, about believing, and about God’s choice of who believes? What does this mean for your understanding of “predestination?”
  4. Read Eph. 1:4-5 and 2 Thess. 2:13. What do these verses tell us about God’s choice of those who will be saved? What does predestination mean?

Link to printable Lesson 9 Handout

You can read Arminus’ description of the Reformed doctrine of predestination from his Declaration of Sentiments at https://ccel.org/ccel/arminius/works1/works1.iii.ii.ii.html

You can read some of the twenty reasons Arminius gives for rejecting this Reformed predestination (perhaps especially reasons XVIII and XIX), available at
https://ccel.org/ccel/arminius/works1/works1.iii.ii.iii.html.

If you missed class, watch Video “Module 10” on the CCS page (contact Deanna if you need the login) when indicated in the video discussion above.

You can also watch the Lesson 9 Tuesday video here

Lesson 10 (Apr. 11, 12): Enlightenment and Skepticism

Preparation Readings and Questions for this lesson:
  1. What were the characteristics of the next period after the Protestant Reformation? What does “Confessionalization” mean? What was significant to you about the differences between Reformed (Calvinist) and Arminian thought? 
  2. Our lesson will be on the Enlightenment period, the “Age of Reason.” What is human reason? How would you define it? 
  3. Read about Paul in the Synagogue in Acts 17:2-3. What was the role of reason in what Paul was doing? What was the foundation of truth in this passage?
  4. Read 1 Peter 3:15. What is the role of reason? How does it interact with faith?

I don’t have a Wed class video this week – I tried to attend an event for my son and teach class and at the same time (when will I learn not to try to double up??) and I didn’t get a good recording.  If the Tuesday class is too hard to hear and you are interested in a lecture-style recording, let me know and I may be able to add one.  

Link to printable Lesson 10 Handout

You can read Dr. Stanglin’s selections from Descartes’ Discourse on Method:  Descartes Selections at the CCS website.

If you missed class, watch Video “Module 11” on the CCS page (contact Deanna if you need the login) when indicated in the video discussion above.

Lesson 11 (Apr. 18, 19): Pietist Revival

Preparation Readings and Questions for this lesson:
  1. What were some common objections to the Confessionalization and Conflict that followed the Protestant Reformation? What were the characteristics of the Enlightenment period? How did one trajectory of the church embrace Enlightenment principles?
  2. Read Luke 6:43 – 45 and Hebrews 4:12. What is the role of the “heart?” What kinds of things does the “heart” do in our lives?
  3. Read Romans 6:19-23. What is “sanctification?” 
  4. Read Acts 26:15-18. What does it mean that we have already been sanctified? Compare these last two passages. What does it mean that we are being sanctified?

You can also listen to the Tuesday Lesson here.

Link to printable Lesson 11 Handout.

You can read selections from Spener and Pascal here.  

If you missed class, watch Video “Module 12” on the CCS page (contact Deanna if you need the login) when indicated in the video discussion above.

Bonus Lesson: American Restoration Movement

Preparation Readings and Questions for this lesson:
  1. Read John 16:13. What does it say to you about how the church should relate to the early church?

We will not cover this video in class (we only have 12 lessons and the series has 14 videos), but you can watch Video “Module 13” on the CCS page (contact Deanna if you need the login). It is about the movement(s) by Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell around the turn of the 19th century to “restore” the first-century church in their time, which resulted in the Church of Christ, Christian Church and Disciples of Christ. 

Here’s a video on how to log in and watch Dr. Stanglin’s videos! Contact Deanna if you have any trouble.

Link to printable Bonus Lesson Handout

If you would like to do the supplementary readings, please find them at The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki…)and Declaration and Address, excerpts (https://www.christian-studies….

Lesson 12 (May 2, 3): 20th Century Developments

Preparation Readings and Questions for this lesson:
  1. What was Pietism? How did Pietism relate to the Enlightenment? What elements of Pietism are relevant or helpful to you today?
  2. If you watched the Bonus Lesson on the American Restoration Movement, what is Restorationism? What was the Stone-Campbell Movement? What elements of the American Restoration Movement resonated with you?
  3. Read John 1:1-18. Can God be known? How can we know God? Dr. Stanglin will talk about the work of theologian Karl Barth and how he finds Liberal Protestant Theology too focused on humans and not on God. What does this passage teach about who is at the center of reality?
  4. What have you learned from our survey of Church History? What are some helpful elements of what we’ve studied? What will make a difference in your Christian walk?

You can also listen to the Tuesday Lesson here.

Link to printable Lesson 12 Handout.

You can read selections from Barth’s Church Dogmatics here.

If you missed class, watch Video “Module 14” on the CCS page (contact Deanna if you need the login) when indicated in the video discussion above.


Please fill out an end-of-series Survey:  Printable Survey or Online Survey.

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