To jump to the Timeline of Church history, click here: TimeLine
We’re a long way from Bethlehem. Or are we?
To read through the Book of Acts, and also St Paul’s letters and epistles to various congregations, is to behold, in one sense, the photograph of a baby. We see the Church not in a state of realized fullness, as if it was suddenly birthed into perfect maturity, but with its perfection in germinal form. We see the Church there as we see Adam – created in perfection, yes, but relative perfection. Spiritual growth, the preservation of purity, union with God, proper use of free will – these were still choices that Adam had to make in the Garden of Eden, just as they were choices that the early Christians had to make in Jerusalem.
To read the New Testament is also to see the ascended Christ abide with His people in the Holy Spirit. And if, as we read in I Corinthians chapter 12, the Church is the “Body of Christ,” and if, as we read in Luke chapter 2, the Christ child “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men,” then we accept that the Church after Pentecost also increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
In his book Credo, Christian historian Jaroslav Pelikan would call this increase not change, but continuity: as time passes, the Church does not grow more and more into something it was not intended to be, but more and more into something it already is – what St Paul calls “the pillar and ground of the truth” and “the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
The growth of an acorn into an oak tree is continuity; the growth of an acorn into a giraffe is change. Every development of Christendom in history may be understood as either another growth in continuity, or a new detour into change.
Here’s a handy timeline of Church history: Time Line