Throughout the month of September I was studying to teach the New Testament and Church History portion of a Bible Overview class. I’m actually a little more accustomed to teaching through the old testament, so this was something new for me to go a little deeper with. I learned a lot; in fact, it’s been a little over a week now since I taught, and I’m still pondering some of the things I was challenged by as I prepared the lecture. So, I thought I would share a little bit of the history that is to be discovered in the New Testament and throughout Church history along with a raw and incomplete expression of some of the things I’ve been processing because of it.
The New Testament is all about how Jesus came and changed things. Well, that’s putting it rather simply. It’s really about much more than that, I know, but that is what Jesus did. He changed things.
Jesus was a big disappointment for those who were waiting for their messiah because they misunderstood who the messiah was meant to be. Rather than recognizing their need for a savior from their sin, they self-righteously hoped for a conquering king who would set them free from the pagan nation ruling over them.
Sometimes God’s way of doing things seems to be totally at odds with the way we think things should be done, right?! We say, “I need a mighty warrior to save me from my enemies!” And he says, “No, you need a savior to set you free from sin.” Jesus was exactly what God had promised throughout the old testament, and yet so many of his people were disillusioned because they expected something different, and they were unwilling to accept any change to their system that was implied by Jesus’ claims.
Jesus’ life and resurrection changed things, and change can be uncomfortable. God’s people went from striving to keep his commands and having to make sacrifices for their sin to being handed a new covenant that didn’t require anything of them apart from accepting the gift of God’s grace that Jesus enacted once and for all through his death on the cross.
Before ascending to heaven, Jesus commissioned his followers, and as they boldly proclaimed the good news of salvation through faith, they were persecuted. They were persecuted because there were many who still rejected that Jesus could have been the messiah they’d waited for and that faith in him was enough for salvation, and there were others who didn’t appreciate the way Christians challenged cultural norms. Except for John, every one of the 12 apostles (including Matthias, who replaced Judas) was killed because they accepted Jesus’ charge to go and make disciples of all nations…and countless others gave their lives so that one day the gospel would make it to you and me.
The church grew, despite persecution. In fact, somehow it seems as though it grew because of persecution. The way Christians were willing to die rather than recant their faith in Jesus was an undeniable testimony that lead witnesses to also surrender their lives to Jesus.
And then a crazy thing happened…it became popular to be a Christian.
The Roman Emperor, Constantine, prayed for victory against his enemies, and when he received his victory, he declared Christianity the official religion of the empire. The church suddenly went from the constant threat of persecution to being surrounded by people now claiming to be Christians as if it was the new fad. What happened after that should have been a time of great awakening; God’s truth should have transformed the empire! I know little about this period of time though, and what eventually followed was an era we call the dark ages – the result of what happens when the bible is removed from the hands of common people like you and me and truth is dictated and [sadly] manipulated by a select few.
It was declared that the Bible could only be read in Latin, the language of the elite and educated. People were told what the Bible said and what they needed to do in order to obtain salvation. The original intentions of this decision were good. The church was trying to combat false teaching – a very honorable endeavor, until the very thing they were trying to thwart became the result of their efforts, false teaching that claimed once again, that faith in Jesus wasn’t enough for Salvation and produced fear in the hearts of the people.
Thank God for the reformers, the men who rose up against the false doctrine being propagated by the church and fought to put the Bible back in the hands of the common folk.
When John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English, a single page could be purchased for a month’s worth of wages and possession of it was punishable by death. Wycliffe was forced to flee for his life and the copies were destroyed. A little more than a hundred years later, William Tyndale took on the challenge of translating and printing the Bible in English, and he was killed for doing so.
Lives and nations were transformed as a result of the work of these and others. It lead to great missionary movements that brought the gospel to new places. And now, we are a part of the story.
Jesus promised that one day he would return. Until then, we have a job to do. We must honor his desire for all men to know him by also accepting his commission to go and make disciples of all nations.
As I studied and then had the opportunity to teach about these things, I was challenged. And I was challenged at a time when the last thing I wanted was to be challenged! Seriously!
I was challenged by the thought that I too might have been disappointed by Jesus if everything I’d been raised to believe dismissed my need for a savior from my sin. What’s scary is that I think our society has fallen into that same self-righteous mindset, and so many people are lead to reject Jesus because they believe they don’t need him.
I was challenged by the fact that sometimes God’s way of doing things seems absolutely absurd, and yet he flawlessly fulfills his promises. Sometimes I don’t understand why things happen the way they do, but history teaches me to trust God’s faithfulness.
I was challenged by the lives of SO MANY men and woman who were so convinced that Jesus was [and is] the only way that they were pleased to die because of it. And because of their willingness to do so, eventually the gospel made its way to me. I pray that somehow my faith would be so firm that I would be willing to imitate these as they imitated Christ.
I was challenged by the Bible I page through each day – our gift from the men who stood up for its authority and fought and died to make it available so that we could read it, study it, and discover God’s truth in its pages. Oh how I’ve taken it for granted.
Ultimately, I was challenged to be grateful.
The Bible Overview by Kerry Neve and Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley were my main resources as I studied to teach the New Testament and Church History class. Much of what I’ve shared here are insights I gained from that material.