It is important for all Christians to understand the history of the church. I'm often surprised by so many who have absolutely zero idea how we got from Jesus to today. Even my husband was mistaken and he's pretty good at getting Christianity, even if he doesn't believe as strongly as I do.
First off we start with the Jewish faith. All Christians are Jews, but not all Jews are Christians. For that matter, all Muslims are Jews too, since they too branch off the Jewish faith. That's right. It may surprise you to know that the Muslims believe in Torah. Yes, it doesn't make sense for them to hate Jews so much, since they are Jewish by foundation, but alas they do.
Anyway, both of those are ancient. The Christian faith does not branch off the Muslim, but only the Jewish. I'm a visual learner so let's look at it like an organizational chart, shall we?
See how they both branch from Judaism. Jesus was a Jew. His followers founded the first churches. The problem was that Jesus was now gone so they had to figure out the kinks. As the church became more organized, they needed some guidance.
Along came Paul. Paul was a Jew who hated Jesus. He didn't become a Christian until Jesus died, but once he did.., wow! He was pretty intense and had some strong beliefs on what the churches would do. Slowly though, a foundation was made and this became what we know as the Orthodox church.
Don't let Catholics tell you they came first. They did not. No. They absolutely did not. My husband was married to a Catholic before me and he said she told him they came first. I proved to him otherwise.
That said, a thousand years passed with every thing hunky dory. For the most part, the Christian church was united as a whole. However, this was not to continue the same way.
Eventually the East and West began to see things differently. Most of it was political, some was theological but probably mostly it was cultural. Either way, they disagreed and so the church split. It's really rather interesting because Western Europe is much different than Eastern Europe and so even today you can see a line to be drawn between them.
Nearly 500 years pass when a new idea dawns. A studious priest heavily objects to the teachings of the Catholic church. In fact, he calls them liars. His name is Martin Luther (no, not the infamous peaceful African-American).
Until Martin came along, the Catholic church was organized carefully. As with any large scale entity (whether it be government or religion) corruption becomes wide spread. The church was no exception. Martin was the whistle-blower of his day. He was the brave hero who stood up to say what was really going on in the church.
Catholics believe that Peter was the first pope and that Jesus handed him all rights for running the entire church. I won't debate that fact for now, but suffice it to say it's what they believe. In their minds, Peter then can pass on special permissions to those under him and those can pass on special permissions and so on. This is the basis for their belief that a priest can forgive you in the name of God.
However, what if a priest said "You can be forgiven if you give me $20"? Well, that's not exactly how it went, but it's pretty close. They began to capitalize monetarily on their positions. Instead of an oath of poverty, they raked in wealth and power.
Martin decided the people needed to know. Also, at that time there was no public education. Most everyone was illiterate. Only special folks were allowed to learn to read. For this reason, they were relying on what the priests told them the Bible said.
Martin led the Western world into church reform. This period is called the Church Reformation. He opened the eyes of the Western world and this word spread. Soon, there were many with strong opinions on the matter. People began reading the Bible out and suddenly Christianity was sounding very different.
Then there was Christian war. The Catholics were not so ready to give up its position and power and those who opposed them felt very strongly about their convictions. Catholics burned the reformers or what we now call protestants alive at the stakes. They named them heretics and felt that they were against God and so did not deserve humane treatment.
That's not to say that the protestant world had their hands clean. They returned the favors and sadly, to this day this fighting still continues these 500 years later in some communities. It's not to the extent that it was during the middle ages but it does exist. I remember watching on 60 Minutes as a child (I think it was 60 Minutes) where Irish Protestant and Catholic children were throwing rocks at each other.
Once Protestantism spread it became just as prevalent as Catholicism. Then Protestants began to separate based on their beliefs into a bunch of separate churches. Some organized, some not so much. There are Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterian and though Lutherans like to deny Protestantism, Lutheran too. After all, they did not remain with the Catholics so they protested by separation.
If you were to create a chart about beliefs between the three main churches (Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant) you would see hardly any similarity, except for a man named Jesus and a Bible, the rest is not the same. Heck, even the Bibles are slightly different.
There are many other religions that claim to be Christian but unless they fall under those three, they are usually rejected as a true Christian church. Those tend to be things such as Mormons, Jehovah's Witness, etc. Also, nearly all will agree that the Westboro Baptist Church are anything but Christians. I'm not politicizing here, just stating fact.
Now, there is another schism on the horizon. Apathy has made its way into our churches and reform has reared its head again. Some churches are surrendering to political correctness under the guise that Jesus would allow it.
I will not debate the issue here. That is for another blog post. The purpose of this is to give a factual easy to understand history of the church. With that in mind, there is much more to be learned about it. I highly encourage you to read up on it. Read the Bible, read the opinions and decide for yourself what you believe to be true. Don't listen to slant. Listen to Jesus and your heart, and let them guide you.
God bless you all!