Christianity has a troublesome history. The Christian religion is not a single, monolithic thing, but a cascade of divergent segments with great differences, even contradictions, between them. Christian history can be divided into:
The Apostolic age: This began at 33 a.d., and lasted until shortly after 100 a.d. During this time, the body of scripture used by the Christians consisted of the Hebrew Old Testament, primarily the Septuagint. The leading figures knew or met Christ, and spread their testimony of Him. Paul was a towering figure, writing two-thirds of the letters which would later become “books” in a new addition to scripture, The New Testament.
The Ante-Nicene Period: This began shortly after 100 a.d., and lasted until the Council at Nicaea in 325 a.d. The testimonies of the Apostolic Fathers were collected and began to be regarded as scripture. By the 300s these writings were respected, but they would not acquire an official status as a “New Testament” canon until the council of Trullan in 692 a.d.
Catholic Christianity: The consolidation of Christianity into a universal, or catholic, tradition followed Constantine’s decision to make it the state religion of Rome. Though splinters remained, the state religion used coercion against the unorthodox groups, and did its best to kill off other versions.
East-West Schism: In 1054 a.d., a split between Rome and Constantinople divided the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Christian Church. The division remains today. When they parted company, they also parted in beliefs, practices and claims to authority. The Orthodox tradition prized the vision of God, mystic or gnostic knowledge as superior, while Rome prized rational theology, reason and philosophical knowledge, trusting it as the superior route to truth.
The Great Schism: In 1517 a.d., Martin Luther posted a list of 95 abuses the Roman Catholic Church was practicing (known as “The 95 Theses”) which led to his excommunication in 1521 and ultimately to a rebellion in Germany against Roman Christian hegemony. Although he did not intend to found a church, the Lutheran Church claims Martin Luther as their founder. Among other things, the Roman Catholic monopoly on possession of and reading scripture was overthrown by Luther when he translated the New Testament into the common language. The movable type press, invented by Johannes Gutenburg in 1440 a.d., made widespread printing and distribution of the scriptures possible. It was the alignment of Luther’s religious rebellion, the availability of the printing press, and Germany’s desire for independence from Rome that allowed the Protestant Reformation to begin.
Living at the same time as Luther, John Calvin aided in the Protestant fires against Rome. Luther and Calvin initially agreed with each other, but fell into disagreement over the interpretation of the Eucharist.
John Knox also lived at the same time, and led the reformation in Scotland. He is credited as founder of the Presbyterian Church. He was troubled over the authority given a woman king by Catholic Bishops and questioned the “divine right” to rule in those circumstances. He wondered at the duty to serve and obey an idolatrous sovereign, asking John Calvin to counsel him on these topics.
Much of the Protestant Reformation grew out of the abuses inherent in combining church and state. When a state religion claims it is true and approved of God, then anything resisting the state religion is by definition both false and in rebellion against God. It was easy for “Christianity” to torture, kill, imprison and abuse their victim-proselytes for more than a millennium. That was part of governing.
Evangelical Era: One of the most recent Christian developments is the innovation dubbed “Evangelical Christianity” which began in the 19th Century. Credited with laying the foundation for this innovation are John Wesley, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. Billy Graham made it spread internationally.
Christianity is anything but a smooth transition from New Testament source to modern denominations. There were serious disconnects from the Apostolic age to the time of Constantine. If there was any legitimacy to the founding of the Roman Catholic Church, then the subsequent rebellion of, and excommunication by Rome of the Reformation founders renders Protestant Christianity powerless to save. And if the Protestant Reformation was justified by the wickedness and apostasy of Rome, then the Roman Catholic Church forfeited their right to claim to be Christ’s one-true-church. If Rome made herself a harlot by selling indulgences or forgiveness of sins, then the Protestant daughters are children of that harlot and hardly able to claim authority derived from Christ’s ordination of apostles. (John 15:16.)
Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic Christians should be troubled about the legitimacy of their sects. Their denomination (whichever they accept) has taken a troubling route from the death of the apostles until today. The developing stages are so jarringly different from one another that the modern Evangelicals would be regarded as heretical and either forcibly converted or killed in the first fifteen-hundred years of “Christianity.” Even after the Protestant Reformation, church and state remained intertwined and heterodoxy was still dangerous for the non-Lutheran in Germany, the non-Anglican in England and the non-Presbyterian in Scotland.
The English colonies and early states of the United States likewise had tax-supported state churches. The First Amendment prevented a national religion, but the states were free to adopt their own state religion. Virginia had as the state religion the Anglican or Church of England for 224 years (1606-1830). New York had the same state religion for 225 years (1614-1846). Massachusetts had the Congregationalist Church as their state religion for 204 years (1629-1833). Maryland adopted the Anglican or Church of England as the state creed for 235 years (1632-1867). Delaware, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania did not have an official religion, but supported clergy with tax dollars for 155 years, 199 years and 109 years respectively. Connecticut’s state religion was Congregationalist for 179 years (1639-1818). New Hampshire was also Congregationalist for 238 years (1639-1877). Both North and South Carolina were Anglican or Church of England for 212 years (1663-1875) and 205 years (1663-1868) respectively.
Roman Catholicism was discouraged, even persecuted in the American colonies and early states. The Puritans, who fled to the colonies to escape religious persecution, wanted freedom of religion for themselves. But they did not extend that freedom to other faiths, and were intolerant and opposed to religious freedoms for Catholics in particular and other religions generally.
If the divergent Christian positions asserted by various Christian sects are taken at face value, then within the billions who have believed in some form of Historical Christianity almost all will be damned because they have failed to believe in the “correct” version offered by competing groups.