The Five Great Eras of Church History

It is interesting to note that, for approximately the last two thousand years, God has benchmarked every five hundred years as a time for both great reformation and transformation in His Church as it hinges on the backdrop of the Roman Empire and its influences. Around 4 B.C. the long-awaited Christ made His appearance on the scene of human history. In 476 A.D. the last of the Roman Empire fell. In 1054 A.D. the Great Schism occurred then, finally, in 1517 A.D. Martin Luther ignited the Great Reformation. As we are coming up on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I believe we are on the verge of experiencing the final great event of Church history — the glorious appearing of our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).

  1. The Great Transformation Era.
  2. The Great Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
  3. The Great Schism.
  4. The Great Reformation.
  5. The Great and Glorious Appearing?

The Great Transformation Era

The first of these four periods was the entrance of the incarnated Jesus into the timeline of history. Jesus came to set men and women free who had been placed in bondage for so long both by sin and the unrighteous teachings of the religious leaders. These Jewish leaders had turned God’s Word and the temple practices into a means by which to make great profit and to maintain political control. They also hoarded the truth of God for themselves and made it even more difficult for Gentiles to come and worship Jehovah. Both the religious leaders and the people were in desperate need for a spiritual reformation. Yet for this to happen, what they needed most was the Spirit of God to transform their lives through the sacrifice of Jesus. Every instance in human history of revival and restoration of God’s people is brought about by the power and initiative of God the Father.

The Great Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

When persecution began to arise from the Jewish people and the Roman government towards the Christians, God scattered His people to all corners of the known world. For a long time, Christians endured horrible treatment. Yet, the time came in the early 300’s A.D. when the power of the Gospel reached through to the heart of the Roman Emperor Constantine who established Christianity as the religion of the State. The pendulum then swung as the outcome of conversion to Christianity went from persecution, loss of wealth and even the loss of life to an abundance of social, political and economic advantages. This act of Constantine, though possibly well-intentioned, enticed people to convert even if they did not believe in Christ so that they could receive the worldly benefits of being a Christian.

It is easy to see why so many unregenerate individuals would claim Christianity simply because of the elevated status the title would bring. These false converts were then placed in positions of authority throughout not just the government but the Church as well. This caused true believers of God to be led astray into both theological errors and sinful practices which began plaguing the Church. Yet, God was still faithful. When Rome eventually fell in 476 A.D due to barbarian invasions, God used this second period of time to establish and strengthen His Church through suffering. Christianity was no longer politically and economically pleasing in the eyes of the world thus the true heart of the Gospel could be taught undefiled and uncorrupted. Not only that but, with the incoming clusters of people groups due to the fall of Rome, history shows God’s sovereign hand in using such uncertain times to reach them with the Gospel of Christ.

The Great Schism

The third great mark occurred in 1054 A.D. and is known as the Great Schism. This tumultuous event was a major separation which concluded with the division of the Church into two parts: the west and the east. This division was brought about through theological disputes, cultural preferences and political idealism. However, much of this separation was hinged upon regular Church practices, control over sacraments and the authority of the Pope. With the refusal from the east to accept the full sovereignty of the Pope and Rome over the entire Church body, the Great Schism actually prepared the groundwork for the Roman Catholic Church to experience the fourth period which is known as the Great Reformation.

The Great Reformation

In the early 1500’s, a monk named Martin Luther submitted his life to Christ and began studying the Scriptures. As he grew in his understanding of God’s Word he became increasingly convinced that the Catholic Church had lost its way. The Spirit of God was giving this man and others the ability to see the love and truth of God, both theologically and practically. Just as God listened to the cries of His people when they were enslaved in Egypt and sent to them a deliverer to free them from their bondage, He once again saw the spiritual captivity of His people enslaved by the hopeless traditions of the Roman Catholic Church and was moved to action. Each one of the great eras previously mentioned was due to the faithfulness of God in the lives of His people in bringing them out of great apostasy. This is why this last period is referred to as the Great Reformation — because only the Great Jehovah can bring His people out of great and terrible sin and perform a great transformation in their lives. After all, the spiritual reformation of the Church is not brought about by human initiative, but rather through divine appointment.

Nearly five hundred years later, the Church today is in desperate need for a new Reformation. Today Churches are full of those who do not know their Bibles, people who have forsaken Biblical morality and those who confuse the definition of love. Five hundred years ago, there was a break in the Church because the leadership felt they could interpret the Bible the way they felt it should read. As in the days of Martin Luther, the Word of God once again is being twisted and distorted not by skeptics, but by those who claim the way of life. This corruption is not coming from outside, but from within. This internal degradation occurred in the time of Christ, just before the fall of Rome, during the Great Schism, throughout the Great Reformation and it is happening today with the authority of the Scriptures challenged by the very ones who claim to hold spiritual authority. Five hundred years after Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses which led to the Great Reformation and a thriving Church, the Church is now found struggling.

The Great and Glorious Appearing?

This brings us to the time when I believe our generation will be eyewitnesses to the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Biblical prophecy is making history, scientific advancement is a growing reality and Christian apostasy is becoming the norm. Everything the Scriptures have declared regarding the events of the end times is being fulfilled before our very eyes and, if history repeats itself through another wave of God’s great faithfulness as we approach this 500 year benchmark, you and I are about to see firsthand the glorious appearing of our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ. Whether it will be His second coming or not, we can be overwhelmingly confident that the impact of God reforming His Church will result in global ramifications. Pray earnestly that the Father would send His eternal Son back into the world for the salvation of His bride. Are you ready?

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