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Church History in Ten Minutes

Length - 10:26
Published - May 2017
Keystage(s) - 3 and 4

Church History in Ten Minutes – How do we get from Jesus to the great big church – all the great big churches – we have today? Well, it’s a long and complicated story, involving emperors, crusaders, popes, castration and a lot of arguments. Here it all is in just ten minutes, so hold on tight.

TrueTube films are designed for use in a number of ways. Some ideas of where this film could link to your curriculum are below:


Component 1: The study of religions: beliefs, teaching and practices - Christianity - Introduction /pre-work


Not required for exam board


Not required for exam board


PART B -Theme 1: Issues of Life and Death -Beliefs about death and the afterlife – Christianity-  Christian beliefs and teachings about life after death, including soul, judgement, heaven and hell: John 11:24-27, 1 Corinthians 15: 42-44  Diverse Christian beliefs about the after-life: Heaven, Hell, Resurrection, Purgatory  How Christian funerals reflect beliefs about the after-life  Humanist funerals in Wales as reflections of beliefs about death as the end of life


Component 2 (Route A) Study of Christianity - Practices - Christianity in Britain and the Church in the local community - The role of the Church in the local community; a place of worship, social and community functions

Church History in Ten Minutes

Right, so what you need to know is how we get from Jesus here, to the great big church, all the great big churches we have today. No problem.

So Jesus Christ, in parables, miracles, love your enemies, death and resurrection amazing. He had lots of followers or disciples, but these 12 guys were specially chosen by Jesus and he made Peter their leader. When Jesus went up to heaven this lot, well, one was replaced, another story. This lot continued to spread Jesus' teaching, but not everyone was happy about it. The Romans, for a start, who had already crucified Jesus and felt that should have been an end to it. And the Jewish authorities employed people like Saul here to stamp out the new religion. But then Saul had a vision and heard Jesus. Why are you giving me a hard time? What's your problem? So Saul changed his name to Paul and spent the rest of his life spreading the new religion instead. Paul and Peter and the rest of the 12 are known as the apostles, which is Greek for messengers. The people who believed the apostle's message began to meet together, and someone in Antioch came up with a nickname for them, Christians, because they followed Christ. Paul and Peter and a few others wrote letters to these groups of Christians called churches, and you can read some of them in the Bible.

Around about now, the first book about Jesus' life was written. It's called Mark, and you can read that in the Bible, too. In the following 50 years or so, the books of Matthew, Luke, and John appeared, all with a slightly different take on Jesus' life. Most Christians believe that Peter became the very first Bishop of Rome, a dangerous place to be. Fire destroyed most of the city, and rumours spread that the Emperor Nero had started it to clear the land for a massive palace. He needed someone else to blame, so he picked on the Christians. No one liked Christians. Everyone thought they were superstitious because they didn't follow the Roman religion or even the Jewish one. They were probably criminals because their leader, Jesus, had been executed and they were cannibals because they ate bodies and drank blood. They didn't, it was the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper, of course. All a misunderstanding, but the upshot was that thousands of Christians were persecuted and killed. Nero used them as human candles, and many more met gory deaths in the circus. Not that kind of circus, that kind of circus! Peter and Paul were probably executed around now, the story goes that Peter was crucified upside down and Paul was beheaded. The other apostles were all killed too, apart from John, who was the only one to die of old age.

But Christianity continued to grow. The churches were run by bishops, and the first ones, along with other Christian thinkers of the time, are known as the Church Fathers. Most of them were killed as well. Right from the start, Christians argued about what to believe and how to behave. One of the Church fathers, a man called Origen, even castrated himself because he wanted to live a pure life, but it didn't catch on. In Britain, Christianity probably arrived with Roman converts trying to escape the persecution, some hope. One of the first British Christians we know about, a man called Alban, was beheaded, for being a Christian. Then a general in the Roman army, called Constantine, became emperor, and he'd recently converted to Christianity, or so he said. His story was that he'd had a vision of a Christian symbol called the Chi Rho, the first two letters of Christ in Greek. He heard the words by this sign conquer, so he got his soldiers to paint it on their shields, beat anyone who fancied a fight, and became emperor. But his conversion might have been a crafty political move, Constantine wanted everyone to work together, but the Roman religion got in the way because different people worshipped different gods. He saw Christianity, a religion in which everyone worshipped the same god, as a good way to unite the empire. Little did he know how things would turn out.

Constantine passed a law that allowed Christians freedom to worship without persecution. This meant that the bishops could get together to decide exactly what they all believed. They drew up the first draft of the Nicene Creed, a statement of their beliefs that churches still use today. This big bishop-y get together was called an ecumenical council, and there were seven in all because the arguments went on and on, mainly about Jesus. Some people believed he was just a man. Some people believed he was God and had disguised himself as a man. Some people believed he was two beings, God and man in one body. The councils eventually decided that Jesus was totally God and totally man at the same time.

Christianity was made the Roman Empire's official religion by the Emperor Theodosius, who also split the empire in two, and despite the bishops efforts to keep everyone together, the church was beginning to split up as well. The Nestorians left at the Council of Ephesus because they believed that Jesus was just a man, and God's Spirit had come to live inside him. More people, known today as the Oriental Orthodox Churches, left at the Council of Chalcedon. They didn't like the Council's description of Jesus, of one substance with the father, and at the same time of one substance with man, because they thought it sounded too much like what the Nestorians had said. They also didn't like how powerful the Bishop of Rome was becoming.

For a long time now, the Bishop of Rome, also called the Pope, had been gaining power partly because he'd inherited the authority of the Apostle Peter, but mainly because those guys in Rome were really good at organising everyone. The Western church and the Eastern Church was slowly drifting apart. They just didn't talk anymore. Most people in the West spoke Latin. Most people in the East spoke Greek, and the East didn't like having to do what the Pope said all the time. And then the West added some words to the Nicene Creed without asking the East. They were living separate lives. For a while, the Eastern Church was more powerful than the West, which had to cope with marauding vandals, the fall of the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages. By the time the West had sorted itself out, the East had challenges of its own, as a new religion called Islam spread out from Arabia. In the West, Charlemagne was now ruling well, most of it, he gave himself the title Holy Roman Emperor and got the Pope to crown him. This gave the Pope even more power, because from now on you couldn't be emperor unless the Pope said so.

Finally it happened. The Great Schism. The church split in two. The Eastern Orthodox Church in the East, obviously, and the Roman Catholic Church in the West. The Roman Catholic Church became more and more powerful, while the Eastern Orthodox Church began to feel more and more squeezed out by the rise of Islam. This is where the Crusades come in. The Pope sent thousands of soldiers to the East to claim Jerusalem for Christianity, but the so-called Crusaders left a trail of destruction across Europe, before they got anywhere near a battlefield. The Muslim leaders fought back, and over the next 150 years, there were six more big crusades while the two sides struggled for control of the Holy Land. Eventually, the Crusaders gave up and went home. But the fact that the Pope now had the power to send soldiers to war shows that something, somewhere had gone very wrong. Even your local priests were getting too big for their boots. Church services were in Latin and the Bible had been translated into Latin. But by now only educated people, like priests, could understand Latin. So everyone else had to trust that what they said, the Bible said was what the Bible really said. Some priests had seen an opportunity here and had started to charge people to forgive their sins, placing themselves firmly between God and everyone else like holy bouncers.

A professor at Oxford University called John Wycliffe argued that it was time for the church to clean up its act to be reformed. He translated the Bible into English so that everyone could read it for themselves and make up their own minds. It didn't go down well with those in charge and his Bibles were burnt. It took a long time for an actual reformation to kick off, but eventually a German priest called Martin Luther wrote a list of 95 theses, things he thought were wrong with the church, and nailed them to the door of an actual church in Wittenberg. The Pope sacked him, which Luther didn't mind because priests couldn't get married, and if he wasn't a priest anymore. A group of nuns had written him some fan mail, so he smuggled them out of their convent in herring barrels and married one of them, after she'd had a long bath. The people who protested against the church and its teachings became known as Protestants. Other big names included John Calvin in France and Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland, but they argued forever about what to believe instead. So, very soon there were different groups of Protestants protesting. England remained officially Roman Catholic, and it was dangerous to be anything else. William Tyndale made himself so unpopular with his Protestant ideas that he had to leave the country. He translated the New Testament into English, and copies were smuggled back home to help Protestant feelings grow.

Then King Henry the Eighth decided to marry Anne Boleyn, but he was already married to Catherine of Aragon. Divorce was out of the question back then, so Henry asked the Pope to annul his marriage instead, which would mean that the marriage had never been a real marriage in the first place. The pope said no, but Henry had met a friendly English priest called Thomas Cranmer and made him Archbishop of Canterbury, so Thomas was more than happy to annul Henry's marriage to Catherine and marry him off to Anne. The Pope was very cross, so Henry left the Roman Catholic Church and made himself head of a new Church of England. The Roman Catholics realised they had to do something before everyone became a Protestant, and so the Counter-Reformation began.

Catholic bishops got together for the Council of Trent, where they decided to keep their traditions, but made rules to stop priests conning people out of their hard earned cash. The Church of England was still very like the Roman Catholic Church, just without the Pope. But when Henry died, his nine year old son became King Edward the Sixth, and he allowed Thomas Cranmer to make the Church of England more Protestant. Cranmer wrote a list of 39 articles which spelt out what the church stood for and stands for today, and wrote the Book of Common Prayer, which some churches still use.

But the fiercely Roman Catholic Queen Mary the First, reunited England with the Pope and had lots of Protestants burnt at the stake, including our friend Thomas Cranmer, earning herself the nickname Bloody Mary. Then Mary died. Elizabeth the first became queen, and she made England Protestant again. Next came James the First, who was the first monarch of England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. He was a big fan of Protestantism, and even published his own translation of the Bible. As European empires spread throughout the world, so did Christianity, and churches sent out missionaries to convert people in those hard to reach places. The Protestants continued to, well, protest, and there have been various offshoots over the years, from churches like the Quakers and Methodists, who have fairly mainstream beliefs, to groups like the latter day Saints of Jesus Christ, known as Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses, who have more distinct beliefs of their own.

In 1962, the Roman Catholic Church held a council known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican Two, which brought in some big changes. Church services, which had always been in Latin, were now to be in the language of the people. And so we continue to the present day, with churches of all different kinds all over the place, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and ever increasing numbers of Protestant churches, Lutherans, Calvinists, the Church of England, Methodists, Quakers, Baptists.

You have to wonder what Jesus would say about it all.

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