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Early Church History (Pre-Reformation): A Believers Chapel Series

April 14, 2011 1 comment

I recently listened to the first half of Dan Duncan’s (Believers Chapel Dallas) Church History series:  15 messages for the pre-Reformation period.  He started this series in 2009, and is still teaching the second part, forward from the Reformation.  (At this writing, 14 more messages are available, up through Calvin part 4.)

Over the years I’ve picked up different aspects of Church history, from evening classes at local churches, as well as assorted articles on different topics, but this is the first church-class series I’ve seen that goes into fairly good depth especially concerning pre-1500, and that presents history from the evangelical, Calvinist premillennial viewpoint.  The lessons generally center on topics, such as the canon of scripture, martyrs, the heretics, bishops and popes (beginning of that system), and pastors and teachers (highlighted four men from the 4th and 5th centuries).  Additional sessions discuss Arius, Athanasius, and Augustine (three sessions).  Unlike most church history series, this one included two messages for the “Dark Ages.”  While I tend to disagree with his broad brush labeling of the full thousand year period as the “Dark Ages,” Dan Duncan did point out that it wasn’t all dark, and brought out several highlights from the period, including Anselm (11th century), a German monk from the 9th century, and Bernard of Clairvaux (12th century), as well as a brief history and proper perspective of the Crusades.

What standard Augustinian Reformed churches won’t address, this series points out:  the replacement theology inherent in the Crusades (the Holy Land is now for us Christians who have replaced the Jews), specifics of what Augustine taught both good and bad, and that Catholicism formed from Augustine’s ideas.  Other past series I’ve experienced would teach a great deal concerning the Jerusalem war of A.D. 70 and the subsequent Bar-Kokhba revolt ( A.D. 130), but omit many of the early church history characters, only briefly discuss Augustine, and primarily teach the Reformation.  This series really doesn’t say a lot about the destruction of Jerusalem (a topic well known in many church history series but really not part of that history), except in passing comments about the spread of Christianity to the Gentiles in the Roman Empire.  Typical Reformed church history series will not mention Augustine’s connection to amillennialism and Catholicism — or if they do, uphold Augustine as on a par with inspired scripture.  In this series Dan Duncan devotes a full message to Augustine’s later years, the formation of his amillennialism, and a (brief) discussion of Augustine’s exegetical errors with reference to Revelation 20.

Even this series is a general overview, of course, and books always provide more details than can realistically be taught within a weekly church class.  Even two lessons to cover the whole Medieval period omits much –  though I expect the series will cover a little more, since one of the later messages (in the Reformation section) is titled “Forerunners.”  The lesson on the martyrs only discussed the majors among “the ten” persecutions, omitting the particular incident I personally appreciate: the martyrdom of Perpetua, Felicitas and a few others in Carthage in 202. Yet Duncan does teach about the Montanists (early Pentecostals) and Tertullian’s joining them, pointing out both their good and weak points; Perpetua and Felicitas were “almost certainly” Montanists as well.  Through this series I also learned about the modalists (original version of today’s oneness Pentecostals, who deny the trinity and say that God changed modes, from Father to Son to Spirit), and reviewed other important early theological battles concerning Christ’s human and divine natures as well as Arianism and Pelagianism. I also appreciated the additional information concerning Anselm and Bernard of Clairvaux, men I had a little familiarity with.

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