BY PAULO SÉRGIO GOMES
REFLECTIONS ON TWENTY CENTURIES OF CHURCH HISTORY
Sinclair B. Ferguson is a professor of Systematic
Theology at the Reformed Theological Seminary.
He preaches regularly at St. Peter’s Free Church
in Dundee, and he has written over fifty books, from
scholarly works to youth literature. In his Scottish homeland,
he has pastored the small congregation of Unst, the
northernmost inhabited island in the UK, and another
one in downtown Glasgow. Finally, he has also served as
a senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Colombia, SC.
The title In the Year of Our Lord was picked on purpose, and while, according to the author, it doesn’t concern the church’s history, it does take in some of the most significant stories in these two millennia of Christianity. The book’s resolve has much to do with a notorious global tendency to diminish the influence Jesus Christ has had in the history of mankind. This happens even in the oldest universities, where the halls once known as colleges of theology and divinity are now departments of religion and religious studies. In many cases, those colleges that were ranked among the best have now been integrated in the “arts” or “social studies.” In essence, they became branches in a broader concept of anthropology (the study of man, his environment, philosophy, etc.). The focus is no longer in God, but in man and his spiritual experience, subordinating Christian faith as a mere religious experience.
Starting his chapters with excerpts corresponding to the respective century, Ferguson tells us about decisive facts and events in Christian Church history. Throughout twenty chapters – one for each century – since the beginning of the Christian movement, the author presents to us figures and instances that had a major significance in the development of the church in an universal form.
One of these figures is Origen of Alexandria (or Caesarea), perhaps the most brilliant, but also the most brazen, Christian thinker of the third century. He lived under extremely rigorous patterns of self-discipline and abnegation, taking Matthew 19:12 to the letter, which to him castrating himself.
The fourth century was one of the most relevant in the Church’s first millennium, given the brutal persecutions on Christians, ordered by the Emperor Diocletian, that intended to destroy the Scriptures, thus stalling the progression of Christianity.
Meanwhile, the eleventh century would usher in Anselm of Canterbury and his ontological argument for the existence of God, which is perhaps the least known of the classical arguments, yet the most fascinating to philosophers nonetheless.
In the following century, with the development of universities and the creation of the Inquisition, another figure full of charisma emerged within Christianity – Bernard of Clairvaux (already introduced to our readers on Biblion #6), who founded his monastery in 1115, renowned by his phenomenal knowledge of Scripture, his influence in the ecclesiastical sphere, and the enthusiasm with which he defended the Crusades.
RELATED ARTICLE: THE XI’AN-FU: CHRISTIANITY IN CHINA (635-845)
Foreboding the arrival of the Protestant Reformation, Sinclair Ferguson addresses the impact several figures had in setting in motion such events as those starred by Martin Luther, from John Wycliffe, one of the most powerful precursors of the Reform, to Jan Hus, who saw his books being burned at the Cathedral of Constance, having he been executed while reciting Psalms; or Girolamo Savonarola, who ended up being excommunicated and executed, after having inspired the people of Florence with the eloquence of his preaching.
In this highly recommended publication there is room for other individualities such as William Wilberforce, Charles H. Spurgeon and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, among many others. Ferguson challenges us to choose the “Book of the Twentieth Century,” reflecting on the twenty centuries of Christian faith. The author’s pick falls on Knowing God, which is an absolutely deserving work.
In conclusion, Jesus continues to build His Church with His people two thousand years later, and will do so until the end of times. This is the yet-to-be-fulfilled story of In the Year of Our Lord.