When was evangelism removed from the discussion points in church history prior to the Reformation? When did the fulfillment of the Great Commission (including church planting) become a part of the “History of Missions,” and not a part of “Church History” proper?
When was a particular atonement dropped from the theology of the Church of Rome? When did taking or doing certain sacraments become the accepted approach to salvation, rather than salvation through hearing the gospel, repenting and believing in Jesus, and all by the grace of God alone?
These questions and many more may be asked of the early church. It seems like their true answer is clouded in vagaries and couched in evasion.
But there actually was a time in the early church when some of its manifestations were Evangelical. And throughout the history of the churches, there have been some who have maintained a gospel witness.
This fact was brought to my attention when I read the 1999 French book called “The Gospel and Evangelism in the 12th and 13th Centuries” (see cover @ evangile et evangelisme2). I was shocked that this subject was even a matter of discussion for these French University professors. But the content of the book radically reoriented my view of both the Middle Ages and the Early Church.
In fact, I wrote a paper on my preliminary findings based on this book titled, “Dying for the Great Commisssion: A 13th Century Struggle over Definition” (available @ http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/dgc-text9_w_cover.pdf).
Yet, while there are many unanswered questions in early church history, from God’s vantage point, one thing is clear: God has never left Himself without a witness in the church age, and this in three ways:
- He maintains His witness to all men through creation (Acts 14:17);
- He preserves His witness through His Holy Word (Psa 12:6-7);
- He extends His witness through His blood-bought church (Matt 16:18).