As many of you know, I have been working on this concept for about a decade now. This is the first time that I have taken the opportunity to make a descriptive graphic. Please look it over here and let’s talk about it.

PLEASE NOTE: this is in no way attempting to be prophetic.

click on graphic to enlarge

My primary goal here is to show my developing perspective on the history of the church. Protestants believe in “development.” Unlike the Eastern Orthodox, we are not trying to get back to the beliefs and the practices of the first few hundred years of the church. While we, as the graph shows, believe that there are wonderful “states of being” in every life-stage, our desire is to learn from the past and mature.

Free Video – Session 1 from the Church History Boot Camp

DNA: DNA is the basic building blocks of life. Everything you are has been encoded on your unique DNA from your conception. In the church, the DNA never changes. Further life-stages are merely a working out, maturation, and development of this DNA. When God’s special revelation was finalized at the completion of the canon of Scripture, the DNA code was manifest and ready for development. While the church goes through maturation, the basic doctrinal components will always be recognizable and reflective of its DNA. The DNA determines the orthodoxy and catholicity (universality) of the church.

Infancy: Like when a child is born and just beginning to discover and experience the world through sense perception, love, and intimacy, the earliest church, after the death of the Apostles, is birthed into a time of self-realization. On the run from persecution and attempting to find its place in a very diverse world, the church experiences a time of innocence. Words are just being formed. Though the concepts are present, the church lacks the sophistication to articulate itself well. Doctrines such as the Trinity and Atonement are present in seed form, but have yet to find a definite expression.

Adolescence: Like a child who is now out in the real world, expression and discovery are greatly realized. The church, being free to worship due to the civil toleration of its faith, begins to mingle with others, both believers and unbelievers. The purity of the fellowship experienced previously begins to give way to differences and corruptions in the real world. This forces the church to more precisely discover and define itself for the purpose of self-preservation. The great creeds and councils of the church are realized during this time.

Teens: Moving out of adolescence, people enter into the time of life where they are increasing in knowledge, but their lack of wisdom, which can only be gained through experience and critical thinking, creates attitudes and dispositions that can be very immature. Knowing the basics of life and how to express them, we turn into bigger-than-life know-it-alls. The church seems to have gone through its teen years during the “Dark” or Middle Ages. If “Dark Ages” can be used of teens, it seems to fit well with the church. The church over-defines itself and begins to take on an air of arrogance leading to the need for dramatic change. While the DNA is still present, it is during this time that we experience physical, mental, and emotion distortions more than any other.

Twenties: During our twenties, a transformation and maturation takes place that saves us from our rebellious teen years. We often think of our twenties are the “red-faced” era where we are redeeming, restoring, and reforming our lives (which almost ended during the teens!). Experience and mature thinking produce stability and hope. Our parents become “pretty smart people” for the first time. In the maturation of the church, we look to the time of the Reformation for such redeeming stability. The Reformation presented the church with a time of doctrinal reflection, stabilization, and maturation.

Thirties and Forties: During this time, we have a good ten to twenty years of “the real world” behind us. Reflection on ideals, hopes, and dreams presents us with a time of adjustment. Often, unmet expectations, difficulties of marriage, paying bills, and children of our own bring us to the brink of disaster. We call this a “mid-life crisis”. The fork in the road is definite. We have been climbing ropes for a long time. We now either decide to find new ropes or hold on to a certain few more tightly. This seems to where the church is at now. Much doubt, depression, and disillusionment. Many adjustments are being made. Some are abandoning traditional Christianity alltogether, rejecting those things that have been a part of the DNA for tw0 thousand years. Others are losing their grips on the weaker ropes and tightening their grips on the stronger. Either way, we seem to be at a fork in the road.

Fifties and beyond: Though I am not there, I see the fifties and beyond (so long as people make it this far with their sanity in tact!) as a great time of maturity. Here, decisions have been made and values established through both knowledge and experience. We call this “wisdom.” The church, as a whole (in my opinion) has not made it here yet. The “mid-life crisis” that we are in will, hopefully, move us in this direction soon. I pray that we hold on to the right ropes (though I know we will—Matt. 16:18).

Again, please understand, this is not prophetic or predictive in any way. Also understand that this concerns the church as a whole, not necessarily every individual in the church. I could expand on this quite a bit more, but then I would be forcing things too much into these categories (the analogy can only go so far). That is not what I am trying to do. I am merely presenting this as a “philosophy of Church history” that can help people understand the maturation process of the church while accounting for and appreciating the change and difficulties that arise along the way.

May God be glorified through the maturing of the church and may the Holy Spirit give us wisdom to continue to grow as the Body of Christ.

Free Video – Session 1 from the Church History Boot Camp

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    16 replies to "Chart on Church History"

    • Daniel Eaton

      The graphic is good, I believe, in describing the church as a whole. The church in America though could stand it’s own graphic though in the post-1950’s as it becomes both more liberal and more fundamentalist in response to it.

    • Mike

      Become like children (Matthew 18:3-4)

      I would put the Reformation in the rebellious teen years, but I’m EO so that probably skews my view from yours just a bit.

    • Richard Worden Wilson

      Whoa, I hardly think it is the EOs that want to get back to the first few 100 years of the Xn church; they would, I think, much more like the Neo- or Paleo-Orthodox evangelicals, be wanting to get back to, or stay within, the church of the 4th and 5th Cs. More likely, it is the radical neo-Anabaptists (not unlike myself) that want to get back to the first 100 (s? of) years of the church. It is the inability or unwillingness of any official branch of the contemporary church to seriously Re-image the first generation Church that I find most distressing, and a most immature reflection of where the church could be today. This lack of maturity in relation to what I perceive as conformity to the image of God in Chriist, even in the evangelical Protestant church, leaves me with the sense that the DNA of the church has evolved into mutated and deformed offspring. I pray His soon return will restore an understanding or God’s will and character among His people.

    • Erico Rempel

      I have recently found the following headlines about the church, from different news agencies:

      • ‘Church Sucks’ But Come Anyway?
      • Many Born-Again Christians Hold Universalist Views
      • Utah church offers free Korans in Easter gesture
      • Worst place to Celebrate Easter Is in Church, Says Pastor
      • Nashville-area church offers drive-thru prayer
      • Church’s ‘Dance Your Shoes Off’ video goes viral
      • Survey Reveals Decade-Long ‘Erosion’ of Traditional U.S. Congregations
      • ‘A Massive Shift Coming in What it Means to Be a Christian”

      I doesn’t sound like we are maturing.

    • Bob MacDonald

      The concept is not helpful. The embryo is long ‘earlier’ in the election of Israel. The essence is not a time line at all but a whole recognition of the great assembly of e.g. psalm 22. The offering of the Lamb like Torah is foundational not linear. We can each alone, or all together, approach or retreat from this centre that is Beloved.

    • Ed Kratz

      One thing I need to clarify is that this chart is not supposed to show how things are getting “better”. Some of my premil buddies who need things to fall apart have expressed concern thinking I have gone postmil!!!

      It is merely to present a perspective of history and how theology develops and maturity can take place in the church as a whole. Each era presents itself with unique challenges and opportunities, just as each life stage does. None is really “better” than the other.

      Right now, in our confused “postmodern” church, there are certainly some challenges which we are not scoring too high on.

    • John Metz

      Your graphic is interesting and the concept is intriguing. I am a bit surprised that you haven’t drawn more flak.

      As time passes, the church should develop in its understanding, application, and practice of the truth. This is not to say that the truth changes — the truth is the truth and remains the same. Nor is it to say that tradition affects the truth. But our realization, experience, enjoyment and practice of the truth as a corporate entity, if we are healthy, should grow. Interestingly, our appreciation for those who have gone before us also should grow.

      The earth has not changed in size over the years but our modes of transportation (and now the Internet, etc.! — allowing our fellowship to span the globe!) have changed greatly over time making travel, communication, fellowship, etc. easier and less time intensive.

    • Rick Ritchie

      In a college course in Sociology of Religion, we were exposed to Liston Pope’s Sect and Denomination typology. (His book Millhands and Preachers is available on GoogleBooks.) One key insight was that different denominations were in their own stages of development. They tended to being as sects with charismatic leaders and informality reigning. Then they became more successful and sophisticated. So development can be at various stages in different parts of the church at large. Though the application of a human model of development does definitely have some application. (One question, though. Does the church retire it its golden years? Or die with its boots on? Or are there other options?)

    • zhansman

      I don’t care for the 50’s and beyond graphic. Stereotypical stoop and pugginess of a weak old fart, plus the old geezer hat. I guess that’s a staff he’s holding, but maybe it’s a cane. Or maybe I see myself in that graphic as I am approaching 53! LOL!

    • Robin

      I haven’t seen this before helas- it is really helpful. Personally I would stretch the adolescence to 1515 ish with the teens representing the turbulant times when churches were fighting for identity and recognition and rebirth 1515-1570 ish Being comlex with many layers (like Ogres) it may even begin earlier circa 1470 when the inquisition was seeking to keep non RC (ie heretical) ideas out of the church…. but that is only the way I see things.

    • Pete

      “Unlike the Eastern Orthodox, we are not trying to get back to the beliefs and the practices of the first few hundred years of the church.”

      The Eastern Orthodox chuch IS the early church, with an un-broken chain of theology and apostolic succession.

      We are not trying “to get back” to anything. We believe in the Gospel, what “was once for all delivered to the saints”.

      This graph and concept is an insult to the millions of Christian martyrs throughout the ages.

    • minimus

      maturity = knowledge and wisdom

      How about using spiritual gifts?

      “A man’s gifting makes room for him and brings him before greatness/great men”

      Mature men of God “hit their stride” in using their gifts and abilities in helping others, not simply passing on mind-idolatry and puffed up knowledge.

      Thanks for the chart!

    • minimus

      Fascinating how the start of the modern “Spirit-filled” church was on New Year’s Day 1901, the start of the new century…..and how “hope abandoned” is hardly the mark of it.

    • Pete again

      This is “Christian Darwinism”, and it’s about as accurate as the original Darwinism.

    • Ron

      Well, my first thoughts were since the church ends up as the Laodicean Church with a great falling away from the faith – and we’re already there – my being retired and well beyond my 60s, I thought about a maturing church image being ridiculous, but, let me say first, I don’t want to hinder your process with my immediate rejection to comparing maturity with the progress of the church.

      Instead, let me share with you the stages of growth I’ve seen in people from birth to death and do what you will with this.

      We’re born almost completely helpless.

      As infants we become aware of our surroundings.

      As toddlers we start investigating our surrounding and begin down the road of self.

      As pre-teens, we’re stepping out trying hard to figure out how to be independent.

      As teens, we’ve been forming our strategies and thinking, year by year, we’re getting so much smarter and we believe we’re right about our conclusions till we gain a year and doing all we can to claim our independence.

      As we move into our 20s we’re faced with realizing our focus must change as we learn to actually live with our independence. We actually have to earn our way through life and money, bills, families require a completely different set of priorities than we had as teens who only wanted to live for ourselves – surprise!

      As we get into our 30’s we learn to do more organizing and planning. We begin to think more long term though we still have to deal mostly with the day to day responsibilities. And let’s not forget, if we’ve been married with children for awhile, our own kids start to demonstrate all we’ve gone through and we try to out-plan and counter all those stupid ideas we had at their age.

      Then comes the 40’s where job and family life has gotten routine and our own children, if their teens, start challenging us to balance life in all directions, but we continue to become more efficient in just about everything we do.

      Then comes the 50’s. This is a time for most of serious reevaluation of all our beliefs, attitudes and plans. Some refer to this as the mid-life crisis but that’s only because a few try to regain living in the past till they find out they must change or fix their lives.

      Now the 60;s. As health issues arise for many, which may have started in our 50’s, we find we’re slowing down. The quickness of our minds that we had in our 30’s is diminishing. We may be smarter but because of all the life experiences, we take longer to make decisions (which should make sense to those who are running at top speed but doesn’t usually.) This is a time when knowledge and wisdom is peaking but many are too busy to even care to learn from those with experience.

      Then we have the 70’s and beyond. Our bodies have slowed us down. Unfortunately, for many, health problems affect our attitudes and our abilities both physically and mentally but by this time our hearts and feelings are very well established. Some continue to press on and some just sit back and do little.

      Of course, everyone is a little different. Some mature faster than others and some slower. Some catch on quicker at some things and some slower. Some care more about people, the future, the family, work, etc., and some just don’t. Some seem to be very intuitive and some seem useless and undependable.

      There’s a real mix of people out there just as there are churches and church members. Some get it – others don’t. Generalizations can be helpful but they’re not worth much more than that.

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