A history of ideas in your lounge room

Unified Divisions: A brief history of denominations

Presented by Peter Hughes

AFES, Sydney, 2007. DVD.



Ideas that Changed the World

Presented by Dominic Steele

Christians in the Media Resources, Sydney, 2007.
DVD and workbook (28pp).



Available for ordering from Moore Books

02 9577 9966




In the lead-up to World Youth Day in Sydney, many churches realized the importance of addressing some of the fundamental differences between Roman Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism—not only so that their congregations could understand more about what was going on, and why they could not be involved, but also (and more importantly) so that they could take the opportunity to clarify Christian thinking about the gospel. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many evangelical Christians are fuzzy on the differences, and if they are aware of them, many remain unsure of why they matter. I suspect that this is partly due to a lack of understanding of Roman Catholicism, and partly due to a shallow understanding of the gospel.

With this in mind, let me draw your attention to a couple of handy DVD resources which aim to clarify. The first is an Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (AFES) DVD production entitled Unified Divisions: A brief history of denominations presented by Peter Hughes. The second is Ideas that Changed the World, featuring talks by Dominic Steele from Christians in the Media.

Unified Divisions does not specifically address Roman Catholicism as much as review the history and key differences between denominations. It sets itself the ambitious task of dealing with 2,000-odd years of church history and explaining denominational thinking and development in 20 minutes. Peter has an easygoing and easy to listen to presentation style, and the advantage of its brevity means that a Bible study group can digest the whole thing in one sitting.

Peter points out that the benefits of studying church history include understanding how Christian unity works in the light of denominational divisions (although this issue isn’t addressed directly), getting to know our Christian heritage, and growing in understanding by studying historical theology. His presentation moves from highlights of the early church fathers through to the Reformation, and traces how politics, theology and personalities influenced the emergence of different denominations. However, as it’s only 20 minutes, it leaves you hungry for more, so I suggest watching it with AM Renwick’s The Story of the Church on the coffee table for further discussion.

Ideas that Changed the World is a well-packaged series of talks and small group discussions on the Reformation principles of grace alone, faith alone, Bible alone and Christ alone. One of its strengths is that it includes many personal testimonies from people who grew up in Roman Catholic contexts: they share their experiences, and discuss how their understanding of these biblical truths developed and changed, thus giving everything a warm and personal touch. Dominic’s own Roman Catholic background is also an asset, allowing him to speak from firsthand experience.

The talks feature key Reformation figures, and include snippets of Reformation church history, as well as clear Bible teaching. In the past, having heard various people speak on ‘grace alone’, I’ve found that their talks have really only been on grace, with the importance of the word ‘alone’ neglected or forgotten. However, this is the key distinction between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism: we define more clearly what we do believe when we articulate what we don’t believe. On this, Ideas that Changed the World is upfront about aiming to give people a better understanding of Reformation principles and how they correspond to the gospel.

The talks and studies are very helpful in showing the distinctives between Evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism, and how biblical principles have been added to, and thus, ultimately, diminished. However, one of the difficulties for people hearing talks like these is that they may feel like they know a Roman Catholicism that looks different to what is described. They may even know a Roman Catholic who doesn’t agree with everything that’s stated. Dominic does acknowledge that Roman Catholicism encompasses a spectrum of beliefs. However, my one real criticism here is that in its engagement with Roman Catholic thinking, this resource cites a number of Reformation events and declarations but very little (if any) evidence of modern Roman Catholic doctrine. The workbooks contain helpful, informative and brief summaries of the lives and works of four of the reformers, as well as some accounts of people who have discovered grace alone, etc., but it might have been helpful to include some official Roman Catholic statements of belief for the sake of balanced interaction.

All up, Ideas that Changed the World is a fantastic resource. Watch it with your small group, your church, or even your Roman Catholic friends and neighbours. The issues it deals with are vital ones for Christians to understand.


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