Part 3: Expanding through the World. Lesson 4 of 10.
Lesson 12. The Middle East

1.Islam. In 622, Mohammad began to establish Islam in Arabia. A person who belongs to Islam is called a Muslim.  The Arabs then invaded and conquered the nearby countries.  By 700, they ruled most of the Middle East and North Africa, and in 711 the Muslims took control of Spain.   All these areas had been part of the Roman Empire and had contained millions of believers.  Now most of these people became Muslims.  Those who wished to continue to believe in Jesus or to believe in Judaism were given religious freedom, but were not allowed to spread their faith, and had to pay more taxes than the Muslims.  Any Muslim who became a believer in Jesus was punished.

2.Knowing the Muslims. As the church had increasing contact with the Muslims, believers learned how to introduce Jesus to Muslims.  Fortunately, the Islam holy book, called the Koran, does mention some of the people in the Bible, including Jesus.  But the Muslim teaching is that Jesus is not God, but rather is one of the prophets.  Since Mohammed is the last prophet, Jesus then is just one more of those, like Moses and David, whose teaching has been replaced by Mohammed.  When a Christian says that Jesus is not only a prophet but also God, a Muslim misunderstands and supposes that the Christian has more than one God.  For Christianity, it is important that Jesus was both man and God, since the source of assurance and hope is that God died for our sins on the cross.  The Muslims teach that since Jesus was a prophet, God would not have let him die on the cross.  Therefore the Muslims have no basis for assurance that their sins are forgiven.  Although they often call God “merciful,” they are worried about whether they will personally receive this mercy.  They can only hope.  Some try their best to do many good works, in the hopes that at the Day of Judgment, their good works will over-balance their bad deeds.  We can bring them hope by sharing the biblical teaching that even though good works cannot make up for bad deeds, yet God invites us to heaven because Jesus has forgiven our sins by dying on the cross.

3.Bringing good news. Since Muslims already agree that there was a man named Jesus, it is a great help to show them more about the man Jesus, as recorded in the gospels.  Just as the disciples slowly realized that Jesus is not only man but also God, someone who reads the gospels can slowly be brought to this understanding.  While we can never argue someone into believing that Jesus is God, yet when we help people to know Jesus, the Holy Spirit can move them to accept Jesus as God and trust in him.  It is helpful to know some simple ways to explain that Jesus is God, and yet that God is one, because the Muslim stresses that God is one.  You can use the idea of sun and light:  God is like the sun.  Part of the sun comes to earth, so that we can know what the sun is.  That part that comes to the earth is the same substance as the sun itself, just as Jesus is the same substance as God the Father.  You can also help by showing the importance of God’s forgiveness in your life.  Certainly your Muslim friend will notice that you are not perfect, and this is your opportunity to share that you are sure of heaven even though you have not met God’s standard of perfection, because God himself became a man and has already died for your sins.  You can also encourage the Muslim to consider Christianity by demonstrating your personal relationship to God through your intimate prayers.  God is moving many Muslims to realize that Jesus is their God and savior.  Many Muslims say  that Jesus has come to them in a vision; you can pray that God will help your Muslim friend in this way.  Many Muslims have said that they began to trust in Jesus through reading the four gospels.

4.Crusades. After the Muslims occupied the Middle East, they at first allowed Christians to continue to travel to Israel to see the places important in Jesus’ life.  But around 1050, a new Muslim group, the Turks, took control of Jerusalem and reports of difficulties by the travelers. in 1095, the pope¹ started the crusades by urging Christians soldiers to go to Israel and recapture it from the Muslims.. These military invasions were called “crusades,” because the soldiers had a cross painted on their shields. (The word crusade comes from the word cross).   Here are some details of the crusades:

Number Year Events
1 1095 Occupied Jerusalem and surrounding areas;
2 1145 Unable to prevent Turks from taking back some areas; in 1187 the Turks conquered Jerusalem.
3 1189  Unable to retake Jerusalem
4 1202 Occupied eastern Roman empire
Children’s crusade 1212 50,000 start: 300 return
5 1217 Aimed at Egypt but not successful
6 1228 Jerusalem taken again until 1244
7 1248 Aimed at Egypt again, not successful
8 1270  Aimed at Egypt again, not successful

5.Crusader Kingdoms. The Europeans were successful in the first few crusades.  At one point, there were four separate kingdoms in the areas around Jerusalem³, most of them controlled by European nobles.  Their castles can still be seen today in the Middle East.  They ruled over the local people, most of whom remained Muslims, although some Arabs were Christians.  Gradually, the Muslims succeeded in regaining the land, and the last European kingdom in the Middle East ended in 1291.

6.Crusade damage. The crusades did much damage.  Many people were killed.  Many Europeans died from sickness on the journey.  Europeans and Muslims killed each other.  The crusades are one reason that Muslims suspect that the western countries want to control them. The fourth crusade did not make progress in fighting the Turks; rather, in 1204  the soldiers attacked the capital city of the Byzantine Empire,  and Europeans then ruled these members of the Eastern Orthodox church until 1261.   In 1999, the Roman Catholic Pope² formally apologized to the world for the crusades.

7.Crusade impact. The crusades had a great impact on Europe. Through the crusades, the Europeans learned about new parts of the world.  They also learned about new foods and spices.  The desire to import these products to Europe prompted the countries on the coasts to send ships to the Middle East for trade.  The increase of trade with more and more countries began the process of the European contact with the entire world.

8.Persecution. Persecution sometimes happens when two expanding religions enter the same region.  Right now, persecution is happening along the boundary between northern and southern Africa.  The northern part is primarily Muslim.  When the northern countries want to apply Islamic law in their governments, the Christians in their countries feel this is not fair and rebel, and consequently they are persecuted. Churches under Muslim rule in the middle east have continued through the years, but in the 21st century many have emigrated out of the middle east because of the rise of Muslim jihadist movements.

9.Byzantine Empire. After the Muslim invasions, the Eastern Roman Empire, also called the Byzantine Empire, was reduced in size to only today’s Turkey and Greece, but it continued to care for the churches that had been conquered by the Muslims. As explained in lesson one, these churches divided from the churches in Europe (Roman Catholic Church) in AD 1054. Attempts were made at reconciliation, but more distrust developed when in 1206, European soldiers of the fourth crusade attacked Constantinople, the main city of the Eastern Orthodox Church. and the empire was then ruled by a European king for 57 years.  This widened the gap between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.  Even though the Byzantine Empire drove the Europeans out in 1261, they had become weaker, and were not strong enough to fight the Turks, so that is why in 1453 the Turks were able to end the Byzantine Empire. All the original areas of the Eastern Roman Empire were now governed by Muslims.  After that, Russia became the most powerful protector and sponsor of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Ottoman Turk Empire was ended by World War I, and the country of Turkey was created.  It has a secular government, but most of the people are Muslim. There are still churches there, and the bishop who lives in Constantinople3 (now called Istanbul) there is honored and regarded as a spokesman by the orthodox churches around the world. He continued to communicate with the Catholic Church. Lesson one told how in 1965, the Catholics and Orthodox cancelled their mutual rejection they had made in 1054, though they still are separate organizations. Today the Eastern Orthodox churches are made up of 14 self-governing church bodies. They are similar in theology, but independent in their decision-making.  These 14 are listed below in footnote 4.  In 2015 the number of Orthodox believers in the world was about 200 million. Details about the organization of the church in the western part of the Roman Empire, the Roman Catholic Church, will be given in lesson 26.


On to next lesson               Return to church History Menu

Footnotes.  1}  Urban 2    2) Pope John Paul II.  3) The bishop in Constantinople is called the ecumenical patriarch.


4) The 14 Eastern Orthodox Churches: (See Wikipedia article “Eastern Orthodox Churches.”)  The letter M means that most people in that country are in Eastern Orthodox churches. The term used for “independent and self-governing” is autocephalic (auto means self, cephalic means head).

Constantinople (the city has been called Istanbul since 1453)
Jerusalem.(responsible for Palestine and many Arabic speaking countries)
Alexandria (in Egypt)
Antioch (in Syria)
Georgia M
Cyprus M
Bulgaria M
Serbia M
Russia M (also responsible for Ukraine, Japan and Baltic countries)
Greece M
Czech and Slovakia

The Orthodox Church in America is recognized by some of the 14. Other Orthodox churches in America have remained under the leadership of the country they emigrated from. Some in America are under the bishop of Antioch (The Antiochan Orthodox Christian Archdicese of North America). Some are directly under the patriarch in Constantinople (Greek Orthodox Diocese of America).  There was a “Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia” in America during the years when communists ruled in Russia, but in 2007 that church reconciled with the Orthodox leader in Moscow.

The leader (or primate) of each independent has different titles in different countries. He is sometimes called metropolitan, patriarch, or archbishop. In many of the Eastern Orthodox countries, there are also churches that have chosen to affiliate with the Roman Catholic Churches, but still maintain the Eastern Orthodox worship service. The Catholics called these “Eastern Rite Catholic Churches.”

The ecumenical patriarch in Istanbul has responsibility for many countries that do not have their own self-governing church, including churches in Asia.

A major meeting of Orthodox bishops from around the world will take place in Istanbul in June 2016. Some have called it the most important meeting since AD 787. The meeting will be led by the ecumenical patriarch, Bartholomew I of Constantinople. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow will have much influence as leader of the greatest number of orthodox believers.

Word List::  Byzantine  拜先庭帝国 拜先庭帝國     或    拜占庭   (The word comes from the name of a city in Turkey named Byzantiun, which was called Constantinople by the Romans and is now called Istanbul)  Crusades  十字军东征    十字軍東征    Islam 伊斯兰教   Mohammed = Muhammad 穆罕默德   Muslim  回教徒