Archives For November 2012

I think most people, especially those who call themselves Christian, are at least a little familiar with the third great rummage sale in Christianity which was the Reformation.  I will only give a very brief look in this post. Martin Luther, a monk with an incredibly low self-image, started it in 1517 when he nailed his list of 95 complaints about the workings of the church on the Wittenberg church door.  Martin’s initial goal was to try to turn the church from corruption of its day. But, due to bruised egos he ended up causing the second great schism in the church.

Luther would not be the only person who would separate from the catholic church; many more would follow.

  •  John Calvin in 1534 followed Luther in forming his own church. Whereas Luther decided that the most important part of the bible was that we are saved by grace alone and works don’t really matter, Calvin went even further to believe that God simply chooses certain people to give his grace and everyone else is doomed to an eternal agony regardless of how they lived their lives or what they chose to believe.
  •  Ulrich Zwingli would started a Swiss reformation in 1523.
  • The Anabaptist movement began in 1525.  They did not favor church bureaucracies such as pope and bishops. Like most of the reformation proponents this group would later split into many others arguing over doctrinal and beliefs differences.
  • In 1523 King Henry VIII  split due marriage issues around wanting to marry Anne Boleyn. He started the Church of England
  • John Knox started the Scotland reform in 1559
  • In 1608 John Smyth baptises the first Baptists. He fixated on the method of baptism for his split.

Over the centuries many others would jump onto the separatist bandwagon. Of course splitting over interpretation of sacred documents and other such things continues even now. It is believed that there are now over 39,000 different versions of Christianity in existence today.

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Next time we will be talking more about the rummage sale that we are now engaged in. This time around some are basically trying to reassemble the church around actions rather than man-made beliefs. The emergent movement has some exciting possibilities in that regard.

Let’s close out this post with another visit into the book The Great Emergence  by Phyllis Tickle. This time about the coming age:

Now, some five hundred years later, even many of the most diehard Protestants among us have grown suspicious of “Scripture and Scripture only.” We question what the words mean— literally? Metaphorically? Actually? We even question which words do and do not belong in Scripture and the purity of the editorial line of descent of those that do. We begin to refer to Luther’s principle of “sola scriptura, scriptura sola” as having been little more than the creation of a paper pope in place of a flesh and blood one. And even as we speak, the authority that has been in place for five hundred years withers away in our hands. “Where now is the authority?” circles overhead like a dark angel goading us toward disestablishment. Where indeed? 

The Great Schism is basically when the Christian church split in the Roman Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. This happened around 1054CE.  What had once been a single church slowly separated into two distinct identities.  Most of the differences that caused the split were almost nit-picking about what to believe and had little or nothing to do with how to “be” a Christian. This shows us that the belief vs action dilemmas have a long origin.

  • The Eastern Church (Orthodox) used Greek as its language; The Western (Roman) Church used Latin.
  • Eastern clergy could marry and wore beards; Western Clergy  were celibate and were clean shaven.
  • The Western church added the “Son” to the Nicene Creed; the Eastern church deemed that heretical
  • The Eastern church refused to recognize baptism performed in Western churches.

The differences between the two churches seemed less essential but at the heart of the matter was power. This split, like the one that would occur during the next rummage sale five hundred years later was primarily a battle between two large egos.

In Rome Bruno became Pope Leo IX.  In today’s terms he would be considered a fundamentalist. He immediately launched a program of “moral and theological” reform. In order to prevent priests from automatically passing their positions on to their children he banned all priests from marrying. (I always wondered the initial reason why Roman Catholic priests are celibate.)  Bruno sought to free the Roman church from outside controls.  He chose to consolidate power under his leadership. Given the experiences following Constantine taking over control of the church six centuries previous he had good reason to seek this reform at the essential re-birth of the church.

Meanwhile Michael Cerularius, the new bishop of Constantinople, refused to recognize Bruno as pope. He closed all churches in that city that were loyal to the Roman bishop. He treated envoys sent from Rome with total disrespect. The final blow that caused the schism was the Crusades where Roman crusaders sacked Constantinople which was the “Rome” of the Orthodox church.

With this schism the Christian church for the first time became two churches with different theology, doctrine and practices.  But in looking forward to the third rummage sale it would not be the last time a split primarily caused by power conflicts would arise.

Before we move on to the third rummage sale caused primarily by Martin Luther I want to step back a little and bring in another quote by Phyllis Tickle from her book The Great Emergence:

 It is especially important to remember that no standing form of organized Christian faith has ever been destroyed by one of our semi-millennial eruptions. Instead, each simply has lost hegemony or pride of place to the new and not-yet-organized form that was birthing. 

In other words, we should not fret that the coming emergent church movement will shake the church from its foundations.  When we eventually move from a church primarily focused on “beliefs”back into a church about “being” it will strengthen the church not destroy it. 

In this second post about the first major reconfiguration of the Christian church I will be covering some ancillary info about just who was affected by the Dark Ages and will be talking a little about the person “saved” the church for a later resurrection.

First of all I have found that the term “Dark Ages” has many definitions and stated causes. For purposes here I will define the period as between the fifth and the tenth centuries. Many, looking at different cultural aspects, expand it to include four hundred years beyond that. Generally speaking this was a very dreary period of intellectual darkness and economic depression that occurred in Europe following the collapse of the Roman Empire. “Barbarians at the gates” was a very descriptive way of saying what happened. Basically barbarians took down the mighty empire and intellectual and spiritual leaders pretty much vanished as a result.

Why did the Roman empire collapse?  Again there are many different explanations for it. Some, with very pointed agendas, say the church itself was the primary cause and particularly the papacy. I fall more in line that it was caused by an economic collapse due to spending an inordinate amount of  money required to reign in the many different populations and their lands that were taken over by the empire. Military spending gobbled up more than half of all the resources available. There was just not enough left over to maintain stability within the empire. In other words they just grew too big.

One thing worth noting about this period was the it actually only affected about 20% of the world’s population, primarily those in what we know today as mostly Western Europe. Up until this study I ignorantly presumed that it was a world wide event but in reality most of the world was unaware of the Dark Ages.

The Dark Ages was the time when the Christian church radically moved from a period of great power as an empire religion into its monastic period of hunkering down. I also believe that this mammoth change in the church allowed it to survive until a later more enlightened period known as the Renaissance. Gregory the Great was the person who primarily lead this change. He was the Pope from 590CE to 604.

Here is how Phyllis Tickle described the move from the early church into the Dark Ages:

What politically and culturally would very swiftly spiral down into the Dark Ages was already at work peeling the Christianity of the Early Church away from the laity and inserting into the resulting vacuum a kind of animistic, half-magical form of a bastardized Christianity that would characterize the laity and much of the minor clergy over the next few centuries.

It was primarily due to Gregory’s beliefs in a monastic lifestyle that really saved most of the early church documents and practices from also being bastardized. These things were held in trust in remote abbeys and nunneries waiting for a time to spring anew and that would take more than five hundred years to come about! It is only because of Gregory that we maintained most of the documents we have about the early Christian church before this time. The church might have looked very different today without them.

Continuing with our study of the “rummage sales” within the Christian church every five hundred years lets look at the first one.  Before we start I will admit that I didn’t know much about this period of time before this study so I relied on several books on the shelves behind me and in my Kindle to help me understand.  I will put those references at the end of the last post on the topic for those who are interested.

The first great rummage sale happened when the church moved from the late Roman period into the Dark ages. When Constantine made Christianity the State religion of the Roman empire around 350CE  he did so primarily to try to shore up his crumbling empire. Long story short it didn’t work. Well it actually worked for a while. The Christian church became a powerful influence in the world.  It became an empire religion. But then the Roman empire started imploding so did the power of the church.

Here is how Mrs. Tickle summarized this. For brevity the following was gleaned as bits and pieces from the book:

During the sixth century, the Apostolic Church…gave way to an organized monasticism as the true keeper and promulgator of the faith….

Stupendous as this reconfiguration was, and has been, for global Christianity in all three of its major parts, the agonies of the sixth century gave something of far more immediate and dramatic use to Western Christianity and culture. They gave the Western world a reconfigured form of monasticism that functioned not only as a way of private holiness but also as a way of societal and political stability….

All these things that are familiar to us now and that had been the Christianity of Constantine and his immediate successors require at least a rudimentary literacy as well as a civil stability that allows the free flow of worshipers from home or business to places of worship and godly instruction. Late fifth-century Romans had neither. What politically and culturally would very swiftly spiral down into the Dark Ages was already at work peeling the Christianity of the Early Church away from the laity and inserting into the resulting vacuum a kind of animistic, half-magical form of a bastardized Christianity that would characterize the laity and much of the minor clergy over the next few centuries.

During those centuries of darkness, and largely because of Gregory’s prescience and acumen, Western Christianity would be held in trust in Europe’s convents and monasteries. The monks and nuns would not all be pure or brilliant or even, in many cases, themselves literate. But enough of them would be so that the great treasures of the first five centuries of the Church would be preserved, and then added to, by the great minds of the Dark Ages.

Next time we will delve a little further into Gregory the Great’s role in this church transformation and talk a little more about some of the quote above, and what happened to the church during this period.

A Giant Rummage Sale…

November 22, 2012 — Leave a comment

Anyone who has visited this blog in the recent past know that I am pinning great hope on the “emergent” church being able to rescue the current Christian establishments from their focus on believing things about Jesus as opposed to of “being” a Christian through our actions. I was very disheartened when I discovered the statistic that almost no one can tell the difference between a Christian and anyone else in the population. People who call themselves Christians live their lives pretty much like everyone else. In fact they actually divorce more often than non-Christians! Something has to change to move the church and its current occupants to be more Christ like. I am praying the emergent church will be able to do that.

One of the major proponents of the emergent church is Phyllis Tickle.  In her book entitled The Great Emergence she shows us that every 500 years the church remakes itself in a major way.  Here are some of her words from that book:

The only way to understand what is currently happening to us as twenty-first-century Christians in North America is first to understand that about every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. And, he goes on to say, we are living in and through one of those five-hundred-year sales. Now, while the bishop may be using a bit of humor to make a point, his is nonetheless a deadly serious and exquisitely accurate point.

Any usable discussion of the Great Emergence and what is happening in Christianity today must commence with yesterday and a discussion of history. Only history can expose the patterns and confluences of the past in such a way as to help us identify the patterns and flow of our own times and occupy them more faithfully. The first pattern that we must consider as relevant to the Great Emergence is Bishop Dyer’s rummage sale, which, as a pattern, is not only foundational to our understanding but also psychologically very reassuring for most of us. That is, as Bishop Dyer observes, about every five hundred years the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity, whatever they may be at that time, become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered in order that renewal and new growth may occur. When that mighty upheaval happens, history shows us, there are always at least three consistent results or corollary events. First, a new, more vital form of Christianity does indeed emerge. Second, the organized expression of Christianity which up until then had been the dominant one is reconstituted into a more pure and less ossified expression of its former self.

 I will be spending the next few posts looking at the three previous remakes of the church and how it changed as a result. I am a lifelong history buff and a thorough believer that if we don’t understand history we are more prone to be repeating the same mistakes over and over again.  Next time we will start with the first major remodel of the church in the sixth century.

Here is a quote by Philip Gulley in his book entitled The Evolution of Faith – How God is creating a better Christianity that will be used for this discussion.

To be sure, if one believes Christianity is primarily about worshipping Jesus, a faith that incorporates other religious traditions will be considered heretical. But if one believes Christianity is primarily about following the example of Jesus, then it is easy to imagine a faith informed by men and women of goodwill, though of diverse traditions. If the future of the Christian faith is creedalism and believing the right things about Jesus, then other traditions will be viewed as the enemy at worst, or contaminants at best. It will be a return to the Age of Belief, and in that sense a spiritual regression. But if the future of the Christian faith is about taking the best from each tradition, while helping people negotiate their spiritual journeys with grace and dignity, then the church might well inspire a world made new. 

I admittedly am a big fan of Philip Gulley. Mr. Gulley is a Quaker and a Hoosier so that probably influences me to some degree.  If you haven’t figured it out by now I tend to gravitate to those authors who believe that the words and teachings of Jesus should be central to all forms of Christianity. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is in my mind much more important than reciting man-made creeds about him.

If we think that following the example of Jesus is primary then it just seems logical that we will celebrate other religious and even secular organizations that do likewise. If we put our creeds on the back burner then there is no reason to look at all others as the enemy of Christianity. We can celebrate what we have in common and as Mr. Gulley says here we could then inspire the world made new.

  • Following the examples and teachings of Jesus would naturally mean that we  would migrate from primarily occupying pews on Sunday to becoming involved in our communities seven days a week. That would certainly get the world’s attention.
  • Following Jesus would mean that we would have compassion for the “least of these” and fight any attempts to unravel our country’s safety nets.
  • Following Jesus would mean that we celebrate life in all aspects and be against death in all it forms. That includes: abortion, capital punishment, war, and allowing other to die from preventable causes.
  • Following Jesus would mean that we would become an immense force for good in the world.  It would mean that we would take back from our government much of the role of care-givers.  If that were to happen I am very confident that Christianity would take it place as a force for good in the world. It would mean a world made new.

Jesus said he is the way to heaven and therefore I believe that. To me that means that to get there you are to follow his examples and teachings. It does not mean that heaven only belongs to those who say the “right” creeds but instead it belongs to those who at least try to do what he commanded of us. I will not take the power away from Jesus to accept our Muslim, Hindi, Jewish, and other friends into heaven and I think in the end he will do just that.

Eternal Presence….

November 18, 2012 — Leave a comment

Several years ago I came across a small book entitled Quaker Spirituality – Selected Writings. I’m still not sure what made me pause on the title but I am glad I did. Inside that book was an essay by Thomas R. Kelly (1893-1941) talked about the “Eternal Presence”. I didn’t know it then but this essay put me on the path to learning much more about Quakers. It gave me the most complete understanding of who God was that I have ever had in my life up to that point.

Here are some of the words from that essay. I am just going to give you bits an pieces but enough to get its message across:

The Quaker discovery and message has always been that God still lives and moves, works and guides, in vivid immediacy, within the hearts of men. For revelation is not static and complete, like a book, but dynamic and enlarging, as springing from life and Soul of all things. This light and Life is in all men, ready to sweep us into its floods, illumine us with its blinding, or with its gentle guiding radiance, send us tendered but strong into the world of need and pain and blindness. Surrender of self to that indwelling Life is entrance upon an astounding, and almost miraculous Life…..

We are men of double personalities. We have slumbering demons within us. We all have also a dimly-formed Christ within us. We’ve been too ready to say that the demonic man within us is the natural and real man, and that the Christ-man within us is unnatural and the unreal self but nothing could be further from the truth….

It is an amazing discovery, at first, to find that the creative Power and Life is at work in the world. God is no longer the object of belief; he is a Reality, who has continued, within each of us, his real presence in the world.

One of the most basic tenets of Quakerism is the “light of God is within each and every one of us”. It is up to us to show this light to the world of need, pain, and blindness.It is up to us to show God within us.  It is an amazing discovery to understand that “WE” contain the real presence of God in this world. God is not some mythical bearded guy up there that decides who will go to heaven or who to punish with hell.  God is real; he is within each and every one of us.

This revelation changed everything in my attitudes.  No longer did I consider myself a miserable sinner who can do no good. I know I now have a small piece of the presence of God in this world. I am to do what he expects me to do. I am not a worthless piece of snot that I taught growing up. I am instead the light of God in this world. When you accept that fact everything changes. You are no longer living for yourself but now are living to show God’s love through your deeds and actions.

When I read the above words it was a sobering moment for me. It made me look upon the current religious establishment with a different view.  It was indeed a very inspiring little book for me.

This is the fifth post on the book Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus  by Robin Meyers.  While I could go on and on I am going to stop this review here. The following will serve as the focus for this post:

Some belong to churches that explicitly emphasize the hope of heaven and the threat of hell. Others belong to churches that seldom or never mention hell. But even for many of them, the hope of a blessed afterlife is what Christianity is most centrally about. How important has the promise of heaven (and perhaps the threat of hell) been to the forms of Christianity that you have experienced or heard about?

Sin and Forgiveness: Sin is the central issue in our life with God. Forgiveness is the solution. Because we are sinners, we deserve to be punished. Consider how often sin and forgiveness appear in Christian worship. Most services include a confession of sin. In my childhood, every Sunday morning we said, “We poor sinners confess unto thee that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against thee by thought, word, and deed, where-fore we flee for refuge to thine infinite mercy, seeking and imploring thy grace, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s pretty intense, though not as severe as some I have heard. Confessing sins wasn’t just Protestant; my Catholic friends had to go to confession every Saturday and confess in person to a priest.

I don’t really understand how getting into heaven or maybe being punished with an eternity in the fires of hell became the central focus of many churches. How did we get away from the teachings of Jesus?  Life after death almost to the total exclusion of life on earth is problematic approach to Christianity for me. The first seems self-centered the second is focused on others. I think Jesus intended us to be focused outward instead of inward.

I know Jesus said that he was going to the cross to die for our sins. I really don’t understand that but am willing to take it on faith. But there are so many church practices that have grown around that fact and they dilute, instead of re-enforce Christianity.  I too remember, not too long ago, having to recite every Sunday that I am “a poor miserable sinner….”. I also remember my childhood weekly Saturday visits to confession to hear that deep adult voice from the other side of the screen ask me how I sinned that week. He never asked me if I did what Jesus told me to do.

I certainly agree that apart from the teachings of Christ we often make some pretty miserable decisions in life. God gave us free will to do that. But I also know that with Christ in my corner I can make a difference in this world. I can honestly try to love God with my heart and soul and love my fellow-man as myself.  Jesus not only gives me this ability he expects me to use it to help his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.   We should be reciting that fact on Sunday mornings and not on a self-centered desire to avoid hell or to get into heaven.

This is the fourth post on the book Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus  by Robin Meyers:

One thing every pastor knows is that knowledge is not redemptive. Indeed, sometimes we can know the truth, and it will not set us free….

One of the great divides in the church could be overcome if we got one thing straight: the truth of which Jesus speaks is wisdom incarnate, not intellectual assent to cogent arguments made on behalf of God. …

Having said this, it is not the case that faith is more pure when it is uninformed or when it turns away from critical thinking and sound reasoning as threats to the life of the spirit. Science is not the enemy of faith, but rather its handmaiden. More threatening to the future of faith is the fear of what can be known as well as the search to know more. In fact, the ongoing suspicion that scientific discoveries or rigorous biblical scholarship will undermine faith is a tacit admission that faith is threatened by knowledge, because it is ultimately constructed on weak or faulty assumptions and, like the proverbial house of cards, needs to be “protected” from collapsing.

I am a strong believer that scientific knowledge is a gift from God. He gives it to us as we are ready to receive it. The Gnome project is an example. Many in the church today see science as an enemy of religion. One of the main reasons for that it is a threat to those who want to take the Bible literally and claim that the earth is a mere six thousand years old.  They maintain this position by counting back from Jesus to Adam and Eve. They believe that every generation has been accounted for in the Bible. When they see the overwhelming evidence that the earth is at least millions of years old they counter with “well, that is just God trying to trick us”. Why would God even bother to do that?

Being an engineer I consider myself a scientist and I can tell you first-hand that I felt very much attacked whenever I brought up science in my weekly bible classes. In that church the word “scientist” and “liberal” seemed to have an equal negative bias and I was both! One book that I admire in this area is by Francis Collins entitled: The Language of God. It provides the best argument for the integration of faith and logic since C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity . Here are some of the words about this book on Amazon.  I highly recommend it to anyone willing to possibly admit that science is not the enemy of faith.

It has long been believed that science and faith cannot mingle. Faith rejects the rational, while science restricts us to a life with no meaning beyond the physical. It is an irreconcilable war between two polar-opposite ways of thinking and living. Written for believers, agnostics, and atheists alike, The Language of God provides a testament to the power of faith in the midst of suffering without faltering from its logical stride. Readers will be inspired by Collin’s personal story of struggling with doubt, as well as the many revelations of the wonder of God’s creation that will forever shape the way they view the world around them.

This is part three of my review of the book Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus by Robin Meyers. This is somewhat the continuation of the study of the pre-Easter Jesus and the after-Easter Jesus mentioned in the previous text. Here is the quote for this post:

The simple fact, that the Bible came to us through a process of review and selection by human beings who condensed an enormous amount of material down to four gospels, a pseudo-history we call the Acts of the Apostles, and the letters that complete the New Testament, is remarkably unknown to most Christians…..

The Bible is both inspired and covered with human fingerprints— but the Bible is not what we worship. The God to which the Bible points us is what we worship, and the claim of the first followers of Jesus was not that he was God, but rather that he revealed the fullness of God at work in a human being. For our part, however, the evolution from symbol to idol is inevitable. We are always tempted to make golden calves out of the instruments of revelation, and the result is more than just the sin of idolatry. Jesus becomes the Christ, and then Jesus is lost. We stare across the abyss of adoration at a deity we can worship, but not emulate.

Claims of biblical infallibility are identical to claims of the metaphysical divinity of Jesus. Both make idols of the temporal, and idolatry is the mother and father of all sins. What we learn if we study the Bible carefully is that this library of books, this far-flung and diverse collection of literature….

What it preserves is not a formula sufficient for salvation but the repository of wisdom from a particular people living in a particular time and place, elevated through a human process to the status of sacred scripture. As scripture, the Bible is therefore “authoritative” for the community that regards it as scripture, and then that community is shaped by those divine encounters, which continue to spark new encounters with the divine…..

Prior to this quote was the mention of all the gospels that did not make it into our Bible. Mr. Meyers goes into great detail in pointing out the shift from the pre-Easter Jesus to the post-Easter one. I certainly agree with his conclusion that the bible is both inspired and covered with human fingerprints and that I don’t worship the Bible but instead use it as a source of understanding, through human hands, the nature of God.

When the church insists that the Bible itself is to be worshipped as coming directly from God with no possibility of human error and is to be taken literally they do damage to the body of Christ.  They, as Mr. Meyers says make an idol of the document about Jesus instead of making his words the center of our lives.  When we use the Bible to further understand the messages of Jesus, instead of adoring the book itself, then we have the perspective that Jesus intended.