Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do…..
As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.
SOURCE: Morf Morford: It’s NOT the economy, stupid | Red Letter Christians.
I am going to do a rare cross post here between two of my blogs. I am doing so because I think this post has a spiritual as well as general message.
While the referenced source above is about life being more than just money, this post is actually just about the description of the author. Besides having a very interesting name the author of this post over at Red Letter Christians has very interesting look on life. I am proud to say I share his views of God and getting older. But I guess I am luckier than hs is in one regard. I still drink lots of milk. They tell me it is good for my osteoporosis. 🙂
I too am currently a free-range Christian and have been for a few years now. I am no longer instructed weekly in what I am supposed to believe. Instead I now tend to look at the Lord’s word from a more personal, some might say naive, view. From what I can glean from the Christian Bible I also agree that God expects more from us than almost any of us can imagine or at least willing to put forward.
One of the things that pushed me out of the last church I was in (that is beside being nudged out the door because I did not tow the denominational line closely enough and was asking too many question in adult bible classes) was their stubborn insistence that they have it all figured out and everyone else is just wrong in one thing or another. In that regard, I also proudly share the belief that God knows more than they do, or everyone else for that matter.
One of the things that prompted me to start my blog over at RedLetterLiving more than five years ago was that I just grew less tolerant to pettiness of some mainstream beliefs of the current version of church. In these five years I have learned that I am by no means alone in those feelings.
Thanks Morf for reminding me what it is all about….
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered.“No one is good—except God alone.
These words have always troubled me to one extent or another. Let me explain why. The story which they came from was about the rich man and the kingdom of God. It is a well known and often cited story to indicate that God’s grace is a gift and impossible to earn but when the words above are isolated from that story they suggest a truth that goes counter to many current Christian beliefs. the primary belief being the concept of the Trinity.
Before I delve into why these words are troubling to me let’s look at the history of the concept of the Trinity. The concept of the Holy Trinity was made into Christian doctrine more than three hundred years after Jesus. Terms like “the father, the son, and the holy spirit” were used much before that time. Ignatius of Antioch was perhaps one of the first theologians to coin this phrase. Jesus did of course mention God the father and the Holy Spirit but without a codifying statement about any relationship.
When we talk about things like the Trinity it is very easy to get bogged down in “church speak”. That is using special words to describe the varying conflicts that were present in the early church leaders. I try to avoid that as much as possible in this blog. Instead I will give you some simple words I found in Wikipedia that I think describes what went around the discussions of the trinity.
Although there is much debate as to whether the beliefs of the Apostles were merely articulated and explained in the Trinitarian Creeds, or were corrupted and replaced with new beliefs, all scholars recognize that the Creeds themselves were created in reaction to disagreements over the nature of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These controversies, however, were great and many, and took some centuries to be resolved.
When there has been conflict within the church a new creed was usually developed to exclude those who thought differently. The Nicene Creed is the predominant one today that attests to the concept of the Trinity. We are taught that basically the father, the son, and the holy spirit are three equal parts of the same God and cannot be divided but are three in one. This concept is often called “a mystery of christian faith” in that the very concept is difficult for human beings to understand.
Getting back to the original purpose of this post, when I read the words “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone.” Jesus seems to be telling us that he is not the equivalent of God and that he was shocked that someone would even make the comparison. Of course the concept of the trinity had no meaning in Jesus’ day among Jews and Jesus was a Jew.
The questioning about the validity of the Holy Trinity is not accepted in many Christian churches. We are told to just accept it on blind faith. We are told we must pledge our allegiance to that concept. To do otherwise is to risk our membership. To me that is the sad part of the church today; many seem to unwilling to admit that maybe those involved in the past church history my have developed a man-made concept that is really not critical to being a follower of Jesus Christ.
I want to close out this series of posts with some unfounded complaints about the emergent movement. This list is mine and therefore might not align with the leaders of this movement.
Emergents don’t have a foundation, they allow their members to believe anything — While it is true that emergents don’t, as most common denominations do, try to prove anyone wrong about their current beliefs they do have fundamental things that guide them. They believe that Jesus is God and gave us the Great Commandment to love him and to love each other. They believe that God intends us to work with him to bring the kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven. Unlike many Christians they admit that they might be wrong about things they think they know today. Just as much of theology is temporary and local, their thinking about different things related to God may be overturned by future knowledge or revelation.
Emergents are trying to tear the church apart — As the second practice in the previous post states the emergent movement is trying to do the exact opposite from tearing the church apart. In fact they are about the only group of the 39,000 different flavors of God that are committed to Christianity in all its forms. They believe that all of them have good points and not so good points. They will not align with one version and discard another. We are all wrong about the nature of God in one form or another.
Emergents are confusing the unchurched by their lack of a specific stand — Standing firm on certain beliefs that were meant to be temporary is actually what is confusing the unchurched. When Christians say, for instance, that the earth is only 6,000 years old and all the scientific proof otherwise is just God tricking us they are “confusing” the unchurched. Emergents have a strong commitment to living in God’s world today. They do not isolate themselves from it but instead firmly believe that Jesus told us to get involved in bringing his kingdom to earth.
Emergents don’t like other Christians. They are just a passing cult — The most basic belief of emergents is God’s command to love him and to love each other. They are committed to strengthening our shared values and resolve to and encourage other Christians to learn from each other. They value interactions with other Christians. Emergents are not trying to form yet another flavor of God but instead they are trying to get all the current flavors to come together. The emergent movement has a very strong foothold in Africa and South America and is daily becoming stronger in all the rest of the world. They are definitely not a passing cult.
I am very aware of the threat many in Jesus’ church feel toward the emergent movement. They feel that the things they hold dear will go by the wayside if emergents become dominant in the world. They fear the unknown if they have to admit that they might not have all the answers. The emergent movement is nothing more that the continuation of the evolution of the church. I find the emergent movement as the only one out there that are trying to make the church one as Jesus and God the Father are one.
Please don’t feel threatened by this movement. Instead study it and embrace it. Instead of destroying the church it just might save it for future generations….
One thing that seems so hard for many fundamentalist Christians is the idea that much of their religious traditions and beliefs come from man, not God. They seem totally unable to even conceive of that idea. Without that acknowledgement they have doomed their version of Christianity to the trash heap of time. Science, that they generally deem as the enemy, will eventually become just be too convincing for them to deny.
Before I was excluded from a Lutheran church for my belief that the Bible is not totally literal or inerrant I had a lengthy discussion with a clergy leader there. He tried his best to convince me of the inerrancy of the Bible. When it became obvious that I was not going to discount scientific discovery as “God just trying to trick us”, he made the statement “What would happen to your faith if you found out that everything in the Bible is literally true and without the possibility of error?” He got a very different answer than what he was expecting.
When I responded to his question that I would be totally astounded by that fact but it would not change my beliefs in Jesus and that he is the foundation of my faith. I concentrate on his words and messages and not on what others said about him either during his life or especially many years after his death. But, I think my counter-question to him had a much deeper ramification. I asked him “What would it do to your faith if God told you that the Bible was written by men and was not totally from or even endorsed by Him?” I never got an answer to my question other than “that is quite impossible.”
Once we accept that man’s fingerprints are all over the Bible and other ancient religious texts the sooner we can get to the core of Christianity and that is the words, messages, and commands of Jesus. When he came to live with us on this earth it was not just to die for our sins, he could have done that in a day. Instead, he spent thirty-three years here to teach us how to live. When we no longer base our faith primarily on man-made belief that occurred after his death we get to the true meaning of being a follower of Jesus.
- No, I am not throwing out all the traditions and doctrine of the church. I certainly celebrate much of that history. But we must realize that man’s fingerprints are all over this traditions and doctrine.
- No, I am not opening it up to anyone that wants to believe whatever they want. Jesus made it clear that being a follower of his was more important that just saying certain words. He did not intend his church to be something-for-nothing; he intended it to be the guiding light of our lives.
- No, I am not saying that all the authors of belief system we currently have were not inspired by God but I am saying that every word they wrote came from their heartfelt thoughts but they were by no means dictated directly by God.
- No, I am not throwing the Bible out of the church. Instead I am giving it the rightful place and that is to teach us church history, give us examples of Godly living, and most importantly give us the words and messages of Jesus.
Change is difficult, especially within many very conservative church establishments. We need to accept that man’s fingerprints are all over our Bible and then move from there to a belief system more like the early Christians. That is what the current emergent church movement is all about…..
In 1997 Richard Carlson wrote a very popular book entitled Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff…. and it’s all small stuff. In that book he listed one hundred things to make our lives more peaceful. Some of those topics that I took to heart included:
- Let Others Be “Right” Most of the Time
- Learn to Live in the Present Moment
- Surrender to the Fact that Life Isn’t Fair
Most of the things we worry about the most have little real impact on our lives. They are just clutter that gets in the way of having a happier life. As I have come to “not sweat the small stuff” I also come to realize that most of what I was told I must believe as a Christian is also small stuff!
I know this sounds like a rather shocking statement to hear that many of the things of the present day church are just small stuff. But, the more I studied the more I found that to simply be the case. It seems that Christianity has become a recitation of creeds about Jesus rather than taking to heart the actual messages he gave us. There have been literally hundreds, if not thousands, of creeds put out by various leaders and councils of Christian churches and all believers were then expected to automatically pledge allegiance to each of them. In studying them they almost all include things to believe instead of things to do.
The creed that is recited weekly in most liturgical churches today is the Nicene Creed (click on this link to see the words). If you take the time to actually look at the content of this creed you will see that they are all about what to believe instead of what to do. The messages of Jesus were actually the reverse of that. He spent much of his ministry teaching us how to live together and how to please God. Almost nothing from the text above actually came from Jesus.
When I started studying the practices of the Quaker faith is when this realization came to me. Quakers are very creed averse and I came to find for a very good reason. They believe in acting out faith instead of proclaiming beliefs. When we realize that what we do matter more than what we believe it changes everything. It was an epiphany for me personally to finally realize that fact.
The Christianity of belief in creeds is small stuff compared to actually acting on the words Jesus spoke. Where did we lose this critical understanding? When did Christianity become a “sit back and wait” instead of “acting out our faith” religion? It certainly wasn’t that way in the early church.
Lets get our attention off the small stuff and back to the true messages of Jesus. One of the emergent movement’s focuses is to get back to the true meaning of the Bible as a whole and the gospels in particular. That true meaning is enveloped in the words of Jesus. They must take front and center over absolutely everything else.
Most Christians today only know of two creeds: The Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. In reality there were hundreds if not thousands of creeds generated during the 4th through the 10th centuries. It seemed that every time a bishop felt his power threatened he claimed to have another creed dictated by God. Here is what Harvey Fox said about that in his book the Future of Faith about the times after Constantine nationalized Christianity:
Meanwhile the Christian bishops went on debating the fine points of theology. Now they argued over what homoousios really meant and the nature of Mary’s relationship to God and Christ. They composed more creeds and excommunicated more people. After the fall of Rome in 476 CE, the ensuing centuries told a dismal story of the repeated failure of using creeds and excommunications to achieve any result, except for further rancor. If, as some psychologists claim, at least one form of mental illness can be defined as doggedly repeating the same tactic over and over again even when it has always failed, creeds could be thought of as symptoms of a long psychological disorder…
The history of Christianity during the decades after Constantine makes for dreary reading. The subversion of the church into a religious empire widened. The bishops continued to bicker among themselves and deployed the power of the state against their theological enemies. Corruption increased.
When I started my serious study of various religious denominations one came almost immediately to my attention and that was The American Society of Friends, better known as Quakers. Quakers are strongly against all of the various creeds that have existed in the church. Little did I know that after years of studying this issue I would fully fall in line with their beliefs that creeds do more damage to the church of Jesus than they ever could hope to accomplish.
As indicated by the above quote creeds have been primarily used to exclude people who are deemed to believe the wrong things. They are used to exclude rather than include as Jesus clearly did. To me the ironic thing about almost all of the creeds I have studied is that they are primarily about things that Jesus never taught or said. They are instead about what various leaders thought many years after Christ.
I really don’t think it matters much to Jesus that some believe that his mother was a virgin before and even after he was born. I don’t think Jesus cares if we think of him and God, and the Spirit as three in one or just as three dimensions of the same god. If you are interested pull out the catechism from your version of Christianity and study just what it is you are supposed to believe. You just might be surprised if you really look at the words.
Jesus did not come to earth so that men, some many years after he left, could put together a group of mandated beliefs about God in order to exclude people from their ranks. Jesus was all about inclusion; much of his current church is about exclusion and creeds are one of their primary weapons. I’m sure this saddens Jesus greatly. ..
This will probably be my last post about the early christians for a while. Next time I will begin to concentrate on some of the early theologians,bishops/historians/leaders or whatever you want to call them, and how they influenced the direction of the church. Closing this chapter, at least for now, it is important for you to remember what “faith” was to the early Christians. Here are a couple of quotes from Harvey Cox in his book The Future of Faith that I think summarizes this important topic.
At its outset “faith” meant a dynamic lifestyle sustained by fellowships that were guided by both men and women and that reflected hope for the coming of the Reign of God. But when Christianity became swollen into an elaborate code of prescribed beliefs and ritual obligations policed by a hierarchy, the meaning of “faith” was warped almost beyond recognition….
Initially faith had meant a primary life orientation, but the evolving clerical class now equated “faith” with “belief in” certain specified doctrines and patterns of authority, which, in any case, themselves changed periodically depending on who held the ecclesial scepter. The result was a disaster for dissent and open discussion. Yesterday’s heretic may be tomorrow’s saint, but the heretic is still dead…..
If the people of the Way were to see what became of their church I think they would be totally shocked!! To them faith meant a primary life orientation, a way of life, not strict obedience to a fixed set of belief about Jesus. Most of those belief were solidified long after Jesus left the earth. They would also be confused as to why women were pushed out of leadership roles in the church.
The people of the Way would be very disheartened to find that it is very difficult to discern today’s Christians from those others around them! To them their faith meant following a very dynamic lifestyle that was generally in conflict with the empire around them. How did the church come to be much more like the empire than a foreign group called the Way?
The People of the Way would be devastated to see how today’s Christians seem to ignore those around them that are struggling for their very existence! The very cornerstone of the people of the Way was to take care of these unfortunates as Jesus taught them. How could they now be more likely a target of church goer’s venom as “those people who are takers instead of producers”. How could the church of Jesus Christ have devolved into what we see today?
The People of the Way were more about living the life that Christ taught them and about the coming Reign of God on earth as well as heaven rather than prescribed beliefs and ritual obligations to be forced upon them. They deemed their faith as a way of life rather an altar called that instantly secured a path to an afterlife that they generally cared little about.
What happened to make such a dramatic change. That is what we will be studying next.
For the month of July we will be studying just how the early Christians went about practicing their faith.
As will be typical of many of my posts I will start them out with quotes from one of my many sources that got me to thinking about the current post. This quote comes from a book by Robin Myers entitled The Underground Church – Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus.
We forget to distinguish between history as a record of the elites and history as a record of the people. While most academics concentrate on the theologians who wrote the treatises and on the bishops who argued about questions of authority, the most important constituency of all gets left out: the vast majority of ordinary people whose lives were dramatically changed by the Jesus Movement. This included women, peasants, and slaves.
It is important to understand just how diverse the early church was. For the first three centuries there were no creeds or lists of beliefs that you had to follow to call yourself a follower of the Way. For the most part these early Christian groups were just ordinary people who had banded together around their trust in the teachings of Jesus. One common practice was that they would sell their possessions and turn the proceeds over to the leader of their group to be used for the benefit of all. This was part of their core beliefs of hospitality. We will get into that in a future post.
Because, almost all the people of The Way were illiterate they left little behind in the way of written documents. There were some documents being passed around during this period, some of them by the Apostle Paul among others, but for the first hundred years or they were simply unavailable to many. But in recent years artifacts of their existence have been found to let us know a little more about them. We also know more about them from the study of tax law, and organizational documents from the Roman military of the times. We know that they were a big enough perceived threat to the Roman empire that many of their leaders, but only a small percentage of followers, were executed in the Coliseum.
We know that they lived their daily lives around their faith to an infinitely greater degree than do today’s Christians. But faith to them was not citing a creed, they just didn’t exist for the most part for several hundred more years, but instead faith was defined as a trust in the teaching and wisdom of Jesus Christ. They trusted in what Jesus did and said. Christians were centuries away from putting beliefs ahead of actions.
In this post I will try to give you a very high level view of what I believe is the critical history of the church. Of course, as this study progresses there might be some things I change likely my mind about. As with most everything else I am open to different views and one of them may change my overall concepts (but I kind of doubt it 😉 )
Before I get into the view I will be using I want to give you some idea of other ways church history has been viewed:
Here is a very colorful view showing church history from an orthodox perspective. They show that the orthodox church is the one that has had little change through the ages whereas the Roman Catholic and all its off-shoots have radically changed through the years. They take great pride in saying that they don’t change. Since change is something that human nature seems to generally bristle against this view has some appeal.
Another view similar to the first shows basically the same shape but concentrates on more detail accounts of historic events. This is probably the dominant view of many Christian organizations today.
Here is a high level view, similar to what I will be using, that labels each period in church history based on the most significant events. I suspect that this came from a protestant author in that it deems the period after the reformation as the “modern” age. Some have, among other names, separated this age into modern and post-modern.
Now let’s get on to the view I will be initially focusing on. I will be covering three basic ages of the church. I couldn’t find a fancy graph as above for this view so I will be covering it with bullet items instead:
- The Age of Faith — This period began with the ascension of Christ and ended around 358AD. I have many stories and such to try and understand just what these early Christians thought and believed.
- The Age of Beliefs — This period spanned between 358CE to around 1900CE. This was the period that all of the many man made beliefs about Christ were formulated.
- Age of the Spirit. — This period started around 1900 and continue through to the unforeseeable future.
As I have mentioned before these three ages were formulated by Harvey Cox in his book The Future Of Faith.
Next time I will be fleshing out these three ages in more detail. If you want to see a more detailed view see the book.
Until then I bid you peace…..
Have you ever wondered about how we got to where we are in Christianity in the U.S. ? I started this blog in 2008 to study of how well current Christian denominations follow Jesus Christ’s words. As reported here (see the About This Blog button above) I found that hardly any of them pay much attention to Jesus’ words especially putting them into action. Instead they seem to be more interested in our sex lives and many other “empire” issues (empire meaning worldly issues). I was so disappointed in what I found I no longer call myself a Christian but simply a “follower of Jesus Christ”. The word “Christian” has just been polluted so much as to lose any spiritual value to me.
This finding was a big downer to me. I wondered just how today’s church drifted so far away from its foundation! It depressed me so much that in August of last year I basically quit blogging here. But with the disappointment came another mission and that is to try to find out what happened to the church of Jesus Christ? I have been on a study to discover that since that time and am now ready to start blogging about it.
I want to tell you up front a few guidelines that I am using during this study:
- I am approaching this study pretty much from a historical standpoint. I will try not to get bogged down in theology but sometimes the two will blend together.
- I will state again that I am by no means a church historian or theologian. I am just a guy who has questions. In some ways I think this is an advantage as I do not have a lot of baggage going into the study that would distort my findings.
- I am approaching this study to view the “forest” of Christian history and not going to talk much about the “trees”. That is I will not get bogged down in the details nor will I get into debates on any specific beliefs or doctrine.
- As we get started I will try to give a basic time-line of events but after that I will likely be hitting on issues that cross different periods of the Christian evolution.
- As a rule for all my blogs I will try to keep all individual posts around five hundred words or less. To do that some discussions will have to be split into multiple posts. I personally become bored if something drags on and on…. I call this “bla, bla, bla…”. I will try not to let that happen here.
So here we are at the beginning of another study this time into faiths and beliefs and other such things. I think you will be surprised as to what I found. Try to keep an open-mind about some of the issues that may be sensitive to you. I promise it will be anything but a boring journey.