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.
I am well aware that there are Christians who believe that all of the bible is the words of Jesus and must be taken literally and totally without the possibility of error in every regard. On my very first post on this blog almost four years ago I was confronted by this belief by a person rather high up in the Lutheran denominations. I have always been a person who asks questions about everything. Always asking questions has gotten me in trouble throughout my life but never more so than in the secular realm. When I study the bible I just find too many inconsistencies in the stories and especially about the spirit of God to believe it to be from God’s lips that is if he actually has lips. As I have evolved I have come to take the bible as inspired stories about the history and yes even the myth of what we now call Christianity. The bible contains many valuable messages but it is just not intended to always be taken literally.
When I came across the blog by Rachel Held Evans I discovered a young kindred spirit. She, like me, is not afraid to ask “why” even to the biblical text. She learned much earlier in her life than I that in mine that the bible contains valuable stories about Jesus and God but was not dictated, either literally or otherwise, by God. Here is an excerpt from one of her postings.
The epistles were never meant to be interpreted and applied as universal law. Rather, they provide us with an instructive and inspired glimpse into how Jesus’ teachings were lived out by real people, in real communities, facing real challenges. It is not the details found in the letters that we should seek to imitate, but rather the attitudes. The details (head coverings, circumcision, meat offered to idols, widow management, hair length, etc.) are rarely timeless, but the attitudes (“as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men,” “do not cause your brother to stumble,” “avoid the appearance of evil”) provide guidelines that can instruct us as Christians today. So the questions we should be asking ourselves today are not: Should we eat meat offered to idols?, or Should women wear head coverings?, but rather, How can we find peace when Christians feel convicted in different ways? and How do we avoid unnecessarily offending others by our appearance?
When read this way, I am constantly impressed by the degree to which these early Christians were willing to sacrifice beliefs and traditions they held dear for the sake of love and for the sake of advancing the gospel. Such a reading does not devalue scripture, but rather honors it for what it is, not what we try to make it.
From Rachel Held Evans via About The Epistles…..
Rachel is a very prolific blogger! I don’t know how she keeps up the multi-day postings and I am a person who has four blogs running. She is on my daily read list and I have just ordered her first book entitled Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions.
I could not have said it better so I will leave her words above to stand on their own.
I am going to start this post with an alarming story of Constantine’s involvement in the Council of Nicaea. It is from a book by Harvey Cox entitle The Future of Faith. If this doesn’t cast out any doubt of man’s involvement in the change from faith to rigid belief nothing will:
Constantine, not Jesus, was the dominant figure at Nicaea, and it is hardly surprising that almost all the bishops, to the emperor’s satisfaction, arrived at a nearly unanimous decision in his favor. Only Arius himself and three other stubbornly independent bishops withheld their approval. Constantine promptly exiled Arius to the remote province of Illyricum. Then, in a statement that suggests he had forgotten his previous view both that this was all a matter of small significance and that all the parties should show forbearance to one another, he decreed: If any treatise composed by Arius be discovered, let it be consigned to the flames…and if anyone shall be caught concealing a book by Arius, and does not instantly bring it out and burn it, the penalty shall be death; the criminal shall suffer punishment immediately after conviction.3 But the emperor’s draconian measures did not succeed. The historic Council of Nicaea, as an effort to unify the church and the empire by imposing a creed, proved a dismal failure. Within months arguments flared up again. One of the bishops who had attended the Nicaea council and had not supported the final decision, Hilary of Poitiers (d. ca. 367), found himself banished to Asia. No doubt his experience tinctured his opinion of councils and creeds, but a letter he wrote from his place of exile at the time pinpoints how little the Council of Nicaea had accomplished and what a debacle it had been. Hilary says: It is a thing equally deplorable and dangerous that there are as many creeds as opinions among men, as many doctrines because we make creeds arbitrarily and explain their inclinations…arbitrarily…every year, nay every moon we make a new creed and describe invisible mysteries. We repent what we have done. We defend those who repent. We anathematize those whom we defended. We condemn either the doctrine of others in ourselves, or our own in that of others; and reciprocally tearing one another to pieces, we have been the cause of each other’s ruin.
Arius definitely caught the ire of Constantine and his brutality. Not only did he banish this noble bishop who dared to disagree with him on church matters he made even having anything written by Arius a penalty of death!! Sadly these types of stories are somewhat frequent in the years following Constantine’s mandating Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.
We will be studying some more about this period in future posts but for now it is important that you realize that Christianity’s history is messy indeed. I am not saying that there are no good parts to what became the Church of Jesus Christ but only that we must be aware that much of the simple teachings of Jesus were later polluted by men seeking to consolidate personal power in earthly focused empires. Power corrupts, even inside the Christian church!
Next time I will be starting to relay stories of the early church. Up front I want to make sure you understand that this journey into the history of the church and how we got here will be a mosaic rather than a timeline approach. It will also likely be a “people’s history type account. That is it will where possible be based on accounts of the common people rather than the primary leaders of the time.
It will be a mosaic instead of a timeline. In each post I will give you a small piece of the history that may not necessarily be connected to the previous piece but is an important part of the overall study. It is just too boring, at least for me, to just give the details of each succeeding year. When we are finished I think we will have a pretty complete picture of the whole story at least as I can humbly tell it.
I am really excited to get this underway. Sorry for all this preliminary stuff but I want you to understand the method to my madness so to speak. 😉 Please let me know if during this process there are any pieces of the mosaic that you think I should cover. I would love to add them to the ideas list for future study and posts.
Finally, I don’t want to you think that I am only going to cover where the church got it wrong. I will also be giving pieces where they got it right indeed. I also don’t want you to think that I believe that there was some sort of conspiracy involved to take the church away from Jesus Christ. I truly believe that most, but probably not all, of the church’s history makers had for the most part a pure heart in the words and practices they might have initiated. But, we must also recognize the corrupting influence of power in us human beings. I’m sure most of the people who helped form the current version of the church thought that the ideas they presented were inspirations from God even if some weren’t.
To further illustrate the idea of a mosaic telling a story here is a picture I took on a recent trip to the Air Force Museum in Dayton Ohio. It is made up of thousands of other pictures. I hope my mosaic is as clear as this one when it is finally finished. 🙂
Ok, so next time I will finally be putting in the first piece of the mosaic in place. I can’t wait to give you all of the pieces I have discovered to date. But I have many more to yet be fabricated. I pray you will learn as much from this study as I have and will.
Until then I bid you peace…..
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…..
I proclaimed when I started posting this study a couple of weeks ago that I would be giving you a history of the church. In studying this topic I was quick to learn that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different versions of the history of the church. If you are a Calvinist your history is quite different than if you are a Catholic or Lutheran and especially an Eastern Orthodox. Everyone looks at history from their own perspective. Some like to concentrate only on the inspiring parts; I will be showing you the warts as well.
The last few weeks I have been collecting various versions of history and will give you a highlight soon. Some versions of history concentrate on Apostolic succession, others almost start their history at the Reformation. If you are a Fundamentalist you might even start in the early twentieth century for that is when your version of Christianity started. For me the history of the church starts after Christ left this earth and is continuing even now. I do believe that the best years of the church are ahead of it instead of behind. But my version of future history will depend on whether Christians are able to put some things that they currently hold, maybe even doctrine, behind them so that the path going forward can be accomplished. Of course I will explain this further during this study but that should be enough to peak your interest. 🙂
They say that “History belongs to the Victors”. The history I will be giving you here will have a healthy dose of the defeated as well. I believe that some of the defeated (heretics if you will) have value even though the power struggles of the time deemed them worthless.
I must admit, if you haven’t figured it out already, my view of the church at least going forward is a progressive one. I think that Christianity as it stands today is very passive and that is not what Jesus intended his church to be. Some say that the total purpose of Christ was to die for our sins. If that were the case then the Bible should jump from his birth directly to his death as nothing else really matters. I think an equal purpose was for Jesus to show us how to live. So, of course my history will show what happened to stifle that idea and how we can overcome the do-nothing Christian mentality going forward.
I hope that even if you don’t agree with everything I have said here that you continue on with me in this study and keep an open mind as to it worthiness. We all want to do what the Lord intended us to do while we are on this earth. That is why we pray that God’s will be done. I will be open to your ideas about that and I hope you will be open to mine.
Ok, five posts getting ready for the study is enough. Next time I will be giving you a macro-view of my version of church history and maybe some brief glimpses of the other versions.
Until then I bid you peace….