Don’t Take It Literally….

There are many today who believe that all of the Bible must be taken as absolutely happening and the stories are without the possibility of error. But this is not the case with many of us follower of Jesus.. Several of the early fathers of the church warned against taking things literally. One of those was Origen.

Here is a quote from People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story by Diane Butler Bass from him:

The problem with literalism began, according to Origen, in Genesis: Who is found so ignorant as to suppose that God, as if He had been a husbandman, planted trees in paradise, in Eden towards the east, and a tree of life in it, i.e., a visible and palpable tree of wood, so that anyone eating of it with bodily teeth should obtain life, and, eating again of another tree, should come to the knowledge of good and evil? No one, I think, can doubt that the statement that God walked in the afternoon in paradise, and that Adam lay hid under a tree, is related figuratively in Scripture, that some mystical meaning may be indicated by it.

It is clear that Origen was saying that the Genesis story is simply a story to relay a message and should be taken figuratively only.  For those who might want more info about Origen you can see that at my post From Saint to Heretic to Saint Again .  Origen tells us that it is just too simplistic to believe that eating an apple gives one the knowledge of good and evil.

One of the problems with many churches today is that they have boxed themselves into such a corner by their literal interpretations that the only way thing they can do is to deny established science or just plain common sense when it contradicts biblical stories.

Here is another quote from the book cited above to explain what is happening today:

Jesus fascinates millions, but Christianity, the religion that began with Jesus, leaves countless people cold. What happened after Jesus—oppression, heresy trials, schisms, inquisitions, witch hunts, pogroms, and religious wars—witnesses to much human ambition and cruelty. The things people do in Jesus’s name often contradict his teachings. From Constantine to Christendom to the Christian Right, “after Jesus” can be remarkably depressing for thoughtful and sensitive souls. This dismal historical record surely was not what Jesus intended as he preached a merciful kingdom based on the transformative power of God’s love. 

This “dismal historical record” as the author mentions is man-made often as a result of personal power struggles. It is definitely not what Jesus intended. We need to wrestle back the true messages of Jesus so that those who are still fascinated with him can hear the true story about him.

That is what the emergent church is all about.

History of the Church — More Details …

I realize that due to trying to keep the last post brief I did not fully explain the three ages (Age of Faith, Age of Belief, Age of the Spirit) very well so I am taking another shot at it here. As a quote to explain it further I am using one from Diane Butler Bass in her book entitled Christianity After Religion. I realize it is kind of strange to use one author quoting another but I  believe this quote is the most descriptive with the fewest words of any I currently have in my database. (I’m and information technology guy so of course I have a database and it is growing daily 😉 )

Harvey Cox proposed that Christianity reflects this broader transformation regarding human knowledge and experience by dividing church history into three ages: the Age of Faith, the Age of Belief, and the Age of the Spirit. During the first period, roughly from the time of Jesus to 400 CE, Christianity was understood as a way of life based upon faith (i.e., trust) in Jesus. Or, as Cox states, To be a Christian meant to live in his Spirit, embrace his hope, and to follow him in the work that he had begun.

Between 300 and 400, however, this dynamic sense of living in Jesus was displaced by an increasing emphasis on creeds and beliefs, leading Professor Cox to claim that this tendency increased until nascent beliefs thickened into catechisms, replacing faith in Jesus with tenets about him….

From an energetic movement of faith [Christianity] coagulated into a phalanx of required beliefs. Cox argues that the Age of Belief lasted some fifteen centuries and began to give way around 1900, its demise increasing in speed and urgency through the twentieth century.

We have now entered into a new phase of Christian history, which he calls the Age of the Spirit. If the Age of Faith was a time of faith in Jesus and the Age of Belief a period of belief about Christ, the Age of the Spirit is best understood as a Christianity based in an “experience of Jesus.” 

What I plan on doing, at least initially, is to flesh out this history with facts and examples. Initially we will try to understand the true nature of the early Christians and how they went about living their faith. I can’t wait until then so I am going to tell you that they did a much better job of being followers of Jesus Christ than we have for generations since them! What they did and how they did it was impressive indeed especially given that many of the leaders were fed to the lions because of their faith.

I will also be covering the Age of Beliefs to understand just how all these different beliefs, and in particular creeds came from. I think you will be surprised how much human hands are involved.  I will be covering heretics turned saints and saints turned heretics as well. This period and this topic is a very interesting one for me.

Finally I will take the concept of the Age of the Spirit. Some call it the Great Emergence and some have other names for it but I think they are all trying to reach the same point. A point where we return to true faith and jettison some of our previously held man-made beliefs.

Until next time I wish you peace….