I have been studying the history of the church to try an understand how we got to where we are today. An important book in that investigation is entitled “A People’s History of Christianity, The Other Side of the Story” by Diana Butler Bass. This is not the first book I have read by this author and it certainly won’t be the last. With this post I am starting another book review series around this book. Here is a little about what Wikipedia says about her:
Diana Butler Bass is a historian focusing on the history of Christianity and the author of six books on American religion, three of which have won research or writing awards. She earned a Ph.D. in religious studies from Duke University in 1991, with an emphasis on American church history where she studied under George Marsden. From 1995–2000, she wrote a weekly column on religion and culture for the New York Times Syndicate that appeared in more than seventy newspapers nationwide. Currently, she is a blogger for the God’s Politics blog with Jim Wallis at Beliefnet  and is a Red-Letter Christian.
Being a U.S. history buff, when I see a title that starts with “A People’s History” I assume that it is more about what happened to the common people rather than the dominant leaders of those time. Many times the two are very different. A history of the depression as seen from the eyes of Roosevelt or any of the Washingtonians is very different from the history as seen by a dust bowl farmer or someone out of work for a long time. That is what I expected when I started this book and I was not disappointed with what I found.
The history of the church most often is around the predominant saints and theologians of the times. Or maybe it is about some of the shakers such as Luther, or a pope. What happens in the rank-and-file of the people often is unreported. There is an old saying that “history belongs to the victors” and the church is certainly not immune from that concept. Very little seems to still exist about those who had different views than the ones who won the individual battles.
Mrs. Bass spent I think three years researching this book. I personally have tried to study some of the early church writings but quite frankly they are difficult to understand given the different use of language of the periods. This book is well written and to the point. Most of the posts in this series wills start out with a given idea and a quote, or quotes, from the book. I will then add my personal observations and thoughts.
The posts will not be in a chronological order, nor will they be complete. I would highly encourage anyone looking for that depth to get a copy of the book and read it in its entirety. Since this review is being written as it is posted I don’t know exactly how many posts will be involved but I imagine it will be more than ten but less than twenty. For those who really want to understand how we got to where we are it is important to realize that there has never been a totally homogeneous period in the church where differing opinions were lacking.
Source: Deal Or No Deal? Creed Or No Creed? – QuakerQuaker.
“Friends have no creeds.” We Quakers often say that. We are committed to no human words but rather to following the Holy Spirit. We believe God speaks to us today – speaks to all who still their hearts and listen. “No official words can substitute for a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.” We believe that commitment to creed would be a kind of idolatry.
Most Christian denominations, on the other hand, do have a creed. They have an official statement of faith they use to distinguish their beliefs from the beliefs of other denominations. Those statements of faith often lead to wrangles over precise wording, and sometimes schisms.
The above words by Doug Bennett over at Quaker-Quaker I believe pretty much tell what Quakers think about creeds. I must admit that when I got down to studied the common creeds in use today I found that almost all of the statements are about our understanding of God. In that vein I can understand the reluctance of my Quaker friends to embrace creeds. Today creeds seem to be mainly used as a tool to separate one group of Christians from another.
I know from personal experience that many of the different flavors of Christianity will tell their congregants that they must believe in the total truth of their particular denomination’s creeds or other statements of belief. I was told that since I believed that the earth is more than 6,000 years old and therefore did not believe in the total literal and inerrant bible that I would no longer have membership in the church I had joined over eight years before. The new minister called to that congregation believed it was his duty to exclude me and a couple of the more vocal participants in the weekly bible study.
Jesus Christ did not tell us that in order to be his followers we must pledge 100% allegiance to any particular man-made words or even beliefs. He did give us example after example of how he expected us to love God and to love one another. Those two things were what he wrapped his church around not words that were conceived by men many years after his death and resurrection.
I am not as creed averse as my Quaker friends. I believe that many creeds invented over the years, and there are literally thousands of them, have at least some redeeming merit in their thoughts. It is just that when they are used as a condition of being a follower of Christ that raises my ire. None of us, and I am including every human being who has come after Jesus, totally knows the heart or conscience of God. That is simply an impossible task. We in our meager attempt sometimes get it right but often get it wrong. That does not mean that we shouldn’t try to know what God expects of us but more that we simply can’t assume that we, to the exclusion of others, have it down pat.
One of the primary things that empresses me about the emergent movement is their admittance that they just may be wrong about some of what they currently believe about the heart of God. They believe that being a follower of Jesus is a life long learning experience that no one, and I do mean no one, ever graduates from. That is one belief that I don’t ever envision being wrong.
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.
I have spent some time with my comparisons between Jesus’ words and Paul’s. I will be posting my first comparisons in the next week or so. But I wanted to talk a little about what I have found so far. As Sam, who commented on the last post, indicated I have found that a big part of the differences between Jesus and Paul lay around the way we look at Paul’s words. Do we take each and every word to be for all circumstances and for all eternity or was he just addressing a particular situation in one of the congregations that Paul had previously started?
If we follow the dominant Evangelical line we take every word to be for every instance. In other words, all of Paul’s words are doctrine for the church in general. This is where I believe the problems most frequently occur. When we do this we are indeed pitting Jesus words, which most believe are all pretty much doctrinal in nature, against sometimes very different words from Paul found in the correspondence he wrote to those churches. I am a person who puts Jesus Christ front and center in my faith and life so I tend to make Paul’s words secondary at best.
I have also been casually looking at some of the theologian’s words about this topic. They are all over the map when it comes to Paul. There are some theologian’s who believe that the true foundations of Christianity are Pauline and that Jesus’ words have little to do with today’s church. Then there are those who take the complete opposite stand. Thomas Jefferson, who I have read quite extensively was one who believed that Paul took the otherwise very simple message of Jesus and made it very complicated by all his rules and edicts. In fact Jefferson went to far as to put together his own version of the Bible. Of course none of the Pauline letters were included.
As usual there is generally not much agreement about Paul’s place in the church. But what else can we expect given all the divisions that have taken place in the church? I tend to keep in simple in this regard and say that anyone who takes Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior is a member of the one true church. All this other stuff, Paul included, is just small stuff.
Next time I will be bring some direct comparisons to Jesus’ words with Paul’s.