We in the U.S. know that one of the primary foundations of our democracy is freedom of speech. That is being able to say something different from our leaders and not suffer serious consequences. In my opinion this is what has allowed our country to remain so strong over the centuries. Many times criticisms lead to change and though we might not realize it at that time that is good for us. It makes us better; it makes us stronger. Without freedom of speech I doubt our country we even exist today.
Anyone who has studied church history at all knows that it is not a democracy but instead has for most of its history a very vertical oriented top-heavy organization. When the leader of the church, or even most of his immediate underlings said something everyone was expected to quickly get in line with his words. Dissension is just not allowed. Anyone who even hinted of a disagreement were quickly handled. In the past anyone proclaimed a heretic, which basically meant they didn’t agree with their leaders in some aspect, had all of their writings burned so they would not pollute the church. And many followed their books into the flames.
Thank heaven at least in the last few centuries heretics are not so severely handled but that does not mean that they are not severely dealt with. Many think only of the Catholic church when they think of the power structures. No Catholic, especially the cardinals and bishops would go against anything that the Pope proclaims. But this situation also occurs amongst the Protestant denominations as well.
If you even hint that you don’t agree with all the various creeds and statements given by your denomination’s leadership you will also be chastised or even kicked out. I know personally of a Lutheran minister who was brought back from an overseas mission and stripped of his sermon rights because he dared to join in prayer with those in other Christian groups. It seems that most denominations and that includes the Catholic church (although they don’t like being called a denomination) just won’t accept any straying from the stated doctrine of their group. They all claim that it would stain their institutional purity. About the only denomination that I am aware of that doesn’t do this are the Quakers. But since they are adamantly opposed to creeds in general that seems a natural to them.
This lack of accepting fellowship with other Christians is one of the most serious problems causing the generally sharp decline in the institutional church. Their arrogance in thinking that they are pure and others are not is driving away membership especially among the younger generations. The emergent church movement, although not yet well-defined , generally prefer a very horizontal structure if they have a structure at all. Creeds and such are just not important to most of them.
I will be posting more about the emergent movement in the coming weeks. There are several books that are well worth the read if you are interested. I will be getting into that in later posts.
I just went another short round with my radical right gun totting evangelical friend on helping those less fortunate than us. Here are some of his words replying to a post I made on FaceBook.
The root cause of most of our deficit problems is still those that work and produce must pay for the existence of all those that do not work or produce goods and services. Few functions in the government produce a good or service worthy of a salary.
My conservative evangelical friend very very often shouts that there are just too many “free loaders” in our country who are purposely living off the government instead of going out and getting jobs. His solution seems to be to just cut them off at the ankles and if they can’t exist then it is their problem; “those people” should not be our problems. They are simply a drain on our society! They are keeping us from thriving. Of course he also goes on to say in this quote that anyone employed by our government are also free-loaders; they just get their money from a different pot! In this blanket statement he is including our teachers, fire fighter, policemen, government agents, FBI, FDA, Justice Department, social service agencies, and thousands of other workers trying to help us accomplish a safe and meaningful life.
There are so many places in Jesus’ words that are very counter to my conservative friend’s foundations; I just fail to understand how he, and so many supposed Christians like him, can so easily ignore those messages. Jesus clearly tells us to be our brother’s keeper and even to joyfully give them the shirt off our backs if they need it. But, my conservative friend doesn’t seem joyful about anything in his life except maybe his guns and other similar stuff.
In talking with my conservative friend and so many like him I have come to find that his core political and seemingly life driving belief is that no one should get anything that they haven’t worked for and earned. He rants and rants about this on every opportunity. What is so strange about this is that he then goes on to state that his spiritual foundations are that Jesus died for his salvation and there is nothing he can or even need to do to earn it. Therefore he readily admits that spiritually he is a free-loader himself who is getting something he as absolutely not earned.
How can a person’s political beliefs be so much in contrast to his supposedly spiritual beliefs? How can a person who calls himself a Christian totally lack compassion for those less fortunate them himself? This dichotomy continues to thoroughly astound me! How can the two co-exist in one person. How can a person accept Jesus’ sacrifices and then go on to ignore his words and adamantly refuse to help those around him who are struggling for even the basics in life???
The sad thing about all of this is that my conservative friend has many other who think the same way as he does surrounding him on his weekly church visits. They are all hunkered down talking about the evil world out there and ranting and raving about people who are getting something they didn’t earn and then they go on to say that they are getting something they absolutely did not earn themselves. Many in this category truly in a heartfelt manner question why institutional church today is getting such a bad wrap lately. They seem dumbfounded by that fact. If they would get stop and listen to themselves once in a while they would know the reason.
Here is an excerpt from a book entitled “If the Church were Christian” by Philip Gulley.
Several years ago I visited a museum and saw the skeleton of a dinosaur. As I read the plaque, I learned only a handful of the bones were original, that the remainder had been fabricated based on a paleontologist’s extrapolation from the authentic bones. In many ways, this is similar to what the church has done. There are only two passages in one gospel (Matthew 16:18 and 18:17) where Jesus mentions the church, and even those references are dubious. Many scholars suspect the Matthean verses were not original to Jesus but were written back into the text by persons hoping to bolster their theological and ecclesial positions by placing them in the mouth of Jesus. From those two verses, we have built a vast institution based on these “hints” Jesus gave us. But we should never delude ourselves into thinking that today’s church sprang directly from the mind and witness of Jesus. All we have is extrapolation, a few bones upon which have been erected a larger organism. If Jesus intended to create the church, he did a questionable job. He left no clear directions about its structure or purpose.
Mr. Gulley seems to come down in the camp that today’s Christian church was fabricated by Jesus’ followers (ie. Paul and a few others) and not Jesus himself. By his actions and not his words, Jesus set in place the cornerstone and left it up to us to build the structure. I’m not sure I really buy into this entirely but it is interesting speculation.
The idea of institutional purity is noble in purpose but very faulty in delivery. The idea goes something like this:
“Since we are the only ones to really understand the true nature of God we must protect our ideas from getting polluted by the rest of the world and in particular other Christians who think differently but are wrong. In other words we must fight the barbarians at the gate to insure God’s truths are kept pure. “
The main fallacy of this idea is that we, and we alone, know the true nature of God! When we are convinced of that false assumption then we end up judging ourselves as somehow superior to all others who are seeking God. Isn’t judging others something the Bible has a lot to say about?
I want to bring up the quote I have recently used by Phillip Gulley on this topic:
Indeed, when Jesus did speak of institutional religion, he was often scathing, saying at one point that those who were religiously pure on the outside were inwardly deceitful and rapacious. This serves as a caution to those of us who’ve convinced ourselves that the goal of the church is institutional purity. To be a follower of Jesus is to choose, at every ethical crossroads, to serve people above structures.
Is the goal of the church institutional purity or is it to serve others as Christ served us and to point them to Him as our Lord and Savior. During the first fifteen hundred years of Christianity the Catholic church many times enforced the concept of institutional purity by torturing “heretics”. After the Reformation the Protestant churches have continued that practice although with less physical methods. Today many churches use this concept to purge themselves of people who might be asking the “wrong” questions or having the “wrong” ideas about God and the world. In one respect Christianity is like Democracy in that diversity is a good thing; it keeps us from getting lazy with our thoughts and actions. A lazy Christian is not a good thing.
The main reason there are 39,000 different denominations of Christianity is due to this concept that “I am the only one who has it right and I must preserve my institution against all those heretic who believe differently than me”. When you espouse this belief aren’t you really putting yourself on the same level at God? You are saying “I know God because I am most like him”. Isn’t this a very pompous thought?
I am enough of a realist to know that most religious institutions today are much too entrenched in their personal forms of institutional purity to change anything now. That saddens me greatly but I know short of direct intervention by God himself that will not likely change. I just wish that somehow God would give us the knowledge to know who he truly is. I know manyof you out there are saying he already has with the Bible. But in reality almost everyone cites their favorite Bible verses as the reason for their form of institutional purity. Someday I hope we Christians will quit judging each other and realize that no one has a lock on who God really is. To believe otherwise is pompous and arrogant at best and sinful, self-centered and evil at worst. Until God tells us very directly we must assume that none of us have it all totally right. Sometimes we Christians act like little children in the world’s school yard who never learned to play with others. I just wish God would smack us across our knuckles and tell us to get along with our playmates.
I know some of you might be confused by the title of this post. Let me assure you up front that it is not about how you make your body pure by eating worms 🙂 . This topic is much too heavy to settle well in your stomach even if it were steak.
The theme of the next three posts is really about is that we have done a great disservice to the Body of Christ by believing that we are the only ones who totally understand what being a Christian is really about. The belief is that since we are the only ones who have it right we must keep our institution pure no matter what is required. We must not let the heretic get a foot in the door. In my mind this grossly inflated belief is one on the primary reasons we have more than 35,000 different flavors of Christianity today. So let’s get on to the first round of this idea. More posts will follow this one on this topic.
For the first fifteen hundred years or so the Catholic Church had pretty much the sole authority and power when it came to being a Christian in the western world (no I am not forgetting about the Eastern Church; I just choose to not address that here). They decided what the heart and soul of God was about. Not many, at least successfully, challenged that authority. Then along came a lowly monk by the name of Martin Luther. He was a person who was totally obsessed with his sinful nature. To try to find some relief he studied the Bible and discovered a small verse in the Epistle of Ephesians where it is told that we only saved by the grace of God and absolutely nothing else. He clung desperately to this tiny verse for relief of his long time suffering of inadequacy. Using that verse he studied the Bible to find other possible confirming words. He was convinced that this small verse was at the very heart of what it meant to be a Christian and the Catholic church just had it wrong. The Catholic Church at the time did not put much credence to that particular sentence. Since “they” were to sole authority when it came to being a Christian they insisted that Luther recant his words. They insisted that he publicly admit that he was wrong and to therefore return to the true Christian fold. The Diet of Worms was an edict put out by the Catholic Church to admonish Luther. Here are some of the words:
For this reason we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favor the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, whereupon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work.
Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diet_of_worms>
Of course this was not the first time for the Catholic Church deemed someone a heretic. They had done it many times before. The most notable instances were the Inquisitions of the 13th century. There they tortured thousands and thousands of people in some of the most grievous ways possible in order to get them to “admit” that they were wrong and the church was right about this or that.
After more than a millennium of autocratic authority the Catholic Church had some pretty serious problems. It was time to take them down a notch or two and that is what Luther ended up doing. He challenged the institutional purity concept of the Church and to a certain degree won out.
Next time we will delve further into this topic of institution purity. Did this idea disappear after Luther successfully challenged it? Absolutely not. As a matter of fact as a result of his actions it then grew exponentially! More on that the next time.