The Second Great Rummage Sale — The Great Schism

The Great Schism is basically when the Christian church split in the Roman Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. This happened around 1054CE.  What had once been a single church slowly separated into two distinct identities.  Most of the differences that caused the split were almost nit-picking about what to believe and had little or nothing to do with how to “be” a Christian. This shows us that the belief vs action dilemmas have a long origin.

  • The Eastern Church (Orthodox) used Greek as its language; The Western (Roman) Church used Latin.
  • Eastern clergy could marry and wore beards; Western Clergy  were celibate and were clean shaven.
  • The Western church added the “Son” to the Nicene Creed; the Eastern church deemed that heretical
  • The Eastern church refused to recognize baptism performed in Western churches.

The differences between the two churches seemed less essential but at the heart of the matter was power. This split, like the one that would occur during the next rummage sale five hundred years later was primarily a battle between two large egos.

In Rome Bruno became Pope Leo IX.  In today’s terms he would be considered a fundamentalist. He immediately launched a program of “moral and theological” reform. In order to prevent priests from automatically passing their positions on to their children he banned all priests from marrying. (I always wondered the initial reason why Roman Catholic priests are celibate.)  Bruno sought to free the Roman church from outside controls.  He chose to consolidate power under his leadership. Given the experiences following Constantine taking over control of the church six centuries previous he had good reason to seek this reform at the essential re-birth of the church.

Meanwhile Michael Cerularius, the new bishop of Constantinople, refused to recognize Bruno as pope. He closed all churches in that city that were loyal to the Roman bishop. He treated envoys sent from Rome with total disrespect. The final blow that caused the schism was the Crusades where Roman crusaders sacked Constantinople which was the “Rome” of the Orthodox church.

With this schism the Christian church for the first time became two churches with different theology, doctrine and practices.  But in looking forward to the third rummage sale it would not be the last time a split primarily caused by power conflicts would arise.

Before we move on to the third rummage sale caused primarily by Martin Luther I want to step back a little and bring in another quote by Phyllis Tickle from her book The Great Emergence:

 It is especially important to remember that no standing form of organized Christian faith has ever been destroyed by one of our semi-millennial eruptions. Instead, each simply has lost hegemony or pride of place to the new and not-yet-organized form that was birthing. 

In other words, we should not fret that the coming emergent church movement will shake the church from its foundations.  When we eventually move from a church primarily focused on “beliefs”back into a church about “being” it will strengthen the church not destroy it. 

Rummage Sales

Before I get into the “details” I wanted to throw out another unique way of looking at church history.  Here is the way  author Phyllis Tickle describes church history in her book entitled The Great Emergence :

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 (Rev Mark Dyer) 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.

While Phyllis Tickle calls the current age the Great Emergence from what I can glean it is also analogous with Harvey Cox’s the age of the spirit. The term emergence has been overused already and its meaning therefore is not yet solidified. We will get into that in future posts. I may also flesh out just what those five hundred year milestones are. A rummage sale seems to be a very effective way of describing the about-faces that the church has done throughout its history.

Until the next time I bid you peace….