Posts Tagged With: christianity

My Story, Gods Story, & My Theology

One of my biggest mistakes I believe that I was making as an early bible student was assuming that scripture was all about how to ‘get saved and go to heaven.’

To my pleasant surprise, (as it turned out) that was not what Featured imagescripture or God himself was concerned with trying to reveal. I’m so glad that the year I had decided to do the SBS in YWAM, a Chronological SBS was starting in Los Angeles and that happened to be the place where I was planning to go. I spent the first 6 months of the bible school trapped in the Old Testament. I was just nineteen years old when I began the CSBS and I struggled with the violence in the OT but for the first time was struck by the goodness and mercy of God. Instead of being fixated on his wrath or anger It became clear that though God interacted with violence at times mankind was constantly prone to violence, murder, lies, cheating, stealing, and many other violent and destructive behaviors. God not man is the hero of the OT.

Often people struggling with God, fixate on specif instances of his judgement. But the consistent story of the OT is about the ongoing and worsening behavior of man. Yet the primary theme emerges. Scripture when given a chance and looked at as a unified whole reveal a good God, a loving and patient God, a just and right God who does not gleefully destroy anyone or anything that he lovingly created.

The emerging theme is what we sometimes call the theme of Gods Redemptive Plan. It is evident from book one that he had a plan to turn everything around. To reverse the curse that began with mans rebellion from God. Abraham was the man God chose and his family to undo the sin of Adam and bring blessings instead of curses onto the earth and to every family in it. Just as God planned in Adam and Eve to fill the earth with Adam seed and nurture Eden until it consumed the whole earth. God wanted for Abraham to continue in that great vocation though sin and its curse had already begun to have its effect on the earth and on all the families of the earth including Abraham’s family.

The overarching story of those first 6 months of bible study told us that this chosen family was failing. Though there were many bright spots, many shining examples of faithfulness, the people of Abraham failed. They again, like Adam faced exile from their home, from the place which in Gods design they would spread out from and bless the world. When we arrive at the gospels in the New Testament Jews believed that though the had been preserved they were still in an exile of sorts. Still awaiting the day when God would act on their behalf. The day when God would restore their fortunes and make the world notice that God was for Israel.

Interesting for me that after about 5 years in the CSBS I had not developed a strong appreciating for the New Testament. I did not dislike it. But I was intrigued and drawn to the Torah and to the story of Israel and their God. But after 5 years I finally fell in Love with the gospels. In particular I fell in love with the the Gospel of Matthew. This makes a lot of sense to me since Matthew is the most Jewish Gospel. Written to Jews no doubt, Jesus engages a lot with Pharisees (with the lament of the pharisees in particular), Law (with the Sermon on the mount in particular), and Temple (with the Olivet Discourse in particular). It is a master piece seeking to convince any doubters that Jesus really is the Messiah that the Jewish people have been waiting on. But its going to be tricky cause he is a little different than expected. I found it more exciting because Jesus was not simply telling people ‘this is how you get to heaven or get saved.” It was more rich than that. He was teaching what his kingdom was like, how those who were a part of his kingdom must live, think, and feel about the world that they live in and will inherit. Only after I really grasped some of these essentials about Jesus and his kingdom, about the ongoing use of the Jewish Narrative and their Law was I able to appreciate the work of Paul the Apostle.

For many Christians, I believe, their “Christian” Theology is actually a “Pauline” Theology. Whether they worked for it or inherited it from sermons and popular teaching people understand the OT through Paul’s lens, and people understand the Gospels through Paul’s lens. Not that there is anything wrong with Paul’s lens in itself. Its just not the way Christians, I believe, should go about study and compression of the Canon of Scripture. I have heard it pointed out that our “Theology” is often based on creeds rather than on Canon. That theology is inherited from the teachings, the sermons, the songs, the liturgy, and the creeds, of the church. This is a valid point that Reformers themselves fought against. We tend to think that the reformers had a great victory in riding the church of allegiance to creeds and bring the people of God back to the whole witness of the Canon of Scriptures. But they did not once and for all rid Christianity of allegiance to creeds over Canon. They simply set an example to follow. It remains a task of Christians to follow in their footsteps and not allow Tradition to overtake fresh engagement with the Word of God. Even if that means that we challenge some of the traditions developed in our post reformation christian world. Of course I am not suggesting to throw out doctrine of John Calvin, Martin Luther, and the like. We should work with their readings and commentaries and go back to the text and have fresh insights that derive out of careful exegesis.

One of these Post-Reformation ways of engaging with the Canon is to read through the lens of Paul rather. As inductive bible students who seek to establish a context for each book, its author, its audience, and its occasion we should not approach Genesis for instance simply with what Paul said, though we do not dismiss him. It helps, I believe, to approach these text fresh, with as much knowledge of the context as possible. To work through the unfolding story, in context, to arrive at Jesus and the Gospels still engaging with their context, and then arrive at Paul and his letters to see how he engaged with the Old Testament and the Gospels and add on to what we have already learned and perhaps adapt it where it needs to be adapted. The thing I’m not suggesting is a a sort of either or, that we either go with what Paul said about the OT or we just do it on our own. Instead we do a little of both. I believe if we learn to work with the OT in context then instead of forcing Paul to say what we want him to we become familiar with how he may have actually come to think about the OT and Jesus.

In other words, what Paul says about the use of the Law is not extensive and final. Most come away from Paul with clarity that the Law brings condemnation. He says that it does, but for those who are “in Christ” the law does not bring condemnation. Therefore the Law becomes simultaneously; condemnation for those who are not “in Christ”, a tool for those who are to know God better, to look more like God, and to bear a greater witness to those who are not “In Christ.” Multiple uses for the Law abound when we look at Paul’s explanation of the Law from the angle of how Jews in the first Century struggled with the Law and how to actually go about observing it. Paul now has the key, Jesus and the Spirit. All of these uses are evident if we study the law in context. Paul becomes more clear when we see for ourselves that the Law is about humbling the people of God, revealing God to the people of God, and making the people of God a greater witness to those around them.

It is the issue of the Law that brings me back to my own story. Just as I had mistaken all scripture to be about Salvation, or how to get saved and go to heaven. Jews in Paul’s day had mistaken the Law for a formula for assurance of their own future vindication. If they were circumcised, if they ate right, observed holy days, and followed the rabbinic teachings of the day then they would have some assurance of their Salvation. In others words for many Jews in Paul’s day they have mistaken the Law for a way of salvation. Saul of Tarsus certainly must have believed in some form of this, until his conversion, and maybe some time away in Arabia to sort things out a bit. The new Paul was able to clarify that Law on its own brings condemnation, that without Christ there is no hope of future vindication of the righteous, no matter how righteous, without Christ and also the spirit there is not hope for the people of God. So for Paul, if he were asked directly, “How do I get saved?” He might respond with well really its not about how you get saved but about how you have been saved, or better, how salvation has come into the world for the world by way of those in the world. It is a story that in Romans Paul actually decided to tell from Creation, Fall, Judgement, Law, Sacrifice, Atonement, Adam, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Pharaoh, Prophets, exile, and Messiah. This is the story not of how you can get saved and go to heaven but about how God has brought salvation into the world that he loves and to that which he loved the most, mankind.

It would be silly of me to completely leave out what Paul says about “Justification by Faith”. Some might say well actually Paul answers the quest more basically. He says, to those who ask, You get saved by faith in the Messiah. But that I believe is sometimes the answer we give a bit to soon. Paul labors heavily to tell the story of how Salvation was provided for us by God  throughout history climaxing in Jesus the Messiah. Then when it is heavily evident Faith in the messiah becomes a reaction, and a work of the spirit, through the telling of the story of Gods Faithfulness. In other words, we are saved by the faithfulness of God. By Faith for Faith as Paul says in Romans chapter one.

Some Suggested Reading on topic

Conversion of the Imagination – Richard B. Hays

Ancient Near Eastern Thought Relating to the OT – John H. Walton

The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah – Alfred Edersheim

Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N.T. Wright

How God became King – N.T. Wright

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Categories: Bible, CSBS, Doctrine, New Testament, paul, Romans, Theology, YWAM | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Functional Election: 3 Hints for not misreading Scripture

old-man-reading-1882Reading the Old Testament as Christian Scriptures poses interesting surface challenges for Christians. I have been observing over the last eight years that students find the particular topic of a chosen people very hard to grasp correctly.

However, when we approach the scriptures with the inductive method, and with a rich historical context, and follow that up with going through Chronologically so that the many stories unfold neatly into one large story of Gods ongoing redemptive work then we can reach the New Testament with far more clarity about the world of the Jews, Greeks, and Romans. Then we already understand that there was a specific purpose for which the people of Israel where chosen for. How do we read and study the OT incorrectly.

Three things keep us (particularly western people) from reading scripture right. The three things that I will explain are actually all about how we impose our own Modern thinking on to the text. We think as Individuals, we think as Materialists, we have Greek thinking categories. We then impose our western way of thinking onto the text and miss the point that the authors were trying to make. When we miss out on what the author truly meant then we miss out on what exactly God was communicating to the Original Audience. When we miss that we miss out on what God is saying through the text to us today. How does reading the text as individuals impact our reading of scriptures.

Most are completely aware when reading the bible that it is a very old piece of literature. But most are completely unaware of the implications of that truth for how we aught to read and understand scripture. If we really grasp that the bible is very old and that its original recipients thought and lived very differently from us we would not take so much ‘out of context’. For instance most people do not know that people in the Ancient world were not individualistic. At least nothing like are today in the west. In fact in many cultures around the world people do not think so much in terms of individual success and identity. Instead the ancient thought and valued group identity, the success of the group, and importantly the purpose of the group. For Israel they very much learned to value group identity, and group success. It was not however understood correctly in terms of their group function or purpose. They felt strongly that they were God’s people, and that as God’s people they would be blessed and prosperous. The purpose was for many Jews was that through the power and might of the ethnic group of Israel nations would turn to their God and be humbled by him and by his people. Unfortunately they did not always conceptualize what God himself promised to Abraham that God’s peoples function was to achieve all this for the sake of God’s redemptive purposes in all people. That when the nations turned to the God of Israel then the nations would be joined to that family.

Thus to understand Romans more correctly, as many have sought to do one must understand what was important to Paul, to other Jews of his time in Rome, and to the rest of that ancient culture. Paul was remembering the Jewish stories of how God had intervened in the world and spoke to righteous men of Israel, how he gave his law, how he delivered them from slavery, and then back into slavery until they themselves would turn back to him. For the chosen people had failed. They were the ‘chosen’ people for a specific purpose, and then they failed God sent them into exile until again he would act on their behalf. God chose to do these through a special person, Jesus, God incarnate, a high priest, a great teacher, an example of righteousness, a judge, a high priest, the atoning sacrifice, the embodiment of resurrection hope for all people. Jesus was the Jewish messiah and the God over all. Romans when read correctly with more than just individuals in mind keeps us from reading the book just as a way for an individual to get saved and instead as a book that speaks of the ongoing work of Gods Saving intervention for humanity. Romans is about how God actual did act on behalf of his people to bring them redemption and how that redemption and salvation is available to all people irrespective of their age, sex, ethnicity, or social status.

The gospel is that Salvation has come into the world for all who believe, confess, or cry out for it. When we see scripture in a more communal way we experience the message of the books a little closer to how the Original audience would have. Reading a book otherwise leads to an over emphasis on personal salvation, so that a theology that allows me as an individual to prove my salvation and eternal destiny is all that really matters to a ‘believer’. Paul thought very differently. I believe that he felt that the story of God’s Salvation is one in which when you confess faith in the messiah then your life begins to reflect that kind of belief. We were not meant to use Paul to define our salvation so we can justify our complacency. Paul had a more fluid concept of God’s Salvation. It was not to be something we could place neatly into boxes. This part is Justification, that part is Sanctification. Somehow God’s Salvation works out when the people of God are identified by their Faith in God’s Faithfulness, and then when the actually begin to live faithfully as God’s people in a world full of Adam’s thorns, and thistles. It is the creation itself that is waiting for the ‘revealing of the sons of God’. In others words, Salvation just begins when people receive by faith their atonement in Christ. Then they must begin the task of cross bearing themselves. Paul says, that the sons of God will continue to groan with creation as we await our own resurrected bodies. Because we think with sharp categories, and because we think as individuals, almost selfishness or egotistically, and because we have adopted post-enlightenment categories of physical spiritual worlds. False categories of gods and spirits (and other obviously made up stuff for the ignorant and wishful thinkers) vs the category of reality and hard science (and other things that can be trusted with certainty).

We then, unconsciously, impose this onto scripture. For instance, the church in America gets obsessed with debates over the material reality of Genesis 1-2. It is important to Christians that the events of Genesis 1-2 are historical. That is fine, nothing wrong with that. Unless you then are going to wrongly impose modern materialistic science onto Genesis 1-2. As if Genesis 1-2 was God’s revelation of the material existence and how it was all made. In doing this, Evangelical Christians in America often miss probably the most fundamental lesson from Genesis one and two. Of course, it seems even a little pretentious to me to imply that I myself know what is the most fundamental truth in such a vital piece of scripture. However, I believe that for the original audience of Genesis, Israel needed some clarity about their purpose, vocation, or function as a nation. It should not be a surprise then that when God finally brings Israel out of Egypt, and when they arrive at Sinai, that God says you are going to be a priestly nation. In that simple phrase God is, in short, informing them of their function. Priests served both God and the people. Priests, acted as intermediaries between God and people. This was Israel’s task before all other nations, to be the “city on a hill”, a “light to the nations”, and the “salt of the earth”. In other words Israel, God’s chosen people, is not to be understood even materialistically as the one people who are God’s, period. But instead, Israel is God’s people who have a specific vocation in and for the world.

Again, Israel’s status = Special People with a special Task. This definition of Election then emphasizes Israel’s Function. This is why for me I have begun using the word Election with the word Functional in front of it. I believe this because I think himself thought of Israel’s Election in this way. In fact he said that not all who are descended from Israel are Israelite. That is because for Paul in order to really be an Israelite or a Child of Abraham you needed to have Faith in Gods Righteousness. That Faith made you a part of the Family of God and his Covenants and then as a member of the Covenant Elect you had a job to do, a part to play. Paul’s election when it is uninfected by individualist, materialist, categorized thinking is more fluid and free from simply being about those who are “Saved” from Hell, or for Heaven later on. The Elect instead those who God Called, Justified, and Glorified for the sake of the ongoing work of bringing kingdom, creating life, and co-reigning with God. Many Christians today believe that because the profess Faith in Christ they are saved. We believe that this is good theology. This is shorthand theology. What Paul would have said to that statement is that we are saved when in professing faith in Christ, we live in unity with brothers and enemies, when we care for the needs of others, when we suffer with those who suffer, and when we maintain hope even in the face of awful evil because God has overcome and will restore all things in heaven and on earth and nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus. This describes the ongoing work of Gods Salvation, thus Gods elect are to be a functional elect, who show the sings of those who God is saving and using for the saving work in all of his creation. This kind of “Functional Election” does not need to be thought of as just another kind of legalistic or works based salvation theology.

Just look at how screwed up the hero’s of faith, both in the old and new testament. Abraham, Jacob, and David all had serious blunders and foolish behaviors. But that did not matter, God had so much grace and mercy for them. They realized this and it strengthened their faith. So then it is not by works that we are “right’ before a holy and righteous God. It is by his faithfulness, his grace, and mercy. But what does it mean to be a person of God, an Elect, a chosen one of God, it means that God has a strong purpose for your life. It means you have a calling, a task, and a job to do. That built on the foundation of God’s faithfulness we place our own faith, and on that foundation we live, we act, and we offer our own bodies as a living sacrifice to the service of God and people. We seek to be the Elect not simply to enjoy the benefits of the elect. Like Abraham’s children in the flesh, for about a century they sought to be the “people of God” for the benefits. Many Christians are so because they want to benefits. They want heaven and not hell. But being the people of God, professing faith is only the beginning of what it means to be the people of God. That is making a sacrifice yourself to love in the same self sacrificial way that Jesus himself did. This teaching is very hard. But it is this kind of thinking that can at last begin to transform and renew our thinking. So that we are not conformed by the world, by materialist thinking, by individualist thinking, and by placing things neatly in their categories so we can feel better about ourselves. The Good News is that there are in fact great benefits in being human because God has made salvation available to the human race. So don’t feel bad for coming to faith in this way. But now that you have allow yourself to be transformed in your thinking so that the name of God will not be cursed by those who look the Christian ‘elect’ as nothing but hypocritical or ignorant. Instead we need them to see Functional Christians. Those who’s actions reflect Christ’s self sacrificial love to the world around. We like the Jews of Paul’s day have brought disgrace to the name and character of God.

Suggested Reading (on topic):

Ancient Near Eastern Thought Relating to the Old Testament – John H Walton

Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N.T. Wright

Escape from Reason – Francis Schaeffer

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, Culture, Doctrine, Faith, New Testament, Old Testament, Romans, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Art & Bible: Part 1

This is the first of a series of posts on Theology, World View (both ancient and modern, east and western), and my own Art. I would not consider myself an artist really but I enjoy it. I’ve no training or art classes. But sometimes I will be spending hours studying and the urge to draw something comes over me and once I actually sit down and draw or maybe paint something my brain feels better and I am able to continue working. So I have two projects. One of them is an Old Testament project to teach the book of Genesis in Salem Oregon in the spring of 2015, and then to teach the book of Romans for the first time in Tijuana, and in Honolulu with the CSBS in the spring of 2015 as well. I have piles of resources I will be going through and projected hours of time in study. I want to make a plan now to produce no less then 20 posts here on bibleontap over the coming months that include my art and theological and cultural ramblings from this or that area of my study in both Genesis and Romans. These two books I believe are two of thee most essential texts of scripture one could set out to study. Please join me and give your feedback along the way.

ST.Paul

This particular drawing is one I did in just a couple of minutes and it is what gave me the idea for this blog roll. I had already spent about 4-5 hours grinding away and then I just thought I want to draw a picture of the Apostle Paul. I have done this sort of thing before in prep for teachings as it helps me focus and connect more with the particular author or character I am studying.

When the church first reached Rome it was mostly a Jewish thing. The first churches of Rome were likely held in Synagogues and I doubt we would be able to tell the difference between a strictly Jewish synagogue in ancient Rome and a Christian one. Crazy thought. But then in 49 AD Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. The church in Rome, in a blink of an eye, now becomes a mostly Gentile church. Then during the reign of Nero in 54 AD they were allowed back into Rome. It is a post 54 AD church in Rome that Paul writes his famous epistle to. The disunity of the church is apparent in his writing. His central focus is the work of God throughout history climaxing in his work of Christ. Though Romans is one of the most generally theological books it is not a book in which he specifically set out to be theological, or to write a letter about how to be saved. Many going along the whole “Romans Road” concept with Romans believe it to be a book that one would study to be sure how to be saved. The typical answer for many is now a compact definition based off of the passage in Romans, “Saved by grace through faith…”. Though this can often mislead folks. You might say to some one, this is how you get saved. Have faith. Someone might respond, “well, I’m not sure if I can right now. I don’t think I am ready to have faith.” In other words, just that line stripped out of context gives no hope to mans situation. Paul did not set out to give the church a simple formula for salvation. He set out to tell the story well. He begins in Adam, and explains Abraham, Moses, Egypt, David, Prophets, Exile, and more climaxing of course in the part of the story where God shows up and finishes the great work of salvation for all. This is less likely to mislead folks today. People need to know the story of how God did the work of salvation. Faith then is not a human effort to believe in something. It is simply what happens when people are confronted with the wonderful story of Gods work of salvation through out history and in Christ. Faith happens when people gladly receive and believe in the wonderful story.

Often the approach to a book like Romans (or the bible for that matter) goes like this; “What must I do to be saved?” And we force the conversation with scripture and the interpretation of it around that question. But that is really the wrong question to begin with. Many well meaning theologians all across Christian history have attempted to give answers to that question rather then present a better question as a starting point. The right question might then be; “How has God brought Salvation?” Coming at it in this way opens the door to really see the power of what Paul is doing throughout the book. More then ‘theology’ as we think of it Paul is being sort of Hebrew. He is telling a story of the one Gods redemptive work in the world.

Categories: Art, Bible, CSBS, Doctrine, Faith, Genesis, Romans | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Luthers Schism. And, ” The Dark Ages? “

Please read this with an ounce of whimsical and a pound of sincerity.  Martin Luther, 95 Theses

I was kept up last night about what the issue at hand was for Martin Luther. I am preparing for teaching the book of Romans. Since Romans and Galatians are the two books Luther found the most life changing and useful in his endeavors for change in the church I have been thinking a bit about him. I have read and written quite a bit on the middles ages preceding the reformations. As I have often set out to defend the church of the middle ages it is also something I have aimed to clarify, that the church was no doubt in need of reform.

I have laid out in other places that the church indeed had a couple of reforms take place throughout the middle ages. Specifically the Reform of Pope Gregory VII. Though Gregory VII denied the honor saying that honor was to be given to Gregory the Great whose name he took as Pope. Pope Gregory the Great never sought to have a position in the high church. Against his will he was forced into office. Though it was essential for the church to have actually given the Papal office to a man of humility and integrity. Pope Gregory VII sought to honor Gregory the Great by taking his name and continuing the work of reform that Gregory the first had brought. Simony (the buying of priestly offices) was a serious problem in the church. Along with the buying of offices by corrupt men came the depravity of the priesthood. These were area of great concern for the early reformers. 5751120-M

So Luther had sought to bring about his own reforms. Though he went further than any others had ever gone before. His challenge of the Pope’s authority took on greater meaning as the Papal bull of 1302 ‘Unam Sanctum’ was drawn up. A document that most historians consider to be the most extreme statements of Papal authority ever made. So the problems in the church had never been worse then the century leading up to the time of Luther. It is also of important note that Luther was not the first monk to respond to the abuse within the church in those early times. John Wycliffe in 1384 attempted reform in England, then the Czech Jan Hus in 1415 in Prague. Later we come to Luther in Germany, Calvin and Zwingli in Switzerland (there influence spreading throughout other parts of Europe into Scotland, Germany, France, and Hungary.) This is only to mention a few of the locations breaking into reform or schism with the Roman Catholic Church. There was a great need that the church had for change, reform, and even schism. It is important to note that it was reform that men like Luther sought. But they soon realized they could only settle for a break with the previous Roman Catholic institution.

Thus the story of the church throughout the middle ages is rife with corruptions, wheat and tares. But it remains the church until a split has taken place. Though there has been some actual reform in the Roman Catholic church there has also been a sinking into more error. The Roman Catholic Church like any other denomination has issues that need to be addressed, some more serious then the rest. Clarity about salvation and papal infallibility to name just two. The Catholic church was not wrong to attempt to exercise some control over the translation of scriptures for the sake of protecting them and assuring they would be translated well. The need for the Reforms I believe had less to do with the availability of bibles in the language of the people then it had to do with a) how someone gets saved, b) who has the authority. The need was to recognize scripture as having authority where the Pope did not, and for salvation by Faith and Grace rather then by mere association and participation in catholic church rites. The issue at hand with regards to common people having access to scripture was about the need for people to learn to read at all.

The Latin Vulgate could be read by anyone with an education in most of Western Europe. If you were from Eastern Europe you spoke and likely read in Greek and could read the bible. If you were form Africa there were a number of translations available to those who could read. Even in Europe there are a handful of German translations the predate Luther’s bible.  Again, only to name a few. Bibles were available, though not as many because the printing press was innovated around the time of Luther’s reform and made it possible for Luther’s bible and theological material to spread quicker to the public then any other materiel before it. In fact though Luther translated his work into German it would still only have been readable by someone who could actually read. That is the reason that during the middle ages if you wanted to hear the reading of scripture in your own language you had but to go to a church where that was made possible. It is therefore easier to say there was a great need for the printing press and more frequent work done to translate scripture into other languages. This was a task that the Catholic Church was up for but did so at a slower rate then we would be satisfied by. They were scared of letting just anyone take on this task. We take this for granted today because we know that now large teams of scribes work together to carefully translate the bible from its original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic text.

I feel sad discounting the work of scribes and devout monks who worked hard to translate and copy the scripture before the printing press. Their work is significant and important to say the least. But I think we bring shame on the church and its saints by repeating the mistake of calling this broad era of 1,000 years ‘dark’. Luther’s challenge and subsequent schism with the church of Rome was necessary. But was this an era of 1,000 years of darkness that preceded Luther? Hardly.

Though, it is not easy because of the blanket statements that have continued to shape our thought about history in that period. Instead of blanket statements and generalizations about the churches control over western Europe it helps to see that Europe was fractured into many kingdoms throughout most of the middle ages.  The church only gained “control” or at best “influence” over the kingdoms at certain times, during certain reigns, in certain places. Then, there is the dilemma of the state or kingdom exercising its “control” or “influence” over the church. You see it is not always the church with the power to control. Many of the corruptions came because of the opposite being true. Though both had its way of corrupting the right influence of the church in a culture and period of time. Sadly the middle ages had its moments of Wenzelsbibel03darkness but I would hardly call it an era of 1,000 years of darkness. If there is a dark ages within the church then I would say it existed during the 10th-12th Centuries leading up to the time of Luther. But the ‘dark ages’ was a term given to the entire period from the fall of Rome to the Enlightenment. It is a secular term used to smear religion and Christianity and the very idea of God being something to be banished from the public sphere so mankind could get on with its anonymous progress. By using it as protestants we simply mean it to be a slant against a certain kind of church rather then the church. But by using the term we give credence to the movement of the “enlightenment” and its anti-God (not just anti-catholic) bias. What we aught to do as Christians is recognize what Christ said about his church that it would be full of good wheat and creeping tares that corrupt and distort its message of hope. We need to do a better job observing the details and avoid criticizing those who came before us. Thus I would not even go so far as to use the ‘dark age’ term as it is a secular term used to condemn the church as a whole of holding back human progress. When in fact the period from the 10th-12th century was one of the most exciting times of technological and scientific exploration by Catholic scholastic Universities across Europe giving way to the Scientific Revolution of the 13th-14th century. Again, blanket statements and generalizations confuse and are the opposite of learning. If you want to know truth about this issue you need to look closer and observe more carefully.

Luther’s Reforms/schism was needed for the church as a whole to go on being the true church of which the Catholic church is part of and always has been, even though it has had its issues and still does.

The “Dark Ages” (a term coined by Petrarch, an Italian scholar, in the 1330’s to describe the decline of Latin literature) was a term used heavily by enlightenment figures as a sweeping criticism of the Roman Catholic church and the lack of technological, scientific, philosophical, and artistic progress as the result. To which I say, “ABSOLUTELY POPPYCOCK!”

A closer look is warranted for the serious Christian scholar, minister, and social activist. Dark Ages is a term to avoid in order to ever find unity with Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a term to avoid in order to not invite unwarranted criticism on the body of Christ of which we are a part. It is a term to avoid because it is far to general and directed (even by the most well meaning folks) at the church and not other important spheres of society of which God is also glorified in.

Read these books for further study.

1. Church History in Plane Language – Bruce L. Shelley

2. The Triumph of Christianity – Rodney Stark

3. The book that made your world – Vishal Mangalwadi

4. For the Glory of God – Rodney Stark

5. Hinges of History Series – Thomas Cahill

6. The Genesis of Science – James Hannam

7. The Victory of Reason – Rodney Stark

8. Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature – C.S. Lewis

9. Story of Christianity: Part 1 & Part 2 – Justo Gonzalez

10. Those Terrible Middles Ages – Regine Pernoud

11. Scripture and the Authority of God – N.T. Wright

Categories: Bible, Church, Culture, Enlightenment, Faith, History, Medieval Period, Philosophy, Science, Society/Culture, sociology, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What is up with my generation?

narcIt seems there is a tendency to “freak out” about rules and authority. Along with that there is a tendency to reject old truths or ways of doing things only to embrace something that sounds new, fresh, exciting. We look to the future with without a clue about the past. We get pissed off or bored if someone tells us what we should be doing, or how to do something. We are arrogant, clueless, prideful, and to bored or distracted to learn anything from anyone. We think really highly of ourselves. We feel it is everyone’s job to make us happy and give us things. We are naive about the realities of life. We do not know how to cope with violence, injustice, and greed. We are angry at those in charge but don’t seem to have any solutions beyond generalizations and idealism. Because we reject learning about the past because it is boring, takes to long, proud to pay attention, or to distracted we have no way of thinking critically about how to solve problems that arise in the public or private sphere. Unless somehow we manage to have a descent upbringing and not be overly influenced by the current trend in thinking we are all caught up the mess. We don;t know how to articulate what our problem actually is, in fact we have a hard time articulating anything without “um, like, and like, and yeah, and you know”. We seem to have the hardest time with ‘declarative sentences’ because we are to afraid to declare -like -anything you know? Well we are so used to deciding that any one with a voice using declarative sentences declaring things to be this and that might actually be wrong and we just would never want that to be us it seems. We would rather like maybe get people to like just come along with us in our uncertainty right? In other words truth has gone out the window to. All we are left with are likes, and maybes, and you knows. Or even worse tones in our voice end up creating invisible question marks when we rack up the nerve to say something we might like have a “conviction” about. I mean its just not cool to think you know something. And if you do think you know something you could be wrong so you know, just see if people think like maybe you might be write. I mean, how many people actually write like this? Its terrible. Its terrible enough to hear people talking like this. But what do we value? Sadly enough I think one of the most important values to our strange generation is that we value freedom so much. But not the kind of freedom that you might think. Again, its a selfish desire for doing whatever pleases “me”. I want what will make me happy because it is my right to be happy. If we find the courage to value this for others we still lack a real grasp of the importance of freedom. Individual selfish Freedom is not something we should hope to see come the masses. That kind of freedom would cripple the world and only cause more suffering. Our worship of self and the freedom to make ones self happy above all else is the kind of attitude that does away with rules, traditions, structures, truth, and authority. I worry about my generation. We need to learn to find our voice. I think we need to learn in general. We need to be willing to learn from others. We need to get distracted. Learn to read books instead of relying on media for all of our mental stimulation. We need to learn to have conversations about something other then parties, clothes, celebrities, movies, and music. We need to learn about why things work the way they do in politics and legislation. We need to learn to discern between fanatics and radicals. We need to get over what we think is cool and not cool and care about what is good and right. We need to try to speak with conviction at the risk of being wrong or having our beliefs exposes as false.  And, like, you know, a whole bunch of other stuff, right?

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What kind of Christian am I?

Here is something for change. I am being introspective. jesus

As I read, study, and do life with other Christians in Mexico of all places I wonder what Christian category I actually fit into in all of my beliefs. I have been a part of YWAM for the last 8 years. Crazy! I’ve been a part of the CSBS for the past 7 years. So what that means is I have been a bit of a bible nerd for all that time. Over the past 4 years I have begun to really broaden my reading and writing habits. I mean broaden, in that I have been reading more then the bible. But that is perhaps the first observation about myself. Reading the bible so much and studying it in context did something to my brain. I think perhaps seeing the bible as one story, a story that fits into real history, a story that covered centuries of history and exposed me to new kinds of literature and authors. Essentially it was a new education, using an entire library of information presented in poetic form as well as prose. For me this study sparked an interested in adding to that sacred library more and more material. I have taken a strong liking to the kind of extra biblical material that challenges and enriches my understanding of the sacred library. Books about ecology, psychology, history, sociology, worldviews, science, and an ever broadening list of subjects. Of course the list of reading material includes a ton of theology stuff. I still don’t have a large appetite for theological debates. But as I have engaged in new theologies, and old theology I have began to wonder about this question: “What am I”?

I read about Reformed tradition, Anglican, conservative evangelical, charismatic, Catholic, emergent, orthodox, neo-orthodox and on and on. Ive read and engaged with a lot of church history and history of Christian thought and still I’m wondering where someone might fit me. I feel this way in part because I serve in YWAM, an Inter-denominational organization. We have people from all traditions and non-traditions in our tribe of Jesus followers.

I come from the Baptist Tradition. GARBC to be exact. My Father, my grandfather, and my three uncles are pastors with GARBC churches in the state of Michigan. I suppose you could say I have carried my share of disillusionment with the church. But over the past 8 years things have shifted. I have sought to find a clearer head in regards to what my thoughts are about church and about the kingdom of God. I now have a stronger love for the local church then I ever have. She has her problems and people will always line up to point them out. To me this is one of the observations I have been seeing. You know it is the church because people are watching to see inconsistencies with beliefs and actions. The most common accusation of Christians may be that we are hypocritical. I think it is important for the church to recognize its inconsistencies and respond to the critics with candor and sincerity to change.

My own disillusionment with the church lead me to explore some of the “Emergent” authors; McLaren, Bell, Campolo, Rollins, McManus. I have enjoyed to some degree a lot of what these guys do and say. I have not disagreed with them on each and every point. But in the end I’m not what we are calling “Emergent”. I don’t know… I think its just not cool to stay disillusioned forever. Some of the Emergent guys are doing quite well because its sexy to be disillusioned, confused, “broken”, and uncertain. It is not cool to know something for sure, its not cool to be healthy or to want to be healthy, and doctrine/theology/history is not cool at all. Its all just power play and dogmatism. So while a agree with some of the tough criticism that “emergent” writers bring on the established church I don’t in the end wind up an emergent. I’m not emergent in the same way that I would not consider myself a modern, pure materialist, humanist, secularist, blah blah blah. I am of course a person who lives in what many consider a post-christian, post-modern world and I am effected by much of the thinking, and the style of the rest of my generation. But I suspect that In order not to be cast off as a super old school, pre-historic conservative I need to find the right brand for myself. Maybe someone can help give me some insight as to what I am.

My title suggest that I might just fit right in with the Emergent crew. Because I seem to be unsure about what I am. But I’m not really unsure about what a believe. Check out my blog. I have lots of opinions and I am under no illusion that my beliefs are wrong. I believe most of them to be correct. In all humility I hope to correct the existing mistakes. But they are either correct, or they are mistakes. The only in between for me is that I do believe things aught to be looked at from different perspectives. This is actually post-modern more then it is a modern or pre-modern way of thinking. However, it is also an ancient Hebrew way of thinking. So I would not say that this acknowledgement of the need to asses truth from different perspectives is post-modern pollution of Christianity. Its like, why did God provide two accounts of the history of Kings in Judah with Kings and Chronicles? Why are there two accounts of creation? What we end up with is further enrichment of revealed truths. We are not talking about opposing contradictory messages. What we have are two complementary views about reality. Jeremiah paints a portrait of a failing monarchy and a decaying community headed for hard times. Ezra takes the same original model and paints a complementary portrait identifying the particular features that would help the community at a much later date to put things back together. The fact that this is happening in the bible affirms the validity and benefit from seeing things at different angles for a clearer grasp of the truth.

So aside from needing to get new perspectives I feel that I am either bringing truth or stumbling through error. Feel free to read, agree, or disagree. For now Ive have enough self evaluation. Just to wrap up. I love the church. It has issues here and there, but I love the church. Whatever your creed or tribe I love to see the gathering of folks seeking Jesus ans seeking to bring him out into the world initiating a transformation that he completes. God Bless.

Categories: Authority, Bible, Church, Context, CSBS, Culture, Doctrine, Faith, History, Modern, Modernism, Orthodox, Poetry, Post-Modern | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Church History: Recovering Kingdom Heritage

9thSinaiAscensionChristian History begins in Acts with the ascension of Christ. Right before he is seen by his disciples going back into the clouds his disciples ask him, “Are you going to establish the Kingdom of Israel now?” Whenever I read this I laugh out loud. But I also recognize its rich significance. That was a question any person in their sandals would ask. After all that was what it was all about for the Jewish people. They had a great story about their origins as a nation and where it was all heading. For them it was the reestablishment of the Davidic Kingdom. A new era that would surpass all the wonders of Solomon’s Kingdom in all of its glory.

But then Jesus was so patient with his friends. After he makes them aware that they are not to know the time or periods they were asking about he speaks of the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. He spoke of a time when they would begin in Jerusalem, being filled with the spirit, they would bring that same message Peter spoke at Pentecost, and the same spirit that fell, to the ends of the earth.

The beginning of the church saw multiple types of persecution. They were as Christ spoke of in Matthew 10, to be dragged into the synagogues and before the government of Rome. This persecution lasted long into the 3rd century until the conversion of Constantine. The shift that took place may be understood by referring to the early church as the apostolic age, and then from Constantine until the fall of Rome as the Imperial era of the church. There were various blessings and damages done by this new era of the church. The church benefited from the ceasing of persecutions and began gathering for important decisions about the nature of heretical text and sacred inspired text that the church used from the earliest times. Given that these gatherings of Bishops began in the time of Constantine the major consensus was that the large amount of Gnostic text had been something done within the lifetimes of those present at the gatherings. Gnostic gospels distorted the eyewitness accounts of those 1st century apostles who recorded and shared the message of what they had seen and heard. These early gatherings did not give the church the bible, they merely guarded what for centuries had already been regarded as authoritative and true accounts of historical eyewitnesses.

conThe untold stories of the Cannon Communities of early Christianity are now being hijacked by the resurgence of gnostic belief in pop-culture movies and books. Common people have begun to get their education of history from the History Channel, Youtube videos, facebook timelines. New Gnostic text are constantly being discovered though near not as often as apostolic texts. The new finds are published and added to the growing “evidence” for a new narrative about the origins of the Christian faith. That story begin told can be summarized as something beginning with Constantine, who is responsible for the growth and widespread popularity of Christianity because he made it so by his own conversion and the subsequent conversion of the entire empire to the new faith. Actually this is not true. If anything his conversion and acceptance of Christianity may have been more of a political move to protect his own power. The growth trend happening in the apostolic age was reaching its height by the time of Constantine. Also his conversion may also begin to be seen as something sincere. But lets not get overly sidetracked with Constantine.

When Rome fell the church did not. It remained. So even if Constantine did help get the church going, (which is a garbage theory) It was not dependent on the state. Many of the the damages brought about by the imperial church effected the church negatively throughout the middle ages. However the new era of the church was not “dark” as many have suggested. It most obviously can not be seen as “dark” simply for the sake of Augustine of Hippo who lived in the 3rd and 4th Centuries of the church. He was influenced heavily by the monastic movement that began before his time, as a response by those who despised the new damages done by the Constantine era of imperial power behind the church. Augustine is just a bit of glue aiding us to see the benefits of the devote monastic communities. But then on the other side Augustine is the rise of medieval education. Augustine is really a primary origin point for the creation of Universities as we know them. It was not the Greeks, though they did schools.  No lasting universities give evidence for any actual universities existing and Greek and roman times.

Saint_Augustine_PortraitNot only did men like Augustine, influenced by the monastic communities begin to have a profound effect on the development of European culture. But “the high church” can also receive some credit. They were not always corrupted by power and greed. The monastic communities had occasional victories in the church at large when men like Gregory the Great were elected Pope. The church began as early as the 5th century seeing many reforms. If anything the Reforms begin here rather then the 14th century. Even the reformer John Calvin recognized Gregory as a good Pope. These illustrations point out that this new era was again, not something “dark”. Though it had its share of issues, calling it “dark” robs us of understanding that it was the church that assisted all of Europe in recovering their own multiculturalism lost under the Roman empire. No longer were peoples creativity bound by a ruling elite who sucked up all the production of the lower cast. Rome had fallen, along with it the ruling elitists. Feudalism is often looked as evidence of a “dark” era rather then an era of state rebuilding and individual progress.

This bring us up to about the 10th & 11th century. The bridge between the early medieval period and the later are the events of the  Muslim Empire and the Christian Crusades. The rise of what many Christians regard as the cult of Mohammed did not shy away from its involvement in the state. The expansion of the Muslim empire came by force and had stretched deep into Spain before the Europe’s response. Of course in order to get Europe to respond at all some campaigning needed to be done. Petitions had already been sent to Rome for aid to be sent to those seeking safe access to the Holy Land. The desire for Christian tourism or pilgrimage was very common and encouraged. Just as it is today very important to many Christians to one day go to the place where God was made incarnate. There was a flurry of responses over the following centuries. Again, Europe was not a centralized government as it would have been under the Roman empire. It was necessary for someone, somehow, to promote the war against the Islamic empire before it took control of all of Europe. The church was at that time the most centralized source of public influence and took it upon itself to organize feudal Lords, Barron’s, Kings, and Knights to take up the call to defend Europe and reclaim territories as far as the Holy Land. It is unfortunate for the Christ-like reputation of Christianity that the church needed to use its influence to help organize armies to go up against the Muslim Conquest.

There were no doubt troubling elements within the church of the middle ages. Though this era can not either be refereed to as dark because the situation as a whole was very dark and called for a drastic step for the sake of all of secular Europe. Though it is often referred to as the “Christian Middle Ages” most common people remained pagan and superstitious. There also at this time remained a devote remnant. The era of the Crusades was not simply Europe vs. Islam, but Church Tradition, and Papal Authority vs heretical movements such as the Waldensian’s or Catharians. These “heretical groups” were also on the receiving end of a holy war influenced by the power of the church to organize armies. All of these events are unfortunate for the reputation of the church as something following the example of Christ. Though Europe’s response to the growing Islamic Invasion has found justification by many.

This brings us to the dawn of the “Reformation era”.

Many wonderful characters illuminate the 14th-16th century; Jan Hus, John Wycliffe, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Ulirch Zwingli, and a good many more. There men of the reformations fought valiantly for the minds and lives of Europeans. Their influence is massive, so much so that when people think of church history these names are often the first that any good protestant would think of.

Ijohn-wycliffe-oprea-nicolaef you are Catholic however then these names, though they are known, are not hero’s. After all they themselves were not successful in bringing a reform to the Catholic church. When the protestant movements began to break forth from the church the Catholic church went on later to make some necessary reforms. But the reformation era was crucial.

What was at the core of the motives of men like Luther, Calvin, Hus, Wycliffe, and Zwingli was to see scripture in a place of higher authority then tradition or papal authority. It becomes clear when these human authorities of mans tradition and mans hierarchy become corrupt that something else needs to be the source of authority. For the reformers it was not their version of truth, or in other words, their own traditions regarding scripture. The work of Luther, and Calvin did later become tradition that led to later schisms with the Lutheran and Reformed churches. But for the actual lives of the reformers, their aim was to see the church with the bible at the center, and Christ’s sacrifice at the central event of theology. No further mass was needed to bring propitiation for sin.

The reformers did more for Europe then challenging the church and creating the protestant movement. Their influence in the church touched much more then the church itself. Remember that the church was for more engrained in the public life. The church had in fact helped to rebuild the entire civilization of the west after the fall of Rome. So the reformers challenge of the church was in part  the beginning of a reform to the state. Overlords and Kings began to face new challenges. If the people of Europe were willing to see the hierarchy of the church challenged and its influence undermined by scripture then maybe following the OT model, Kings and overlords could be challenged with the rule of Law.

Retracing our steps we can see that the church was a growing and thriving source of education and social reform capable from the earliest days of the church to step out and lead a broken civilization. The middle ages saw many such advances, the whole modern enlightenment principle of ‘human progress’ was already in full swing long before the “enlightenment” or “modern era” began. In fact the whole idea of moral or human progress was not something disconnected from those who could be considered religious. The church faced the challenge of helping rebuild Europe, and they gave it universities, science, many new technologies, the rule of law, capitalism, implemented democracy, and abolished slavery. All of this developed long before the enlightenment or modern era.

What many Christians do at this point in their grasp of history accept that the reformers did a great thing and now we move on to today and try to implement their passion for truth in our own pursuit of it. But that would be to dismiss the enlightenment altogether as something that does not have any effect on the modern christian mind. It is however, very important to realize that we moravian_sealare all children of the enlightenment. Much of what we may think is common sense is actually accepting for better or worse what began in the enlightenment era. I have already written a good deal on the enlightenment. But here I wish to show how the church behaved in the modern era. Early on among the Lutheran community there developed another schism. Just as many Philosophers such as Descartes, Hume, or Kant had discussed the importance of reason as a means of discovering truth versus experiment so the Lutheran community did. The early schism was an attempt to get away from the head and into the heart of things were man may touch and feel his way toward the truth of God. This lead into the Moravian and eventually Wesleyan missionary movements and churches. These movements also saw schisms on the issue of public versus private outer-workings of the faith. Not only that but the modern era working all around the church was more and more scary for those who drowned themselves in theology but had nothing to say about the new work of Charles Darwin. The church had turned inward and became a private sphere only concerned with theology, gospel, and saving souls for heaven. They lost touch with bringing the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. The missions movement has been massive and the world is being evangelized with the message of salvation for eternity in heaven. But not here on earth, not bringing sense to the mess we are facing here and now. The current missions movement and evangelicalism we find ourselves in today has also developed another schism. Instead of working to convince men and women of the soundness of our gospel we have bought into trying to entertain, give a good speech, and proclaim the gospel and call it a day. There is very little persuasion in our proclamation.  And today we have a kingdom of God theology where our faith is all heart and no head, all private and not public, and all proclamation and no persuasion. We fall short because we have given in to the modern tide and have a fractured Christian inheritance.

Knowing history may help us begin to recover what true nature of Christ centered Kingdom living is. It is not something in the heavens we might one day escape to, nor is it a utopia on earth were man is the center of all things. But it is Gods redemptive rule of all of his creation.

 

Categories: Authority, Bible, Church, Culture, Enlightenment, Faith, History, Medieval Period, Modern, Modernism, Philosophy, Science, Society/Culture, sociology, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Book Review: – Heaven and Hell: Are They Real?

imagesAnother new book about heaven and hell. Christopher Hudson briefly answers about 63 questions on the topic of heaven and hell. The author mostly is relying on the work of other popular scholars. However the author does not actually seem to engage the reader with the larger debate on the issues of heaven and hell currently happening within the church.

I feel like this book really lacked creativity and original scholarship.

After reading through Rob Bells new book on hell, and the flurry of responses. In particular Francis Chan’s response “Erasing Hell”. I actually really love reading NT Wrights book “Surprised by Hope”. The new theological winds of heaven and hell theology have also got me back into the work of the beloved C.S. Lewis. The most adequate book on hell I think that has come out of these new trend in theology has been that of Steve Gregg compiling clearly the 3 exegetical views on the nature of hell.

Christopher D. Hudson

Heaven and Hell” Are they Real?

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Buy It: Amazon

I was not expecting something deeply theological. I think this book will work great for people who have some of the questions laid out in this book. The chapters are laid out as questions people ask about heaven and hell. For me this really does not add much to the discussion on hell as he is arranging a handful of scholars and influential people’s work or answers on the subject. There were specific questions that are actually a lot of fun to see how the author arranges scholarly work on the subject. Thought I think a lot of it is object-able points made about questions the bible simply does not have answers for. I do like that the author arranged alternative views and made the answers to the questions out in a discussion form.

Overall I will give it three stars, cause I would recommend reading this to certain people who are new to the topic and want a quick way to approach tough questions.

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Reformations Rethought: Part 1

Intro: When Did the Reformations Start? Jan_Hus_2

Wikipedia gives the most common start date for the Protestant Reformations in the early 16th Century. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions gives the same date. Wikipedia also identifies this as the schism that took place rather then an actual reformation of the church.

I want to take a look at the nature of what we call the reformations. Every October Lutherans around the world celebrate Reformation Sunday to commemorate the events of Martin Luther and other figures of the German reformation. However, this is a narrow view of the reformations. Our understanding of the reformations as something to do with Luther and the German church is obviously not hitting the whole church. There was an English Reformation, there was Calvin, Luther contemporary working to bring reform to France. There was the Bohemian Reformations initiated by the Czech Jan Hus. Only recently, and you can see it in the timeline on the Wikipedia page, that historians have begun to trace the beginning of the reformations to the 11th century.

The main body of this post will be to discuss the reformation spirit seen even earlier then 16th or 11th century. But generally it is a way of referring to the actual schisms that took place in the life of Martin Luther.

Generally speaking, most people are aware that Acts highlights the growth of the organic move of the spirit, and the work of the apostolic community. But were did the real trouble with the church begin. Before jumping to the time of Constantine i think it is important to remember what Jesus said about wheat and tares. Jesus knew that even in the Old Testament community of faith, there were those among the faithful who sought there own good and were not concerned with being the people of God. The early church, though it was a time of ‘organic’ growth, was a time when Judaizers sought to distort the message, Greek pagans, and Christian Gnostic attempted, and often succeeded in weakening the witness of the church.

It is obvious to me but not everyone, that ‘reformation’ may have been needed as early as the apostolic times. If we look at the nature of some of Paul’s letters it would seem that some churches, though young, encountered great error that needed to be addressed and people brought back to the truth. I think were the trouble lies later for the church is who has the authority to speak into the error within the church. Constantine, and the institutionalizing of the church has its pros and cons. I want to consider both when moving forward. But remember things were not perfect before the institution.

Constantine: Church gets Institutional con

To many various claims have been made about Constantine. That he was a blessing to the church because he helped it to triumph other religions and become the world religion it is today. Or that it was a curse to Christianity because it gave the church a sword. These two perspectives are a bit off though.

The triumph of Christianity was already in effect taking place leading up to the time of Constantine. If anything he weakened the expansion of the organic growth by supporting it. But there are some misconceptions here. Constantine did not make a Christianity a monopoly religion of the empire. He did not persecute pagans, many consider him to still be a pagan, and his conversion to Christianity fake. Some make an opposite argument. But in truth he simply ended the persecution of Christianity, sought the blessing of the Christian God in battle, and in time transferred some of the wealth of the state temples to the church. This weakened Christianity, because as Christ said, wheat and tares, there was not more of a reason for tares to come into the church. Also Christian bishops became friends, and influential parts of the Roman empire. The Capital of the Roman empire also became a capital for church policy and doctrine. Thought previous centers in Jerusalem, Antioch, and Ephesus, maintained their influence.

Constantine did work within the church to protect its unity with the sword, at times fighting off the heretics of the time. There is a bit that can be critiqued in the life of Constantine. Much is up for debate. One of the earliest issues within the church was that it became a place of power and influence. Simony, the buying and selling of offices within the church became a play at power for and were filled by sons of the aristocracy. The high office of Pope had its price along with the lowly parishes.  Clerical families took up residence in the high office. Pope Innocent I (401-417) Succeeded his father Pope Anastasius (399-401). This is the earliest example and the latest was 1044. This was far from regular but there are a handful of examples.

This gets me on then to the body of this post. Now that we have reached a somewhat institutional church as opposed to the early grassroots move of the church. What was the nature of the church? When did the reformations begin? Where there successful reforms? Was the church from Constantine to Luther corrupt, hiding scriptures, ignorant, and committed to all the wrong things?

Two Churches: From Constantine to Luther

I believe that this is a very unknown era of history for most Protestant Christians because when being told the story of the church people like to go to the beginning. For Protestants the beginning is often the reformations. Or maybe Acts. But usually not what happens in between. As a protestant young person, I’ve been grown disturbed at not having been adequately acclimated to this long era of Christian history. Not to mentioned it has polarized my faith from that of your average Roman Catholic. Though I remain protestant, some Sunday mornings I would just as soon attend a good Catholic church as I would a charismatic pentecostal church. And I say that not as a slant against either. I find that there are wonderful traditions in the Catholic church just as there are a few I do not appreciate. I also enjoy the emotional stirring of a pentecostal atmosphere from time to time. But it really is not about preference, I’m simply stating what my preferences are from week to week. So while I will remain protestant I will not bash Catholics. In fact I may be caught more often sympathizing with their beliefs and traditions save one or two.

I feel the need to do this sympathizing because there history is my history. Not to mention many of the Catholic traditions have in fact been carried over into Protestantism and it is wrong to claim them as solely protestant. So there is a large heritage protestants enjoy built up by those who’s loyalty to God, and the catholic church will be observed a bit here in this post.

However, when I refer to Catholic I am not using the word as a synecdoche. Catholic includes both the church of power, and the church of piety. Or the high church and the low church. These terms indicate that from a very early time in the history of the ‘institutional’ church that there was a difference in the part of the church concerned with power and those concerned with being the people of God. The early monastic movements as opposed to those buying office and playing politics. These are the two churches of the history from Constantine to Luther. If Luther and other reformers were not successful they would appear likely as another monastic movement within the Catholic church. Or had they been truly successful to reform rather than form a new sect then the catholic church would have remained in place. We may still have a Pope, although a very different version of what the Pope was and is and the authority he holds.

What we are then to be looking for is how much like the true church of Acts was the the two churches of the medieval era? ( also quick disclaimer, the two churches might bring to mind the eastern orthodox church. However, I will not be strongly including it because my knowledge is still limited as to what went on and why, within the Orthodox church.) So we will be looking at the church of Power, its corruption and some of the bright spots. Also we should be considering the reformation work of the monastic communities all throughout this era.

How the Church was the Church and how it was not

It is interesting to remember that the monastic movement was institutional just as the high church of power was an institution. Though many devotees went of in search of solitude and silence, ther reputations grew and soon man more would flock to learn from these hermits. The need grew for organization, rules, and establishments to be provided for many seeking to follow in the footsteps of influential monks. Francisco_de_Zurbarán_040

This is essentially the story of Pope Gregory the Great who was the first monk to ascend the papal throne. He began by seeking the kind of life that the great monastic founder St. Benedict. Upon his becoming Pope he fought endlessly for reform, he sought to reform the churches corruption of offices bought by wealthy families. He also reformed the monastic communities according to the Benedictine Order. He wrote a book on what being a Pope was to be about. For this early Pope, Gregory saw his role as a pastor over the whole church rather then the master of the flock. He understood his role as a servant to the church. After Gregory’s death the roman clergy quickly replaced monks with secular clergy. The church was still a tool for politics. Perhaps exactly what Constantine did, or something that came as a result of his influence given to the church.

He is an example of a number of men who rose to the high church even when this was not easy to do because of corruption and typically needing to buy your way into those positions.

But the traditions that had begun in the deserts of Egypt with monastic communities is a better way to trace the church being the church. Though its not completely one sided. There were two natures of the church during this era that I think are important to maintain. Monastics had a sincere approach and love for God. The High church was committed to public life, sometime to much, and sometimes compromising as I have mentioned.

It is helpful to think of the churches influence not in such drastic terms. The church did not consist of only Popes and Monks. The in-between is the job of the Bishop. When monks had spent time in meditation, discipline, scripture, education, they would then be elected to serve as Bishop. Many did so unwillingly because they preferred the life of a scholar and hermit. When examples came along who served faithfully as Bishop, and also enjoyed scholarly life then you had someone special. But scholastic monks had a great value even before becoming well known Bishops. Saint_Anthony_The_Great

The earliest well known hermit was Anthony the Great (251-356). His life inspired many to pursue the monastic life.  His most influential follower was Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo (354-440). Augustine’s influence is well known. His work as a scholar has likely been the most influential of all scholars. Calvin’s commentaries are like holding a mirror to the work of Augustine. Not only was his work influential for theology but he developed a model for education and modeled a wider education for what would become the Cathedral Universities of the Middle Ages. Not only did monastic communities make way for an educational system, but also for better economic systems.

These are just a few key examples of the movements started. A movement for the reform of both high and low churches had begun with Anthony in the 3rd century (the same time Constantine helped shift wealth and power to the church).  A monastic way of life became what many sought who wanted a sincere approach the service of God. Among the monastics developed an entire educational system for reading, writing, scripture and other important works. The Scholastic movement was an option, men like Augustine lead way in this. And then there was men who dared as Gregory I did to reform the church of power, to fight against Simony, Adultery, and the lies of the high church clergy.

Conclusion:

Perhaps Ive done more to open up a can of worms here then anything else. However, I think there are a couple of main conclusions. That there are obvious characters throughout what some call a “dark ages” who’s aim was to bring the light of reform long before men like Martin Luther. Luther, well known for his challenge of Papal authority and his educational reforms had many who came before him. Pope Gregory, and Augustine both sought and achieved these kinds of reform but compromise and corruption persisted. Öèôðîâàÿ ðåïðîäóêöèÿ íàõîäèòñÿ â èíòåðíåò-ìóçåå gallerix.ru

The Sequel to this post will be to include what character’s, and events of the 10th century until Martin Luther hold. Protestants owe more to their Catholic, Monastic, roots then they realize. In order to continue to see our own needed reforms we need to understand our past and try to implement what we can from a true biblical worldview. We are not attempting as in a revolution to break off from the past and forget any of the lessons we could be learning from.

Knowing History is a precursor for Reformation.

Categories: Authority, Bible, Church, Culture, Faith, History, Medieval Period, Orthodox, Society/Culture, Theology, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Incarnation, Death, Resurrection and the End of Christian Gnosticism

mountainflowersI want to begin this blog with a reminder that the bible affirms environmental stewardship and the sanctity of human life. Gods created order in Genesis one and two reveal a God who created man to partner with God in the good care of all forms of life.

The rest of the bible makes a strong case that man not God brings harm to the many forms of life. The fate of man us intertwined with the treatment of all other life forms.  So man not God hurts God created order.

The other biblical reminder is of Gods Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection. His incarnation initiates the redemptive work in nature and humankind. The idea that the all mighty, powerful, creator putting on human flesh transforms our idea of a distorted humanity. He continues this redemptive work when he is killed, buried and then resurrected. He is reversing what Adam had broken in humanity by taking on death, and overcoming it for all mankind. That he would take on the flesh of a sinful race, die, and be resurrected confirms that Gods creation is still worthy of preservation.

We are challenged to be better caretakers of our environment, because God has carried for it, because he created it, because he incarnates it regularly, because he has future plans for its full restoration.

His plans for the future restoration includes the present. Right now God’s Word is to be incarnate in our lives. We are to follow the model he sets, the job he gives in creation, the job he gives, “go make disciples of all nations” and again in Acts “to the ends of the earth”. So all nations, all people, all lands, all of nature is to be touched by people of God bringing reconciliation and trans-formative restoration. His holistic approach reminds us when we attempt to evangelize a man that we treat him as a whole man. We make our appeal not simply in mechanical terms of truth but in the spirit of Love. We are not appealing simply to a soul without a mind or a body. Love means physical emotional connections must be made. When appealing to the mind we must bring some facts, some reason, some absolute certainty. Yes, and the third, man is a spirit and not just a mind with a body. Man is a metaphysical creature.

Just as our appeal is not only to on part of nature, or one nation of people. It is also to all of creation, all of humanity, and all of what is human. Jesus came to bring back to life all that is dead in his created order. trinity-172175215_std

The Doctrine of the Trinity affirms these many beliefs. That God is in some way inseparable from his creation by the three facts; that it is his creation, that he acted by his word to protect and guide the future redemption of all of creation and that he has taken on flesh and entered into creation. That man is made in Gods image affirms the three part of man that are to be redeemed. Non Human nature also bears the mark of trinity in Protons, Neutrons and Electrons. These three particles are the building blocks of all physical substances. Protons have a positive charge, electrons are negative and neutrons are neutral. In the same way we have the basic particles made up of Hadrons, Leptons and Bosons.

So how is it that we can get the trinity right without getting rid of Christian Gnostic attitudes towards creation. So much negativity has been built up towards the natural order. We are ready to see it all come crashing down. We are ready to see Jesus come back and save it all. But why are we not ready to defend the earth, to defend what God made in humanity.

Maybe we need to set our eyes anew on the last book of our sacred library. Maybe Revelation has something to say. For isn’t it this book that many think confirms our fears, that it is all coming down. That when it does then the rescue comes. Why not just hold on until the end, be raptured, be rescued, and forget about trying to make a pathetic effort to fix any of it.

Just as Jesus left it to his church to go into all the world and disciple nations. Revelation 21 reveals the climax of this work. That when Jesus kingdom comes in full the kings of the nations will bring into the kingdom of God the glory and honor of nations. (verses 24-26). How sad it will be for those who simply held on until the end. There will be no glory and honor being brought into the kingdom of God. There will be no part in bringing in the kingdom of God. Discipling nations to walk in holistic renewal, not just their churches, and the souls of people. But whole people,  whole nations, and the whole of creation. Only this work will be brought into the kingdom of God when it is in its fullness.

My friend Ron Smith, says that “The trinity, is a theological hill to die on”. I think I get what this means when I consider that God also has a certain kind of wholeness. We can distort his image to being parts of the trinity. When we do this we are vulnerable further to distorting the parts of man, parts of nature, and the nature of the Christian mission. A single crack in the trinity can wreck the churches witness.

 

Categories: Authority, Bible, Church, Context, CSBS, Doctrine, Eschatology, Mission, New Testament, Old Testament, Orthodox, Salvation, School of Biblical Studies, Theology, YWAM | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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