Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Where The Church Forked

 Yesterday's post (thank you for all the comments, all very informative and thought provoking) caused me to have a rather long walk and thought session during lunch (as we had rain the night before, it made for a day one could actually walk at lunch).  The subject was simply "When did the Church get off track into governing and structure?"

Yes, I have an odd mind and things like this get stuck there.

It matters, of course, because 1) there is a lot of arguing about it; and 2)  in point of fact, "The Church of The Apostles" is something that virtually every reforming group, division, and movement has been trying to get back to since The Desert Fathers and Benedict of Nursia decided they needed to do something differently than what the Church (a uniform church, at that time) was doing.

To be clear, this is a rather embarrassingly high level thought construct. Entire careers have been made over this and entire churches have split over it.  Mine is, by default, a very brief thought exercise.

I think it will come as a surprise to no-one that the first great change in the Church came with acceptance of Christianity by Constantine The Great in 312 AD.  The church prior to this point was at best a movement that existed in the semi-shadows, at worst was coming out of the persecutions of Diocletian.  Suddenly, Christianity was the religion of the Emperor - and, like any social movement of the day, instantly grasped as being a means to moving up in society.  Christianity moved from being something that one specifically chose to be at the risk of one's life to a form of social advancement.  Did everyone convert for that reason?  Surely not; not having the tinge of potential apostacy and death likely encouraged many who were on the fence to join.  But there was a group (there always is, of course) that saw this as just one more method to move up the ladder.

The second - and this was not the Church's fault initially - was the 5th and early 6th Century, when the Church government started to function as an actual political government.  The Western Empire was dying and then died of course, and over time the only group that maintained a sort of structure and ability to get things done was the Church.  Bishops began to act as political figures because they had to.  It was only later that they took for granted that they were meant to.

The third was the sparring for predominance amongst the Patriarchs of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople (It is kind of an interesting history if you are into such things).  What this did - eventually - was to break the sense of ecumenism that had been present, more or less, in the previous centuries, and started the division of Christianity into East and West.  Once one disagreed with the other side, it was easy enough to see them as wrong and slightly (but only slightly) better than the heretics, leading to the Schism of 1054 A.D.  This one action eventually cost the Byzantine Empire its existence and Western Europe its buffer from invasion and irretrievably split the Church into an Eastern and Western part in both practice, philosophy, and thought that has held true for the next 1,000 years.

So in the space of 1000 years we have made Christianity the dominant theme of how to get ahead in the world, a seat of political power, and then split it apart due to largely political machinations.  How, you wonder, could things get better?

Marin Luther, of course.  The Reformation.  1517.  The Western church split yet again, mostly a split (in retrospect) that could have been avoided if things had been handled differently.  What that created in turn was the sense that anyone could split off from the Church of their day if they decided they were not being "true to the Faith as handed down by the Apostles", which of course everyone wants.

Could things have gone differently?  Possibly.  What if Constantine had not legalized Christianity?  It would not have had the same pull and power and the Church might have remained more focused on the teachings of Christ and the Bible. What if they had refused to exercise political power and instead of arguing for pre-eminence, had continued to operate as the first Non-governmental agency (NGO) and ecumenically?  Perhaps they would have been turned from the need for worldly power; perhaps all the councils of the church would have been truly Ecumenical.  And with establishing the ability to disagree and reform the Church from the inside, Martin Luther would have been a reformer with a small "r", and history would not have 450 years of Internecine war between Christians.

That is a great deal of speculation, of course.  And it leaves out a lot of "what ifs", such as what would have been the chosen form of worship (would we have temples to Zeus, Woden, and Thor today in abundance?) and what would have happened to those millions through the ages that did believe but, under this possibility, might have never heard the Gospel.  There are the imponderables, of course (although it is fun to think about them).

It strikes me, of course, that almost all Christians would tell you they are trying to get back to Christ's church.  The Protestant and Non-denominationals would say we merely need to model ourselves on the New Testament; the Catholic and Orthodox churches would say that they have an unbroken tradition back to the early Church if we would only look at them and their history.  

I do not know that I have an answer, per se.  It does strike me, though, that the Church continues to disperse its impact instead of increasing it.  That, I suspect, is not what Christ had in mind at all.

12 comments:

  1. Anonymous2:23 AM

    Just skimmed. Seeing lots of research. Will read it and comments carefully. Thanks! Keith

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    1. Thanks Keith! I hope it does well on the second read!

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  2. Hmmmmmmm. Historically, the faith was to be the conscience of Man. To implement that on a worldwide scale means a big machine with lots of moving parts. When you build those you get incrementalism, mission creep, bureaucracy and all the corruption and incompetence that goes along with it. The church is really no different from any other power broker in this regard, TB. Recalling the scandal around Epstein's Pervert Island - his client list was basically the Who's Who of our day's biggest movers and shakers.

    Pournelle's Law goes into effect too - once an organization satisfies it's reason for existence, people within the organization start trying to expand it and enlarge it... and a lot of all that is done with the best of intentions. It makes me laugh, actually. We never hear the end of it with those pedophile priests. Epstein dies in his cell under close guard, cameras, and 24 hour surveillance... and "nothing to see here, folks! Move along!"

    Perhaps that is why I find the wife's small country chapel a good fit? It's small, a healthy community of souls that want to worship their Maker and share good fellowship... and there's no backroom politics and power plays going on in the lofty top echelons somewhere. What you see is what you get.

    As an aside -I started reading Ann Barnhardt when you pointed her out to me and at first I thought she was awesome... but after awhile...wow. She IS a contentious woman isn't she?

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    1. I wonder, Glen. Was it to be the conscience of Man, or was it to be Man's relationship to God? The difference, albeit a bad one, between a tour guide and park service: One shows the sites and introduces you to the place, the other maintains the land and makes sure the rules are kept. Perhaps the issue is that the Church moved from tour guide to park service? As you say, bureaucracy always grows and never shrinks (had not heard it defined as Pournelle's Law, but it is appropriate).

      And once that organization exists, anything that would cause it embarrassment or a loss of power is to be controlled or eliminated. To say the Catholic Church has had scandals over the last 40 years is an understatement - but one truly wishes they had dealt with it then (as hard as it would have been in 1950's-1970's culture) so they could have benefitted from 30 years of being able to refocus and hopefully rebuild. We are still at the nadir of that process.

      That is one of the attractions of small independent churches: they can be quite free of politics and power plays (or, they can be completely controlled by them, human nature being what it is). I do think they have a greater ability to focus on God and their community without the overhead (if you will) of a larger organization.

      On Ann, I think I would say this: She is someone that has lived out her beliefs in a way I certainly have not (liquidating her business, refusing to pay taxes) and so has the "street cred" of practicing what she preaches. She is also a committed Catholic and goes into things that, frankly, I have very little understanding of as it seems to drift off into Papal law minutiae. If nothing else, she certainly knows how to write a fiery essay that will inevitably create a reaction. The problem is - at least in my opinion - angry and fiery is not always the way to win your point. It can come across as distant and not caring, which I do not believe she actually is.

      Another writer in a similar vein I might recommend you try is Claire Wolfe (www.clairewolfe.com). She also has the "street cred" of living her convictions, but her articles have a much different feel and flavor to them which can make them more palatable for thought and discussion.

      That said, I still read Ann as I find her viewpoint interesting and sometimes her fiery take is what I need to kindle my own spirit.

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    2. Pournelle's Law is much more eloquent - I paraphrased it badly.

      Hmmmpfpfpffff. Respectfully ...I dunno if one has to split hairs as you did. Using your analogy... good park management is going to require both parties to run well - a marketing/tour group to appeal to the customers, and a maintenance team to keep it presentable. Either way, with something like a world wide church, you are going to end up with a huge machine and a sprawling bureaucracy. The late Uncle Bob used to say that such bureaucracies - by nature - will start to select for narcissistic and even psychotic behavior patterns. The guy that gets ahead is the one who can brown nose effectively, put a knife in the backs of his rivals, the one that can lie, cheat and steal competently. Such men will often bring other psychological baggage to the table such as problems with sexual conduct, gambling and other antisocial behaviours that can compromise them and the entire organization if it isn't dealt with. We see this in politics, in economics and the clergy - so I think I tend to agree with Bob. At the very least, it is a theory that fits the pattern we are seeing - I think?

      The church did in fact eventually come clean (when it had no other choice, as you note) - but it DID come clean. Guys like Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and these other powerful creeps are still running around and they're still rock stars to their fans who insist 'boys will be boys' - when it's their boys caught with their pants down.

      I suppose all of this circles back to yesterday: communities have to police themselves, and the members of the community have to see it being done and know that there are consequences to this kind of behaviour. If it isn't dealt with, it encourages others and the next thing you know - you have a race to the bottom.

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    3. Fair Glen - It was not a perfect analogy (few are), but the point I was trying to convey was the role of the Church is to primarily point others to Christ and then live that out in community, not specifically building a complete structure to manage all of that.

      Yes, I think we agree with Uncle Bob.

      Agreed that the Church did finally come clean, and that other bad actors have not (and society chooses to let them get away with it). Until, as we have seen time and time again, they are no longer useful to "The Cause", at which point they are cast aside.

      The Church was commanded to police itself, much more rigorously than it was to try to remake the world. If your remember, Paul said "I never said to stopping associating with sinners - you are in the world. What I did say was to stop associating with flagrant sinners in the church. Help them to reform their behavior." The Church somehow missed all that and now - yes, it certainly does feel like a race to the bottom.

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  3. All a very interesting read.

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    1. Thank you Linda

      One of the greatest failings the non-denominational movement has, in my opinion, is a complete and utter lack of of interest in church history (Protestants to a lesser extent). It really is quite rich and we are the beneficiaries of it, whether or not we realize it.

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    2. Point well taken. The non-denoms all seem to be very superficial. All flash and feelgood-ism. I have experienced no real depth to their theology. That can certainly be a product of an absence of one's history.

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    3. Stuart, I think this stems from an inherent belief among non-denominationals that they need to get back to the Church of the Apostles, which only means using the New Testament (and those books that you select that agree with your point of view). I am often surprised how often modern texts make their way into sermons and works which say the same thing are ignored because they are "old". It is unfortunate that they limit themselves.

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  4. Interesting read and yes to your reply to LindaG’s comment. I grew up Methodist but got involved in a non-denominational church just out of college and it’s where I met my wife. She grew up Baptist. We’ve stayed in the non-denominational space which is probably more similar to how she grew up than I. I learned a little church history but not a lot; she learned nothing other than Baptist doctrine if you can call it that.

    As I’ve gotten older and read more, I’ve realized I probably identify with the Wesleyan theology on which I was raised more than anything. The United Methodist Church is on its way to splitting over the gay issue. Once that’s settled, I could see myself going back to the side that follows the traditional biblical model. Not sure the wife would agree to that chanfe, though. I’ve learned I don’t have to agree with everything and everyone in a church to thrive, grow and have fellowship, so for now we stay put.

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    1. Thanks Bob. I grew up (in sequence) in the Episcopalian and the old American Lutheran Church/ELCA (before they became what they are today), then have gone to a Missouri Synod Lutheran and two non-denominiationals. Oddly enough, it was the non-denominationals that really got me interested in doctrine in a way the mainline Protestants did not.

      I am at the point that I am looking to make a change again, maybe for the last time. I still do not have a real clue where to turn, except that I need something of greater weight and depth than a lot of froth that I see around me today.

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