I’ve been intending to write for weeks.
Life, and this semester’s course load at Fuller is more than any previous semester. In order to grapple missiologically with today’s emerging global culture, and understand how the church of Jesus should relate to it, it really helps to know how we got here! So much reading. What a mess.
History, from Constantine, the Edict of Milan, synods, creeds.. the evolution from the church being a persecuted band of Jesus followers to the State institutionalized religion of the masses, absorbed into the social power structures. I never realized before that the true ‘secularization’ of the Church took place in the late 4th Century.. and has been largely reeling from that movement ever since. The Reformation had a temporary effect, but 150yrs after was dead and western Europe left with hundreds of independent, but similarly governed power structures.
The Protestant Reformers, for example, missed such central teachings of Jesus because they balanced it with every other teaching in the Bible as a way of maintaining their commitment to “the authority of Scripture” – Bruxy Cavy.
I find it particularly revolting that God’s word was used, quiet aggressively by Catholics and Reforming bodies to justify bloodshed and general attitudes of hatred and jealousy. How could the Word look anything other than the peace loving Christ, the logos of God? How do you miss the forest for the trees? There were many who understood Jesus coming, that took it on the chin and lost their lives in a brave unwillingness to succumb to the powers of evil, like the Anabaptists.
When Jesus is relegated to one of many important doctrines, religious fervor and blind hatred is a result. Nothing binds but Christ, holding too tightly any other non-slavific doctrine divides more than it will unite. Just look at the reformation itself – for so much sola-scriptura, never did the body of Christ become so fractured and divided! But the real issue was the secularization of the Church.. the very world the body of Christ was to influence was in bed with the world out of the gate.
Religious zealots throughout history use and abuse scripture to affirm their power structures. Christ, divests and serves. Their leadership looked nothing like God in Christ. For so many in history, and in today’s extreme religions, you can make scripture pretty much say anything necessary as long as you slap ‘For the glory of God’ next to it.
In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. Thomas Jefferson
Dogma, Latin for ‘believing or seeming to be true’ becomes a sadistic thing when the church elevates anything but Jesus as essential for life. When beliefs become settled certainties. Dogma leads to counter-dogma, communication ceases to be an exercise is true knowing or listening – and conversation becomes unending theater. We are not the sum of our beliefs as we aren’t the sum of our accomplishments or failures. We are. We are human, souls, broken, loved sinners. Nothing more, but nothing less. When we confuse our identity from God’s perspective in the Gospel, we build the wrong world – a world of ‘we’ vs ‘them’, of ‘right’ and wrong’, and cease being active agents of cultural influence for Christ. The Church is a poor example of love in this regard – it’s turned on itself throughout history and wages secular style war as ‘guardians of truth.’ In my view, these attitudes and actions only undermine their argument(s) – if you don’t look like Jesus, or listen to Him, how can you in fact be representing God?
I’m intrigued greatly by Augustine’s life, his massive, and in my opinion thus far, rather negative influence on what would set the course for 500yrs of Roman expansion and justified bloodshed as nations rose and warred for dominance. He, like many of the Reformers, were not trained theologians, they were in the right place at the right time, and had an assertive, intellectual prowess, with very questionable and definitely unproven character. Augustine just a couple years prior becoming Bishop, had a second wife, and two little ladies on the side, and was a known opponent of Christianity, completely absorbed in Greek philosophy. From this dude Aquinas expands more ideas, all within the snug vestiges of church + state power.
These dudes were Pre-Socratic thinkers, brilliant, but many of their concepts of God are pagan, and unashamedly so! Yet, we gobble up their ideas, especially related to the character and nature of God, and the structures of governance God’s people have found themselves in. Jesus is a blip on too much of religious history – it boggles my mind, but in some ways is a big relief when you see the actions of many of these so called saints – it would be harder to understand if they both elevated Jesus and were still so antagonistic towards Him.
Check out some of the loving Jesus-like attitudes from more famous reformers:
“Burn the synagogues; take away their books, including the Bible. They should be compelled to work, denied food and shelter, preferably banished. If they mention the name of God, report them to the magistrate or throw Saudreck [pig dung] on them. Moses said that idolaters should not be tolerated. If he were here he would be the first to burn their synagogues” – Martin Luther (speaking of the Jews)
The “implacable severity” of the death penalty is mandatory because “devotion to God’s honor should be preferred to all human concerns.” And in pursuit of this end, we “should expunge from memory our mutual humanity” as we exterminate heretics and blasphemers with righteous zeal. “Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt.” – John Calvin (defending his involvement in Servetus stake burning)
I learn from history, and do not discount the faith of those gone before. I have a database of amazing references and quotes from some of these same guys. I’ve visited Luther’s home, love many aspects of Reformation history and realize we live in completely different eras. However, we shouldn’t venerate those who missed major themes and realities in the Person of Jesus Christ. To learn from history is to not repeat it. May our legacy as believers be one of grace, much forgiven, much offered – recognizing Jesus is the glory of God. Jesus, not Augustine, Calvin, or any present day aspiring theologian gets to define God’s character and expectations of creation – that job belongs to One only. Christ-centrism should not be anything we have to learn as believers – it’s sad we have to work to keep Jesus central!
But what about now? Christendom is over,,, We live in a post-modern, emerging global world like never before in history! The western world no longer embraces state religion – the structures and systems are dissolving before our eyes in the west, even as ignorant efforts to rebuilt it’s buildings and programs here in Slavic countries are continuing. God’s people find themselves on the outside, looking in – but we’ve been there before. I think God’s people do their best work, in the trenches of culture, missionally, outside of power structures that only incubate and affirm the silent agreement of clergy – laity ideologies.
History is incredible, and grids our present day in more ways that I could have imagined. I’m thankful for the ‘forced’ system of education in this season of my life, I know God has ordained it for me, and preparing me for some future chapters here in Slavic culture. I’m finding Jesus to be refreshingly my everything – I hold my fluid learning loosely, there’s always another side, and I’m eager to learn it. Our greatest gift as leaders to those we are influencing is our posture of learning, and willingness to be shaped by Jesus.
Prophetic religions aim to transform the world in God’s name rather than to flee from the world into God’s arms as do mystical religions. Volf
The Gospel is the good news that God himself has come to rescue and renew all of creation through the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Keller
The way Christians work toward human flourishing is not by imposing on others thier vision of human flourishing and the common good, but by bearing witness to Christ, who embodies the good life. Volf
Mission is more and different from recruitment of our brand of religion; it is alerting people to the universal reign of God through Christ. Frost & Hirsch
Certainty is the culprit. The spiritual person knows uncertainty—a state of mind unknown to the religious fanatic. Rohr
Postmodern views of history and national identity typically cancel a commitment to modern “master narratives” or “metanarratives” like progress and goal-directed history, and disrupt myths of national and ethnic identities as “natural” foundations of “unity.” Martin Irvin
‘If we can provide rational, scientific proof for our beliefs,’ Christians concluded, ‘we can refute the liberals and win!’. . . to keep fighting on that field of battle is to never reach the postmodern. This battle has taken the Church nowhere. As for postmoderns, we’re over it. Already we soar far above the limits of secular science. We are not bound by it. And we care far more about how to live than about how to prove. Laura Buffington