Monday, December 3, 2012

Going back in order to go forward

The exponential growth of the early, primitive church was impressive. From approx 25,000 in AD 100 to around 20 million in AD 310. Some of the things the early church didn't have included, special buildings, seeker services, worship bands etc. Gene Edwards says, "It was the only temple-less, clergy-less, ritual-less, religion in human history!" What a glory to the Carpenter and His faith!" He goes on to say, "Rugged...people were the clergy, the living room their temple and Jesus Christ was the vocabulary...the church of Jesus Christ was born in informality. It ought to have stayed that way...our faith was born that way."
So just how did we get so complicated? To find the answer to this important question we need to understand the massive impact on the church of a Roman Emperor named Constantine. Rodney Stark says, "For too long, historians of the church have accepted the claim that the conversion of the Emperor Constantine (ca. 285-337) caused the triumph of Christianity. To the contrary, he destroyed its most attractive and dynamic aspects, turning a high-intensity, grassroots movement into an arrogant institution controlled by an elite who often managed to be both brutal and lax." Dr Stuart Murray lists changes Constantine initiated. Some of them are...
  • The adoption of Christianity as the official religion of a city, state, or empire
  • The movement of the church from the margins of society to its centre
  • Sunday as the official day of rest (Constantine was a 'sun' worshipper) and obligatory church attendance, with penalties for non compliance
  • The imposition of a supposedly Christian morality on the entire society (although normally Old Testament moral standards were applied)
  • A hierarchical ecclesiastical system...buttressed by state support
  • The construction of massive and ornate church buildings and the formation of huge congregations
  • A generic distinction between clergy and laity, and the relegation of laity to a largely passive role
  • The increased wealth of the church and the imposition of obligatory tithes to fund the system
  • The use of the Old Testament, rather than the New, to support and justify many of these changes
We can also add, the dressing of the clergy with expensive robes, exalting them and giving them financial rewards. This took place too alongside the above changes.
Karl Barth rightly and strongly said, “The term “laity” is one of the worst in the vocabulary of Christian religion and ought to be banished from the Christian conversation.”
Although it is true that we can lay lots of blame for the present-day state of the church at the Emperor's door many other doors are being blown wide open today. There is a growing world-wide movement to embrace the simplicity of the early church, to reject the complex machinery of antiquated church structures, unbiblical traditions and practices and to focus our energies on devotion to Jesus and the spontaneous spread of his Kingdom. Be neither surprised nor condemned if you're dissatisfied with your present situation. And if changes are in the wind for you, watch your attitude toward those who have disappointed or hurt you. Seek earnestly God's direction for your life with humility and faith. According to Jeremiah 29:11-14, God will hear and answer.

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