Tuesday, June 4, 2013

HOW WE GOT FROM WHERE WE WERE TO WHERE WE ARE


 ...and what we can do about it...


 
Even a cursory reading of the Book of Acts shows us the exponential growth of the early church. But what about the next few hundred years? It is believed that the church grew from approximately 25,000 followers in AD 100 to around 20 million in AD 310. And the early church didn't have things like special buildings, seeker services, worship bands, CEO type leaders 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 (because) 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
And from my own study, the dressing of the clergy with expensive robes, exalting them and giving them financial rewards, came with the above changes.

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 encouraging doors are being blown wide open. Today there is a growing world-wide movement to embrace the simplicity of the early church. This includes rejecting 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.

When we look at the massive gulf between where we are and where we were, it's no wonder there is a growing unrest among sincere followers of our Lord. So, don't be surprised or condemned if you're dissatisfied with your present situation. And if changes are in the wind for you, watch your attitude toward those (or the 'system') who have disappointed, frustrated or hurt you. Seek earnestly God's direction for your life with humility and faith. According to Jer. 29:11-14, God will hear and answer.

With you in your journey on the way back (to where we were)...
Jack
 

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