This monograph was written for a class in church issues at Grace Seminary,
Winona Lake, IN.
I t was written for peer evaluation in an extremely conservative class, which argued every point.
Grace is a Protestant Seminary, so the idea of basing Christianity on the Judaism of about 33 CE really doesn't fly very well. With that in mind, I kept those areas a bit thin. They will grow now that the monograph is up here on the Web.
One of the main ideas that I wrote to dispel was that cell churches, if practised properly, would create "fragmentation", the kind of rugged individualism so popular in Republican circles today. This idea will be largely removed from future versions, since it really is both self-evident, and not really germane to my direction and goals.
I WELCOME criticism, especially from folks with a Jewish bent, since that is not my forte.
(I should note that I am working in that direction).
Three things had an impact on my viewpoint writing this paper, about which others outside of class for which I wrote it would otherwise have no way of knowing:
I was limited to 50 pp on this paper, or else I would have explored several areas, like the impact of Greek philosophy and philosophic mindset, a lot further. One of my key foci at the moment is the difference between contract and covenant, as we discussed in our conversation.
I am pursuing two Masters Degrees: the one in theology, of course, but also one in Biblical Counseling. I say this because this dualism likely had a great effect on my viewpoint going into this paper.
Lastly, I wrote partially to dispel the idea that cell churches create "fragmentation", a term popularized by a writer named David Wells, who writes on the lack of theology in the church today. He was required reading, one book in each semetre of this course. (He has written No Place For Truth and God in the Wasteland.)
Letting you know this allows me to keep the paper intact.
Also: Things like the title page, table of contents, foreword, etc were in separate files. I didn't see a need to send them.
Hope this adds a bit of meaning to your reading.
"While we may believe in God's existence and in his goodness, we find ourselves ... disabled in our attempts to bring this belief into incisive relation with ... daily experience...." What, with the immense corpus of theological knowledge available to him, and all of the work done on homeletical methods, would make David Wells make a statement like this? Wells, of course, would say that we cannot make theology practical because we no longer teach it or preach it in the church. That may well be so. So why do we not? Because, replies Wells, we have lost our perspective of God in today's society. Perhaps. Unfortunately, the problem goes far deeper. While I would love to get theology back into the church, I will no longer champion its insertion in its current state, for two reasons. First, the church in its current structural condition is utterly incompatible with the real application of theology. Second, I fear I must argue that theology as it exists in the Western Church, Catholic or Protestant, today, is basically incompatible with personal application.
So how do we remedy this situation? We could change the structure of the church. We are trying that in the cell-church and in the meta-church, and in the open-church movements. But while these movements protest current structures, they still admit to having structural problems of their own. Concentrating only on renovating structures to recreate New Testament Christianity is meaningless, for we would be trying to create structure from a society which has fallen far from what it was in the First or Second Century. I wish to get outside of our century, to see what values the First Century Christians possessed, and how those translated into structure, and how we can re-integrate them today. This stands opposed to what I see the church trying today, setting up structures in order to create and/or revive vision(s) and values. Problems encountered in this latter pursuit often present a face which causes outsiders to ask, "Will small groups create or dispel fragmentation?". We will look into that question below.
We could also try to simply toss out theology bodily, ignoring structure. But we risk running afoul of roughly a billion people on that solution. These people are what I will call "Westerners", individuals (in the full sense) for whom logic and linear thought are critical issues. Granted, we could retrain them in another, more original mode of theology, but resistance would be intense. But we have another option available to us in this sphere. That option consists in the examination of each piece of our structure, of our thinking, and of our theology to see if our motivation for its creation or retention jibes with Biblical motivations. We can keep the Western mode of thought, but only if it answers to its original undercurrent, what I believe to be its founding raison d'etre. That undercurrent is Judaism, and more precisely, true Judaism's concentration on building the self, with God's help, and its accompanying use of COVENANT relationships to accomplish such work. In other words, I propose we let the Western Christian keep the New Testament, commissioned by God with him in mind, but ask him to relearn the Eastern/Judaistic importance and processes of relationship, and apply them to whatever he does. The same formula ought, then, to apply to what I will call the "completed Jew", for whom the Old Testament and Gospels were sufficient in the NT period.
I intend to argue that if anti-Jewish apologetic had never been invented, or at least if systematic theology had kept some of its relational roots, if we had stuck to the kind of relational/counseling theology which Jewish history had given us, and which Christ practiced in His time here in Earth, the Church would have given Constantine a very difficult time. But we fell ill. We lost the ability to become transparent with each other, to break down the walls which we find it so easy to create, walls which keep others out. Thus, it is not cell-churches, (when properly executed from the bottom up) but rather their antecedent, structured Christianity, which causes fragmentation. To see this, we must examine both Christianity with a Jewish flavor, and Christianity after the demise of Jewish influence.
This paper presumes that its readers know at least something about the
New Testament church. There are a few key points to keep "on the front
burner" though, as we prepare to work through the rest of this paper,
for reasons of comparison. I will gloss them quickly, and then move on into
the meat of the discussion. Two concepts most accurately summarize the early
church, and with few exceptions, are absent in today's church. They are
"quality of education" and growth rate, or as more simply put
by the childrens' ditty "deep and wide". Acts 16:5 expresses these
twin concepts most succinctly: "So the churches were strengthened in
the faith and increased in numbers daily." We see a phenomenal daily
(not Sunday-by-Sunday) growth rate, in which several things are inherent,
to be discussed below. We also see daily growth in discipleship. Both were
of equal importance, and both were thus practiced in tandem, or more correctly,
one contributed to the other, in an upward spiral.
The key to this growth in all areas was the flexibility accorded by the structures available to them. They did not have to consistently arrange a whole day off in order to get everyone to the same place at the same time. Concern with the quality of their relationships, (not to mention persecution) drove them into groups small enough to meet, as several writers have suggested, at fully accountable "dinner parties". "But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison." The first passage tendered to support this assertion has been the subject of some grammatical questions, questions beyond our scope here. But there is no question about this one: "...to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house " James Rutz rather succinctly summarizes both the fledgling church, and our problem, when he mentions that it would be rather difficult, if not intimidating, to fulfill Biblical commands like the confession of sin, and individual admonishment in front of the watchful eyes of 500 of your fellow laymen. When the church did gather in large groups, my reading suggests that it was primarily for the purpose of worship, and possibly for evangelism.
The thrust of the church before Constantine was the individual transmission and the cultivation (the use of both together is terribly important) of the values of Christianity, and the thorough, permanent changing of lives. I do want to observe at this point that Yeshua's disciples did have a bit of an initial advantage when they took their message to the Jews, in that Christianity was merely the completion of what their converts had been practising all of their lives. We will discuss in detail below how both the philosophical and the festive foundations of Judaism supported the development of Christianity among the Jews. With this in mind, we realize how much easier the transmission of "Christian" values was in the very early years. However, while these values were related to Jewish custom, these values had NO relation to the secular values of their days, and when they had to conform to resemble Gentile culture, the church began to change. Those values needed a place to "hang their hat". Why do they not"stay on our heads" today? Because we are stuck building structures, or constantly changing structures, to accomodate the loss of Judaistic background [i'm still searching for a better word here] and festivals and HOPING that those structures will change us, if we accept the need to change at all. But structure will never change men.
That lack of pre-occupation with structure may have engendered something else we note about the New Testament Christians. "No one in the first two generations stood back at a distance to survey his own experience of the Christian communities within a historical perspective. The Jewish past provided the context, the language, the models and images, but men's minds and hearts were set on the future." This is another part of the Judaistic which is missing from our theology today. How many of us REALLY live as if He were coming back tomorrow? Do we even know what that means?
We see little attempt at theology in the New Testament. "The absence of interest in the earthly life of Jesus ... was characteristic of the earliest apostolic preaching; such is the impression we derive from the first chapters of Acts. There is also little reference to what He had taught, though much teaching about him. We must, however, in this matter allow for our lack of complete information. The urgency of their message made the apostles concentrate on the things that to them were most vital; but they did not neglect the careful ... teaching of their converts." There are interesting relational notes to be made here. There was balanced attention to teaching, with significant attention paid to how He lived His own life, and his relationships with others (especially conveyed in the forms of conversations). An actual statistic inquiry is out of the question here, but I strongly suspect that if one did analyze the Gospels on this basis, one would find at least equal amounts of teaching (not doctrine) and lifestyle/relational style.
Perhaps their relationship to their world also bears mention, in a way other than is revealed by their constant witness. "[Their spirit] is captured by the anonymous author of the second century Letter to Diognetus :
'Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life .... They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners.... They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.' "
We certainly can learn many lessons from these folks. So how did we stray so far from where they were? Let us turn to an exploration of Judaism to set us on the road to finding out.
Setting the Stage:
We have seen what various writers, including the Bible, say the original church was like. What we have seen tells us that the church of the time was not built on structure, but rather that it was built upon continuous, challenging relationships . Somewhere, somehow, we have come unglued from that past. There was a time when I believed that the sole cause of that severance was Constantine. But as I explored history, I realized that the damage Constantine "did" was simply too extensive, and accomplished too quickly, to be solely attributable to him. With this in mind, another culprit needed to be found. One thing led to another, and I found in one sense a "ringleader", with a merry band of culprits following close on his heals. The first thing to surface was an increase in doctrinal firmness and 'correctness', and concommitant decrease in church life. In looking for the source of the doctrinal firmness, I found an apologetic process beginning quite early, in an earthly attempt to "handle" the astounding growth, especially among the gentiles. Within that process lies one key to our undoing. For I found there not just a series of replies to the Romans, but a series of polemics against Judaism. It is those anti-Semitic polemics which hold the biggest share in undoing New Testament Christianity. The source of the reasoning surrounding these arguments is complex, as is understanding why they became a problem. For that reason, we must look not only at the damage Constantine did, but also at certain aspects of Judaism (fulfilled or unfulfilled), certain aspects of developing Western Christianity, and at the development of apologetics in Western Christianity.
Let us set out a pattern for our exploration of the basics of Judaism, followed by a look at Christianity as set out primarily by the Apostle Paul and others instrumental in the early spread of Jewish Christianity. We will do so with an eye to how Judaism, in all of its parts, informs Christianity. Eventually, I hope to add a section on group therapy, drawing from my own and others' experience with group therapy to provide an idea on how Christianity today can resume and make work the ideas of the small church, and many of the theological ideas of accountability and forgiveness, etc.
Robert Wilken, in a book essentially devoted to "selective" historical recording of large religious movements, speaks to the tensions engendered by differences as basic as the way in which Jews and Christians viewed history. He notes that because of different historical experiences, Jewish and Christian constructions of the past have nothing in common. Jewish Christians see the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ as fulfillment of a Covenant. "The Christian sees the history of the ancient people of Israel as pointing to the coming of Jesus." After the death of Jesus, Wilken asserts, the Western Christian sees a division taking place in the attitude of the Jews toward Jesus. This attitude will prove central both to our investigation of fragmentation in the early church and why the early church was so effective. It will also contribute to our investigation of why the early church was able to merge so readily with a state which Jesus reminded it to accord a separate sphere.
But before we attempt to investigate either the early theology of the church, which empowered it, or the collapse of that theology under the weight of a newer, vastly different kind of theology, we need to understand why I give biblical Judaism such free reign of input into a purportedly "Christian" investigation. These next pages will look at one special attitude in Judaism which, when all else is stripped away, gives Judaism one of its attractive pillars, perhaps even flavors it to its core. Unfortunately, this characteristic has mutated badly within Western Christianity, and has often been expressed within Judaism only as sets of cold rules, similar to the contractual theology by which Western Christianity is plagued.
Why is Judaism important?
Perhaps the first objective here involves clearing away misconceptions which, fairly (in most cases) or not, have dogged Judaism's past. Let me briefly state what kind of Judaism I do not intend to treat here. I have no wish to deal with the Judaism perceived by many as "a scrolling preprinted list of what God required ..., all spelled out and nonnegotiable." This is the kind of Judaism which finds itself ensalved by 613 laws, and the commentary thereupon. At its core, Judaism is not about blind obedience to laws, or about obedience to some distant, demanding deity. It is rather unfortunate on one hand that Judaism is tarred with such a reputation, but it is easy to understand if one is not familiar with the culture. But this very reputation can also serve as a warning to those who practice the kind of Christianity I describe here, the kind which is now seeking to set out concrete manifestations of each point, major and minor, until over-intellectualization tears the juices from it. Hoffer puts it nicely: "The conservatism of a religion -- its orthodoxy -- is the inert coagulum of a once highly reactive sap. A rising religious movement is all change and experiment -- open to new views and techniques from all quarters."
Such aberrant reputations, although they are often the face of Judaism with which most are familiar, are perhaps best understood as extreme attempts to force a far more basic process. The process/concept intended here concerns the accomplishment of relationship, especially with a Perfect Deity, but also with one's own self, made in His image, and with others, in a manner similar to one's dealing with one's Deity. Unfortunately, many have either feared or misunderstood that process, and have attempted to ease their fears by the creation of more clear-cut rules.
So what is that process? At its most basic, Judaism understands human beings from an Old-Testament, anthropological point of view. That is to say that humans are, at their most basic level, nothing if not creatures of relationship, as expressed immediately above. Judaism then, at its heart is "about relationship-ing, and not just any kind of relationship-ing but a sort that allows for and encourages the fullest sense of Aliveness in each partner. ... its very core teaching [was] -- the covenantal quality of relationship." This 'covenantal quality' very likely dominated the mindset of Jews of that time, and was just as likely the engine that empowered completed Judaism, or what should be Christianity. With this in mind, we will look more closely at what is meant by "covenantal" below, contrasting it with the more Western "contractual" concept.
A few more basic statements (which are all that are possible in this limited space) are called for, to make clear how profoundly simple this driving force is for the individual. In the introduction to their ethical work How to be a Jew , Byron Sherwin and Seymour Cohen talk about what it means to be an individual Jew. They quote the Hasidic master Mendel of Kotsk's simple summary of Jewish life: "arbeiten auf sich -- working on oneself." They write that "the particular art form cultivated by the Jews was not architecture, painting, or sculpture, but human existence. The artistic masterpieces of the Jewish people do not hang in any museum. The great works ... that emerge ... are the lives ... of the greatest people it has engendered." It is this way of thinking which perhaps points up one of the great dichotomies which we will further discuss below. For much of secular Western aesthetics, say the authors, art was a way of life . For Jewish thought, life was a way of art . Rather than concentrating on things of beauty, Jewish teachings focus(ed) on the creation of people of beauty.
But just concentrating on one's own self is not enough. Several Jewish writers liken our progress through life to that of the life progress of an apprentice seeking to duplicate his master's art. As an apprentice, one has several options. One can simply look at all the master's works, hoping to perhaps glean from his use of color, shape, etc., the reasoning behind his choices, and with this fragile knowledge, to at best reproduce his master's work. Or, the apprentice can create a relationship with his master and/or with other artists and apprentices, using both what they say, what they do, and his own mistakes, to create at least equal, if not superior, masterworks. This analogy breaks down at some points when imported into the religious sphere, (obviously we can never out-create God, for one, and some of our "masters" have used some very questionable techniques) but its earthly side holds up well enough for our purposes here. So let us look into the nature of that relationship.
As has been mentioned, the root principle which drives all of Judaism, whether historically, or in any kind of relationship, (which essentially comprises history anyway), is the Covenant ( tyrIB] ). This process of covenanting, according to Winkler and Elior, means with "Self, Other, and God". They go on to describe this path as not just a one-way street; it is an ongoing dialogue, an ongoing interaction. Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg recounts a tale and some ensuing commentary by later rabbis which illustrates the dominance of this interpersonal aspect:
"A heathen once came to Shammai and said, 'I will become a proselyte on the condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot.' Shammai chased him away with a builder's measuring stick. When he appeared before Hillel with the same request, Hillel said, "Whatever is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary; go and learn it.
". . . you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD . . . [Lev. 19:18].
" 'I am the LORD.' This explains two things. First, since the souls that are as they should be are all a part of God, and since the soul of one man and the soul of his neighbor are both carved out of the same throne of Splendor, therefore 'love your neighbor as yourself' is meant literally, for he is as you. Since I, God, am He who created your soul and the soul of your neighbor, he is as you. And, second, if your love for your neighbor is as the love for yourself, this is considered love for Me, because 'I am the LORD.' Since your love for him is like the love for yourself, even for him who is an infinitesimal part of Me -- how much more will you love me! For the love of your neighbor will be considered as if I, God, had Myself received it."
This is perhaps the most succinct accounting of the core of Judaism, which would quite easily have spilled over into the early (New Testament) church. It ties together indisputably the relationship of God, neighbor and man. This tie will be critical in discussions of fragmentation below.
Perhaps the best way to understand Covenant is to place it in opposition to the Western understanding of Contract, which I believe Western theology has allowed to replace it. When relationship to God is viewed as contract, "we are left with an arrangement that is nonnegotiable and with the consequence of having to sever the relationship if the contract is breached." But Biblical accounts of relationships between God and Man do not bear out this idea. Rather, "we see that God will wait for us to own up to our actions and change our ways." (see Ex.34:6; Joel 2:13; Ezekiel 18:23 ; Isaiah 46:4 and Malachi 3:7) Unlike contract, "Covenant is compassionate; it takes into account much more than merely the technical act of breach and considers the broader situation of human frailty." The idea of relationship is intimately tied to the idea of covenant, for we can contract with non-human entities, or even with parts of those entities. But "in covenant, your wholeness as a being is more important than the form of the agreement." This is why Israel was relieved of its sacrificial system: God would have broken Israel's spirit if He had demanded what He was owed. Only a people without spirit could have met his demands. So, rather than break their spirit, He sent his own Son to mend the Covenant, rather than "break the fragile reed".
There is one other major thing which unites Judaism, and would have input itself into the cell-matrix. "The covenant with God binds the Jewish people to the task of being a corporate priesthood." This carries with it both the idea that all individual Jews (Christians too, in the NT) are priests. But it also provides against the individual, or small groups of individuals becoming too important, or too self-dependent. This idea of individual priesthood has been largely lost today, sacrificed on the alter of corporate church power-lust, but now to the church's detriment.
Two things must be stressed before I leave this section. First, I am not advocating reversion to Judaism as our only lifestyle. If we all simply followed the individual path of "artwork", to the ignorance of our society and/or God, we as a church, even a society, would only achieve the utmost in fragmentation. Perhaps it is indeed a misunderstanding at this point that breeds the fear of cell-churches fragmenting our culture. Even if one follows the twin paths of individual and relational development, or even adds the third path of vertical relational development, he is only practicing uncompleted Judaism. I only advance the above, then, to create a picture of the mindset which a Jew would have carried into completed Judaism, as completed at the cross, and first proclaimed by Peter at Pentecost.
Second, while I would love to advance theories on just how these relationships actually played themselves out in the early church, for the moment I can only speculate. Such speculation stems from momentary lack of sources and is therefore worthless, other than to say that the answer hinges on a word-study of encouragement and admonition (both of which require cognitive reorganization and transparency in relationship), along with a comparison with other things the church is commanded to do. This will be coupled with a study of the concurrent secular understanding of cognitive therapy. I am working on the problem, though, and should have some kind of answer by the middle of April.
What was Judaism's impact on thought life in those early centuries, and how long did it last?
Judaism, while concentrated in the Eastern Mediterranean, was still in enough of a diaspora state to have representation accross the known world. With that representation came visibility, and since their religion was not only recognized officially by the Roman empire, it was also rather different, by virtue of its eastern flavor, from Roman religions. Philo writes: "[Jews] attract the attention of all, of barbarians, of Greeks, of dwellers on the mainland and islands, of nations of the east and the west, of Europe and Asia, of the whole inhabited world from end to end." One can assume, of course, that if they gained that much attention, their views must have been at least a part of the consciousness of the Roman world, if they did not actually have some influence.
Not all of the attraction they gained was positive however, especially as the years inched toward Constantine. In Spain, the council of Elvira (AD 306) forbade Christians to have their fields blessed by Jews, "a strange prohibition, but one which shows how deeply Christians were impressed by Judaism even to the point of employing Jewish ritual." Unfortunately, inherent in this and other prohibitions is an answer to a question we have not yet asked: Were there strata in the Church in which Judaism gained disapproval and disappeared more quickly than others? This prohibition, at least, forces an affirmative answer: apparently, those in power felt that no matter how effective and attractive Judaism might still have been, it needed to be countered at all costs. Interestingly, the prohibition never offered a replacement.
Originally, Judaism contributed heavily to Christianity, not only in the form of values, but in giving Christianity something to "step off" from. Wilken notes that the first Christians lacked perspective, distance and memories, which he considers integral to the creation of a history. By the end of the first century, "most men would not have recognized the name Christian, and if they did, they probably would have had difficulty distinguishing Christianity from other ... Jewish cults." It is when anti-Jewish sentiment began to tear the two apart that the Roman Church began to invent its own history and "apostolic lineages" of the kind about which Bauer speaks below.
Unfortunately, the questions discussed by first and second century Greeks differed from those discussed by Jews of the same period. This dissonance eventually grew to become the rift which tore the two apart. Perhaps the assertion that the church was now Israel was the first cut to the cloth. But for whatever reasons, Jewish impact began to drop sharply.
What finally changed Judaism's impact?
Perhaps the 'cardinal' reason for Judaism decline on the 'world' stage was a simple decline in numbers and the resulting change in ratios. "During the first and second centuries the Jews suffered greatly at the hands of the Romans, and their numbers were significantly depleted, [from an estimated 7% of the population] especially in the eastern provinces." As the number of gentile Christians increased steadily over the first centuries, the number of Jews, Christian or not, were falling steadily in relation. At the same time,"by the end of the first century, Christianity had become an independent religious force competing with other religions and philosophies across the Greco-Roman world."
Equally important to Judaism's decline, and inherent in the above mentioned ratio change, is a slow but radical change in how they were viewed by the ever more powerful gentile church. Robert Wilken notes that:
"References to Jews occur in sermons, commentaries, letters, dogmatic treatises, and almost every other literary work written by Christians during this period. The historical value of these works is difficult to assess, both because they were so bitterly polemical and because Christians frequently did not distinguish Jews of their day from the Jews of the Bible."
There came a point, it seems, where people stopped thinking of Jews in the everyday sense, and began thinking of them hypothetically. Since proper Christianity NEEDS real, practised Judiasm to survive, and there were fewer and fewer Jews to practise it and to teach it, European Christianity had to rely increasingly on its wits (really its logic) to survive. As this thought pattern matured, it bred the essence of the discussion below. This perhaps signals one concern I do have for the cell church, that concern dealing with a tendency to create cell-groups from homogenous populations. My current answer to this is to place homogenous cell groups within larger, mixed, 'cell-clusters' for large-group fellowship, to balance the transparency gained in homogenous small-groups with the learning possible in the larger settings.
Less than a century after Constantine, even the most prominent (and still followed) thinkers had been thoroughly permeated by (among other things) this pattern of separation. Wilken asks rhetorically "why [Cyril], a bishop of the Christian Church ... in the fifth century [should] engage in such vicious polemics against Judaism?" Cyril's writings are filled page after page with attacks on Jewish beliefs, Jewish institutions, Jewish practices, Jewish interpretation of the Bible, and Jewish history. ... Only John Chrysostom, (the man who invented the sermon) the notorious Jew hater, rivals him in the bitterness of his attack against Jews." Dinnerstein notes that Chrysostom stood, "until the advent of Martin Luther in the sixteenth century, without peer or parallel in the entire literature Adversus Judaeus, writing that Jews "have all the vices of beasts and are good for nothing but slaughter." St. Ambrose thought the burning of a synagogue would be pleasing to God. So was St. Augustine: "[he] argued that Jews had always been a wicked people and could never have been God's favorites." "Both Cyril and Chrysostom represent attitudes which developed in Christianity before the fourth and fifth centuries." So we are led to ask what provoked this level of bitterness. How did a simple dissonance, which may have helped build the church, degenerate into a rift?
Conflicts between Christians and Jews evolved in the first century between those who believed Christ and those who did not. But
"no idea in Christian teaching has been more solidly implanted among adherents of the faith, and more devastating to Christian-Jewish relations, than the accusation that the Jews had killed 'their' savior. For this alleged crime the Jews have supposedly been rejected by God and doomed to eternal punishment. They have been characterized in church teachings as 'demonic' and 'accursed'."
There were other points of tension between what were emerging as two separate faiths as well. Bauer points up one major early sticking point between Jewish and Gentile Christians with regard to the Old Testament:
"... both groups consciously subjected themselves to the guidance of the Old Testament and the gospel. But it made a great deal of difference whether one attempted to understand the latter on the basis of the former, or whether one approached the former from the viewpoint of a gentile interpretation of faith in Christ."
Bauer goes on to note that:
"The inevitable controversy died out only with the demise of Jewish Christianity itself. As long as Jewish Christianity existed, gentile Christians who came into contact with it were offended by what they regarded as a Judaizing perversion of the Christian heritage, and were accused in return of having deprived the Old Testament of its true meaning ..."
It is ironic that a gentile Christian, newly exposed to the material of the Old Testament, should charge the Jewish people, who have possessed the material for hundreds to thousands of years, with misinterpretation. It is also these charges of misuse, and the subsequent misinterpretation of the Bible, which lead to the shucking of all manifestations of the Jewish faith from gentile Christianity.
At the center of the gospel stands the Lord. But the groups could not even decide who He was, much less just how to appeal to Him. This question was indeed important, for it impacts on whether Christ became the center of a contract between God and Man, or whether He was the fulfillment of a Covenant, which had always existed. What it came down to, in Bauer's words, was "each individual and each special group fighting for its Christ, and against the Christ of the others, and endeavoring to enlist tradition and theological inference in his service." [emphasis mine] The Greek mind could not, even in early stages, tolerate the illogicality of Covenant, and the Jewish Christian found the Hellenic idea of contract just as alien. If this does not provide foundation for fragmentation, or at least does not point to a deeper cause, I'm not sure what is, or does. Finally, as Martin Buber, inTwo Types of Faith, sets out to show, Israel and Primitive Christianity, as seen in a small group of Jewish Christians of whom the Synoptists are representative, held one type of 'faith', whilst Hellenistic Christianity, following St Paul, adopted another."
A question develops not of whether a difference ever developed between Jewish and gentile Christianity, but of how that difference played out during the early centuries. In the end, the dominance of gentile Christianity, and the damage it did, made the early house church, with its unique relational unity and explosive growth pattern, a thing of the past. We will walk this path more slowly below.
Where did it go?
With respect to relations with Jewish Christianity, the gentile Church erred when it tried to become the "New Israel". In doing so, it subjected every vestige of the Jewish emphasis on religious relationship to the dry rigors of Greek philosophy. The subjection engendered polarization, which in turn bred a deep hatred, which stemmed in many cases from badly thought out theology. An example of this kind of bad thinking is the constant accusation that gentiles were allowed to hate Jews because they [the Jews] killed "our" Christ.
A deep anti-Semitism was created throughout Western Christianity, which lead to a long, (and still breathing) life and death battle between the two forces for (dominance and) control. "Christians created a caricature of Judaism to conform to Christian beliefs. If Judaism had no right to exist, because Christianity had taken its place, then ... Jews should be excluded from the privileges accorded other members of society. ... Christians made it impossible for Jews to exist alongside of the Christian communities." All of this forces me to ask just what these writers and others did with Paul's admonition from a New Testament for which they eventually would fight, in which he says: "Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God..."
As in any battle, anyone daring to keep even the remotest relic of the opposition is labeled a traitor, and thus, the safest course, as here, was to drop all practice that might even remotely be labeled Jewish. And today, as philosophy has proven itself subject to the finiteness of the human mind, so too has Greek-based Western Christianity. We can go only so far in understanding an infinite God. We have reached the highest pinnacle of theological knowledge, and all it has lead to is diversity and pain and hatred. But in all of that, we have lost what it means to be in relationship to the Lord our God. The Bible has a huge body of systematic theology waiting to be mined on relationships.
But why is all of this important?
Why should Protestants even attempt a rapprochement with the Jews? What can we really learn from them? This question will begin our odyssey into the costs of ignoring Judaism.
Perhaps a metaphor will best explain just how I view the history of Gentile Christianity. Christianity without Judaism is like a transplanted vine. There is no doubt in my mind that Gentile Christianity has created a corpus of scholarship which can provide powerful apologetics for the logically inclined Western world. But much of that scholarship has come at the immense cost of such things as persecution of "heretics", and most basically, of the healing power of real, deep, human relationships coupled with mutual respect and love. To apply this to the metaphor, a plant cannot survive without roots, and Christianity has survived. But how has it done so? It must have grown roots somehow. I know from Bonsai and gardening experience that plants, (or their branches if the tree has grown too large) will regenerate roots if they are cut off sharply and placed in a good growing medium, and showered with much attention. A vine will also grow roots where it contacts the ground. In this way, more than one plant can be generated from the exact same stock.
To take this much of the metaphor into reality, we must look for points where either someone simply cut off Christianity, or where a "branch" managed to touch ground (the world?) someplace. This second is more probable, since we have seen, and will see, that Christianity had grown self-dependent, and afraid of persecution in the second and third centuries. There is no discernable swift cut, but the church does start thinking alot like the world. Then, at some point, Christianity, now firmly rooted on its own, overgrew the other vines, and with the help of the Roman Empire, managed to strangle Judaism, especially the tender young Judiastic Christianity, which was hardly distinct from its more powerful cousin legalistic Judaism.
Thus, Christianity was already growing separately when Constantine put the church into the fertile soil of government attention, (instituational) power, and building programs, where it has flourished ever since. But the tree is always a reflection of the growing medium, especially in its fruit. Judaism is, at its finest, a very introspective and thoughtful religion. The soil of Constantinian Christianity did not allow for that, though, rather only for fast assimilation and modest learning save by the privileged few. Any transplanted plant must also necessarily undergo pruning of growth above ground, to compensate for any root pruning, and to stimulate root growth. The metaphor may begin to break down here, but it still bears (no pun intended) looking into.
Where did all of this lead, and how did it make its way into our paradigms today?
A conversation I had on the Net with a pastor under the moniker of "EverFree" seems to state the [at least perceived] case quite succinctly: "It seems to me that a BIG part of Paul's mission was to help those who thought Jewishly to go beyond that and to prevent those who thought Jewishly from falling into it." Somewhere in the first two and one-half centuries, likely through the imbalance of ratio of Jew to Gentile Christian, gentile Christians lost sight of their Jewish roots, and the relational paradigm which hailed from them.
So how did this happen, and how did this play out outside of Jewish spheres, in the Roman Empire? And how did it transmit itself down to our times?
We will seek to answer these and other questions in a resumption of historical examination below.
The Road to Today:
How we moved from a fluid, relational, combination of large worship meetings and smaller house churches, to stiff doctrine and human dependence, through which Constantine established/consolidated his new state church, paving the way for today's fragmentation.
We have glimpsed snapshots of the times of fluidity, and we have seen one facet of the transition of the church from fluid motion to polemics and creeds. We really have not, however, scanned many of the other pertinent facets involved in moving the church away from its small group emphasis. In the coming pages, I hope to summarize the most poignient social pressures, and their influences on the Church, as it drifted towards domination by creeds and bureaucracy.
Let's resume our whirlwind tour of church history at what I will call
"generation three", dating from about 100 AD to about 135AD. I
will presume, for handling purposes, about six total "generations"
here, between the end of the first century and the coming of Constantine.
Each of these had a contribution to make to the fall of the church, but
we will content ourselves with looking at how the apologists reflected and
created the human dependence which grew to create the atmosphere which paved
the way for the coming of Constantine.
Conditions in the Empire in the half-century preceding Constantine were horrendous:
There was physical chaos: constant battles for emperorship. There were constant raids by marauders, sometimes even into Italy itself, accompanied by a reassertion of local power by smaller kings and old religions, such as Zoroastrianism in the East of the Empire. This kept the emperors busy, and kept their minds off of persecution, but was very likely unsettling, never-the-less.
"Gallienus favored the Christians for political ends ... throughout his short reign, his successor Claudius II (268-70) was engaged in defeating the Goths... . Under the great soldier-emperor Aurelian (270-75) the barbarians were driven back everywhere, and the frontiers were established on the Danube and the Rhine. This [and other] successes Aurelian attributed to the favor of the sun-god, and ... Sol shared with Jupiter the role of protector of the Empire."
We see a further parade of Probus (276-82), Carus (282-3), Carinus (283-5) who also spent much of their time fighting, before Diocletian finally rides onto the scene. He arrives peacefully at first, consolidating his gains, but then something happens.
But there was a cost to all of the military activity of the second century, and the peace which it gained for the Empire. A whole new system of administration, marked by a heavy military build-up, and a very top-heavy administrative system created a heavy financial burden. Frend notes that "by [the second half of Decius reign in 264], the silver content of the chief denomination in use (the antoninianus ) had fallen from around forty per cent at the time of its origin around 212, to fifteen percent. By the middle of Diocletian's reign in the mid-nineties, it had fallen to about 2%. (This works out to an inflation rate of about 2000% over only ninety years.)
There was spiritual chaos: The basic reason for the persecution [under Diocletian, 303 AD] was that the religious problem of the Empire had not been solved. "There were really two problems: to find a cult in which all of the inhabitants of the empire could unite, and to enlist the aid of those divinities who would insure the success of the Roman arms. Christianity was increasingly rendering the imperial cult obsolete." We will discuss this more extensively below. Second, and more important, there was a valid, non-personal reason for Constantine, and with him the Empire (both locally and universally) to become Christian.
In the end, this kind of chaos, and the depression that went with it, caused the now familiar religious questioning. In that era, questions took the form of "were the Christians to blame, or were the old gods failing?" This chaos also helped to foster people's growing dependence on their own resourcefulness, rather than on God, in a world of deep uncertainty and disunity. This lack of vertical dependence, incidentally, is something we see way too much of today.
this section needs radical expansion! "The influence of Hellenism on patristic theology is of course indisputable, and there is abundant evidence to show that Christian writers self-consciously directed their arguments to "Greek" questions. This is clear in patristic discussion of the doctrine of God and cosmology, to name only two instances." The Christian writers Wilken refers to all wrote after about 150 AD, well after the first two generations, and the loss of Jews to persecution and Diaspora.
In general, "salvation to well-educated Greeks involved an intellectual quest for knowledge of the ideal. Their cyclical view of history made it impossible for them to imagine that God could reveal himself in the changing forms of visible reality." Paul tries to address this thought pattern in I Corinthians 1:18-25. Often, his teachings tend to focus on the Cross of Christ, rather than on the person , or on the relationship, as the form of salvation.
As "western" Christianity separated from Jewish Christianity, it also moved even farther from its roots in Judaism. As such, when apologetics were written to Jews, the effort became less a look at completion, and more a persuasive, even hateful approach. The vast majority of the early apologetics concern themselves with Christian/Jewish questions. What constantly struck me as I read through these various works on early apologetics was the frequency and consistency of words like "opponent" and "attack" in the parlance. Gregory of Nyssa, for instance, writes: "A man of the Jewish faith has certain presuppositions; a man reared in Hellenism, others. All ... have their preconceptions and make it necessary to attack their ... ideas ...". "... most writers ... seem to have been reluctant to say anything concrete about their religious adversaries. Both Christians and Jews were like the contemporary politician [or demagogue] who never names his opponent, while cutting him to pieces." But rival religions, and internal "heresies" as well, caused the church, which had stopped relying on God, to circle its wagons.
The "Apologies" --
The apology might never have been a problem, and perhaps there is a chance that they might have even strengthened the faith, if the other factors we have just discussed had not occured simultaneously. "Rival" religions, especially Judaism, certainly did severe damage to the humanity and (dare I say) "user-friendliness" of Christian teachings. But these are far from the root of the problem. The addition of Greek logicality was the next step in the downfall, for it 'proved' that the human mind could solve some of its problems without God's immediate help. Even this might not have been problem, if the apologies had not 'worked'. But they did, at least for short spans. So the nails were driven into the coffin of individual responsibility. Why try to define religion on one's own, when a few, writing literally for a living, could do it for you? What we will do in the next pages is to flesh out this contention showing how these factors combined in a literary form called the Apology.
There are as many possible ways to track the development of apologetics in the second and the third centuries as there are books written on the topic. But perhaps the simplest way to track apologetics is to watch the intricate dance inherent in the relationship between the church and the state, to whom many of the apologies of this early period were addressed. "In the response of the [early] church to the [hostile stance] of the empire we see irreconcilable differences between the church with Christ as Lord, and the state with emperor as lord." According to Webber, and others, several factors heightened the tension between church and state:
"... Christians were unable to produce an image of their God; and like the Jews, denied the existence of all gods except their own. The Romans concluded from this that the Christians were 'atheists'. Furthermore, ... the gossip in Rome was that Christians met in secret, butchered babies, ate their flesh, dranke their blood, and ended their meetings with orgies. The Romans concluded from this that Christians were immoral."
The first apologies were relatively harmless, as is mentioned above. Justin tried to convey that Christians were taught civil obedience by Christ. Tertullian made it clear that Christians refused to worship the emperor because he was not God, but Christians were nonetheless loyal to the emperor. Theophilus reminded Autolycus of all of the positive aspects of the Christians, and of the morality engenered by Christian adherents.
But the seeds of later problems are already visible. Both Justin and Origen were already using Greek philosophical elements in their apologetic. "The heresy fighter, Justin, ... based his Christian faith upon the Old Testament, the synoptic Gospels, and the book of Revelation, (utilizing also suggestions from the hellenistic world of ideas.)" This in itself is not unusual. "The first Christians ... felt that if something could not be proved from the Old Testament, it could not be proved at all. No doubt taking their cue from the Lord himself who constantly referred to the Scriptures, the apostles searched the entire Old Testament to support their contention that God had acted for humanity's salvation in Jesus of Nazareth." We can also see another, subtler change of focus. If the apologies had stopped with the attempts to make clear just what the Christians 'were up to', to supplant rumor with truth, (which still would have upset the Romans) perhaps church history would not have changed so drastically. But each of the writers of this period went just a little further. They all argued that because of their stance, they were a credit to the Empire, and therefore deserved respect. Christians have been ducking persecution ever since. But at this time, the Christians "still looked on government as a "human institution".
Something about Justin, though, who wrote about A D 150, makes me wonder if he isn't the true turning point in the whole matter under discussion. Justin was a Platonist Philosopher who became a Christian, "moved by [the Christian's] fortitude under persecution." Samuel Sandmel confirms part of my suspicions on two front. He notes that "Justin ... [exibits] good evidence of the advanced degree of the self-awareness of Christianity that it has grown outside of Judaism, and is now a determined rival. More importantly, however, Sandmel notes that Justin wrote "in a tone ... singularly in contrast with Jude and Peter..." Eusebius notes that he was prosecuted after his Second Apology, at the instigation of the cynic philosopher whom he had attacked. My ignorance forces me, for now, to ask what business he had "attacking" a pagan philosopher, an act for which he eventually lost his life. Nothing I have read has answered this question to my satisfaction.
By the time Tertullian wrote in the early third century, we can see his focus turn from the goodness of original Christians, as seen in Justin, and maybe in Origen, to a focus on the goodness of "the churches which teach Scripture." Clark describes this presbyter (ironically in light of I Timothy) as having a sharp and vehement temper, going on a page later to elaborate: "he had a fiery and passionate temperament, an almost unequalled command of invective and sarcasm, and a 'wonderful' talent of putting his opponent's case, ... then covering it with opprobrium and ridicule." "Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but one who has a hasty temper exalts folly." "Those who are hot-tempered stir up strife, but those who are slow to anger calm contention." "For as pressing milk produces curds, and pressing the nose produces blood, so pressing anger produces strife." I cannot help but wonder just how much unnecessary strife has been introduced into the life of the church in her listening to angry exchanges, no matter what the scope of the matter under discussion. Tertullian's Prescription Against Heretics goes on to say that by that time they had formulated "the orderly system of truth" found in Scripture into a creed. I have to wonder just how much good a creed does in solving someone's depression.
Perhaps the most serious of questions which Tertullian raises for the questioner of the worth of apologetics is the "Puritannical" underlay which he brings to his writing. The Puritans tended to ban music, dancing, and the most harmless of amusements because they might lead to sin. This reasoning also lies, ironically behind a good number of Jewish 'laws', to which Tertullian and his colleages would have been opposed. But as Clarke tells us, Tertullian himself would have had the Christian separate himself from all contact with idolatry, and from all secular pleasures and amusements, and reduce eating and drinking to the barest minimum necessary to support life. While I do not disagree with keeping oneself clean of the stains of the world, I think Tertullian erred on at least two points, which I think have damaged the church to this day. First, I am astounded by the constant Christian aversion to and repudiation of external sin, all the while never dealing with their internal sins. (I am not unguilty of this...) Second, however, this has led to the kind of mindset in which we insist on creating shelters for ourselves, our children, and our churches, to the extent that many of us would be hard-pressed to find a non-Christian with whom to share Christ in relationship. Thirdly, perhaps, and maybe just as unnerving, we see the first glimmers of a theology which used the "good for the goose, good for the gander" mentality. When the ascetic renounces more because they feel weaker, I have no problem. But where Tertullian errs is in assuming first that all Christians are on the same level of weakness (which Paul says is false), and second, in assuming that the rest of the Empire would benefit from this same kind of discipline. I really have to wonder if this thinking was not what finally changed the church's vehement stance against the state.
Here too we see the development of the kind of controversy mentioned above, controversy which centered on Christological problems. "The Old Testament was only of limited usefulness in opposing the heretics. This was not simply because it is not possible to use it for convincing people who do not acknowledge it. [...] those who did accept it, read it also from their own perspective and did not allow themselves to be influenced by the opposing viewpoint ...; the primary consideration was the fact that the controversy focused primarily on Christological issues, and the OT was not very productive for that." So why did all the clamor seem to erupt around Christ? As addressed above, the difference in perspectives on Christ, and the methods of discussion used both had their input. Perhaps this dichotomy also is the cause for the generation of the NT canon outside of the Gospels and Revelation.
There is another problem which crops up in the "fight" against perceived "heresy". Walter Bauer describes the problem well:
True Christians blinded by [the devil] abandon the pure doctrine. This development takes place in the following sequence: unbelief, right belief, wrong belief. There is scarcely the faintest notion anywhere that unbelief might be changed directly into what the church calls false belief. No, where there is heresy, orthodoxy must have preceded. for example, Origen puts it like this: 'All heretics are at first believers; then later they swerve from the rule of faith.'"
The upshot of this is that it is usually, and automatically, assumed, using logic, that only impure motives can cause someone to leave the church. Therefore, when someone left the church and started something new, he MUST have been wrong. The automatic response would be the same as occurred against the Jews: he becomes an enemy, and the forces of the "right doctrine" rid themselves of any taint of him, and write and codify a polemic/apology against him. In most cases, this would have been appropriate protocol. But one wonders whether, without some measuring stick like relationship, how often this also could have been wrong.
In the end, the use of apologetic letters did not even stop at justifying Christian behavior, at the 'salvation' of Christians from something, or in the fighting of heresy. Unfortunately, what may have been more or less isolated, even innocent in the first few, intellectual excercises have been found used in the development of more central theology. Thus the impact of philosophy came not through the front door at first, but in the proverbial back door. But things never stayed that way. In concluding a discussion of why literary works like I Clement and other Roman based epistles were so long, and included so much non-germane material, Bauer notes that: "It seems ... that Rome takes action not when it is overflowing with love or when the great concerns of the faith are really in jeopardy, but when there is at least the opportunity of enlarging its own sphere of influence.
Breakdown in exclusiveness :
During the period between Christ's ascension and the mid-third century, Christians were apparently too busy witnessing and fellowshipping with one another to deal with the problems of the world. We find that during that time, Christians in office were rare, and Christians in the armies were even rarer. "Christians generally refused to be involved in civil government. Government officials and workers in the New Testament period became Christians and may have stayed in office, but by the end of the second century, involvement in the military and civil service was avoided." Much of this, in fairness to today's situation, was in awareness that "judges often had to pronounce capital punishment, and were involved in the support of emperor-worship." But "as Christianity percolated into the upper ranks of society, objections to holding office began to fade, and a council of Spanish bishops, on the eve of [Diocletian's] persecution, ruled on what conditions Christians might be allowed to hold municipal offices."
A look at Constantine
So we turn to the pivotal man among many in this discussion, the man who so neatly ties the follies of the first centuries together that it usually all gets blamed on him. In order to assess the level of his importance, however, over against everything else which was working against Christianity in the early centuries, we need to take a careful look at the man himself. This look, however, like all the others presented here, will necessarily be limited by space. With that in mind then, we will look primarily at his career, and what benefit he could have found in Christianity.
There is no question, in the first place, that the very life and figure of Constantine was pivotal, even though we have seen that he hardly Christianity's first, or only, bogeyman. But,
"no student of the Middle Ages can evade Constantine: he is one of the few inescapable figures in European history and one of the most intractable. ... The more closely Constantine's life and achievement are studied, the more inevitably is one driven to see in them an erratic block which has diverted the stream of human history."
But what we also see, to continue the metaphor, is that Constantine could not have "happened" if the river of Christianity had not begun to flow so narrowly that it could not flow around him when it arrived in his era. "He was not merely the creation of the past, but marked in himself a new beginning which was in large part to determine the future..." But, to be fair to all parties, I must be careful. There have been a huge number of conclusions concerning Constantine's reasons for action. There has, however, been far less argument about the results of his reign. For this reason, the rest of this paper will take two directions. First, we will look briefly at representatives of the most moderate writers' ideas of his motivations. Then, we will attempt to summarize the more central notions of the damage he was able to do, with especial attention to traditions which still plague us today.
In order to understand Constantine's mindset, one needs to examine the context which surrounded his rise to power. There was a time when I believed that much of his life needed to be trotted out to show just how cynical he was, but in a pinch, a view of his immediate military situation will do. What follows is a welding together of common knowledge sources and specific quotes.
We have already seen the chaos which reigned in the Roman Empire in the times surrounding the collapse of the Pax Romana, the time of almost global peace which reigned at Christ's birth. The order of Roman succession was far from stable. Those surrounding the seat of power at any given time began to try every trick in their books to ensure the survival of their "progeny" on the throne. At the time Constantine arrived on the political scene, both bureaucratic and dynastic succession were available and in use. Constantine got his start in this fashion. The Empire had been split in two (East and West) for ease of administration, each under an Augustus. Each of these Augusti received a Caesar, to aid in administrative tasks. Into this mix came Constantine, son of the Western Caesar. Not content to follow the favored bureaucratic pattern for succession, he set himself up as the Caesar, following his father's untimely death. What followed was mass confusion, as up to seven competitors emptied their bags of tricks in an attempt to gain the Western Caesarship. The wars eventually changed their aim, however, from simply the Caesarship to the ultimate rule of the Augusti. Over the twenty years of war, Constantine continually emerged the winner. But the battles became less than totally military as he neared the throne of Maximian, Augustus of the West. In these final battles, Constantine needed another ally. To understand this ally, we need to first look at the more specific religious situation surrounding the Emperor's throne at the time.
The Imperial Cult, and Persecution:
In the decades leading up to Constantine, Roman citizens who were not part of one of the Roman sponsored/sanctioned religions (religio licitas ) took a mandated part in what was called the imperial cult, or emperor worship. This cult represented an attempt to create support for the ruler, and to unite the Empire's vastly diverse citizens, with army unity a byproduct of that united citizenry. Religion was in the hands of the Roman Senate, and only those gods that had been approved by the Senate could be worshipped. Nevertheless, as the eimpire expanded and people from all over the Mediterranean moved to Rome, the diversity of religions increased greatly. In order to give unity to these religions, the Romans instituted a new cult centered in the person of the emperor.
There were some very basic problems, however.
"Roman religion [at the time was] more a national cult than a personal religion. It concerned the 'general moral order of the State'. Intrinsically, when analyzed, it still remained the outlook of a people in an early stage of development, the gods of light, of battle and agriculture reflecting the experiences of centuries before the establishment of the Empire. Not even ... Varro's encyclopedic work of investigation and definition of the roles of the various ancient deities could make Roman animism and pantheism a personal religion. For that, the individual had to turn to the philosophies of the day and above all to the mystery religions."[emphasis mine]
Over time, however, with all of these flaws, the imperial cult wore thin. Christians especially, along with several other less major but still "licit" religions had problems with one, several, or all facets of the various religions, slowly depriving the imperial cult of its needed universality. (We will make more of the lack of personal aspect below.) The problem with the imperial cult became severe enough that emperors needed something more powerful. They still needed "a cult in which all of the inhabitants of their empires could unite, and to enlist the aid of those divinities who would insure the success of Roman arms."
The first centuries after Christ had been dominated mostly by agnostic men. But in the third century, "religiosity increased in all classes, and ... uneducated men of strong religious conviction rose from the lower ranks ... to the purple itself... changing the temper of government itself." In AD 250, Decius first tried to appease the gods by systematically attempting to enforce universal worship of the gods, in an attempt to appease their anger at the waning worship, and to alleviate the resulting damage to the Empire. By AD 270, Aurelian turned to Mithraism, to which the bulk of his frontier army subscribed. (This also kept him out of the way of the great urban centers, in which lay the influence of Christianity. )
But Aurelian's successors, especially Diocletian, were not content to simply pacify the fringe. They rather sought to side with the gods of victory, which, with the Gothic and barbarian influences prevalent at the time, generally meant Rome's most ancient gods. What is called the Diocletian persecution came out of those urges, coupled with a general feeling that Christians should be forced to comply. Even in 298, when Diocletian began the final anti-Christian persecution with a purge of his courts, "the church did not take very seriously the dismissal of its members from the Roman civil service, ... they were probably not very numerous." Diocletian issued a series of escalating decrees which essentially made it mandatory for all to sacrifice to the imperial cult. After some burning of Scriptures, the destruction of buildings used as churches, and varied loss of life by location, the persecution stopped abruptly in AD 305, when Diocletian retired.
Coupled with the persecution and the imperial cult, however, are two very basic aspects of Roman religion which are important to this discussion. They indicate just how Romans did their religion, and provide sharp contrast with cell-group and first century methods, while looking quite similar to the present. First, religion was a matter of sacred rite, and second, religious rite practiced anywhere but in the public eye [was considered] undesirable behavior that [made] the perpetrator culpable. "Religion for the Romans was the exact observance of established rites on behalf of the entire community."
We have already seen the effects of this chaos on the church over the
preceding centuries. We turn now to see how easily it afforded Constantine
the ally he needed. By 310, the number of declared Caesars had reached the
above mentioned numbers, and persecution by Galerius had begun again, although
again with varied intensity, and with far fewer executions. In April of
311, Galerius, suffering from cancer of the bowels, and fearing that this
was a vengeance by the God of the Christians, lifted much of the persecution,
and allowed the Christians free assembly, so long as they promised
to pray for the safety of the commonwealth, and of Galerius. "
A few days later, Galerius died. This apparently drew Constantine's attention.
The next year, Constantine marched on Rome, intent on conquering. But Rome
had just been fortified. This is the journey during which he is said to
have had his vision of the Cross in the heavens (which told him to conquer
in its sign) famous among the historians.
There is something worth noting about Constantine's personal belief system. Constantine, up to this point, worshipped first Hercules, and when he failed, Apollo the sun god. "In 310, the panegyrist tells us, Constantine entered a beautiful temple, had a vision of Apollo (sound familiar?) accompanied by victory, and was offered crowns symbolizing not only power to come, but the legitimation (sorely needed) of Sol Invictus in dealing with his enemies." [comments mine] But as he left Gaul, Constantine wondered if he had done enough. He decided that, for one who wanted not to stay in Gaul, but rather to advance to Rome, he would need to extend his patronage one more time. (Kee uses this word "extend" to indicate something directly opposed to conversion, as he alleges, with others, that Constantine never underwent any kind of religious conversion. ) It was at this time, during this transition, that Constantine "received" the above mentioned vision. I put 'received' above in quotes, because most people during this period were, according to Eusebius, expected to take such a pronouncement with the proverbial grain of salt. "Eusebius assumes that his readers, even those who believe such events can happen, will display some incredulity at this particular vision." Everything did not change as quickly as many perceive either. Constantine achieved power in the West in AD 313, temporarily acceding power in the East to Licinius. He did not 'take' that part of the Empire until AD 324, but "in the meantime, Constantine had been moving continually toward a more favored position for the Church." This favored position came at a steep price for the purity of the church, but cost Constantine very little besides money.
The real damage he did lies in the final death knell his institutionalization programs sounded for the unity and relationship emphasis still fighting for survival in house churches, and the remains of "personal theology" which still hid there. There are many rather basic changes which he made, and several longer term changes which he cemented, rather than actually made. We will consider each in turn.
If one assumes that Constantine "converted" to Christianity,
after believing his claim, one must confront the question of how so many
of the "little things" which crept into the church tradition in
the years of and following his reign could have been possible. But, for
reasons noted above, Bainton and others, myself included, simply do not
buy Constantine's conversion story. With this view, much more falls into
place. Bainton notes that:
"Constantine was never willing to proscribe paganism. Nor did he ever renounce his position as pontifex maximus , even though he performed none of the offices of the pagan high priest. Symbols of sun worship passed over into his Christianity. ... Many new, huge, churches were built at imperial expense, and Sunday was made a holiday, although still referred to as the day of the sun, rather than as the Lord's Day."
It is interesting that in his instructions to the pro-consul in Africa in AD 312, concerning the return of church property, Constantine mandates the return of "gardens, houses, or anything else" . There is no mention of church buildings, or at the very least, they are low enough in priority not to even bear mention.
I would love to spend this kind of time exposing each of the changes Constantine made as he tinkered with the church. Unfortunately, none of the writers I have read were able to address all of them in less than about a chapter. What I will do, therefore, is simply record a list, provided by James Rutz, and then discuss the value and the progeny of each in class.
"Every add-on item listed here can be traced back to its historical beginnings. All come after Constantine:
What is sad about many of these (especially those I have starred) is
that they reduce the possibility of contribution from the rest of the congregation,
potentially making them feel like so much useless baggage. Is it any wonder
Christians are turning ONLY to politics today in order to feel useful?
"Between the writing of the book of Acts and the first genuine history of Christianity, written by Eusebius in the fourth century, stretch two of the most creative centuries in the history of the church, and yet no one followed up the beginning made by Luke [in writing about them]." This bit of information reinforces one of Wilken's other statements, quoted elsewhere in this paper, concerning just how forward-looking the church was in those early generations. But eventually, the "novelty" wore off, Christ did not return as it was perceived that he had promised, and people began converting to Christianity for reasons other than salvation. We have already discussed the ramifications of this rapid conversion rate, so we understand that writing was being done, just not about history. Instead, Christianity spent the time creating a fortress for itself. Since it was now not only legal to be a Christian, but more or less "cool", people were "converting" in droves. "Pagan priests were suddenly becoming 'Christians' to keep up with their money. Government officials and politicians were becoming priests in droves because it was lucrative to do so."
Men may still not have had much interest in writing their histories at this time, but one desire which developed during this time is rather telling. "Men ... did want to know how one decided which teachers and which churches were reliable witnesses to the Christian tradition. Growing as quickly as they did, the churches had neither the time, nor the inclination, to ensure that the many different forms of Christianity maintained some type of unity." I find this interesting, in light of earlier comments contrasting Jewish fluidity with Greco-Western rigidity. It is obvious where the balance of power lies by this time. "As a new religious movement, whose way of life was yet undefined, Christianity had no one "traditional" way of doing things -- no sacred book, except for the Jewish scriptures, ... no clear set of beliefs, and no central headquarters."
Once again, the key date for all of this is about the middle of the second century. Much of this change was for reasons other than the already discussed apologies. But those reasons tie in here, too. Bruce Shelley says that
"the days of enthusiasm were passing and the days of ecclesiasticism were coming. The church was no longer a place where the Spirit of prophecy could be heard. More and more people were joining the churches, but the distinction between church and world was fading. ... the church was coming to terms with heathen thought and culture and philosophy."
All of this sounds less than vaguely like the current situation in which the church finds itself. Only a constant cycle of "revivals" have "jerked" the Church some distance away from the world. But one gets the sense that the cycle still has a slow downward trend, as the revivals create a diminishing "cushion" of saintliness each time.
Shelley wonders how, in the face of challenges like these, the church could keep its creeds and its perceptions of the gospel central. "It had to make all Christian worship, teaching, and life center in Christ and the apostolic witness. There was a mass entry into the churches, which made basic discipleship in the now coalescing doctrines of Christianity difficult, not to mention trying to school barbarians in a second whole religion, let alone giving them time to discover the potential for personal growth inherent in either religion by themselves. It was in the interests of both parties to ensure that their doctrine became simplified, and stayed easily teachable and digestible.
"When, under Constantine, Christianity came to be the favored religion of the empire, Christian aloofness naturally diminished, the discipline required for martyrdom was relaxed..." This relaxation, coupled with the mass influx, begged for trouble. And trouble was not slow in coming. Constantine himself seems staggered by how quickly things began to splinter. Had he actually studied the historical lack of successful attempts at providing the Roman Empire with an Imperial Cult, an "I told you so" might have been in order. But he likely never did. Christianity, which was never "designed" for mass participation (no pun intended) began to split at the seams in the same ways as did all other religions which tried to fill the same bill it was now being tapped for. "The church which [Constantine] had regarded as cement for the Empire proved to be nitroglycerine." If we assume that religious unity was the perceived key to political unity, then it makes sense that Constantine would intervene in matters of doctrine as he did. Perhaps an example is in order to show just how explosive things became, and what became of the explosions.
Before we look at that example, however, a quick look at some assumptions inherent in, or engendered by the Edict of Milan is worthwhile. As paraphrased by Webber, it is extremely enlightening:
"The Edict of Milan introduced four favorable new provisions for the Christian Church. First, it guaranteed Christians the right to profess the faith; second, it guaranteed them the right to gather for worship without fear of reprisal; third, it called for the restitution of buildings and land that had been confiscated from the church; and fourth, it recognized the corporate nature of the church, by allowing it to hold property." [emphases mine]
I am struck by how easily the Christians in the populace of the Roman Empire accepted the NEW rights they were granted. Nowhere in the Bible are we guaranteed such "rights". Conversely, we are told, several time, quite bluntly, that we are, as followers of Christ, to expect to be persecuted, even to lose our lives, for His name. The addition of buildings to the list of weights about our ankles guaranteed far more earthly security than ever before, and also guaranteed that within that security, many would become lazy. The 'corporate nature' of the church is as anti-Biblical a concept as the 'right' to witness, or the 'right' to worship, as can be discovered by a simple word study of ekklesia. This 'right' to worship too contains a deeper ramification. It implies that worship must be public, and done at set times, and cannot be done solely in one's heart. It also flies in the face of I Corinthians 14:23 and 26 , in which we are told that Christians broke bread together every day. It is to be noted that this included worship of a far different definition than we use today.
On to our example. The first time Constantine had to step in to stop 'fragmentation' in the church is now called the Donatist Controversy. Bainton says simply that "the religious issue was a revival of the problem of how to treat those who had lapsed in persecution." Christians seemed unable to forgive their weaker brothers, in this case, those who had 'cracked' under persecution, and who had handed over church documents like copies of Scripture. But this controversy was complicated by its African origins. North African perceptions of and reactions to Christianity were visibly different as early as a century before. "In Africa [about the late 200s] certainly Christianity came to reflect deep-felt social grievances. In Egypt, ... flight from the world to religion was also flight from the tax-collector." Bainton notes that "anti-Roman feeling never ceased to smolder ... it is plausible that [tribes] embraced Christianity precisely because it was persecuted by the Roman government."
When the inevitable split finally occurred, and the Bishop of Carthage sided with Rome, Constantine stepped in to give the Latin Aristocracy its property back. But he neglected the disaffected tribesmen, not understanding just how deeply embedded in the social structure the problems lay. "The Punic and Berber tribesmen [then ...] claimed to be the church of the pure, the church of the matyrs. [They] began ravaging the countryside, ... and throwing acid in the eyes of Church bishops." Perhaps the most important thing to come out of this controversy, however, concerned the change in thought patterns which it introduced into the Church. Alistair Kee quotes Adolf Harnack's perfect summary of the idea:
"The Donatist crisis ... taught the Church to value ordination as imparting an inalienable title (character indelebilis ) and to form a stringent view of the 'objectivity' of the sacraments; or, to use a plainer expression, to regard the Church primarily as an institution whose holiness and truth were inalienable, no matter the state of its members. In this thought Catholicism was first complete."
In this thought as well, I am afraid, the monumental importance of institution over individuals, of doctrine over relationships was also complete. And no matter how much doctrinal change we attempt today, until we at the very least restore a balance between doctrine and relationship, and make 'the state of our members' a real concern, we will never break free of the snare created here.
There is one comment, which summarizes a later doctrinal controversy, (the Arian) which I ran across in almost every book I have read on the subject. This comment neatly reinforces the other problem tied in with the one mentioned above. Bainton says it best, however, in describing why Constantine could not solve the doctrinal problem, even though he realized that the dispute was inconsequential. "Plainly, Constantine ... had no feeling for the subtlety of the Greek intellectual tradition." In viewing Christianity as merely a tool, then, and in treating all of its problems as merely political, and not spiritual, Constantine set an example still followed today, with disastrous effect. In order to maintain unity, we must create a mutually agreeable concept, putting the institution ahead of the individuals involved.
In assessing the aftermath of Constantine, James Rutz makes his only error. He notes that most of our doctrine is correct, but the bulk of our practice today is not. In truth, the reason we have not vetted most of the offensive practices, even after Martin Luther, is that we have never gotten rid of the utilitarian mentality we adopted from the hand of Constantine. "Despite external persecution, ... the church came through the difficulties of AD 100 to 313 with flying colors. Its closer association with the Roman state from 313 to 590 was to bring into it many flaws that had not been problems during the years of persecution."
In the end, Bauer provides the clue which very likely provides the fine link we seek on why Constantine found it so easy to "take" the church into his possession. Bauer pokes at it as he discusses the creation of lines of apostolic succession as a tactic of Rome to shore up her doctrinal creations. Bauer does not expressly name it, but does give a good clue when he says that the whole Roman environment "spurred the Christians on toward the creation of stable forms for community life" and that they refused, doctrinally to rely on what they seems to have considered "a few doubtful personages" like Mark, for "the most important position there was" who "offered no security for the immediate future". I quote all of this to make the point that by the time of Ignatius, Rome, and with her likely the rest of the Church, had got quite comfortable in her finely feathered doctrinal nest, and was now reaching outward to shore herself up. Even more important, however, is that the security, and the polemics, and the devices, all preclude an appeal to Christ, or to the Bible. In the end, then, there was absolutely no difference between Constantine, who used the church as a worldly device to shore up his hold on power, and the Roman Church, who used Constantine as a worldly means to shore up her security.
So why was this security such an issue? We have already seen that times were hard across the empire. Christians who had begun to depend more upon themselves and their created structure saw a society crumbling around their ears. They could no longer turn to God for help, so they turned to perhaps the first instance of "social gospel". Henry Vedder takes a rare look at both the Church's impact on society, and society's impact upon the church:
"The political and social results of the new order introduced by Constantine were almost wholly good. The state profited greatly ; the empire was unified and its existence was prolonged. Christian morals made themselves felt in every part of society, especially on such social institutions as could be affected by legislation. The abolition of crucifixion, the prohibition of gladiatorial combats, the discouraging of infanticide, the facilitation of the manumission of slaves, are some of the instances in which heathen laws and manners were softened by Christian legislative influences. ... A great change in private morality is also apparent in the literature. The results on the Church, however, were little short of disastrous ." [emphases mine]
Vedder goes on to quote Neander, who says that "the reign of Constantine bears witness that the State which seeks to advance Christianity by the worldly means at its command may be the occasion of more injury to this holy cause than the earthly power which opposes it with whatever virulence."
But the church never really got security. "The divisions of the Church [under and after Constantine] were injected into the life of the state, and fissures in the social structure rent the Church. The cohesiveness which the Early Fathers claimed to be the contribution of the Church to society was disrupted and the Church assisted in the disintegration of the empire." When it all came down, the vine of the church had become like ivy. It grew and grew, but instead of staying low, and compact, humble, and underfoot, it decided to climb the supports offered by the state. As time passed, however, continued growth, and the weight it created, contributed to the fall of the very structures on which it depended. What we have left, it would seem, is the tangled "mass" (excuse the pun) from which we are still attempting to extricate ourselves. This, I would wager, is impossible.
There is only one way to return to our past form. That way is to literally return to our roots. While two millennia have changed the growth produced by the roots of Judaism, perhaps, with all of the intellectual capacity available to the church today, we can cut the vine to its pertinent core, re-splice it to its roots, and pray like never before for the working of God.
So Where Does This Leave Us? (300 AD to present day)
There is obviously no space left in this paper for the kind of full treatment of the results I had planned. Therefore, a number of simple statements will have to suffice to flesh out the skeleton of this section. Perhaps this section will instigate discussion in the first hour of our time together.
Perhaps the most obvious among damages that Organized "Christianity"/ Organized Religion has done could be labelled 'the encouragement of incivilities'. I would list among those the oft' quoted "Wars and rumors of wars", along with the 'standard' torture both of 'heretical' Christians and non-Christians, the random killings, the Crusades, etc. I realize that I sound either like a starry-eyed, naive optimist, or a 'bleeding heart liberal' but I just don't understand. I cannot comprehend how, when the document for which one fights forbids killing and mandates love, how its defenders can use all of the weapons which they would decry if those weapons were turned upon themselves. One has to wonder what makes mere words so worth defending. The only reason I can cite for such misplaced value is the over-emphasis on doctrinal 'purity' at the expense of human action and growth I cited at the start of this paper.
This same lack of action, and insistence upon doctrinal purity leads to another shackle placed on Christians today. I call this shackle the "inoculation concept". I discussed it briefly above, and it now merits at least a definition. It, along with its companion, the "taxpayer mentality", are likely the biggest cripplers in the business today. By this 'inoculation', I mean the experience by which a person gets just enough 'religion' to know the terms, and then attempts to be a good, moral, individual, obviating in his or her eyes the need for real commitment to Christianity. Of the 40 to 50% of Americans who wear the label Christian today, I have to wonder just how large a percentage of them would recognize real, New Testament Christianity as something more than "one o' them cults" if it arose today.
I mention this next item, even though its contentiousness places me on thin ice. I feel that we have lost, through simple chauvinistic abuse of the Bible, the experience of women's unique point of view. They are much better, as current secular thought is now also recognizing, but the Bible has always done, at cultivating and understanding relationships. I will risk only this speculation by way of a conversation starter: We once addressed the question of why asked to be quiet in church. Let us assume that women are more relational, and men are more logical and/or object driven. In that case, would it not be better to let the man concentrate and enjoy his facet of church the same way the woman likely enjoyed hers elsewhere. She get to think about the question, entering his world, and he gets to initiate at home, satisfying him. Both have to remember in their own ways. Once home the question can be more thoroughly explored, allowing a fuller discussion of the question. All parties benefit from the others' world (a part of Covenant relationship on which Gershon Winkler dwells at length, but which space did not permit me to include.) While not perfect, this suggestion at least transcends culture.
The church is also doing itself immense damage by supporting alien/state causes. Supporting capitalism against communism may have been marginally understandable from the point of view of "resisting godless atheism". When one researches the early church's attitude toward "godless" governments, however, they need no longer be seen as a threat, but rather as a resuscitation of the need to spread the gospel by means of personal relationships, not by the high-profile, low result means we use today. Supporting capitalism has effects far more subtle than the addiction to material possession, however that may be justified. I find it bitterly ironic that in our support of capitalism, whose core motive is individual greed, the church justifyies a crushingly high standard of living, and the almost inevitable forcing of mothers into the workplace. Christians will eventually have to make a choice: they can leave the capitalist mindset and live on a sharply reduced income, and have their wives at home, or they can face the already occurring breakdown of family values with the usual political hem-haw and bandaids. Most insidious of all the effects of our support of capitalism, however, is the subtle way in which it peels our eyes away from God as support for our needs, and redirects them to the systems created by imperfect and arrogant man, which seem to be able to do the same thing, at least on the surface. Again we will have to decide whether we desire comfort, or peace of mind. Christians in the Third Century decided for comfort. They got empty religion and the Dark Ages. What will we decide?
One of the last items we have adopted to our detriment is our unqualified support of Democracy. Wells addresses this to some extent, so I will keep my remarks only to what I have observed. Perhaps the biggest problem with it which I have noticed is Democracy's promotion of what I have come to call the "taxpayer mentality", which I mentioned above. I will define TM quickly as our tendency to take the democratic mindset and structures into church with us. More specifically, I mean structures like our selection of one individual to do our jobs in a particular area for us, so we can feel good about having done our duty, but never actually having to do the whole thing. This may be advisable in politics, since rule by 275 million people would be unwieldy at the least. It is not good, however, in church. We have, as we discussed in the paper, grown to think that only a pastor can do certain things, and on him, all duties except sitting quietly and occasionally singing a hymn must fall. This lack of "priesthood of the believer" is killing discipleship, evangelism, and personal relationships today.
Perhaps it would be worthwhile to discuss this in class. May I suggest that in the meantime we look for manifestations of this? Some I have thought of include: over-loaded pastors, and top heavy churches, and the death of the servant attitude. But perhaps the greatest effect of the modern method of 'doing' church is the lack of accountability in various areas, especially evangelism, which it engenders. Accountability is a very amorphous term, with many way of doing it. But in this case, by accountability I simply mean the kind of friendly, even brotherly relationship which says "Brother, I see your struggle. How can I aid you?" What we have all too often instead is the attitude "Why should we help them? We pay someone else to do that, don't we?" Coupled with this lack of accountability is a lack of mentorship. But, with a lack of understanding of relationships in the church, why does that surprise us?
The Cell Church will not cause fragmentation as we and Dr. Wells have defined it. Rather, by forcing individuals into groups, and allowing them, within those groups to enter each others' "secret worlds", their private spaces, in Wells-speak, and to interact, we are denied the luxury of creating Wells' dual-world scenario, of privatizing, and of individualization. And, while a cursory, surface examination may conclude that the large-group/small-group setup we use may enhance the public sphere/private sphere thing he is afraid of, it should do the exact opposite. It should create a system whereby we look deep inside, clean up what we find there. Then, we take our new-found courage out into the world, into our "public" friendships. Then, we corral both our Private insights and our public contacts, and bring them both into a glorious session of worship, where all the groups get together, to praise God, and to teach our unsaved contacts about Him. The only reason for which cells are divided is for the sake of enabling transparency, for the sake of getting to know each other so well that we can no longer hide in the private worlds of which Wells speaks, worlds engendered by the lack of accountability in the large-group settings we are currently used to. Not only that, but the love engendered in this group becomes the same as love for our Lord, at which time our accountability, born of our love for each other, forces us out of our public/private dichotomies, and into love for our uncompleted neighbors.
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Encyclopaedia Britannica. Fifteenth Edition: s.v. "Roman Religion", 10: 551..
1- Go thru the whole thing, and summarize each paragraph
2- put those one line summaries into a new outline
3- reorganize the outline, and re-place (re-establish) the section markers as appropriate.
Run that outline along your new ideas including the following;
-expand the idea of covenant
-change the word theology to something closer to doctrine and explain the difference, a fatal flaw in the Forbes presentation. remember that theology can be positive, it is the reliance and blind insistance on doctrine that corrupts it.
-work with the idea of (tighten it if it exists) dependance:
doctrine and structures were created because European minds were uncomfortable with tension.
- heavy on the idea of Judaism as the foundation of Christianity, and its core elements.
- heavy on why Christianity changed as Jewish one-on-one influence was lost.
- add to the damage that the logic caused.
Figure out where to add the psychology section when it comes on line.
Do the red marked updates.
Totally reconstruct the Jewish section!
Prior to page 14, or whereever the following phrase occurs, back it up: