Easter

One of the high points of the Christian calendar is undoubtedly our celebration of Easter.  The resurrection of Jesus following his death for us is at the very core of our faith.

For the earliest Christians the Christian year centered on the Paschal (Easter) feast, a great commemoration of the the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Saint Ambrose of Milan referred to the three days starting with Good Friday as the the three most sacred days of Christian time.  This early emphasis on celebrating Christ’s resurrection stands in contrast with the relative lack of recognition of any kind of holiday for His birth.  Christmas became more important in later years.

There was some controversy among the early believers on when Jesus’ resurrection should be celebrated.  Finally, in 325 A.D. Emperor Constantine met with other church leaders and they decided that Easter would fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.  Most Christians have followed that calendar ever since.

Of course, Easter celebrations have not focused on Jesus alone for many centuries.  As Christianity spread to numerous peoples and cultures around the world, various pagan groups added in their own springtime and fertility observances.  Thus we now have Easter Bunnies and Easter Eggs to add to (or detract from?) this most meaningful of Christian holy days.

One web site I discovered with much more information on this topic is at

http://www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/history-of-easter-faq.htm

Happy Easter!

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A People’s History of Christianity

Over the years I have accumulated a shelf full of books relating to the history of Christianity.  Some have come from antique shops or used book sales.  Some have been purchased on line.  Others have been found as I browse through the aisles of a bookstore.  I recently found a promising book in a bookstore at Seaport Village in San Diego.  It is entitled A People’s History of Christianity, with subtitle “The Other Side of the Story”.  It is written by Diana Butler Bass, who has a PhD in church history and has taught at the University of California and at Virginia Theological Seminary.  The cover quotes the Washington Post: “What emerges is a persuasive argument that the real traditions of the church are ‘faith, hope, and love entwined'”.

The theme of the book is that lived Christianity is not best understood in terms of formal church history and hierarchy and doctrine, but rather by considering the ways in which Christian people have enacted the Great Command in different times and places throughout the centuries.  I have just started reading it.  I look forward to sharing what I learn in future posts.

Introduction to the Church Timeline

There have been many significant events over the past centuries that have shaped the practice and organization of Christian churches today.  In future weeks I will build a graphical timeline showing some of those events, and comment on their impacts.  As I began to catalog some of these defining points in the life of the Church, I selected a few “C” words to get us started.

Christ – 1st century – Of course, He is the beginning of all things Christian.

Churches – 1st through 3rd centuries – Christians met together in their communities, mostly in homes and often in secret due to widespread persecution.  “Church” meant the congregation of believers, not organizations or buildings.

Constantine – 4th century – The first Christian Roman Emperor, edicted that Christians should no longer be persecuted.  Later he called a council at Nicea for the leaders of the churches all across the world.  We will have a lot more to learn later about the Council of Nicea, but for now we will just say that this was the first serious attempt to unite all of Christendom with a common doctrinal base.  The resultant Nicean Creed is still used in some churces today.

Conquest by Mohammedans – 7th century – The Islamic invasion swept through Palestine, Egypt and northern Africa into Spain, which later led to an aggressive armed response from the Christian world.

Crusades and Cathedrals – 11th through 13th centuries – This was a time of great political power for the organized church, but it was also a time when some very unhealthy religious practices began to take root.

Calvin – 16th century – Calvin and other reformers such as Luther and Zwingli “protested” against the worst abuses of the Church … hence they were the first “Protestants”.

Colonies – 17th century – The early American Colonists brought their diverse Christian beliefs and practices to the New World.  They later brought this heritage to bear on the establishment of a new nation that is based on Christian principles, but with the promise of religious freedom for all.

See http://www.historytimeline.org/ for an  interactive graphical timeline of church history with much more detail.

As we look at all of the changes in the Christian Church over the centuries, we may be tempted to ask how Christians and their leaders could stray so far from 1st century principles.  However, we need to remember that these shifts took place gradually over many generations.  Each generation pretty much accepted the “Church of their fathers” and made only minor changes in accordance with their evolving cultures and political situations.  Over the centuries these additions and modifications to Christian doctrine and practice have built up layer on layer to bring us to where we are today.  This is why I have set myself to the task of going back through those layers and learn more about the heritage of modern day Christianity.

Pagan Christianity

I originally envisioned my studies to be mainly historical.  You know, kind of academic and dry.  I want to build a graphical timeline of events in Christendom so I can better visualize the sweep of history and the many turning points and defining events that have occurred over the centuries.  Many of the books that I have gathered will fit into this approach nicely.

However, I have also come across some books that are more than just historical.  They have a point of view and express their opinions about historical events and how they have impacted the way Christians worship today.  One such book is Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices, by Frank Viola and George Barna.  I will be sharing what I learn from books like this as well.  So maybe future posts here will do more than shine some light on our history.  They may also generate some heat!

Beginnings

Today marks the launch of this new blog.  I hope it serves several purposes:

–          To help me be disciplined in my study of the history of Christianity

–          To help others benefit from what I learn along my journey

–          To inform and strengthen a Christian faith that values the trials and accomplishments of the generations of believers who have gone before us

–          To encourage comments and questions that allow us to learn from each other

I encourage every reader to go to the ABOUT tab for additional background information.  Let me know if there are any particular topics that would be of interest to you.

Blessings …