Ancient History

I have learned a lot in my personal research into the history of Christianity.  I have even learned something about the history of history.  There have been writers throughout the ages that have attempted to capture the facts about what really happened so that we who came later could know about them.  However, the writers themselves always influence our understanding of the past.  Each writer has their own perspective on what should be included or omitted, and how each topic should be presented.  It has been interesting to me to read about the same persons or events in multiple historical resources, and then observe how differently the same topics are covered by different authors.

Someone has said that history is an account of the past written by the winners.  The historical perspectives that have not prevailed are often not well documented for us today.   Thus, much of the church history available to us now is reflective only of those trends in Christian thought and practice that align with the accepted mainstream.

The change in historical perspective over the years has led me to seek out Christian history books that were written a few generations ago.  I have found a few such books in antique stores, but they are hard to find.  So I was delighted this past weekend to receive the Manual of Church History as a gift.  This book was originally written in German by Henry Guericke in 1833, and later translated into English for publication in the USA in 1881.  It covers the first six centuries of church history.  I am really looking forward to getting into its contents and then sharing my discoveries with all of you.

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Changes

I just took delivery on my new computer!  Now I face the lengthy process of setting it up with all my files and programs.  My goal is to do some house cleaning of my old file folders before porting them to the new computer.  As I began that process today, I found a text file from 2004 that was named “Changes”.  It must be something I found on a blog or website back then.  It was written by a seminary student.  The theme of “change” is descriptive of the entire history of Christianity, so I thought my readers might find it interesting.  It is included below without additional comment.

We confront our presumptions and prejudices in light of the wisdom of others and our own experiences and then make up our minds as to what we believe. It is a life-long process and it accurately describes my own journey of faith. I suspect it describes the journey for you, as well. We are in the process of faith building known as Christianity.

Because it is a process, it is always in the throes of change. Some of these changes are just minor little adjustments while others are pretty dramatic course corrections. Granted this is a disturbing experience. It is certainly not the kind of cushy and comfortable Christianity a lot of people are looking for but it is, I believe, an accurate description of what it means to follow Jesus. This is precisely why so few people really study the Bible. They are afraid to make any changes. And that is both un-Biblical and un-Christian.

In Exodus 32, there is a dialogue between God and Moses. A friendly debate that grows more impassioned even to the point where Moses is trying to convince God of the error of God’s ways.

The error of God’s ways.  How’s that for a little blasphemy?

The Revised Standard Version of the Bible says, “And God repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people.”  The New Revised Standard Version says, “And God changed his mind!”  If the Lord God Almighty could be persuaded to alter course a bit surely we can too.

This is such an important point, such a dramatic revelation. What it says to me is that the God we worship, the God we claim is eternal truth, the God we acknowledge as the source and ground of our very being…is also in a process of change. Now perhaps that process of change is only in the way God is revealed to us or maybe it is even more fundamental than that. After all, if God is alive and real does that not imply some kind of continuing change? How can there be life without it?

Such pondering is very problematic. It opens up a can of worms that most of us would just as soon keep shut. That is precisely why there is so little real Bible study. It makes us uncomfortable. We don’t want to be educated. We don’t want to change. It is, I am convinced, precisely why Jesus was killed. He was re-interpreting scripture. He was offering a new and different insight into the nature of God and the religious people wanted none of it. So they killed him. Unfortunately for them, death couldn’t stop this new revelation and it continues revealing to this day whether we like it or not.

More About Books

Books are amazing things.  I have collected quite a few that address the history of Christianity.  I think my oldest book is one by John S. C. Abbott, with the ambitious title of The history of Christianity: consisting of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth; the adventures of Paul and the apostles; and the most interesting events in the progress of Christianity, from the earliest period to the present time. It was published in 1883.  My copy is pretty fragile, with tape holding the cover together.

Would you like to read it?  Well, this is the electronic age so that would be no problem!  I was quite surprised to find the full text available on line at http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008924253.  Just click on Full View and you can read the entire book, page by page.

I will introduce you to other books in my library in future posts.

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.