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How Did We Get here? A brief look at Church History PDF Print Write e-mail
Sunday, 27 May 2007 15:13

Pre-Christendom  -  Christ to Constantine:

 

Christianity grew from a small, marginalized sect to a centralized accepted religion in 200 years - from a negliable percentage to 10 percent and growing.

Conversions were most likely a result of strong relational, interpersonal contacts with family, friends, and neighbors.  To keep growing, Christians maintained open networks - able to reach out into new adjacent networks.

Epidemics played a crucial role in Christianities growth.  From caring for their own to caring for others was significant - a lower death rate and relationships developed while caring for pagans.

Christian women also played a significant role by rejecting infanticide and abortion plus influencing their husbands to convert to Christianity.  Women had a higher status in the Christian sub-culture.

Christianity was primarily an urban movement.  Cities were cesspools filled with misery, danger, fear disease, hatred and death.  Christians provided charity as well as hope as a foundation for attachments.

Persecution of Christians produced a people of high participation, commitment and willingness to sacrifice and be stigmatized.  These provided tremendous energy to Christian growth and certainly saved the religion from having "free riders".

The primary means of its growth was through the united and motivated efforts of the growing numbers of Christian believers who invited their friends, relatives and neighbors to share the "good news" found in visible communities and service to others.  Their willingness to "belive their faith" played a larger role than their belief in doctrine.  Doctrines took an actual flesh expressed in love and mercy to others.

The attractive lives of Christians and their communities, the appeal of Christian theology and ethics in a culture reaching toward monotheism (Jews), and the church's capacity to transcend social - economic and gender barriers were all factors in Christianities appeal.

Christendom - Constantine to the Vestiges today:

Constantine favored Christianity by providing financial resources for churches and erecting large, ornate buildings as an imperial religion, he encouraged progress toward a united church.

From this favored position, large numbers of people flocked to the churches - some attracted, some coerced, some hoping for social position.

Lost was radical discipleship and found was nominalism and moral laxity.  Being a Christian was now defined primarily in terms of doctrine and not in terms of behavior.  The church grappled with theological issues about the nature of God.  Coercion and inducement grew in scope and force.  Infant baptism became central to a Christianity which was becoming a mandatory religion - tithing, church attendance, loyalty to church and state were all considered mandatory.  A marriage between church and state grew stronger - each using the other to further their goals.

The clergy grew in position, power and wealth and were often corrupt and immoral.

Summary of the Shift to Christendom:

  • Adoption of Christianity as the official religion.
  • Movement of the church rooms the margins to the center.
  • Progressive development of a Christian culture.
  • Assumption that all citizens were Christian by birth.
  • No religious freedom.
  • Orthodoxy is common belief shared by all, state supported and determined by church leaders.
  • Christian morality imposed on society.
  • Infant baptism is incorporated into Christian society.
  • Hierarchical, institutional systems.
  • Divison between clergy and laity.
  • Tiered ethics - clergy higher, laity lower.
  • Sunday - official holiday.
  • Construction of ornate buildings and huge congregations.
  • Use of political and military force to impose Christianity.
  • Reliance on Old Testament theology - re-interpret or exclude Christ's teachings.
  • Believers' churches were treated as sects and condemned.
  • Church abandoned its prophetic, evangelistic, and apostolic roles for its pastoral role.
  • Church services became performance oriented versus multi-voiced participation - monologue sermons became the norm.
  • Church moved from mission to maintenance.
  • Church became more interested in social order than social justice.
  • Enemy loving and peacemaking were replaced by formation of Christian armies and just wars.
  • The cross was less a symbol of laying down one's life and became a symbol carried into battle.
  • Creeds emphasized Jesus' birth and death, his divinity and humanity, but marginalized His life.
  • Congregations grew large replacing small communities meeting in homes.
  • Church discipline became ecclesiastical control rather than the expression of communal discipleship.
  • Mission became separated from the church delegated to specialized agencies.

The Reformers were concerned to restore true doctrine, remove ecclesiastic corruption, and provide effective preaching and pastoral care - to reform believing and some aspects of behaving, but little change to belonging.

Reformers exchanged Catholic/Orthodox Christendom for Reformed/Protestant Christendom.

It was the Anabaptist tradition which dissented from Christendom and most looked like Pre-Christendom - they rejected much of Christendom while stressing religious liberty, personal discipleship and apostolic missions.  There were areas of weakness: separation from the world and harsh application of church discipline.

Christendom has seen its impact on the culture in deep retreat - an accelerated retreat.  Western Europe is a mission field as needy as any in the world, and the church in America is showing signs of significant decline.  Christendom is cracking; yet there remains a Christian mindset.

Christendom Mindset:

  • Orientation to maintenance of the status quo with minor tweaking.
  • Desire to control history.
  • A "moral majority" on ethical issues assuming rights beyond the church.
  • Identification with the rich when reading Scripture.
  • Relating the Old Testament Israel to us as a Christian nation.
  • Predilection to large congregations.
  • Priority of pastoral care over missions.
  • Preference to authoritative pronouncements - monologue sermons.
  • Performance oriented services.
  • Formal education as prerequisite for ministry.
  • Expectations of revival to restore the church.
  • High percentage of people believes they are Christians.

Post-Christendom - From Collapsing Christendom to an Unknown Future:

Post-Christendom is the culture that emerges as the Christian faith loses coherence within a society that has been definitely shaped by the Christian story and as the institutions that have been developed to express Christian convictions decline in affluence:

Transitions:

From center to margins

From majority to minority

From settlers to sojourners

From privilege to plurality

From control to witness

From maintenance to mission

From institution to movement

Responses:

Hold on to the present

Regain the past

Head into the future

Stuff I Would Do Differently:

It all comes down to "what would I do"?  After all the talk, after all the reading of books, after all of the conferences; the rubber hits the road with practical, workable ideas.  My motivation is to glorify Christ.  I believe we can do that if we are authentic in faith, community, and mission.

These thoughts are random and incomplete.  None of them are untried or unproven; they all have been tired and have been proven to be both successful and failures.  There are no guarantees; the Holy Spirit guides His way; not by any predetermined plan.  They are not change for change sake; their purpose is to be the church, which is like Christ, not pretend to be the church living off past models, which lack authenticity and Christ-likeness.

  1. I would begin with leadership/church planters being bi-vocational.
  2. I would look for a real life needs to meet and minister to people incarnationally who are needy and poor - the marginal, e.g. drug addicts, street kids, homeless, the poor.
  3. I would openly examine the Scriptures with maximum participation foregoing monologue teaching and preaching and authoritative pronouncements.
  4. I would want to welcome all and love all being cautious about boundaries, laws, rules.  Yet, I would hold a high standard for a covenant community to be like Jesus Christ.
  5. I would have a balance of servant leadership - APEPT - searching for everyone's gifting.
  6. I would build a cellular structure which multiples and build a network of cells.  Every cell has a mission, body life, and divine direction (Scripture).
  7. I would do all possible to never own a building.
  8. I would be very cautious of large celebrations becoming "the thing".  When we do meet, active participation and involvement must be present.  If it is not, we are already too large.  I want participatory prayer, testimony, singing, and participatory speaking of the Word.
  9. I would want a marriage between what we believe and how we belive.  Everyone is purposed to be like Christ and be a called and sent missionary/minister.  Purpose to lay hands on all who accept the call and a mission.
  10. I would want all leaders, men and women, practically trained and prepared for ministry within the church.  Never divorcing, learning from action.
  11. I would remove those things that look like performance and/or education e.g. stages, rows, spectatorism, classes, lectures.
  12. For priorities I would have disciple making as #1.
  13. I would focus on the kingdom more than the church.
  14. I would place being like Christ #1; participating in His mission #2, and the growth and operation of the church #3.  The endless brothers meetings would be low priority.
  15. Leaders would be doers and shepherds of people - a function not a title to sit around and make decisions for others.
  16. I would measure the important stuff - baptisms, disciples, those receiving a cup of cold water.

By Rich Correll

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