In the previous post I discussed the mentality of one’s showing total dedication to Jesus by being willing, almost seeking, martyrdom. After all if Jesus was willing to die for His followers they should be honored to sacrifice themselves for Him. But the question comes up, ‘what happens when the Roman persecutions stop??’ ‘What am I supposed to DO to show Jesus I love him??’ In some sense it was easy during the Roman persecutions. True, it was difficult to have someone you love tortured, but it was easy to know who loved Jesus and who did not. At least one could suppose that the martyr is one who truly loved Jesus and proved it by his/her allegiance. Since the old way ‘to show commitment to my Savior’ is gone, what is one to do.
Due to many factors, however, the persecutions from the Roman Empire ceased with the Edict of Milan in AD 313. The Emperor Constantine had become primary emperor and was sympathetic to the Christians (some scholars claim Constantine became a Christian only on his death bed, but he still had Christian sympathies no matter what the reason and timing) so he decided in AD 313 to pass a Roman law allowing Christians to worship without persecution. Thus the honor of sacrificing one’s self for their savior was gone. So the followers had to redefine what allegiance to Jesus truly means, and how do you show that?
Well, in the mid 200’s AD a man named Anthony became convinced of the best way to show fidelity to Jesus was to sell everything he owned (he was quite wealthy), move to a cave in the desert (in Egypt), and wrestle with his personal spiritual struggles solo. He convinced himself and others of the difficulty in staying in proximity to others (for they are not only sinful, but they bring much temptation), and thus truly dedicated followers of Jesus should leave all civilization behind and move out into a cave for isolation. This way the distractions of the world are left behind, giving more opportunity for defeating one’s personal ‘demons’. Thus the Christian Monastic movement began. Many, many people followed Anthony’s example and moved to caves (and later monasteries) to attempt a perfect, holy life. This movement, however foreign to many of us, continues to this day. There are individuals every year that sell all belongings and move to a monastery for peace and tranquility.
So far we have 2 ways seen in history of how to show dedication to Jesus: 1. Martyrdom (during the Roman persecutions); and 2. Monasticism (living by yourself to wrestle with your personal spiritual struggles). I will tell some what happened next in the following post.
Christianity began in Jerusalem, Israel under the rulership of the Roman Empire. In Christianity’s infancy it was seen by the Romans as an offshoot or sect of Judaism. Because the Jewish people were given certain privileges, Christianity was given them also. It did not take the Roman rulers long, however, to see that there was a huge difference between Judaism and Christianity. So Rome demanded the Christians follow all the rules and regulations, including those pertaining to worship of gods. The Jews were allowed to not worship the Roman gods, but the Christians were required to worship them. The early Christians were as dedicated to worship of ONLY their God as the Jews were. So they (Christians) were seen as ‘pagan’ by the Romans due to their refusal to worship the Roman gods. They were branded as ‘trouble makers’.
The early followers of Jesus were also seen as cannibals and incestuous. They were called cannibals because they met secretly, at night, and part of their ceremony entailed them partaking of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist) in which they quoted Jesus who told them ‘eat my body, and drink my blood’. So as time went on they were rumored to be participating in eating a person’s body and drinking his blood, thus they were labeled cannibals. Part of their ceremony consisted also of a feast or meal that they called a ‘love feast’. The men and women participated in a ‘love feast’ and called each other brother and sister, so it was rumored they were having sexual relations with their siblings, thus incestuous.
The point is the early Christians were seen as deviants who hated the Roman Empire and refused to follow some of the important laws. They were incestuous, cannibalistic insurrectionists. So the Roman rulers began to persecute or try to force the Christians to follow the rules. Again, the Romans required worship of the Roman gods, but the Christians refused, so they were imprisoned for their rebellion. It became commonplace for one to be persecuted or know those who were persecuted for their faith. Some of the persecutions from the Roman emperors were empire wide yet most were regional and sporadic. Some of the empire wide persecutions were very severe.
So, since it was common for the followers of Jesus to be arrested and killed for their beliefs, there came a somewhat common notion of Christians having the mentality of wanting to die for Jesus. Many believers saw it as a badge of honor to be imprisoned and potentially lose their life for Jesus. Their reasoning was if Jesus was willing to die for them, then they should be willing to die for their savior.
To sum up all this is to say that one of the first ways of showing dedication to Jesus was to almost seek martyrdom (being persecuted or killed for your faith). In our discussion of how Christians show true devotion to Jesus, one early mindset and worldview was to be willing to die for their savior.
As I have studied the history of Christianity, there are 2 major themes that can be seen as changing from era to era. The first one will be addressed today, the others in following posts. Actually, I will give the bare bones list of them and address them one at a time in following postings. These 2 themes can be summed up by 2 questions: ‘How does one express himself/herself in devotion to God?’ and ‘What is the thing or person from which you get your theological authority?’ It is a feature of all religions to determine the requirements of the particular deity for acceptance. All people ask, ‘What do I need to do to please my god?’ So all Christians ask ‘What does it mean to be totally devoted to God?’ in other words ‘How does one express himself/herself in devotion to God?’ Even though it can be said at all times true discipleship means to do what Jesus teaches, but this manifests itself in various ways at different time periods. So I have noted many of these and boiled them down to a few key terms and times. These key ideas are, in this order (chronologically): Martyrdom, Monasticism, Crusades, Scholasticism, and Piety. Each will be addressed later in more detail.
I believe Jesus came to earth as the God/man ‘to seek and to save that which was lost’. Jesus may not have initially emphasized starting the Church, but I believe God’s plan throughout history was to have particular people through whom He would bless all nations. In the beginning God chose Abraham and his seed from all the nations of the earth to be His chosen people. After Jesus came things changed or they were tweaked when the Holy Spirit established the Church in Acts 2. Those chosen to do the work of God would now not be limited to a particular ethnic group but followers would be from all languages, tongues, nations, and people. So I believe the Church started at the celebration of Pentecost in Jerusalem 50 days after Jesus’ crucifixion. The book of Acts gives us an account of the birth and growth of the early followers of Jesus.
My intention in this blog is to answer the question, ‘Since Jesus is gone and the Apostles are dead, what do the followers of Jesus do now?’ This includes the main people, events, movements, heretics, and theology.
I honestly get it. Many people DO NOT like to study Church History. Hopefully it falls under the same category as mathematics or science or art. By that I mean all people have subjects that do not interest them. So I understand that this blog is not for everyone, but this is more for me to put down my thoughts, not necessarily for a lot of people to read.
So I use the term ‘Church History’ to write about the history and theology of Christianity. Many people cringe when one uses the term ‘Church History’. It scares them away from any discussion about events and topics of Christianity. So as I was listening to a podcast discussing Church History, a college professor and author said that he uses the term ‘Church Family’ because of the other term scaring people away. I have been pondering this for a while and am contemplating using a different terminology. When I taught High School Bible the department head preferred the term ‘Development of the Church’ because of his thinking that ‘Church History’ had too much baggage with it.
I have not decided yet on the term I will use. I have considered using ‘Development of the Church’ but am not sure about that. I have also considered ‘History of the Christian Community’, but this seems too wordy. Some other ideas are: ‘Covenant Community History’ and ‘Christian History’ or Historical Theology’. None of them seem to fit the idea I want to portray, so I will be using ‘Church History’ until I decide on a better term. I will probably use several of them for a while and see how they roll off my tongue.
The main thing is to discuss something that interests me, while not scaring off people who may be intrigued by the topics.
Another reason to study Church History is to combat theological errors or heresies. I all ready wrote about learning from the errors of others, but I was mostly thinking at that time about errors of those who would be considered orthodox or accurate in their theology. We can also, however, learn from those who have been labeled heretics in order to better understand our own theology.
Ever since there has been good or correct theology there has been bad or incorrect theology. Much of it stems from attempting to understand the deep things of an infinite God in our finite minds. We need to attempt to understand God as best we can, realizing that none of those concepts will be understood exhaustively. It is our responsibility to do the best we can at understanding all we can about God.
When discussing the topic of preparing ourselves as Christians to combat bad theology, I use the example of some assertions made by Dan Brown in his book The Da Vinci Code. In this book the main character, Robert Langdon, has a discussion about the Council of Nicaea which was held in AD 325. The assertion is made that Emperor Constantine threw out all parts of the Bible that denied Jesus’ claim of divinity, claiming that the Apostles never believed in Jesus’ deity. They knew he was not God but Constantine was trying to unite the Empire to force the idea of the divinity of Jesus on the people. Langdon was told that Jesus never claimed to be God nor did the disciples think he was God, but Constantine desperately wanted to unite the Roman Empire and he thought keeping the documents that express Jesus deity would help in this unification. The point is stating that Constantine manipulated the choosing of certain books to be put in the Christian Bible in order to further his political agenda. In other words, the Christians did not believe Jesus was God up to this point in time, but Constantine forced them to choose certain books to push his agenda. This WILD assertion was widely accepted by the American people (including Christians) who read The Da Vinci Code as historical fact, when in reality the Council of Nicaea had NOTHING to do with canonization of scripture. My point is had readers of this popular book known their Church History they would not have been deceived by this wild idea.
We need to study Church History in order to combat bad theology we read and listen to in or our contemporary culture. There is nothing new under the sun, and most (if not all) the bad theology that comes up in our day has already been dealt with.
So go out and study Church History, learn to combat bad theology.
When asked, ‘ why do we need to study Church History?’ many people say we study to learn from others mistakes (this has been addressed in previous posts). But I want to assert that I think we need to study Church History to learn from others successes.
Most of you have heard the term ‘we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone on before us’. Well this is certainly true (and possibly more so than many other examples) when speaking of the great men and women in the church. We can (and should) learn so much from their achievements. I am convinced the only reason we have answers to extremely difficult theological issues is because many wrestled (both intellectually and sometimes even physically) with the various opinions until they were able to come to an orthodox (read biblical) view.
When one is questioned about the exact way to express the Triune God in succinct terms, we can answer ‘3 persons, 1 essence’ because of thinkers like the Cappadocian Fathers (Basil, Gregory, and Gregory), and Athanasius (who spoke against Arius and his theology. These people did not see it as acceptable to ‘sort of’ understand the trinity, but to wrestle and fight and argue with many others about how exactly to express the concept in fully biblical terms.
To sum up, we learn from other’s mistakes but we can learn infinitely more from their successes.