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A CHRISTIAN HISTORY


The Formation of the Church The Formation of the Church

After the initial shock of the Crucifixion,
the disciples of Christ hid in fear of suffering a similar fate,
but were revived, by the inspiration of the women in their midst,
for the message of Christ did not need to die with him.

Christians were then left to live-out the message of Jesus,
His teaching would have been passed by word of mouth
and, no doubt, embellished by stories of the teacher.

There was time for a multitude of legends to be acquired.
The Gospel stories were written down many years later.

Paul sent his letters some twenty years after Christ's death.
These largely ignored the actual message of Jesus
to promote his place in the heavenly pantheon
and his spiritual significance.

The later Gospel accounts thus absorbed both Pauline ideas
and the memories of those who saw Jesus in the flesh,
along with the accumulated myths and legends
of the embryo Christian communities.

It must seem likely that the teaching of those early disciples
mirrored the message of the Nazareth Manifesto of Jesus
and thus of Jeremiah and Micah and Isaiah and Amos,
about God's care for the underprivileged and
thus Jesus's criteria for God's Kingdom
Where
There is mutuality of Love, Care, Respect and Possessions.
There is equality of opportunity, responsibility and position.
There is peace, for all are equal and loved.

This, surely, must have been very like the message of Jesus,
that he passed to his disciples and would have been
the foundational doctrine of the early church,Br> until extraneous influences intervened.

This was a message that would have ignited
the marginalised in its support and might even do so today,
if it were to be preached in every church of the land.
The Ancient Church The Ancient Church

The revolutionary message of Jesus threatened
to undermine the structure of Roman society,
as it would undermine our own.

It was music to the ears of the downtrodden of the Empire,
but anathema to those dependent on a structured society,
just as the tenets of communism are rejected
in the developed countries today.

Early Christianity was almost persecuted out of existence.
To survive, it had to change its approach to something
which was acceptable to the bulk of society
and to those in power.

The message of Jesus needed to be given a religious framework
and a theological setting, if it was to impact a wider public.
Thus Jesus, through the genius and influence of Paul,
became the forecast Jewish Messiah.

Jesus gained ancient lineage, a place in the religious pantheon.
The new religion consolidated aspects of a range of religions
into the basic Pharisaic doctrine of the Jewish brotherhood.

Over years of political manoeuvring, discussion and unrest
an unstructured medley of disparate groups
became consolidated into a hierarchy
of popes, bishops and priests.

It became centred on the urban centres of the Roman world,
each with its own variant of doctrine and liturgy,
each vying for earthly power.

The result, despite considerable adjustment and tinkering,
formed the basis upon which the Galilean Rabbi
became, eventually, the worshipped Son of God.

At what stage did the message of Jesus
get lost in the panoply of Empire,
absorbed by Papal pomp?

The Medieval Church The Medieval Church


  During the Middle Ages,
the Church was central in people’s lives.
It treated the sick, provided education, fed the poor
and acted as the sole realistic interface to hopes of heaven.

Church was the central hub of society.
Most people in the Middle Ages were illiterate,
so relied on the priest to read and interpret the Bible.
This gave the priesthood a huge influence over people’s lives,
which produced huge power and wealth for the church,
and huge opportunities for corruption.

Priests acted as God's representative on earth,
but were subject to all the temptations exposed
in the Gospel accounts and beyond.

The Church hierarchy reflected the social hierarchy.
The people were taught to accept their position as God-given.
This preserved the hierarchical structure of church and state.
This, people were told, is what the Bible teaches.
This is what God ordained.

The dictates of the Church were not to be questioned.
The teachings of the Church were deemed to be certain.
There was no room for doubt.
Questions were not tolerated.
Dissent led to condemnation
and often execution.

This dictatorial attitude and assumption of absolute rectitude
led to the Schism between West and the Eastern churches.

Some of those who disagreed joined alternative religious sects.
These were routinely condemned by the Church and destroyed.
Their members were massacred, and their property
confiscated, taken as Church property.

The Black Death undermined faith in the power of the church.
It could do nothing to stop people from dying of the plague,
or the plague from spreading throughout Europe.
Perhaps Covid has had a similar effect.

The Reformation The Reformation


The Reformation divide the Church into Catholic and Protestant
It was a product of wider literacy and technical advance,
as well as the need to reform a corrupted church.

It divided, yet again, the empire of the Catholic church.
A range of "religious warlords" broke away from Papal control. 
They shared a new focus (the inerrant Bible)
and a doctrine of "grace not works".

They called for the removal of many unscriptural practices,
but without any major change to the basic doctrine
of salvation through the death of Jesus Christ.
Without an fresh focus on the message of Jesus.

The Reformers argued that Christian salvation
was based on faith in Christ alone,
not on good works done in his name.

The call of the prophets for a just and equal society and
the 'Nazareth Manifesto' of Jesus was subsumed
by “easy beliefism and prevential grace”

The removal of the dead-weight of clerical control
opened the door to a new freedom in society and in thought.
New universities emerged. New discoveries were made.
There was even greater social mobility.

However there was no change to the basic premises of religion.
New self-electing and competing hierarchies were formed.
Each defined slightly different routes to eternal bliss,
whilst threatening the alternative for those
on other, divergent, pathways.

Such divisions opened the door to the formation
of the wide spread of Protestant denominations that exists today.

Each denomination has its own priestly hierarchy,
internal divisions and doctrinal peculiarities.
The Reformation provided freedom,
at the expense of church unity.

The EnlightenedChurch The Enlightened Church


In the 1800s, along with the discoveries of science,
came a critical reading of scripture
and
new skepticism toward the supernatural.

In the 1900s, liberation theology refocused the church.
Soren Kierkegaard applied existentialism to Christianity.
Paul Tillich presented God as "the ground of our being".
Rudolf Bultmann sought the meaning behind scriptural texts.
The church focused on biblical themes of justice and charity;
saw a God concerned to support the poor and marginalized.

By the early 20th century,
Christians focused more on ethics and social justice
and less on miracles and conformity to church doctrine.
The Social Gospel put into action God's mission of salvation
from the immediate and visible problems of poverty and injustice,
in all the earth.

Fundamentalists revolted!
Aghast over the decline of dogma they deemed foundational,
fundamentalists of the 20th century rejected the Social Gospel
and reacted negatively toward the growing influence of science.
In 1910, they identified the five fundamentals of faith:
1.The divine inspiration and infallibility of scripture.
2.The Virgin birth of Jesus.
3.That Christ's death was the atonement for sin.
4.The Bodily resurrection of Jesus.
5.The Historical reality of the miracles of Jesus.
These continue to be reflected in Evangelical doctrine today.

By the 1930s, modernists had won the doctrinal debate
Fundamentalists largely withdrew from mainstream Christianity.
Liberal Christians developed alternative theologies
that didn't require one to believe in miracles
and the supernatural doctrinal envelope.

The Recent Church The Recent Church


These new ideas never gained favour with the laity,
who demanded the consolation of supernatural support.
Churches continued to recite their ancient liturgies and creeds.
The Church failed to engage with a new vision of Christian life;
clung onto the doctrines and hierarchies of its past

Following the devastation that two World Wars
brought to society and to people's lives and living,
many clergy turned to Socialism and a social gospel
whilst the laity sought a more concrete faith
with firm and certain boundaries.

Thus, whilst scholars promoted Liberal ideas,
Fundamentalism captured the churches in the end.
The Cross of Christ became a symbol of religious triumph.
Evangelicalism returned through the Billy Graham crusades,
followed by Alpha, HTB and its associated power-base.
This offered certainty and secure boundaries
in an age of change after the horrors of war
and new technological advances.

Whilst a fixed doctrinal package dominated the churches,
it was rejected by many thinking and educated people;
those willing to address the concepts of faith, critically.
As a result, with an increasingly educated population,
membership in mainline churches declined,
precipitously.

Progressive Christianity arose in the late 1900s,
focusing on the biblical themes of liberation and justice,
responding to conservative Christian neglect of social ethics
and seeking to reintegrate the major biblical themes,
of social justice, into Christian belief and practice.

Sadly, this has yet to penetrate the liturgy
of mainline churches.

The 21st Century Church The 21st Century Church


Fundamentalism lives on through
the vibrant certainty of the Evangelical movement
and its dominant authority within the church hierarchy.

However, churches are progressively emptying
and their demise becomes increasingly likely,
unless a new stance can be adopted.

In the meantime, the secular world has developed ways
which mirror the teaching of the Jesus Manifesto.
The church could be seen as becoming irrelevant,
or even obstructive, to the purposes of God,
as it stumbles on in its ancient buildings
sunk in its ancient misconceptions.

Yet
Is it not in our church that we would seek divinity,
hope to find our way to a life beyond our tawdry frame,
unearth from its ancient veils the reality of eternity,
uncover the depths of creation's purpose?

Is it not in our church that we find comfort
from the enduring threat of non-being
and the possible pointlessness
of human existence?

The Church seems to have abandoned its formative heritage,
surrendered to human concerns for power and position
It has built ecclesiastical castles of medieval might,
become the very beast that Jesus challenged.

However,
though the church has strayed far from the path of Jesus
and lost both truth and adherents on the way.
We may still find that it can offer
a society which we value
a fellowship we need.

Prophetic EcoChurch Prophetic EcoChurch


The ancient prophets proclaimed their message as the very words of God,
crying out against religious ways:

  "I hate your religious feasts.  I can not stand your assemblies.
I will not accept your burnt offerings and sacrifices.
I will not listen to your songs and music,
but let justice roll like a river and
righteousness like an unending stream."
 
"He has shown you what is good, what the Lord requires of you,
to act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with your God".
 
"Blessed are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom of God.
Blessed are the hungry. They will be satisfied."
 
Today those same prophetic voices echo over our TV screens
demanding our attention to the vital failings of our world;
(threats of pollution, climate change and population shift)
yet Christians, who imagine that we listen to God's word,
continue to ignore what is clearly the message of divinity.

Thus, the deafened church,
focussed on unlikely personal salvation and unwanted worship,
has become irrelevant to the community it is called to serve,
which has realised God's word without knowing its source,
but has turned its back on a, now, irrelevant organisation.

  It was so thousands of years ago and the priests and people repented,
tore their garments, wailed and moaned, and
rethought the form and meaning of their religion.
Perhaps a repeat performance is now overdue,
if our church, our species and our world
are to be saved for future generations.

For we called Jesus our Saviour, but then ignored the message,
which would have saved us, to focus all our energy and desires
on an uncertain, and self-centred, post-mortal salvation
from the judgement of our imagined divinity.




THE END