Archive for the ‘Roman Catholic Church’ Tag

Christians in the 21st Century   3 comments

Jesus told Christians to be “in the world, but not of it” and historically, Biblical Christians have exemplified that command. In the 1st century, that caused the Jews to want to kill Christians for disobeying their laws. Rome killed many Christians for refusing to fall in line with neighbors. As the centuries wore on, Christians walked (sometimes singing) into arenas around the Empire to be torn to pieces by wild animals for the entertainment of others. Some people think Christians gave that up when Rome recognized Christianity and then when the Roman Catholic Church became the defacto ruler of the European continent. That’s not exactly true. From time to time, the Roman Catholic Church would rule this or that group “heretics” for refusing to follow the edicts of the “Church”. Some of these groups may well have been heretics as the Bible describes heresy, but many others were simply Bible believing Christians who refused to disobey God in order to obey the Holy Roman Empire.

Today, Christians live in tension between the demands of the world in which they live and the demands of Christian discipleship. I want to examine the point at which obedience to God and obedience to government clash. I hope to offer a method of dealing with the conflict.

In the United States we take it as a matter of course that a good citizen is one who calls the government to account for its actions … unless we agree with those actions and then the person is a terrorist, right?

Christians have been taught that we are to obey the government and that doing so, shows respect for God. When Becky Akers and I were doing our series, we showed that the most relied upon Biblical passage for this (Romans 8) has been misinterpreted for many centuries. That misinterpretation probably grew out of the unholy alliance of church and state that was the Holy Roman Empire, but it also served every denomination that sought to entangle church and state — the Anglican/Episcopalian, the Methodist, the Presbyterian, the Lutheran … all have a history of this.

Notice that I left out one of the largest pan-denominations in the United States — the Baptists. Historically, Baptists come out of the anabaptist tradition and anabaptists have a long history of preaching separation of church and state. That might surprise some people who see men like Mike Huckabee running for president. I don’t really know Huckabee and don’t support him for president, although I doubt seriously that he could do a worse job than the current occupant of the Oval Office or his presumptive successor. That’s not my point in this discussion at all. My point is “What is the role of the Biblical Christian in the 21st Century.”

For me, that starts with examining my spiritual roots and then moves onto what should Christians be doing about our government — if anything — in these trying times. And along the way, we’re going to have some visits from Becky Akers once more.

Yes, because I think anarchists have a lot to teach us Christians about our role in the world. Why? Because anarchism owes some of its existence to anabaptists.

You didn’t know that?

Authorizing Murder   Leave a comment

President Obama delivers remarks during the National Prayer Breakfast, Feb. 5, 2015President Obama never misses an opportunity to bash Christianity.

He used the National Prayer Breakfast to invoke the historical events of the Crusades and the Inquisition.

For the record, the Crusades were conducted by the Roman Catholic Church almost 1000-years-ago in response to Islamic aggression against historically Christian territories, including the southern peninsula of Italy, what is now the Balkan states and Constantinople, the seat of the Orthodox Christian Church. I am far from an apologist for the Roman Catholic Church, but I suspect had it not taken action when it did, we’d all be Muslim today — which matters to those of us who believe in Jesus Christ and should matter to atheists and secularists since Islam generally disapproves of Christians, Jews and atheists.

The Inquisition, Mr. Obama may not realize, was actually more about the Roman Catholic Church ridding its territory of protestant Christians (yes, the little “p” is used intentionally) than it was about Muslims on the Iberian Peninsula. These protestant Christians were people like me who hold our faith in Jesus Christ above our allegiance to an ecclesiastic body. The so-called Spanish Inquisition was a very small, government operation that grew out of the larger Church inquisition.

So, maybe Mr. Obama should at least get his facts straight. “Christians” in general did not conduct the Crusades. Roman Catholicism in association with European nobility conducted the Crusades. I suspect many protestants stayed quietly in their villages and weren’t involved at all. “Christians” in general did not conduct the Inquisition. Roman Catholicism in association with European nobility conducted the Inquisition and it was largely conducted against Christians deemed “heretics” for not following the Church dogmas.

And both of these events happened before the Reformation, which allowed Biblical Christianity to find its own voice and resulted in a deep re-evaluation of itself by the Roman Catholic Church. No Western Christian alive today has ever waged religious war. Unfortunately, some Muslims have … which is not to say that has anything to do with the Muslims who haven’t. That’s exactly my point. Stop trying to hold each other accountable for the actions of others that they cannot control and stop trying to get retribution for things that happened hundreds of years ago. It doesn’t solve anything. This generation cannot go back and change history and so are not responsible for what happened back then. The history is good to know, but ultimately not relevant to our current circumstances. Let’s concentrate on current events ….

While we’re talking about current events …

Authorized any drone drops lately, Mr. President?

 

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly   Leave a comment

This evening I had a conversation with an acquaintance about Christmas and decorations. This person is a fundamentalist Christian, very devout and she doesn’t believe in Christmas — or at least not the way we celebrate Christmas.

Christmas, she says, is a pagan holiday (Saturnalia) co-opted into the Roman Catholic Church for the purposes of sanctifying a holiday pagan converts didn’t want to give up.

Evergreens are giving worship to Woden (Odin), who is what Santa Claus is based on and ….

STOP!

Christianity is a faith, not a culture. Christians can come from many parts of the world and from many cultures and while we all believe the same core beliefs – Jesus Christ crucified for our sins, risen on the third day, salvation by faith – we do not enter into the same culture. My friends Sonny and Patience, South African Baptists, express their faith within their culture in a very different way than I do.

And, that’s fine!

In Acts 15, it describes the first big controversy of the Christian churches. The church at Antioch had sent Paul and Barnabas out to preach to the Gentiles, but the Gentiles were not becoming Jewish, but were rather remaining Gentiles. Some “judaizers” objected and Paul went to Jerusalem where the leaders held a council to decide the matter. What they comes up with was the Gentiles did not have to keep the Jewish law to become Christians. They didn’t have submit to circumcision, the dietary habits, the feasts and festivals … none of that. They could remain Gentiles by culture and still be Christians by faith.

There’s no doubt that some syncretism crept into the Roman Catholic Church following its establishment at the Council of Nicea, but we need to be careful about disallowing cultural expressions by Christians. If we insist that we root out all syncretism, we will soon find ourselves worshipping just like the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem, circa 49 AD.

That’s fine if you’re a Jewish Christian, but if you’re a Gentile, it’s casting aside your culture in an effort to adopt a system that you hope will please God more than what you’re doing.

Evergreens look and smell lovely wonderful in the closed up December homes in Alaska. Does it really matter when I celebrate Jesus’ birthday. I could celebrate it in September, but I’d do it alone. And are we sure that fixing the date in September isn’t just an attempt by judaizers to get us to celebrate Rosh Hoshana (Day of Atonement)? Santa was never a big part of our family life, but yes, I’m going to celebrate Christmas by putting up a tree and hanging greens. I don’t worship these things anymore than I worship the autumn leaf arrangement I set out at Thanksgiving or the pussy willows I bring in in the spring. I do these things with regularity to make my home inviting and seasonal. I am not worshiping Odin or anyone else when I do them.

I’ve come to the conclusion that people who freak out over things like this are not very secure in their faith. Else, they’re in some way ashamed of their culture. They are modern day judaizers, confusing culture with Christ and expecting their fellow Christians to validate their confusion by following along.

Enough!

If you don’t want to celebrate Christmas, don’t! And certainly, if you see me bowing down before the Christmas tree or Santa, call me on it. But if I bring greens into my house in the winter, consider that I may just like the scent and the color and you are the weak brother freaking out over the temple meat.

Not-So Holy Roman Empire   1 comment

I’m not sure we can truly appreciate how the world worked in the Medieval era because we here in the United States are so used to the concept of self-governance and separation of church and state.

The Roman Empire had provided unity of most of western Europe. With the inclusion of Christianity as the exclusive religion of the Empire, it could dictate to the daily behaviors of European peasants. When the Empire went away, it became unsafe to travel the roads, cities became disease-ridden (because sewers want maintenance) and trade became very difficult beyond a few miles from any village. People craved the sense of unity that the Roman Empire had engendered and the concept of hierarchial political organization that called for one ultimate head over all existing states.

The Holy Roman Empire was an attempt to reacquire those ideals. It never completely worked. France and England, for example, never acknowledged any  real subordination to the emperor, although they recognized a vague supremacy in him. The German kings, once elected by the German princes, considered themselves entitled to become Roman emperor as soon as they could arrange the coronation, which was supposed to be done at the hands of the Pope. Whoever the ruler was, he considered the imperial title to establish his right to control Italy and Burgundy as well as Germany because of their potential source of power, wealth and prestige. The Empire’s vast size and diversity of population were serious obstacles to effective rule and good government.

Thus, the Roman Catholic Church was essential in solidifying secular control. Churchmen crowned the emperors, so actually sustained the Empire, considering it to be the Church’s secular arm, sharing responsibility for the welfare and spread of Roman Christianity and duty-bound to protect the Papacy. That’s how it worked in principle. However, the partnership seldom worked smoothly as one side of the other would try to dominate the other. There were frequent fluctuations in power and changes in the prevailing political and theological theories that various rulers and churchmen adopted.

From AD 962 to 1250, the Empire was dominated by strong emperors of the Saxon, Franconian, and Hohenstaufen dynasties, who were powerful enough to depose Popes they though to be unsatisfactory. They generally governed through existing officials such as counts and bishops rather than creating a direct administrative system. This made the Roman Catholic Church central to the needs of the state because the Church recorded births, coming of age (confirmation), marriages, and deaths. If a ruler needed a list of who was living in a particular area, say for an effective military levee, he had only to ask the Church for that information. As everyone who wanted to get into heaven was required to submit to Church dogmas like infant baptism and marriage rites, the peasants lined up for a virtual census, unaware that they were being tracked by the medieval equivalent of the NSA.

By cleverly entangling church with government, the Holy Roman Empire left people with little recourse. Romans 13 said Christians must obey. That the government sometimes asked you to do immoral things had been a good reason for early Christians to say “no”, but when the government was also the Church ….

Believers were between a rock and a hard place and every way they turned, there was no choice in the matter … unless they knew the Bible. Ah, yes, but so few did.

Really Early “Protestants”   Leave a comment

The early Christians relied on direct witnesses to the events in Jerusalem surrounding the birth, ministry, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All of the writers of the New Testament either knew Jesus or knew someone who knew Jesus well. Even Paul qualified, since he met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. In one of his letters, he told people who had doubts about the resurrection of Jesus to go talk to some of the witnesses, who were well-known in the 1st century Christian community. Although there were believers who apparently doubted Paul’s authority, Peter did not and affirmed that authority in his own letters. Christians considered direct witness to be the best determination of what was truly “Christian”.

When the apostles began to die out, those who had known the apostles personally were seen as the best witnesses to their teachings. The New Testament as we know it was not widely available, though textual critics believe there was a codex in circulation with most of the books we’re familiar with by AD 160.

We know from Paul and John’s writings in the New Testament that there were heresies about in the early church. The earliest heresy was the Judiazers, who believed that Gentiles must hold to the Jewish dietary and cultural laws in order to be Christians. This was settled by the Jerusalem Council in AD 49, but it was by no means dead, prompting Paul to write the letter to the churches of Galatia.

Some groups deemed “heretics” by the Roman Catholic Church may well have been neo-protestants, but there were some whose beliefs were clearly nothing like what the New Testament Christians believed.

The largest heresy was the Gnostics – who believed that flesh was evil and spirit was good, so the god who created the earth was also seen as evil. But Jesus was the spiritual being who brought salvation, so he could not be the son of the God  of the Old Testament, but somehow was indwelt by a higher power. Docetism and Marcionism developed from that dualism. Jesus could not be thought of as truly a man. He just appeared as a man, but the highest good could not truly be united with sinful matter. Therefore, he didn’t die and was not buried. The Christ spirit must have left the man Jesus before his death or the death was simply a shame. There was a “good” God as well, but he didn’t create the world, but sent Jesus to liberate us from our bondage to matter.

The Gnostics were true heretics and the apostle John seemed to have been dealing with proto-Gnostics in his epistles from Ephesus.

Maybe in reaction to Gnosticism, the Monarchists held that God was God, but Jesus was a man indwelt by God’s spirit. Like the Gnostics, this heresy had several derivations that are sometimes viewed as separate heresies – modalism(Sabellianism), and unitarianism. Yes, there were and remain heresies and some still exist today.

In contrast, the Montanists may have been the first protestant movement. As the catholic church became more regimented, there arose in Phrygia (Asia Minor) a group that emphasized new revelation and condemned the orthodox church as lax and cerebral. Tertullian (my favorite of the Patristic writers) became a Montanist possibly because of his opposition to the church at Rome extending its authority beyond the environs of the city of Rome. Tertullian was a powerful defender of the faith and his writings align with what I know of the New Testament, so I have a hard time naming him a heretic.

Hippolytus was a presbyter (lay-leader) of the church at Rome who attacked the bishop Zephyrinus as a modalist (believing in the compartmentalizing of God). He later accused Zephyrinus’ Callstus of extending absolution to adulterers. He formed a second church at Rome. Eventually he was sent to the Roman mines along with the current bishop of Rome, Pontian. They reconciled and were martyred together. Were they heretics or simply men of conscience who had the audacity to stand up against the authorities of the church?

Cyprian was Bishop of Carthage who, following a severe persecution under emperor Decius, conflicted with the “confessors” who were readmitting the “lapsed” into the church. These were folks who had denied Christ under persecution. This was (and continues to be) considered an unpardonable sin, though Baptists (my own polity) accept that a non-Christian can deny Christ and letter accept Christ as savior and be pardoned. Cyprian’s win really ushered in the Roman Catholic view for the future. Was he a heretic? Were the “confessors” the heretics? I’ll note that Cyprian, born to a rich pagan family, became a bishop within months of converting to Christianity (AD 249), making me think it was a political move, but I don’t know the man’s heart.

Novatian and Cornelius got into a fight over which of them was the bishop of Rome (AD 251). Following a time of persecution, Novatian denied readmittance of those who had denied their faith. He and his “confessors” broke the church of Rome in two and induced Cyprian to write “On the Unity of the Catholic Church”, from which came many of the ideas of traditional Roman Catholicism such as no salvation exists outside the Church. The Novatian “kathari” withdrew from the “catholic” system, rebaptized their followers and refused to submit to what they considered to be a corrupted Church. Were they heretics or just standing on principle?

My point here is show that there were divisions already happening in the Christian church before the rise of the Roman Catholic Church. The early church dealt with it by examining the doctrine of these “heretics” and showing where they did not match with what the apostles were teaching. Where the Church went astray, I believe, is when it began to name as heretic anyone who called out immorality among church men or drift from New Testament beliefs. The insistence that the Roman Catholic Church, no matter how far it drifted from New Testament teachings, was the sole door to heaven was bound to — someday — lead to problems.

Cracks in the Monolith   1 comment

Christianity underwent a metamorphosis when it became the exclusive religion of the Roman Empire. Jesus had told Christians that they would be outcasts in society as a result of their beliefs and for the first three centuries they were.  Then Theodosius made Christianity the exclusive religion of the Roman Empire and all that changed. Not too long later, the Roman Catholic Church became the acknowledged “gate to heaven” and the kings it crowned were considered divinely appointed.

We are usually taught in our history classes that the Roman Catholic Church ruled unchallenged for 1500 years until Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation. This is not exactly true.

While the Roman Catholic Church was the state religion of almost every kingdom of Europe during that time, there is ample historical evidence for evangelical outbreaks in medieval times. Leonard Verduin’s book “The Reformers and their Stepchildren” suggests a continuous line of underground believers that is interesting, but not really proven. If you step away from the concept of apostolic succession and remember that Christianity was originally based on the individual believer accepting Jesus Christ and acting upon that transformation, protestant groups look a whole lot less like heretics and a whole lot more like true believers who didn’t agree with the Roman Catholic Church.

It’s likely that the churches before Nicea contained congregations that were not integrated into the Roman scheme of things. We know that some of the Patristic Fathers complained about how the church at Rome was overstepping its authority. It’s entirely possible that there were congregations which understood truths not validated by the Roman church. Unfortunately, most of what we know about these “heretics” is what the Roman Catholic Church said about them.

They were called many terms of abuse — anabaptists (rebaptizers), enthusiasts (for their supposed lack of sensible thought), Cathars (referencing an older more gnostic heresy), revolutionaries, donatists (another reference to ancient “heresy”). They were said to deny baptism, the Eucharist and the authority of the priesthood and some were accused of fomenting revolution.

Clearly these were groups who did not think that Romans 13 required them to be obedient to the authorities.

Divine Right of Kings   1 comment

Ancient kings discovered it was a lot easier to keep their subjects in line if the subjects thought of them as gods. Thus the Egyptian pharaohs moved from the ceremonial title “son of Ra” to being gods themselves. Caesar Augustus claimed to be descended from Aeneas, son of the goddess Aphrodite, but after he died, the Roman Senate declared him to be a god. Two generations later the Caesars (even when not related to Augustus) were being worshipped in many parts of the Roman Empire.

When the Roman Empire appropriated Christianity as its exclusive religion, all the pagan god-king rhetoric had to be set aside. I suspect Theodosius didn’t think ahead on that. What did he know of the Bible, actually? Deuteronomy 17:15 made clear that human government is a cooperative process between God and His believers:

“When you come to the land the Lord God is giving you and take it over and live in it and then say, ‘I will select a king like all the nations surrounding me,’ you must select (absolutely) without fail a king whom the Lord your God chooses. From among your fellow citizens you must appoint a king ….”

Well, that obviously wasn’t going to work in a dictatorship, so it’s a good thing the Bible wasn’t in wide circulation. In less than a generation, Rome would collapse anyway, leaving the whole God-king-citizen issue for others to sort out.

During the early Dark Ages there was no real government besides the Roman Catholic Church. The popes could (dubiously) claim to be God’s voice upon the earth using the specter of apostolic succession, but as the nobility rose to rule, the Church needed to provide legitimacy to these rulers as well. Thus, they created the  doctrine of the divine right of kings.

Christianity rejected any concept of men who are gods. There is nothing above God and placing any human equal to God is idolatry. So “Christian” kings couldn’t claim they were gods, but they could use the Church to advance the idea that the kings were authorized by God to rule.

The subversion of Scripture was easy. Most people couldn’t read. Even the priests themselves often could not read. They read portions of the Scripture to the congregation, but selective readings allow them to ignore parts like Deuteronomy 17:15. And, in the translation of Romans 13 from Greek to Roman, they changed the emphasis of the word “submit” from a voluntary act of cooperation to a requirement commanded by God.

Under the Holy Roman Empire, the divine right of kings created two heads of state working in harmony for the maintenance of peace and ordered conduct among Christians. Christ was seen as the ultimate King and Pope and kings were His vice-regents. Using Romans 13, the Church – which decided the disposition of men’s souls – put its priests between man and God in matters of faith and put the king between man and God in matters of state and they backed one another up if ever there was a conflict of conscience.

If people objected to some abuse by their government, they were told that Romans 13 said they must submit to the government because the king is God’s representative and good Christians are supposed to submit to God. Similarly, the Roman Catholic Church put forth that believers could not question the dogmas of the Church because the Pope and his priests are the representatives of God on earth and good Christians are supposed to submit to God in all circumstances.

Nobody questions you because to do so is a matter of faith and the pope, the king’s brother, holds the keys to heaven and if you really believe God wants you to obey Him ….

Nice deal, huh? And, it worked … for a while.

Ending Individualism   Leave a comment

Individualism is a danger for large governments that require conformity and docility. When Constantine made his political calculation that faithful Christianity legalized could provide stability to the Roman Empire, he apparently didn’t foresee a future where his successor thought nominal Christianity could provide conformity throughout the Empire.

By requiring everyone to become Christian so as to partake of the benefits of the empire, Theodosius failed to grasp the history of Christianity. Christian conversion is individual. We stand before God alone, without father or mother, country or culture. God forgives our individual sins, not our group sins.

Theodosius linked the Roman Empire to the “catholic” (or universal) church and required it to be something God had never intended it to be — an all-encompassing arbitrator of men’s souls. Instead of faith in God, the Roman Catholic Church now offered membership in the Roman Empire. When Rome fell, the Roman Catholic Church was really the only authority left in Western Europe while the individual kingdoms sorted themselves out. The Church had to bring order to society.

And it did … by means of teaching Christians that being obedient was God-ordained. Good Christians didn’t question the authorities, didn’t assert their individuality or rebel against cruel or inhumane governments.

And, thus the Roman Catholic Church, comprised by this time of the younger brothers of nobility, created the divine right of kings and the idolatry of government worship.

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