2007-12-23

Christian history in a nutshell?

Recently on a discussion board I came across this quote which is both inaccurate and annoying:

"Christianity began as a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. When it went to Athens, it became a philosophy. When it went to Rome, it became an organization. When it went to Europe, it became a culture. When it came to America, it became a business."

I know this quote is posted up all over the internet. It is an attempt to sum up Christian history in a very convenient, very protestant, very individualistic nutshell. Hopefully this blog will be read by someone to put this lie to rest:

1. "Personal" in our culture means "my very own, depending on no other". The Bible knows NOTHING of a "personal relationship" with Christ. True, we have a RELATIONSHIP with Christ, but it is always a family relationship: Never alone in an un-attached, individualistic Christianity. We depend on the entire Church, filled with God's Holy Spirit, to nourish and grow us in Christ. An un-attached Christian is a spiritually dead Christian, because to LOVE God means to LOVE His family (cf. 1John 4).

2. Christianity NEVER became a philosophy. We are called to Love God with all our heart, strength, and MIND (cf. Mat 22.37-40). Loving God with our MIND means developing a comprehensive worldview that is Christ-centered. To do that, Christians of all ages- from the Greek Apologists of the 2nd century to American Theologians of the 21st century- have used the terminology of the best thinking available. Sometimes that thinking is called "philosophy", sometimes it is "science", and sometimes it is called "wisdom". Paul used Greek philosophy to communicate the Gospel in Acts 17. We simply HAVE to express our Christian worldview in some type of language, unless we are going to limit our entire vocabulary to Biblical Greek and Hebrew.

3. The Church was ALWAYS organized as a family system. Jesus appointed Apostles to lead as fathers (and mothers!) in the faith. The Apostles appointed bishops to oversee, ordain, and teach (cf. Titus, Timothy). By 107 AD Bishop Ignatius of Antioch said "Where the bishop is, there the Church gathers". There is no such thing as a non-organized individualistic Christianity. The Church has always had "patriarchs" (in our overseers and bishops), "fathers" and "mothers" (in our elders and priests), and "elder siblings" (in our deacons and ministers). There is no such thing as a leaderless Church.

4. The only part that is true is that in America selling God became a business. And God is only able to be sold because we have deconstructed the Church, and individualized the faith, so that you can sell people ANYTHING in God's name! People who are not aware of their past are doomed to repeat it. A nice, neat way to get people to repeat their past is to simply not teach it, or teach it as clich├ęs which deny, delete, and distort the facts.

The fact is that by the Apostolic era, the faith had definitely reached from the Middle East to Rome (just read Acts!). If you believe there is substance to early Church history (as I do) it is more probable that Christianity reached from Spain to India to China to Africa by the time the last apostle died. As it went, the apostles (and the bishops they appointed) communicated the Gospel in the languages and "philosophical constructs" of the societies they went to. Everywhere they went, they formed Christian COMMUNITIES- families of faith- in which Christians were nurtured.

So, by the end of the apostolic era you find a Church that is NOT merely "personal" but a family; NOT disorganized and autonomous, but organized as a family system; NOT reduced simply to a philosophy, but communicating the Gospel using philosophy.

Perhaps the quote should be this instead:

"In America, Christianity has become big business. To do that, the Church has allowed people to lapse into religion without history, faith without substance, and piety without community. We have substituted Love with convenience, discipleship with entertainment, and service with consumption. The result is a Christian who is perfectly suited to be sold anything in the name of God, because they think Christ only exists to serve them with blessings in this life, and heaven in the hereafter."

Yes, I my quote much better.
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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.