Wednesday, May 29, 2013

History Ain't Pretty

Dear Friends,

How on earth did we get from the first century church service to what our services look like today? From those first organic lay-led services to the pageantry, brightly-colored vestments, glitter of the formal liturgical church and the sensory-driven concert style of some mega-churches with a celebrity pastor giving a brief motivational talk? Let’s see how our church service evolved:

As the church became structured and organized, the simple, first century service that our fictitious Jacob and Chloe worshiped in was soon to be changed. Many of us would call this the decline of the church.

The first stage of decline was to sup-press the spiritual gifts of the laity and teach that the Holy Spirit gave spiritual gifts only to the ordained. In the early church, bishops and elders (presbyters) had been equals, and in the second stage of decline, bishops were elevated above all others. The third stage of decline was to give bishops the status of high priest who now had spiritual power over the laity. By then the church had efficiently demolished the Apostle Peter’s “priesthood of all believers.”

The church had effectively kicked the teachings of the apostles to the curb and reorganized itself to once again resemble the Old Testament hierarchy. Like the “high priest,” the bishop now determined if ones sins were forgiven or retained.

The once persecuted Christian church became the state church in 388 A.D. and was now deeply inter-twined with politics. Bishops and ordained priests were often political appointments and many had no previous church experience. Formal liturgy was developed to give them a script to read in the services. While there is no historical evidence for  “apostolic succession,” that doctrine was created to justify the spiritual authority of the bishops.

Pharisutical rules were now in place requiring that a Christian had to have recently confessed his sins to a priest and received absolution before he could take communion. Many took communion only once a year or not at all. The Eucharist service had evolved from a celebration of Christ in the company of believers to a priest often taking communion alone.

The Roman Church now became focused on amassing great wealth and while the Apostle’s teaching of giving generously had been followed throughout the New Testament church, voluntary giving was no longer deemed to be sufficient. In 585 A.D. a regional church council reestablished the Old Testament practice of tithing and a decree to excommunicate those who didn't tithe. This decree was soon made church law by the Roman church who additionally refused to administer last rites if it had not been given wealth or land in the will of the dying. If our Jacob Bar-Jonah and Chloe saw what their church had evolved into, they would have been truly heart-broken. I’m sure Jesus was.

The effort of Martin Luther and others to reform the church back to the earliest days didn't work. Some of the Roman Church doctrine was stripped away but the new Protestant church was still a long way from the organic church of the first century.

What is your reaction to the history of the Christian church? Did the church evolve to the glory of God or the glory of man? Now, think about the different church traditions today – what the interior spaces look like... the liturgy... the pageantry... the music... the fellowship. And then compare our Christian traditions today with the ancient New Testament church. Has the church been “reformed” enough  or should the church continue to reform ourselves back to the ancient church? What do you think?