Thursday, May 17, 2007

I read this quote today...

Says, Rodney Stark, who is largely considered to be the prevailing expert on the church during the beginning of "Christendom" (Edict of Milan - when Constantine made Christianity the official state religion - AD 313)

"Far too long, historians have accepted the claim that the conversion of the Emperor Constantine (ca. 285 - 337) caused the triumph of Christianity. To the contrary, he destroyed its most attractive and dynamic aspects, turning a high intensity, grassroots movement into an arrogant institution controlled by an elite who often managed to be both brutal and lax."

Interesting thought... (Thanks Rodney)

I feel it... I know in many ways it's true. I know in some ways our "institutions" get in the way of "movement". I pray we encourage, empower, and unleash the world around us to live the gospel.

I also bet the guy was just doing what he thought was best. Whether it was best for him or best for the Church I dont know but who knows what I would have done. I have trouble ordering at a drive through.

anyways.. just an interesting thought that could have an impact on how we view our faith.




ryanfox said...

nice quote. when i was at an old church in MD, the saying was, "What do the pillars of the church do? They hold the church up." I cease to be amazed at how we like to commericalize, brand, and set in stone our faith instead of letting it be a sincerely messy work of art.

Bernie said...

I understand the point of Stark's hyperbole, but I think it's a bit over-the-top to say that anybody could destroy Christianity's "most attractive and dynamic aspects." It seems that whether it be in a large institution or in a small grassroots effort, the attractive aspects of Christianity are things like our grace and our love for one another, etc. These are independent of the nature of the organization. It is true that when a large organization or a popular figure goes astray, it or he/she takes a lot more people with it, but this does not mean that the grassroots level of activity is somehow inherently immune from hubris or misdirection. Arrogant and holier-than-thou attitudes exist at all levels.

Perhaps looking at structure as the ultimate downfall or the ultimate savior of the church is to miss the bigger picture and to externalize that which we know to be true in ourselves, but often find so uncomfortable: we are fallen people in the process of sanctification. While I will concede that the system which we have inherited from our ancestors is not the best, I would say that a large chunk of the blame need not go to a faulty institution or a guy who lived 1700 years ago, but to our current reality of being people-in-process. We're not gonna get it totally right no matter where we are, nor are we going to get it totally wrong. Thank God that by his grace, he chooses to use us and the church, whether it be in a giant archdiocese or a small house community, and that the church's most attractive and dynamic aspects will never be destroyed as long as the Holy Spirit is alive and well.

Jason said...

I think that the problem with Constantine's reforms is that it made it very easy for someone to call himself "Christian" without having any meaning behind it. Here in the South I think we see plenty of that. It's much easier to attend church each week than it is to live an authentic, broken life.

jason said...

bernie... I agree with you totally. I think Stark is referring not to the church in its totality but in its perception. The Church will always be alive and beautiful in what it really is. Unfortunately it is represented by the imperfect. We are destined to misrepresent her frmo time to time and that is what I believe he is referring to.

I do celebrate with you grace, hope, reconciliation, and the redemption that is goin on all around us.

Praise God!



Corey Paxton said...

man, I wish I would have jumped in on this conversation earlier. I really think both of you make great points.

I think the point that Bernie is needed to remind us that we are never going to find the perfect way to be/do church because we are the church and we are always in process.

At the same time, one of the forces that has held us back from being the church is what Stark is pointing out here: with Constantine, something significant happened in human history. The church moved from the margins to the center of things. Instead of being a witness to the reign of God in contrast to the reign of Caesar, Caesar's reign and God's reign melded together. Any study of church history, theology, church structure shows the dramatic change and effect this shift had on the church afterwards.

When the church became the center, then as Jason said it became status quo to be Christian, the values of the empire and church merged together, and the mission of God to redeem the world became missions as a task of the church to do to the heathen. Out of this came the need to defend the Holy Land (Crusades), the Holy Church (religious wars of reformation and after), and Colonize people under the guise of Christianity.

The reformation made many significant changes to this way of thinking, but still centered around recovering the right message (grace/not works) rather than empowering the movement of ordinary people as partners with God in redeeming the world. The leadership of the church still remained in the hands of an elite, ordanied few that preached the word and administred the sacraments and the "priesthood of all believers" remained an ideal.

The reformation in the church today is to return the ministry to every person in the church participating with God rather than the ministry of a select few doing ministry to the masses. To move from being hearers of the word to doers of the word with the Spirit and each other.