Wednesday, August 14, 2013

On How the Church Wasn't Hijacked By Pagans After the Apostolic Age: Paradigms in Church History

Growing up Protestant, especially the non-denominational/evangelical persuasion, I heard some pretty interesting history. I'm not sure if I'm audacious enough to pin the label "revisionist" on these histories, but by claiming I wouldn't do such a thing, I indirectly just did. So...

We do not have in our possession actual, historical events.

We have the texts.

Texts written by the eye-witnesses to these events. So, we have an interpretation of these events, written down, past down, translated, copied, translated cetera

You see my point: we have facts that have been interpreted.  We have stories that shape communities. These communities embody language and tradition. This is the postmodern in me. (I hope to do a few posts in the future on Newbigin and Lindbeck)

So which language is most adequate...which tradition most unscathed? Which language, whose tradition? As for many who converted to Orthodoxy, I started here. If the Church derailed at some point, then where? Is there a surviving form of Christianity that is true to its roots, and where is it?

My parents put me in private school for seventh and eighth grade. Needless to say, education had a religious slant. I remember learning that the rise of Constantine the Great brought paganism into Christianity. The Church was held captive by the Empire until the time of Martin Luther. Later in my life, while at Calvary Chapel, I heard from respected Bible teachers that the Church began to compromise not long after the Apostles died.  This was history for me. However, if the latter of these is true, then Christianity was not much different than the short-lived, impotent first-century religious sects, except in Christianity's case made it to Rome before petering out (pun was sort of intended). If the Church changed, if it compromised after it's great leaders died (like happened with other groups), how did it survive till now?

Maybe we were wrong *gasps.

Church history can be split into different ages depending if one works from an historical (events, wars, movements) or a theological perspective. For example, I would mark the end of the early church and the start of medieval period with the fall of Rome, 476 AD (or CE). Theologically, I would say around 600 AD begins a paradigm shift from Classical Christianity and a move towards Scholasticism. St Maximus the Confessor is great example of this.

I will take the theological perspective for the sake of this blog. What I delineate here you can further read about in this wonderful book (which is one of the first books I read regarding postmodernity and Christianity)

Robert Webber breaks the history of the Church into five paradigms: Ancient, Medieval, Reformation, Modern, and Postmodern. (Please keep in mind these are not demarcations so much as they are patterns, models)

Ancient (100-600):
      -Mystery                        -Christus Victor                   -Unity
      -Community                  -Creed, rule of faith             -Word and Eucharist
      -Symbol                         -Incarnational                      -Participatory

Medieval (600-1500):
      -Institutional                             -Clerical               -Latin
      -Sacrifice Theory, substitution    -Mass                 -Highly ordered, rational

Reformation (1500-1750):
     -Word                             -Common languages           -Rejection of symbol
     -Penal Substitutionary  -Word-oriented worship      -Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, etc

Modern (1750-1980):
     -Reason, systematic       -Rise of denominations      -Rejection of symbolism
       and analytical              -Focus on the mind

Postmodern (1980-):
      -Mystery              -Return to incarnational model       -Return to faith                    
      -Community        -Church is mystical presence                    

These are patterns. Finding certain trends and ways of thinking in a period helps one determine historical changes, providing a label becomes a shorthand way of speaking. It's not as though in 1750 there was a consensus that they arrived in the modern era. Or a twelfth century cleric referred to himself as medieval. This would have been absurd.

Paradigm thinking is useful in understanding the past, our forefathers did not necessarily think as we do. They may have acted similarly, that's human nature; however, thought patterns, concepts, ideologies all differed. We postmoderns have much more in common with the first century than we do with the medieval period. In retrospect, we can see what the Church has always believed, in all her forms. Webber, in much of his work, calls the Church back to her ancient roots, to integrate the two paradigms, since there are striking similarities.
       [T]he point of integration with a new culture is not to restore that cultural form of Christianity, but to recover the universally accepted framework of faith that originated with the apostles, was developed by the Fathers, and has been handed down by the church in its liturgical and theological traditions. The hermeneutic allows us to face the changing cultural situation with integrity. Our calling is not to reinvent the Christian faith, but, in keeping with the past, to carry forward what the church has affirmed from the beginning. We change, therefore, as one of my friends said, 'not to be different, but to remain the same.' (Robert Webber taken from Ancient-Future Faith)

I was never fully content with reading books by contemporary theologians, I wanted to go to the source. Reading the Apostolic Fathers, I quickly realized that they spoke and wrote much like their predecessors, the Apostles! So, maybe what I was taught growing up just wasn't true. I was becoming more convinced that I could trust the early Church and the one I was loosing trust in was the Modern. That maybe the Church wasn't hijacked by pagans after St John fell asleep.

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