Tuesday, October 13
Another five hundred years, and the Pope is excluding Martin Luther for holding to a doctrine which had been part of the Church's dogma for twelve centuries, and Zwingli in Switzerland was declaring war on the Roman Church in the name of Renaissance humanism and Swiss patriotism. Soon there was bloody war from city to city throughout Europe, and when the smoke finally cleared there were three distinct parties, and no distinct winners.
The Protestant Calvinists held ground in the Netherlands and established a seminary there under none other than John Calvin's son in law, Teodor Beza. When a Ph.D. Professor at that school examined a fine point of Beza's speculative theology (whether God had caused the Fall, yet somehow without causing sin) that professor, and all who thought it was a good question were jailed, tried in absentia, and banished from the city at the loss of homes, property, jobs, and friendships. Fortunately, only one of them died.
Next, England's Henry VIII decided to make use of the diminishing power of the Papacy by declaring the English Church independent from Rome's influence. Over the next three hundred years the English Church would produce a string of godly divines who would devote themselves to rediscovering the core faith of the Church and, in the process, move the English Christianity significantly closer to the Eastern tradition. This did not, however, bring any reconciliation with the Irish, who remained loyal to Rome (and resentful of English hegemony) though their religion was still rather closer to their earlier Celtic Faith than to the Roman.
At this time another force was at work in England: The proud independence of Swiss Calvinism was gaining a following which would produce more wars. The “Glorious Revolution” led to the senseless slaughter of whole villages in Ireland in the name of “establishing the Kingdom of God,” In time the English Crown was back on the throne and the Church of England was able to maintain control over the more deliberately, “Protestant” factions. Dissenters, generally “dissenting” over matters of prepared liturgy, the material used in building the altar/communion table (and which words were used), what the clergy wore, and how music was used in services. Many left the country over these questions, and many crossed over to North America to be free of interference with their beliefs (as they called it, their “opinions.”)
Predictably, as this kind of Protestantism was being spread, beliefs and opinions became paramount in defining fellowship, and any difference of opinion was likely to spawn yet another division. Fast-forward this scene a few hundred more years, and we see not only a confusing array of “denominations” of Christianity, but subsets, breakaways, and “independent works” continually spawned off of each of them. Not that the break in fellowship is the whole picture: At every “birthing of a new movement” each party redefines what it believes in terms of its opposition to the other side of whatever the issue du jour happened to be, and rejects their what they understand the opposing party's position had been on the issue. Of the whole of Christian doctrine “once delivered to the saints,” each successive generation receives a smaller portion. Whereas the early Church spent its energy spreading the Gospel through their towns and across the world, the main order of business today is to redefine the Gospel, and the Church's energy is largely spent in a constant restructuring operation.
All this forces us to beg for answers: what is the Gospel? What is the Church? What, for Heaven's sake, is a Christian, and how does one recognise them? There are answers, to be sure. Not necessarily easy ones, though...
Obviously, I have my own “opinions” about these things, but for the moment, what are yours?
Posted by Patrick Robert Easter