Friday, March 10, 2006
In my most recent [subversive underground] newsletter entitled "MODELS" I shared a little about my personal struggle with what I've learned lately about Constantine and his negative impact on the modern church as we know it.
I'm currently reading a book about Constantine that details his conversion to Christ and his subsequent murder of his wife and son, and most of his friends and advisors...after he supposedly turned to Jesus.
Beyond this, Constantine had difficulty with the idea of the crucifixion of God's son (he felt it was an embarrassing display of God's failure to rescue his own), and he scolded his own sister for her "worship" of Jesus.
It's difficult to say that this person was a saint...or to even accept that he really had a life-changing experience with the same Jesus you and I follow.
More troublesome to me is how Constantine's impact on our modern church practice and tradition has effectively removed our earlier family-based form of worship (the House Church) and created a form of Christianity where the family/relational form of worship was replaced with something more impersonal.
In essence, Constantine broke up the relational house churches and set up their leaders as miniature kings who would now rule over a peasant class which would be taxed to pay for the upkeep of the castle (the church building), and the provision of the new christian royalty.
This bothers me.
As I shared this with the faithful [subversive underground] subscribers, I received quite a few responses. Some supportive and in agreement with me, some questioning my motives, some critical....but that's what this is all about. I want an open dialog and I really am trying to work out this stuff in my own life and in my own head.
Here are some of the edited responses I offered up today to a few of those who asked for more clarity on this issue.
First of all, I'm sorry if I came across as being judgemental or critical of the modern church. I'm really trying not to be too critical...and honestly, if someone can show me where the early Christians met somewhere other than homes (in those first 300 years before Constantine), I'm very, very open to seeing this evidence. I mean, I WANT to find it. I'm seriously willing to email all 56 people on this underground list and admit my mistake if someone can show me where I'm wrong on this point.
Yes, the book of Acts shows us the earliest Christians meeting in Solomon's Collonade (or Porch), and we know that sometimes they would gather in the temple in Jerusalem, but as persecutions (by the Jews) increased, this became less and less possible. Soon, even within the time period of the writing of the book of Acts itself, and the entire New Testament, we see the early Church meeting in their homes almost exclusively. For 300 years the home was the main place the church would meet. (And I always have to stop and remind everyone at this point that the United States of America isn't 300 years old).
Secondly, I'm not trying to paint all "non-house churches" as evil, paganized organizations. I really am thinking out loud here. I'm honestly struggling in this email, and in my real heart, NOT to do this. I want to remain open to both the historical facts of christian history, and the reality of God's Spirit moving with power through His church (all of it...all forms and models of it) right up to this very day.
I have parents in the modern church form. I have great friends and colleagues in the "constantinian" form of church. Some of these friends, and my parents, are reading this email newsletter. The last thing I want to do is to insult them or make enemies with these dearest of friends and family.
What I am trying to do here is to share with everyone what I'm learning, what I'm reading, what I sense God saying to me about house church. I believe that House Church is not for everyone. I'm not arguing for all of us to tear down the traditional church model. I believe God is still madly in love with His Bride as it exists in this form, and as it has existed in this
form for thousands of years.
But...gee...wouldn't you want to know about how this one guy (Constantine) shaped our christian history and practice? How he never really converted to Christianity at all and yet how our traditions have been tainted by his influence? It's seriously fascinating, and troubling to me.
What do we do about this? I don't know.
As I said in my previous email article, I'm asking myself if I can just learn about this, accept it as fact, and then just go, "So What?" and let it go.
People who don't go to house church are not evil. People in the house church aren't smarter or more holy or spiritual. We're all honestly following Jesus the best we know how.
But I would hope we would all be willing to just take a look at the stuff I've shared and take it at face value. You don't have to agree with me. That's cool. But I do feel the need to defend myself and make it clear that I'm not calling for an end to the organized church. What I am doing is to ask hard questions, share my personal misgivings, and offer up my
perspective, and my personal decisions about what I'm learning, with others.
I'm more than willing to be questioned, and rebuked, by anyone on this point. Some of my friends and fellow pastors have dialoged with me about my comments, and it's been helpful to me.
(sorry to ramble on and on here...almost done..)
What I didn't share in the last email was that I realize that what I want to be is a reformer of modern christianity, not a revolutionary. I don't want to argue. I don't want to fight. But I do hope to ask good questions and share some of my perspective with others and pray that God does the rest to reform His Bride in the areas He wants to do this.
I'm honestly trying to walk out this paragraph above.
So, as I consider these thoughts, and I struggle internally with what to do about these thoughts and ideas, I think I have come to a few conclusions...(for those of you still reading this monologue):
1) I need to focus on the postive experiences I've had in our House Church more than I spend any more time criticizing the modern church.
2) I need to emphasize that the Church is more about who we are as followers of Jesus and less about where we meet or how we go about worship. This is a core conviction of mine and I realize that some of my ramblings on Constantine start to undermine this key point. "We are the Church. Church is not a place you go to for a meeting. We need to BE the Church, not attend one."
3) While I feel that Constantine screwed up the Church in many ways, God is the one who has allowed this and has redeemed this structure and form for His Glory. God has the last laugh. Seventeen hundred years later, God has a Bride that has emerged victorious, in spite of the clothes that Constantine has put on her. One day Christ will give Her a new robe, a wedding gown of pure white and nothing any man does will change that inevitable truth.
4) I'm still learning. I can be wrong. I might not have it all together myself. Just a few months ago I was blissfully ignorant of these unsettling thoughts and God loved me as much then as He does now.
5) This blog entry is way too long.
Thanks for reading.