Friday, March 10, 2006

CONSTANTINIAN FALL-OUT

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.

PERSONAL PERSPECTIVES
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.

SO WHAT?
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.

FINAL THOUGHTS
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.

peas,
kg

5 comments:

Can Opener Boy said...

Hey there,

I'm usually not in the habit of running to Webster and listing definitions and such...but a contrast you drew struck me; so I went lookin'.

Maybe you'll find this as interesting food for thought as I did.

You said you want to be a "reformer", not a "revolutionary". I'm down with what you probably mean. There's been enough "bloodshed" in the church already (our history is rife with the pattern of disagree/divide/disagree/divide).

But according to the definitions I've found, "volution" simply means "twists and turns"

While re-forming is certainly something the church always needs, I think re-volutions are good too.

re-forming speaks to me of (if you'll pardon the oxymoron) dynamic constancy. E.g. a re-modeled building is, while different, still a building.

re-volution speaks to me of the windings of a path as one is walking. In a well worn walking route, re-visiting old twists and turns reminds us of beautiful vistas we'd perhaps long forgotten.

"Abiding" with Jesus is something we're to do but, as I read it, Jesus never meant "stand there" or "sit there" with Him. "Abiding" has deeper implications when I think about how He calls us to "follow".

So I think "re-volutions" are OK.

After all, didn't the early followers refer to it as "The Way"?

Keith Giles said...

Keith (canopener boy),

Well, what I mean by "Reformer" is in the more classical, historical sense of the word. As in, Martin Luther.

Some would say he was a revolutionary, but there were some during his lifetime to actually took up arms and put people to death who disagreed with Luther. He was very vocal about not wanting to be so radical, but rather preferred to reform the Church and return it to a more Biblical focus...without violence or bloodshed, or angry confrontations.

I would rather be a reformer in the Luther-sense of the word, as he embodied this, and less like Che Guevara, or any other "Revolutionary".

Yes, the term "Revolutionary" sounds much more sexy. You don't see people wearing t-shirts or sporting tattoos with the faces of "Reformers", but those "Revolutionaries" get all the hot chicks, and the magazines love to tell their stories...but I still prefer to be a Reformer who encourages change, not someone who forces his agenda and polarizes people against one another.

Viva La Reformation!

kg

Yang said...

LOL, Your blog is long?! What about mine? LOL.

I think that I have a long long entry in blog... LOL.

-Mike

Gary Means said...

Keith,

I appreciate and respect your position. However, I wonder if the account of the New Testament church is meant to be prescriptive or merely descriptive? I'm not quite so sure.

I'm not arguing in favor of megachurches or anything else. I just get concerned when I hear the NT church being held us as THE model. If that's so, we'd better not let women speak in church either. Or was Paul just kidding, a little light-hearted misogyny? And I'm not being sarcastic when I ask this, but how can we be much like the NT church without some serious persecution? As you said, that was a strong motivator for the house church model. Perhaps someone could reinstate the practice of Christian lighting at summer dinner parties, or at least an occasional stoning or two? If Rafsanjani's dreams come true . . .

That being said, I think the CHURCH is most like the body of Christ when it operates in small groups. There it's small enough that people can develop authentic, intimate relationships. It's only in small groups, house churches, if you will, that we can bear one another's burdens with any degree of meaning.

However, I think there is great value in pooling resources. And I find that worship in the context of the larger Christian community can be meaningful. That's especially true when there are enough people singing to cover my voice.

But I think small groups or even house churches can exist and function either independently, or as part of a larger congregation. If I'm not mistaken, Rob Bell's Mars Hill has 10,000 people in a huge number of interrelated "house churches". They gather for worship with the macrocommunity on the weekend, but their body life takes place in the context of the microcommunity.

I think that, humans being humans, when you get two or more people together and try to be the church, we're going to screw it up somehow. However, as you point out, God can redeem any of our failures. It may take us a long time to see how He works things out for His purposes, but I believe there's always that possibility. Maybe we were always supposed to be in house churches and Constantine screwed things up bigtime. And then there's the influence of the Roman Church. Oy vey!

I like your questions. I don't really disagree with you all that much, even though I do have some concerns.

Instead of me just spewing forth whatever comes to mind, as I have here, perhaps I'll give this some serious thought, and even a little study, and get back to you. I suspect my thoughts will be lengthy when I do get around to answering, so I'll blog them and e-mail you.

Gary Means said...

ha. I said, "I suspect my thoughts will be lengthy when I do get around to answering" -- as if I was succinct in my initial response here! pardon my verbosity.