Monday, February 15, 2010

What is the History of the Church?

"I grew up having to go to church every single week..." Not everyone goes to church.  In fact, thousands upon thousands of people who claim to be Christians don't go at all!  "I just don't understand that," says Johnson Bowie of   It's the new year and now and there are many people back in church.  Johnson challenges those who are back with the question; Why are you back?  Do we even know what the church is?   Do we understand its value?  Maybe we need to be reintroduced to this thing we call church.  Despite the stained glass windows, the bad music, the hypocritical failures of pastors and the judgement of active church-goers,  the church is still defined in the Bible as the "bride of Christ"!  So, let's get to know this bride.  Let's get a better understanding of who she is!!   Jesus says we have to be founded on the rock, we have to know why we do what we do and why we should count church as important.  Starting this journey, Johnson begins by digging into why and how the church was created. 

"On this was a day like any other day, but it ended being one of the biggest proclamations that's ever been uttered on the face of the earth..."  Everything had changed.  Jesus gathered up his disciples and travelled to Cesara Philippi  It was a horrible place for Christians because of the worship of Baal and travels "in and out of Hell".  When Jesus and his "posse" came in, we see his question in Matthew 16, "Who do people say that the Son of man is (in other words, who do people say that I am)?."  They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." "But what about you?" He asked. "Who do you say I am?"  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Then He warned his disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Christ.

This was the first time that we see the belief in Jesus as Christ.  Jesus declared Peter as the Rock.  He says that the growth of the belief of Him as the Son of God would be unshakable.  It would create the church.  For those who say that Jesus never created the church but rather man did, that's simply not true!  Right here in scripture, we see Jesus Himself say, "On this rock, I will build my church."   This is the first time these words were ever said.  It's the first time the word "church" was used in the Bible.  The Son of God was going to build the foundation of the church on the proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah.  From here, the story of Jesus progresses.  Jesus is betrayed, He is crucified, He is buried and He rises from the grave. 
In Acts 1:8, after Jesus had risen, He appears to the disciples and says, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  After saying this, Jesus ascends into heaven and angels appear.  Later, in Acts 2, we see 120 people gathered.  It is the first time we have seen any resemblance of church.  They are in the "Upper Room"  and the Holy Spirit sweeps through the place.  People are baptized.  The festival of Pentacost was going on outside and they hear the commotion in this upper room and gather there.  So Peter stands and gives the first sermon.  Amazingly, 3000 people end up getting saved!!  It was here that the church was born, again, on the belief that Jesus Christ was the Messiah.

Acts 2:42-47 says, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."  At the end, it doesn't say that people were saved and sent away.  God added to their number daily.  It wasn't lame prayer and passive attendence.  There was enthusiasm and wondrous signs.  It was an incredible time, but all of these leaders were about to experience persecution. 

Did you ever hear the story about Stephen?  He was a leader in the church and was giving a sermon.  A man named Saul was in the audience and he started picking up stones and throwing them at Stephen.  The crowd joined in and Stephen became the first martyr for Christ.  When this happened, those in the church became fearful and the church (not a building) scattered.  Although it was a horrible event, it served the purpose of spreading the church.  People left and took the gospel with them.  In His masterful plan, God later physically appeared to Saul, the rock thrower, and told Saul his name would now be Paul.  Paul went on to become one of the greatest writers of the Bible, completing 2/3's of the New Testament.  He also went on to plant many other churches. 

Over time, there became this pocket of churches throughtout the land and, inevitably, conflict arose.  We see this in the Bible when the Jewish widows were being taken care of before the Gentile widows and it became a point of contention.  The question became, "What do we do with Gentiles or people who 'aren't really part' of the historical Jewish faith?"  It was but one question of many as the church began to experience growing pains.  Drawing from something he heard from a man named Cornelius, Peter addresses the widow problem in Acts 10:34-35.  Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right."

In the first century A.D., the Ecumenical Council was formed.  This was a council which gathered all of the church leaders together so that they would have unity of the spirit.  One of the big questions was, what do we do about the Gentiles?  People would ask, "What do I need to do to be saved?"  And if you were a guy, when do we have to, you know..."snip, snip?"  Whoa!!  (Funny part of Johnson' message)  So what did they need to do?  How could they get to the heart of the faith and still hold true to it while making all these rules and steps of the faith?   As a result of the Ecumenical Council's efforts, the first agreement, post-Jesus, was reached, which decided how to basically run the church. 

It was progress, but then persecution of Christians began spreading in many areas and it even became illegal to believe in Jesus in some places.  Christians were arrested and tortured.  In 64 A.D., a huge fire had broken out in Rome during the time of Nero and, somehow, Christians were blamed for starting the fire.  So, first Jews had hated Christians and now Rome hated them.  There were reports that Nero dipped Christians in hot wax.  As a result, some Christians began meeting in homes and cattacombs to avoid being detected.  Around this time, "James the Just" was appointed head of the church in Jerusalem.  He was the brother of Jesus and even he was stoned and crucified.  Meanwhile, Peter and Paul were trying to convert Rome because it was key.  "If they could convert Rome, they could convert the world."  A famous apologist named Tertullian wrote, "but if you are near Italy, you are near Rome...What a happy church that is on which the Apostle poured out their whole doctrine with their blood...where Peter had a passion like the Lord."  This is a 1900 year old statement, but it was a building block for the faith.

The "Apostolic fathers" Clement, Polycarp and Ingatius were church leaders who wrote pieces of what is now Catholic Bible.  Pope Clement I was a actually a disciple of Peter and succeeded Peter.  Somewhere along the way, Pope Clement became too powerful and was banished to prison. It is said when he went to prison, he brought peace to the fighting there.  In fact, many of those prisoners were spiritually saved.  But because Clement had influence even in the prison, he was taken, tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea. 

Polycarp was a disciple of John.  When he came to power, heresy immediately started creeping in.  So Polycarp had the strong conviction of truth and started saying "Nope, that's not what John said..."  He stood up for what he knew was the truth of Jesus.  Polycarp refused to burn incense to the emperor of Rome as a deity and he said, "80 and 6 years I have served the Father.  How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior?  Bring forth what thou will"  and they burned him allive.  This to was a building block and testimony of faith.

Igantius was the third Apostolic father and also a disciple of John.  They imprisoned him in Antioch and he was sent to Rome.  On his way to obvious torture, he wrote six letters encouraging other believers and telling the church to keep growing.  He was fed to the lions.  "Defend the faith..." was the central message from his letters.  He charged them to protect the Word and stand up for the truth of Jesus. 

These three men defended the faith until the end.  There lives helped make sure that the church was still sitting on the proclamation of Jesus was the Son of God and Christ as our Savior.  Tertullian also said, "Blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church"  Although it seemed like people getting killed for the faith knocked the church back, it actually caused the church to grow!! These men believed what Jesus said in  John 12:24,  "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."  There are so many of men who have died; men who preferred to give their lives than to sacrifice their faith.  All through this persecution, the Messianic Jews thought Christ was the fullfillment of Jewish faith, but because Jesus had changed everything, it was unclear to them how they were to run the "new church".  Were they simply to abandon all their traditions? 

Ad 85 was the Council of Jamnia.  It was a Jewish Council that said anyone who believed in Jesus as the Messiah was a heretic.  This drove a wedge between the Christians and the Jews.  A few other things started happening like having "church" on Sundays rather than the traditional Saturdays.  More church fathers came into leadership and differences in the faith of the Jews became more and more apparent.  Then, we read about this guy named Irenaeus who lived in the 100's.  He was a disciple of Polycarp. He defended the faith against the Knostics and the pollution that tried to come into the church.  He wrote a book called "Against Heresies", which presented arguments about the same stuff we fight today in the church!!

Tertullian came in later.  This was the guy with all the good quotes and the guy who actually coined the term "the Trinity" which by the way, is not a term we find in the Bible.  Justin Martyr later came and wrote the first christian apologetics.  This is 1900 years ago!  He was writing things that said "Okay, here is how you refute their refutes."  He was talking about nonbelievers and how to defend the faith!

Then in 312, this humongous thing happened in favor of the church.  Emporer Constantine was converted.  He was first an official and later, Emporer.  So Christianity, through Constantine, was legalized.  After this is when churches and the buildings of worship started popping up everywhere.  As the churches boomed, Emporer Constantine called the first Council the church had since the Council of Jerusalem.  It was called the Council of Nycea, where all church leaders would come together.  It's purpose was to again establish unity.  One of the results for these meetings was "The Nycean Creed". This was 1700 years ago and many of us know that same creed today!  It was a unity of faith mission statement.  At the end of this creed, though, was a statement that would later create more conflict.  Although its intent was honorable in defending the faith, it condemned whoever tried to come into the church and tried to change what was already established in the belief system.  These people would be condemned by the church and this was stated in the creed. 

The church started losing focus as we crept into the Dark Ages.  It became political and started seeking power.  It became more and more about money and some leaders started standing up against this to get the church back on focus.  These men pointed us back to Acts 2:42.  John Chrysostom was a catholic priest who was very unpopular with rich people because he loved poor people.  He wrote "Do you wish to honor the body of Christ?  Do not ignore Him when he is naked.  Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect Him outside where He is cold and ill-clad  He who said, 'This is my body' is the same who said, 'You saw me hungry and gave me no food and whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also unto me.'  What good is it if your Christ's table (communion) is overloaded with gold and chalises when your brother is dying of hunger?  Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left, you may adorn the altar as well."  Chrysostom ended up being banished and his last words were, "Glory be to God for all things."

Then there was this guy named Augustine of Hippo.  Sixteen hundred years ago, he comes up with this thing that was in stark contrast to what the Catholics believed.  It was what was visible in church and what was invisible in church.  Generally speaking, Catholics believed in the visible church.  They seemed to believe that what you see in church is what you get in heaven.  He called the church a "mixed body".  He said that not everyone in church was going to heaven.  He pointed out that there were sheep and wolves in the church.  It was another step in pointing out a personal relationship with Jesus.  Augustine was careful to point out that people were coming to church one way aned living another.  He was pulling the focus back to Jesus.
In 1054 there was this thing called the "Great Schism".  It was a break between the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church.  It created a Greek group and a Latin group.  Thomas Aquinas, said to be the greatest theologian ever, came onto the scene and said (remember, this was 800 years ago), "With regard to heretics, two points must be observed.  One on their own side; the other on the side of the church.  On their own side, there is the sin which they deserve, not only to be separated from the church by excommunication but also to be severed from the  world by death.  For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul  than to forge money which supports tempural life, wherefore, if forgers of money and other evildoers are forthwith condemed to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics as soon as they are convicted of heresy to be, not only excommunicated but even be put to death.  On the part of the church however, there is mercy,  which looks to the conversion of the wanderer.  Wherefore She condemns not at once, but after the first and second admonition, as the Apostle directs.  After that, if he is still yet stubborn, the church no longer hopes for his conversion, looks to the salvation others by excommunicating him and separating him from the church and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunals."  Aquinas was intent on drawing lines in defending and preserving the faith.

St. Francis of Assisi. ("He was a sissy," kids Johnson)  This was a guy who took a vow of poverty.  He was trying to embody the life of Christ.  He wanted to let go of all else so he could reach those who needed the Gospel the most.  The story has it that he was a wealthy, influential guy playing sports and was popular.  People asked him when he was going to get married and he said he was going to marry to a much fairer bride than all of theirs; the bride of poverty.  His life was about reaching people.  So, he goes to this mission trip to Egypt and he runs into this sultan and challenges him to a contest of fire.  The sultan was absolutly taken back by this man willing to go out on such faith.  St. Francis said he would step into fire, but if he survived, the sultan would have to convert to Christianity.  The sultan responded by saying that just because he was willing to do this, he could preach the gospel to his people.  The sultan had given St.Francis entrance into Egypt!

Then, there was this thing that happened on April 18, 1521.  It was called the "Ninety-Five Thesis".  There are very few things were more important.  This monk named Martin Luther takes these 95 complaints against the Catholic Church and nails them to the door of the church.  Attached to these, he makes these statements,  " I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter and made of him jailer and hangman of my poor soul."  The people above him tried to give him more stuff to do and keep him busy.  But he saw that the church was adding all these things to the cross.  For instance, you could pay for your sins and pay for higher positions in the church.  He stood back and criticized them.  Predictably, they excommunicated him and even tried to kill him.  The new group formed by Martin Luther called themselves Evangelicals because they were returning to the gospel (Although this was known as the Protestan Reformation). At that time, the Catholic church motto was  "Always the same".  It can be understood why they wanted their belief to remain the same, but the problem was the church it drifted off focus.  Stability in that, but the motto of the reformation was "the church reformed always being reformed according to the Word of God".

Alongside Luther came Huldrych Zwingli.  He was a priest who began rejecting icons in the church.  The church had heros and martyrs like Mary, St. Peter and St. Clement, but Zwingli begged the question, "Why shouldn't we just worship Jesus?   The church fired back and leaned on what had become a misplaced motto; "always the same".   Zwingli aslo asked why priests shouldn't marry and why communion wasn't actually the physical body of Jesus, but rather the symbolic body of Jesus. 

In 1536, John Calvin comes along with Calvinism and predestination.  This is when the Presbyterian church pops up.  In 1545, a counter reformation to the Ninety Five Thesis emerged and the Catholic church defended their position saying their central message was still about Jesus.  Back and forth movements then went on for a time.  Back in America, the faith of the Protestant church continued developing.  Puritans come and the faith keeps growing. 

In 1962, Pope John Paul, at a Vatican Council, made a really cool statement.  This was significant to Johnson. " In the study in Revelation, east and west have followed different methods and have developed differently  their understanding and confession of God's truth.  It is hardly surprising, then, if from time to time, one tradition has come nearer to a full appreciation of some aspects of the mystery of revelation than the other or has expressed it to better advantage.  In such cases these various theologicial expressions are to be considered often as mutually complementary rather than conflicting.  Where the authentic theological traditions of the eastern church are concerned, we must recognizse the admirable  way in which they have their roots and holy scripture and how they are nurtured and give life to the liturgy.  They derive their strength too from the living tradition of the  apostles and from works of the fathers and spiritual writers of the eastern churches.  Thus, they promote the right ordering of the christian life and indeed pave the way to a full vision of christian truth."  This message was to churches who had been at war for 900 years or so!  At the end of the day, he was saying, "we know that you love Jesus".  

John Calvin , when Geneva was crashing down around him, used to call it the "Second Jerusalem" because of how christianity was blossoming.  He said, "I know what I believe and what I've taught you to believe,   but I need you to go and join the Lutheran church.  His "Calvinism" was not in agreement with the Lutheran church, but he knew that it was still about the message of Jesus as the Son of God.  It was still about unity.  This was a man who was credited by some of the hard line denominations, yet he still knew it was about the true church of being followers of Christ.  As it says in Ephesians 4:3-5; "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism."

If it is built on Jesus, it is part of the body.  The history of the chruch is about men and women who are willing to lay down their lives for the faith.  Too many times, we come and see churches bickering and going back and forth, but it ignores the fact that the church has been built on the blood of the martyrs, by christians used as human candles, by believers who were eaten by lions, burned at the stake, or sunk by an anchor to the bottom of the ocean.  Don't take it forgranted.

"My prayer for you is that you would be unified."  Johnson calls everyone to stand and and to cite the Apostles' creed (part of the Nicean Creed from 1300 years ago).  It is a statement of unity in the church.  This creed we heard so many times if we grew up in the church means so much more when we understand better its history. 

"I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified dead and buried, and the third day He rose from the dead.  He ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From thence, He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen