basics :: some (more) history.

mjkimpan  —  September 11, 2012 — 25 Comments

today’s post is a follow up to this one, and part of our basics series. the purpose is to articulate for my readers where i stand on certain theological tenants, declaring a sort of ‘water-line’ for future conversations here at the WayWard follower.

it’s nearly time to explore some theological non-negotiables, but before doing so we need to understand how we got here in the first place. as we saw yesterday,

every theological statement is a response
to a perceived theological threat.

in the first part of this post, i concluded that as a result of the adoption of nicene christianity as the official religion of the roman empire in the 4th century, religious responsibility became synonymous with political power as the lines between building God’s kingdom of a new way and expanding power and influence of the roman empire muddied.

additionally, worship in the church began to be increasingly influenced by imperial protocol.

until the time of constantine, christian worship had remained relatively simple. christians initially gathered to worship in private homes. they then began to gather in cemeteries, such as the roman catacombs. this most likely served a two-fold purpose :: to house the growing numbers of their faith community and to simultaneously avoid the intense persecution in the 1st and 2nd century. but by the 3rd century, there were small structures set aside for christian worship.

after constantine’s conversion, everything changed.

incense, which was used as a sign of respect and admiration for the emperor, began appearing in christian churches. officiating ministers, who had previously worn simple, everyday clothing, began dressing in more luxurious and exuberant garments.

a number of gestures indicating respect, previously made before the emperor, now appeared in churches as a part of christian worship. the custom of introducing the beginning of services with a processional became adopted. choirs were developed, in part to give body to that same procession.

gradually, the congregation came to have less and less involvement until they had a near inactive role in worship and the service was directed by the officiating ministers – now directly linked to the power and persuasion of the political office of the emperor.

as the introduction to superstitious extremes heavily influenced by paganism became more common throughout the churches of the empire, many congregational leaders viewed them with suspicion and disfavor.

most advised against these new changes.

but preaching the voice of reason could not keep up with the task at hand. people were flocking into the church in such rapid numbers there was little time to prepare them for baptism, and even less to guide them in the christian life once they had been baptized.

in the higher levels of leadership in the state-sanctioned church, administrative tasks and personal egos trumped theology in decision-making and direction-setting. as emperor, constantine himself ordered that the church of saint irene – holy peace – be built in constantinople.

the majority of constantine’s papal successors sought to perpetuate their own memory by building and expanding great churches, a practice that continued even up to the 16th and 17th centuries.

this, of course, cost money. the financing of these projects, and specifically the great basilica of st. peter in rome, was one of the purposes for the sale of indulgences that provoked martin luther’s protest giving way to the great reformation in 1517.

with each new challenge and opportunity, the future and direction of the church seemed centered not merely on theological concerns, but equally dependent upon the social, political and economic forces that influenced the formation of the church. with growing frequency, what was considered ‘orthodox‘ was dictated by what was good for those who held positions of power and influence within the church.

the same is inescapably true today in 21st century american evangelicalism. most of our traditions and ‘best practices’ are dictated by a complicated history unknown to the vast majority of congregants. many of the issues to which the church currently clings are undeniably tied to social, political and economic influences rather than principles found in scripture or in the teachings of jesus.

our allegiance has increasingly been tilted toward building the kingdom of this world rather than the kingdom of God.

for that reason, the theological non-negotiables – the ‘water-line’ items – which we will explore are few. these are shaped not by hot-button topics from our current political landscape or a particular denominational bent, but rather (hopefully) stem from the essentials of an ancient-future faith with a rich history and a broad, wide stream of diverse traditions.

we’ll explore what these may be tomorrow.