This semester I have been taking a church history class, studying the growth and formalization of the doctrines of the Christian faith since the first 100 years after Jesus death and resurrection. It has been eye- opening and frustrating at the same time.
Usually, class gets me thinking so much that I tend to write a lot about what I am learning. Not this semester – primarily because I have been having such a difficult time putting into words what I am feeling and coming to understand about the early thinkers… mainly because what I saw then is exactly what I see now in the church as a whole: VAST disagreement on things!
Early theologians and apologist writers were thinking about Jesus and what he had done, and what it says about humanity. They differed on how much the philosophical discussions of the day should play a part (note: I am learning the west ditched them, the east and African side tended to keep them. I am eager to read more about that this summer (yes, I’m a book nerd, I admit!)
Yet what they were arguing about wasn’t about culture or politics. They were arguing about whether or not Jesus was really God and equal to God, or “under” God – and the implication of that answer on the question of how we are saved. It’s how we got the Nicene creed, the apostles creed, and the doctrine of the trinity. All of these were really apologetics, seeking to describe what was the central belief of the faith.
Centering on what matters. Novel idea huh? I’ve heard that before somewhere.
What struck me as really interesting – and what was probably the most frustrating to hear, was how some people had some really good ways of describing the nature of people and life and the soul – and their ideas were just shut down because they didn’t match the ideas of other more ‘popular’ (or powerful?) people at the time.
Like did you know that the doctrine of original sin wasn’t part of the teachings of the early church (or even in Jewish thinking) until Augustine in the late 300’s, but Pelagius held an opposing view that Adam’s sin was “in no way the sin of humanity, for it would be absurd and unjust to condemn all for the sin of one”” (p.31, Gonzales)
Or did you know that purity culture has its root in early church history, where for medieval Christians held a view that only by sacrificing your sexual self maintaining sexual discipline could you be saved (p.49, Evans), which led to a large movement towards lifelong virginity and a discouragement of marriage! More than that, some church fathers “”sought to convince women who chose a life of virginity that their own body was their worst enemy (p71, Evans)
Seriously. And we wonder why women have body issues.
I asked my professor why they didn’t take the best of all the ideas and thoughts and arguments instead of ditching someone’s entire line of thinking? And why did anyone ever follow such a ridiculous line of thinking about salvation being tied to sexuality? He smiled and reminded me how much politics and patriarchy played a part.. and how sometimes it just came down to who won the argument.
It brought a bit more color to the guidance our professor reminded us of at the start of class: History is written by the winners. Huh. Kind of what we are seeing about our own country too now isn’t it? But here is where my mind goes with this:
Paul claims that all truth is God’s truth. I wouldn’t disagree. So it stands to reason then, that if Jesus came as truth, and the Holy Spirit continues to reveal truth, and if God’s intention is to bring wholeness, healing, and shalom to this world by his kingdom growing, then there are still things to be revealed.
There’s a passage in Matthew that I have always been fascinated with, and it has taken on vastly different meanings depending on my time in life. I will admit to taking it wildly out of context when raising teens, trusting God would fill me and their dad in on things being done when we weren’t around…. LOL
“”So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight, what is whispered in your hear, proclaim from the roofs” (Matt 10:26)
Jesus came to reveal the truth. Truth about God, Truth about who we really are, Truth about our hurt and pain, Truth about what the kingdom should look like… and how we are really loved.
So why are we afraid of facing the truth of our culture, our nation, and the history of our faith? Why are we afraid to hear other voices? Why do some churches still not recognize that women can and are able to lead, and should have a voice in managing their own sexuality just like men do?
We need to know that to face the truth of this doesn’t diminish who God is, and it doesn’t diminish the good along the way. Instead, what it does is acknowledge the hard stuff and recognize it has had a lasting impact that we need to face, both as a nation and in our own personal ways of being, change what needs to be changed, and move forward.
A note to my white siblings in Christ: Maybe its just me, but I have recognized a tendency for me to only pay attention to white voices in the past, mainly because they were the loudest and easier ones to access. I don’t like admitting that, but it’s honest.
I’ve been changing that the past few years. So I’ll ask you too: What voices do you let teach you? Just men? Just women? Just white Christians? or do you listen, purposely, to Asian believers, black believers, hispanic believers? Native born, or Immigrant believers? Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim people who have come to faith in Jesus? Because they have vastly different lenses they bring to the text of the bible based on how they have seen and experienced God. We learn so much about who our God is when we are willing to hear about how He has moved and is moving in the world today, when we will let others speak into our world.
Evans, Roger Steven. Sex and Salvation: Virginity as a Soteriological Paradigm in Ancient Christianity. University Press of America, 2003.
Gonzales, Justo L. A History of Christian Thought: From Augustine to the Eve of the Reformation Vol. II.. Abingdon Press, 1971.