History of the Church Part Four: Dissension and the Protestant Reformation

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy., M.A. Theology

religious dissension : discord, strife, conflict, contention, variance; a state or condition marked by a lack of agreement or harmony; implies essential lack of harmony producing quarreling and antagonism.

THE CHURCH NEEDED DRASTIC reformation even before Martin Luther came on the scene. However, before Luther could hope to affect reformation in the church, he had to resolve his personal struggle with an overpowering sense of sinfulness. Although he lived a holy life of obedience, he feared being perpetually tainted by unconfessed sin. As Gonzalez wrote, “The very sacrament of penance, which was supposed to bring relief to his sense of sinfulness, actually exacerbated it, leaving him in a state of despair” (1). I believe Luther had to resolve his consternation over Romans 1:17 and come to understand the righteousness of God before he could be properly oriented toward reformation of the church. Following the example of great monastic leaders, Luther frequently punished his body and denied himself even the simplest of comforts in hopes of earning his salvation. Having an a-ha moment, he came to understand it is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, that we become clothed in righteousness (Gen. 15:6; John 3:18; Rom. 3:22). I can understand Luther’s fearful notion that his confession was somehow incomplete or inadequate.

Luther wrote in the preface to his Commentary on Romans, “God judges according to what is at the bottom of the heart, and for this reason, His law makes its demand on the inmost heart and cannot be satisfied with works” (2). He added, “Grace means properly God’s favor, or the good-will God bears us, by which He is disposed to give us Christ” (3). Luther once wrote that many have taken the Christian faith to be a simple and easy matter and have even numbered it among the virtues. This is because they have not really experienced it, nor have they tested the great strength of faith. We see faint rumblings of Luther’s objection to papal indulgences and penance in the following sentence: “If [the servant of Christ] fails in faith, he will prove himself a tyrant who terrifies the people by his authority and takes delight in being a bully” (4). Regarding Romans 1:17, Luther wrote, “God’s righteousness is that by which we become worthy of His great salvation, or through which we are (accounted) righteous before Him… the righteousness of God is the cause of our salvation” (5).

It Begins

Luther initially studied law but decided to pursue a theology degree at the University of Erfurt in 1505. He becoming a monk after the Order of Saint Augustine and was ordained in 1507. Luther began a teaching career at the University of Wittenberg. His professors at the University emphasized free will over reason in arriving at theological truth, placing greater emphasis on free will in initiating salvation. We can see how this school of thought contributed to Luther’s struggle with how to best obtain salvation and righteousness. He began his first series of lectures as a young professor in 1513. He understood how a sinner could be received by a holy God when he grasped the implication of Romans 1:17.

The Reformation dramatically began on October 31, 1517 when Luther published his 95 Theses. When Luther burst on the scene, he was a rather obscure professor at the University of Wittenberg of mixed reputation. Some described him as “the ogre who destroyed the unity of the church, the wild boar that trampled the Lord’s vineyard, a renegade monk” (6). Others considered him a great hero who, through his protestations, took on a corrupt and apostate church and restored preaching of the pure gospel. Much is owed to Luther, who challenged the practice of selling papal indulgences to church members for absolution of their sins and entry into heaven. Although this was the impetus for Luther’s protest, he ultimately questioned the overall authority of the Catholic Church.

The following is Luther’s opening statement to the 95 Theses:

“Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place…[H]e asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the in name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen” (7).

Luther’s The Bondage of the Will provides information concerning the age-old debate over free will. Luther believed original sin precludes a true sense of free will, but this writer believes Luther’s argument is a theological one as opposed to a question of yes or no, left or right, up or down, given the circumstance. He said, “Paul, writing to the Romans, enters upon his argument for the grace of God against ‘free-will’ as follows: ‘The wrath of God’ (he says) ‘is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold down the truth in unrighteousness'” (Rom. 1:18) (8). Specific to Luther’s struggle with understanding the righteousness of God, it would appear he applied a degree of German mysticism, which is rooted in Dionysian spirituality. Although Luther was at times pessimistic of humanity and had a sense of “…an infinite abyss between God and man,” he understood the remedy to be acceptance of God’s imputed righteousness which comes from an inward discovery (9). Heinze indicates Luther’s cohorts likely progressed from an Augustinian view of justification as a process that requires the sinner’s cooperation, to the belief that it was “…a forensic act in which Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the sinner” (10).

Gonzalez notes a mounting storm against Luther. John Eck and Luther met in a debate. It was during this event that Luther dared to declare “…a Christian with the support of Scripture has more authority than all popes and councils against that support” (11). The church responded to Luther’s attacks in January 1521 with the papal bull Exsurge Domine, calling for his excommunication. The church demanded that all books and papers written by Luther be burned. Luther was given sixty days to submit to Roman authority. Some of Luther’s supporters chose to burn the books of Luther’s critics. Luther set fire to the bull. He refused to recant at the Diet of Worms in 1521, stating much of what he had written was basic Christian doctrine. Despite his fervent opposition to Catholic doctrine, Luther never intended to establish a new church. He merely wanted to reform the existing church, bringing it into conformity with Pauline doctrine (12). In 1522, Luther released the following statement: “Let us abolish all party names and call ourselves Christians, after him whose teaching we hold… together with the universal church, the one universal teaching of Christ, who is our only master” (13). Luther died at Eisleben (Saxsony), Germany, on February 18, 1546.

Relevance Today

The year 2017 marked the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Many believers, and even some notable scholars and church leaders, question whether the Reformation is still relevant. Moreover, the Reformation still matters today because the gospel alone is still the only hope for sinners. Justification is not an “ongoing process” tied to faithful participation in sacraments or any other “work” undertaken by believers. Justification is by grace alone (Sola gratia) through faith alone (Sola fide) in Christ alone (Sola Christus). Any teaching to the contrary is anathema to the biblical gospel itself. Lastly, the reformation is still vital today because the church is still in need of reformation.

Our only authority is the Scripture (Sola scriptura), not an earthly church, office, or papacy. Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, with evangelism and Christian charity losing their dominant influence. To lose sight of the primacy of core Christian fundamentals is tantamount to foregoing the Great Commission and Peter’s apologetics mandate (see 1 Pet. 3:15). Science, scientism, secularism, and moral relativism have collectively conspired to quash any public expression of religious faith. This is a private matter, they say. Roman Catholicism remains the most visible Christian church worldwide. The papacy has drifted far from core Christian doctrine regarding grace, salvation, forgiveness, and other critical matters. Additionally, many who object to “organized religion” cite the Roman Catholic Church (Vatican) for its unprecedented accumulation of wealth and power. According to Zadock Thomas, the Vatican Bank has assets worth approximately $33 billion (14).

Eberhardt (1933-2019) was a former Roman Catholic seminarian who came to know Christ as his Savior and founded Gospel Outreach International to Roman Catholics. Eberhardt’s statement regarding how Catholics perceive salvation in the Protestant Church speaks volumes: “I used to think because the Protestants have no ordained priesthood, the Protestants have no means of distributing the grace of the Sacraments, which are necessary for salvation” (15). Les Lofquist asks us to consider whether the Reformation is all but over (16). He noted similarities between his Protestant beliefs and those of his Catholic friends, such as both faiths promoting the need for grace. However, he believes we must be clear that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. His Catholic friends insist salvation must involve the Church in some way.

The current Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “It is in the Church that ‘the fullness of the means of salvation’ has been deposited” (17). Sacraments implicated in Catholic salvation are Baptism, Penance and Reconciliation, Eucharist, and Confirmation. The Sacraments (seven in total) “contain” God’s grace only when administered by a priest in the Roman Catholic Church. Catechism teaches that these Sacraments are not merely symbolic, but they are the actual channels of grace—the “instrumental cause of God’s grace” (18). Any systematic teaching of the above doctrine falls outside the scope of biblical principles and puts the salvation of countless people at risk.

Concluding Remarks

Scripture teaches a different doctrine regarding salvation. Faith equals justification plus works (the believer must exercise faith, which results in justification, leading to good works), not justification through works. The believer is saved by grace alone in Christ alone received by faith alone (John 3:16,36; John 5:24; Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9-10); the believer must not trust his or her own good works for salvation (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:3-4; Rom. 3:20-22,28; Rom. 4:5); genuine salvation leads to good works (Rom. 6:1-2; James 2:24); the believer can be assured of salvation (John 10:27-29; 1 John 5:13). Despite having occurred over five hundred years ago, elements of the Reformation continue to impact Christianity in the twenty-first century. Ideally, Martin Luther’s reforms should have eliminated precepts that were contrary to doctrine established and promulgated by the Apostolic Fathers of Christianity. Unfortunately, many of these troublesome practices continue today, most importantly the erroneous teaching by the Roman Catholic Church regarding the nature and mechanism of salvation.

Christian apologist Thaddeus Williams, PhD (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam; Theology Professor, Biola University; Philosophy Professor, Trinity Law School) believes the Reformation reminds us, “We have a big God and salvation is found in Him alone. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone” (19). Williams suggests a “Re-Reformation,” indicating the church in the twenty-first century needs to recapture a sense of the grandeur and the greatness of God. The world needs to learn of the biblical view of His glory; of His desire that people come to believe on His Son, Jesus Christ, for salvation.

It is difficult enough for many new believers to grasp the tenet of salvation through unmerited grace. Luther struggled for some time with Romans 1:17. It is unlikely Luther would have been capable of taking on the whole of Roman Catholicism had he not first come to understand the doctrine of justification through faith in the gift of grace and redemption. If the church were to drop this issue now, it would drastically increase the likelihood that many in these latter days will fall to false teachings or, worse, turn from God completely and forego establishing a “vertical” (heavenward) view between man and heaven.

References
(1) Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. II (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2010), 3.
(2) Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1954), xiii.
(3) Ibid., xvi.
(4) Ibid., 30.
(5) Ibid., 40-41.
(6) Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. II: The Reformation to the Present Day (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2010), 19.
(7) Luther, The 95 Theses. URL:
https://www.luther.de/en/95thesen.html
(8) Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revelle Co., 1957), 273.
(9) Urban T. Holmes, A History of Christian Spirituality (New York, NY: Seabury Press, 1981), 125.
(10) R.W. Heinze, “Martin Luther,” in the Dictionary of Evangelical Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 510.
(11) Gonzalez, Ibid., 32.
(12) Heinze, Ibid., 510.
(13) Ibid., 510-11.
(14) Zadock Thomas, “Ten Richest Churches in the World and Their Net Worth 2021,” Eafeed. URL:
https://eafeed.com/richest-churches-in-the-world-net-worth-2020-2021/
(15) Frank Eberhardt, “We Believe the Same Way, Right?” Voice, Vol. 96, No. 5, Sept./Oct. 2017, 11.
(16) Les Lofquist, “Why the Reformation?” Voice, Vol. 96, No. 5, Sept./Oct. 2017, 7.
(17)
Catechism of the Catholic Church (Vatican City, Rome: Urbi et Orbi Communications, 1994), Paragraph 824.
(18) Ibid., paragraph 1084.
(19) Thaddeus Williams, “Is the Reformation Still Relevant Today?” The BLB Blog (Oct. 28, 2014). URL:
https://blogs.blueletterbible.org/blb/2014/10/28/is-the-reformation-still-relevant-today/

History of the Church Part Three: Islamism and the Crusades

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy., M.A. Theology

Trouble from Islam

Christianity is saddled with guilt regarding the Crusades, defending the false claim that they were unprovoked attacks fueled by religious intolerance. In AD 636, Muslims captured Jerusalem, Alexandria, Egypt, and Spain. Gonzalez says Christians, faced with the safety and order of the state, developed the Just War theory (1). In 1095, at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II declared that some wars could be deemed as not only a bellum iustum (“just war”), but could, in certain cases, rise to the level of a bellum sacrum (“holy war”). Regarding Just War, Augustine noted “[H]e to whom authority is delegated, and who is but the sword in the hand of him who uses it, is not himself responsible for the death he deals. And, accordingly, they who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill (2).'” In any event, it is likely the Crusades would not have gone forth without revolution in Church thinking concerning violence.

The meaning of the sixth commandment must be exegetically determined: the wording is best translated You shall do no murder. In this manner, murder specifically refers to willfully taking a life—e.g., premeditated murder, or killing as an act of revenge. Gonzalez intimates that Augustine condemned any war whose purpose was “to satisfy territorial ambition, or the mere exercise of power (3) [Italics mine]. Islam, for example, has a centuries-long tradition of grabbing land and power in order to dominate neighboring nation-states. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or “daesh”), provides us with a modern-day example. Their quest to form a new caliphate led to immeasurable violence. Augustine was “[A]t his most positive when writing about the right intention required of those who authorized and took part in violence,” adding, “only use as much force as necessary” (4). Just Cause, legitimate authority, and right intention must be followed in determining the use of military might. The Crusades were to be reactive only, not wars of conversion.

Islamism /isˈläˌmizəm/
noun: Islamic militancy or fundamentalism.

Muslims have a not-so-just policy of holy war (jihad), a solemn duty of every Muslim. The Bible forbids blanket use of military might, such as forcing unbelievers to convert or be killed. When Muhammad died (AD 632), caliphs who succeeded him prosecuted a series of wars whose aim was conquest: religious and geopolitical. These invasions had an egregious impact on the ancient centers of Christianity. Gonzalez writes, “Islam presented itself as a constant threat to be held back only by armed force” (5). As a result, Christianity became radically militarized. Expansion of Islam eventually threatened Western Europe. Unwavering violent takeovers by Islamic forces had to be defeated. At the Battle of Tours near Poitiers, France (AD 732), Frankish leader Charles Martel, a Christian, defeated a large army of Spanish Moors, halting the Muslim advance into Western Europe.

Of paramount importance was the need to recover and hold Jerusalem, containing the two most secure locations in Christendom: the Holy Sepulchre and Calvary. Expeditions to the Levant, or to North Africa, were thought to be justified as a “just” or proper response to Muslim aggression. The intent was to recover Christian territory seized through Muslim conquests. These extended military raids stemmed from expansion changes which took place outside Europe before the age of the Crusades, principally the growth and expansion of Islam. Indeed, Christian holy wars such as these bear a striking resemblance to jihad. Out of these conflicts rose the notion of a holy warrior—a crusader, or “knight for Christ.”

Muhammad

Muhammad was born in Mecca in AD 570. Islam teaches that the angel Gabriel called Muhammad to become a prophet of Allah. As Islam spread in Mecca, the ruling tribes began to oppose Muhammad’s preaching and his condemnation of idolatry and polytheism. Going against existing faiths, he preached monotheism. The Quraysh tribe controlled the Kaaba* and drew their religious and political power from its polytheistic shrines. They began to persecute this new group, and many of Muhammad’s followers became martyrs. When Muhammad’s wife Khadijah and her uncle Abu Talib both died in 619 CE, Abu Lahab assumed leadership of the Banu Hashim clan and withdrew the clan’s protection from Muhammad. In AD 622, Muhammad and his followers migrated to Yathrib in the Hijra to escape persecution, renaming the city Medina in honor of the prophet.

After the death of Muhammad in AD 632, Islamism flourished. This seems to have been an unavoidable development given Muhammad’s doctrine of expansionism. Islam has a triple imperative: conversion, subjugation, or death! Spencer writes, “Things will go badly for the non-Muslims who choose not to convert or pay the tax [levied upon non-believers]. Muslims must ‘make war upon them, because God is the assistant of those who serve Him, and the destroyer of His enemies, the infidels” (6). Ibn Khaldun, a Maliki jurist, historian, and philosopher, said, “…in the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force” (7) [Italics mine]. Muslim forces sacked Jerusalem in AD 636. They captured Alexandria, and prosecuted subsequent conquests in Egypt. They invaded Spain shortly thereafter. Caliph Umar II took up arms in the name of Allah, and began persecution of non-Muslims. Caliph Mutawakki forced non-believers to wear yellow patches; in the same manner, Hitler insisted the Jews wear yellow arm bands. Muslims went on a spree, destroying all non-Muslim churches. Caliph Hakim destroyed the Holy Sepulchre in AD 1009.

There is no period since the beginning of Islam that was characterized by large-scale peaceful existence between Muslims and non-Muslims. There was no time when mainstream and dominant Islamic authorities taught the equality of non-Muslims with Muslims, or the obsolescence of jihad warfare: no Era of Good Feeling; no Golden Age of Tolerance. Spencer writes, “There has always been, with virtually no interruption, jihad” (8). Muhammad boasted, “I have been victorious with terror” (9). The soldiers of Islam went forth in jihad for the sake of Allah (jihad fi sabil Allah) in order to establish the hegemony of the Islamic order: i.e., leadership or dominance, especially by one country or social group over others.

At its core the true nature of Islam is, was, and always will be, a hegemonistic inhumane tyrannical political ideology based upon hatred, having the sole purpose to annihilate all other civilisations [sic] using deceit, fear and violence. Islam’s core is martial, expansionist, belligerent and imperialist. It directly threatens the cohesion and culture of any society that it infiltrates. Within Islam there is the core belief that Allah created the religion of Islam in perfect form, it can neither be improved nor modified. In effect this creates a divine dictatorship directed by fixed religious imperatives all aimed at installing Islam into the position of absolute dominance, no matter what. This creates institutionalised [sic] discrimination — an extreme ‘them and us’ dynamic, between ‘believers’ (Muslims) and ‘unbelievers’ (the infidel, the takfir) — namely (but not only) the Judaeo-Christian West. Muslim believers believe they have a divine responsibility and right to subjugate infidel unbelievers by any means (10).

The Crusades

The first Crusade (AD 1095-1102) was undertaken to liberate Jerusalem from Muslim domination. At least to some degree, the First Crusade hardly required a casus belli (act or situation provoking or justifying war). The Holy Sepulchre had been vandalized in 1009 on the orders if Fatimid caliph Kakim. The cave where Jesus was laid to rest had been leveled almost to the ground. Muslims were marching toward global domination, seizing land, and taxing or murdering non-Believers. This is a religious duty built upon universalism inherent in the Muslim mission. Aggression is a matter of Islamic theology. It has been implied that Islam is a religion of peace. However, the word Islam means “submit.” Riley-Smith says the Crusades were not only fought in the Levant and eastern Mediterranean region, but also along the Baltic shoreline, in North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, Poland, Hungary, the Balkan, and parts of Western Europe, proclaimed not only against Muslims but also pagans, Balts, Lithuanians, shamanist Mongols, Orthodox Russians and Greeks, and Catholics. Riley-Smith says, “The crusading movement generated holy leagues, which were alliances of front-line powers, bolstered by crusade privileges, and military orders, the members of which sometimes operated out of their own order-states” (11).

Among the many developments that captivated the imagination of believers in the early centuries, none was as dramatic, as overwhelming, or as contradictory, as was the crusading spirit. The hope was to defeat the Muslims who threatened Constantinople, to save the Byzantines, to reunite the Eastern and Western branches of the church that Islam had previously taken. Holy places had been in Muslim hands for centuries. Arab conquests were on the rise. Justification solidified under the battle cry, “God wills it” (Deus vult). One cannot help but to compare the battle cry of Christians to the obligation for jihad. Godfrey of Bouillon headed to Jerusalem to take back the city. Those defending Jerusalem were not Turks, but Fatimite Arabs from Egypt—so named because they claimed descent from Fatima, Muhammad’s daughter.

The Second Crusade was incited by the capture of Edessa at the hand of Sultan of Aleppo in AD 1144. Led by Louis VII and Conrad III, an army of nearly 200,000 set out for the Holy Land. Jerusalem barely got off the ground under the Crusading forces when the Muslims began to regroup and, with Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt at the helm, Muslims took Jerusalem in AD 1187. The fall of Jerusalem required intervention once again. A Third Crusade set out for the City of David under the direction of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, Richard the Lionhearted, and Philip II Augustus of France. The Crusade failed miserably. This prompted Innocent III to call for the Fourth Crusade. This mission was an even greater disaster. The Byzantines did not accept matters so easily, and stubbornly went about founding various independent states that refused to accept the authority of the Latin emperors. I find it fascinating how religion is capable of completely change the politics and geography of a region. Many of the provinces had broken down into smaller units with ties to individual castles. Knights terrorized their neighborhoods, violent, arbitrary and demanding. The Fifth Crusade (led by the “King of Jerusalem”) accomplished very little. The Sixth Crusade led to peace talks and an agreement between Frederick II and the Sultan. The Seventh and Eighth were major disasters.

Mistakes Were Made

The Muslim invasions, and Christian reaction to them, continued, thereby accelerating the militarizing of Christianity. Gonzalez said, “The earliest Christians, following the teachings of Jesus, had been strict passivists” (12). The events of the Crusades, and the blood spilled, would not be forgotten easily. The consequences are still being felt in the twenty-first century. The “crusading spirit” was used also to confront heresy, which Gonzalez called “…a cosmic struggle between equally powerful forces of good and evil” (13). One cannot deny that many of the crusaders were extremely violent. While trekking to their targeted region, the Crusaders fed on the land, devouring everything like a plague of locusts. They had to fight other Christians who were merely defending their land. The crusaders unofficially added the killing of thousands of Jews to the campaign because of their unbelief regarding the Messiah. Gonzalez writes, “Women were raped [by crusaders}, and infants thrown against walls. Many of the city’s Jews took refuge in the synagogue, and the crusaders set fire to the building with them inside” (14). Gonzalez notes that Christianity had made its way into the ranks of the military. The Crusades focus on stopping Islam’s globalization led to Christianity became radically militarized.

The church-sanctioned targets of the Crusades were the Muslims who had settled in the Middle East.  However, the Crusades also sparked some of the earliest cases of violent anti-Semitism. As they traveled, the crusaders rationalized that Jews were also enemies of Christians.  Despite papal commands, some groups broke away and started attacking Jewish communities in both Europe and the Middle East.  In 1096 crusaders attacked prosperous and peaceful settlements on the Rhine and gave their victims a choice to convert or die.  Many Jews killed their own families rather than convert.  Jews living in Jerusalem in 1099 when the crusaders took hold slaves. At the outset of a new crusade, a new wave of death swept over the Jews. Consequently, the Crusades were responsible for the destruction of over 100 Jewish communities and the cause of thousands of senseless deaths.

Concluding Remarks

As is often true of history, the Crusades are more telling in their failures than their successes. Because of the Crusades, the credibility of the Pope as the agent of God on earth suffered irreparable damage in the Middle Ages, especially when a particular Crusade did not fair so well. Even the ones that did succeed in some respect accomplished little positive change. When the Crusades ended, regional violence of the type associated with this era stopped. Although the Crusades began from a position of defense, many questionable liberties were undertaken in the name of the church. Ranks among the crusaders included Knights Templar, military personnel, opportunists, and “penitent” Christians. The Papacy provided the means through which Christians could “work off” punishments and penalties.

Christians have held diverse views toward violence and non-violence throughout time. Currently and historically, there have been four views and practices within Christianity toward violence and war: (i) non-resistance; (ii) Christian pacifism, (iii) Just War, and (iv) preventive war. The Crusades represented one of the most interesting, yet most controversial, eras in the history of Christianity. Although Islam was not the only reason for the Crusades, I think it can be argued that without Islam there would have been no Crusades. It is difficult for modern Christians to identify with their predecessors during the time of the Crusades. The idea that Christians would consider it their religious duty to slaughter people in God’s Name is an alien concept in current times.

***

References

(1) Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2010), 293.
(2)
Augustine of Hippo, City of God (New York, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890), 13.
(3) Gonzalez, Ibid., 13.
(4)
Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2008), 12-13.
(5) Gonzalez, Ibid., 293.
(6) Robert Spencer, The History of Jihad: From Muhammad to ISIS (New York, NY: Post Hill, 2019), 13.
(7) Ibn Khaldun, The Muqa: An Introduction to History, trans. by Franz Rosenthal (Princeton University Press, 1967), 183.
(8) Spencer, Ibid., 11.
(9) Ibn Sa’d, Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir, Vol. 2, trans. S. Moinul Haq and H.K. Ghazanfar (Kitab Bhavan: Delhi, India: n.d.) , in Spencer, Ibid., 15.
(10) Eirik Bowman, Islamic Hegemony: The Fact-Based Truth About the Tolerant Religion of Peace (London: U.K., 2015).
(11) Riley-Smith, Ibid., 9.
(12) Gonzalez, Ibid., 293.
(13) Ibid., 354.
(14) 354.

* The Kaaba, also spelled Ka’bah or Kabah, sometimes referred to as al-Kaʿbah al-Musharrafah, is a building at the center of Islam’s most important mosque, the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is the most sacred site in Islam.

More Posts Soon!

HELLO EVERYONE, SO SORRY for the delay in posting new articles. I hand surgery on my right hand two weeks ago. I am progressing nicely, albeit not as fast as I would’ve liked.

I have been working on Part Three of my “Church History” series, which will cover Christianity’s battles with Islam and the Crusades. Part Four will cover troubles in the church that led to the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic counter-Reformation, and the start of Christianity’s global outreach. I am also planning to continue my series on integrating psychology and Christian theology. This is a topic that is key in my continuing master’s studies and my ministry to Christians struggling with active addiction and mental illness. There are several other projects on the back burner, including “The End of Me” based on Kyle Idleman’s book of the same name.

Steven Barto

History of the Church: Part Two

By Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.T.S.

I was excited for my undergraduate class History of Christianity, and my two graduate-level courses: Church History I and II. These studies provided a working knowledge of ecclesiology, including church organization and governance, doctrine, “marks” of the church (“one,” “holy,” “catholic,” and “apostolic”), heresies, worship, teaching, sacraments, and mission. Apologetics emerged as a powerful tool for “defending” Christianity. Many changes, edicts, and accusations impacted the church in the centuries to come, such as Gnosticism, numerous “Just Wars,” the Crusades, Donatism, syncretism, apostasy, and the mighty Roman Empire. As persecution rose, Christians began renouncing their faith. Many Christian leaders were tortured and murdered under the Roman Empire, including Stephen, James, Peter, Paul, Polycarp, and others.

In Part One of this series we learned that early Christians did not consider themselves followers of a new religion. Jewish leaders regarded Christianity a heretical sect within Judaism. The sentiment was simple: One must avoid Christians at all cost. If that does not work, then move ahead with harassment, persecution, torture, and murder. We looked at Constantine’s dubious conversion, and we learned about the four solas: sola Christus (Christ alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), and sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). The first part of this lesson touched on Christianity’s early troubles with Islam. Each of these factors began to detraction from the story of redemption. Accordingly, the church needed to “defend” itself against rumors and lofty criticism. Justin Martyr set out to provide clarification, remarking, “We do not seek to flatter you… but request that you judge on the basis of a proper and thorough investigation” (1).

Part Two

There seems to be a natural inclination to monasticism in the early church. It was hoped that monasteries would provide a quiet and secluded space for prayer, devotion, worship, exegetical studies, and a modified approach to interacting with culture. A secluded life would provide safe haven from heresies and distractions which had become prevalent. The “narrow gate” Jesus spoke of had become quite wide. Ministry had become for some a pursuit of privilege and position, without caring too much about learning the deeper meaning. Bishops competed for prestigious posts; the rich and powerful began to dominate and impact the church. Gonzalez writes, “When the church joins the powers of the world, when luxury and ostentation take hold of Christian alters, when the whole of society is intent on turning the narrow path into a wide avenue, how is one to resist the enormous temptations of the times”(2)? Origen, following the Platonic ideal of leading a wise existence, chose to live at a bare-bones subsistence and extreme asceticism.

Monasteries Galore

Christian monasticism began in AD 318. Several years later, Marcarius, a Coptic Christian, monk, and hermit in Egypt, retired to the desert of Scete, where for 60 years he lived as a hermit among the scattered settlements of other solitaries. As of 345, eight monasteries had been founded. Stoic doctrine held that passions are the great enemy of true wisdom: traditions such as sacred virgins, celibate priests, eunuchs, and others whose lifestyle set them apart for service to God. There was an incidental belief that sexual activity was somehow evil or improper for those devoted to holiness. The Council of Nicea, however, rejected castration as part of service to the church. Gonzalez notes that monasticism was not the invention of one person, but rather “a mass exodus, a contagion, which seems to have suddenly affected thousands of people” (3). Paul writes in Galatians, “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ… nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus… Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days” (Gal. 1:11-12, 17-18, NRSV).

A growing number of people were withdrawing to the desert desiring to learn from an experienced teacher. One of the earliest monasteries opened in Mosul, Iraq in 340. The first French monastery was founded in 360. Jerome started a monastery in Bethlehem in 386. Solitary monasticism gave way to a communal setting. They still referred to themselves as “monks” (solitary), but by this they meant living in solitude from the world but not living completely alone. This cenobitic lifestyle cropped up throughout many regions as a reaction to the pressures of daily living. Monks were required to obey their superiors, which necessitated a hierarchical order that was clearly delineated. Those in top positions were called abbots. Augustine of Hippo partly owed his conversion to reading Athanasius’s Life of Saint Anthony, and lived as a monk until he was called to assume a more active role in the church. Monasticism featured the common thread of Christian living: personal poverty and sharing of goods with the community. A monastic feudal system spread across Europe beginning in 1039. Knights Templar (warrior monks) were founded in AD 1118. Ultimately, the “Black Death” bubonic plague pandemic broke out across Afro-Eurasia in AD 1346, causing a drastic decline in monasticism.

Muhammad and Islam

One of the great challenges to Christianity was Islam, a monotheistic religion founded by Muhammad. Muhammad was born in Mecca, Arabia, in AD 570. Prior to becoming the prophet of Allah, he served as a business manager for Lady Khadija, the daughter of Khuwaylid ibn Asad (a leader of the Quraysh tribe in Mecca) and a successful businesswoman in her own right. She became Muhammad’s first wife and the earliest follower of Islam. Muhammad is said to have received revelations from the angel Gabriel on Mount Hira from AD 609 to 632, which became the basis for the Qur’an. The word “Qur’an” comes from the arabic qaraa, which means “to read.” According to Islamic doctrine, Muhammad was called by Allah to preach and confirm the monotheistic teachings of Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets.

Prior to the advent of Islam, Muslims practiced a form of paganism called Jahiliyya. It taught that Allah was the creator god and the supreme god of pre-Islamic Arabs. Intermediaries were set below Allah, such as his daughters Allat, Al-Uzza, and Manat, who would intercede on behalf of their worshipers. Over time, more Gods were added, ultimately representing most of the gods of other tribes in Arabia. Muhammad is never portrayed as indulging in this religion; he preached against polytheism in all forms. He claimed to be the “last prophet” of God whose mission was to correct the heresy that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, the Son of God. There has never been a period since the beginning of Islam that was characterized by large-scale peaceful existence between Muslims and non-Muslims. There was no time when mainstream and dominant Islamic authorities taught the equality of non-Muslims. There has always been, with virtually no interruption, jihad against infidels. Muslims conquered Jerusalem in AD 636. Alexandria, Egypt and Spain were next to fall. Persecution of Christians began in 717 under Caliph Umar II.

Many of the newer Christian churches were destroyed. In AD 850 Caliph Mutawakkil forced Christians to wear yellow patches (a sad and accurate foreshadowing of Jews forced to wear arm bands of the Star of David by the Nazis). When Vladimir of Kiev adopted Christianity in AD 988, this halted the advance of Islam in Eastern Europe. Thankfully, Charles Martel had been able to defeat the Muslim invasion of France in 732 at the Battle of Tours. Trouble with Islam continued, however. In 1009 Caliph Hakim destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and Seljuk Turks drove Christian priests out of Jerusalem in 1091. In 1291 the fall of Acre ended Christian power in the Holy Land.

Timeline of Temple in Jerusalem

Nehemiah told Artaxerxes he was sad, saying “Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lies waste, and its gates have been destroyed by fire” (Neh. 2:3).

David conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites in 1010 BC and established the capital of his kingdom there. Solomon, David’s son, expanded the city northward to include what came to be known as the Temple Mount, where he built the First Temple in 960 BC. In 721, Jerusalem expanded into the Western Hill as refugees sought protection from the conquering Assyrians. Sennacherib, king of Assyria, lay siege to Jerusalem in 701 BC. Babylonian forces destroyed Jerusalem and demolish the first temple in 586. Persian leader Cyrus the Great conquered the Babylonian Empire (including Jerusalem) in 539 BC. He allowed Jews in Babylonian exile to return to the city in 516. The second temple was rebuilt during this period. Artaxerxes allowed Nehemiah to begin rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Judea and Jerusalem were conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. King Herod restructured the temple in 37 BC, adding retaining walls. Jerusalem fell to the Roman Empire in AD 70 and the second temple was destroyed. Jerusalem was rebuilt in AD 135 as a Roman city, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built.

In Part Three we will examine the rumblings that began in the Christian church regarding its need for a profound reformation. The decline and corruption of the papacy was well known. Popes began amassing property and wealth, and intended to rival the Roman Empire. The papacy was moved by the the glories of the Renaissance, neglecting the gospel message. Reformers issued anathemas and decrees against absenteeism, pluralism, and simony (the practice of buying and selling ecclesiastical positions). Gonzalez wrote, “…even the many priests and monastics who wished to be faithful to their calling found this to be exceedingly difficult. How could one practice asceticism and contemplation in a monastery that had become a house of leisure and a meeting place for fashionable soireées” (4). We will find that Martin Luther was not the only Christian driven to a great reformation.

References

(1) Justin Martyr, in Justo L. Gonzalez’s The Story of Christianity, Vol. I: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2010), 59.
(2) Gonzalez, Ibid., 157.
(3) Ibid., 161.
(4) Justo L. Gonzalez, The Early Church , Vol. 2, The Reformation to the Present Day (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2010), 8.

History of the Christian Church: Part One

By Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.T.S.

Jose Ottega y Gasset once said, “Each generation stands on the shoulders of its predecessors” (1). This applies even to promulgation of church doctrine, establishment of proper church administration, and systematic theological studies. Today’s Christian church must rest firmly on the theology of its patristic fathers. From its onset, Christianity has impacted culture and society; however, culture and society have impacted Christianity as well. Culture is known to push back with force, often in an oppressive and violent manner. Today’s militant atheists are intent on eradicating Christianity from public discourse, and often file lawsuits to that end.

The early Christians did not consider themselves followers of a new religion. Gonzalez writes, “All of their lives they had been Jews and they still were” (2). Their main difference with the rest of Judaism was that they were convinced the Messiah had come, whereas other Jews continued to await His advent. Jewish leaders considered Christianity a heretical sect within Judaism. Christians were “…going from town to town tempting good Jews to become heretics” (3). Nationalistic and patriotic sentiment was aroused by the fear that these new heretics could once more bring the wrath of God upon them. As we will discover in this series, Jews routinely looked for someone else to blame for their woes. This resulted in protracted generations of exile from God.

From its very beginning, the Christian message was grafted onto human history. Through generation after generation, Christians have taught that Jesus Christ is the complete embodiment of God, and He is salvation for all who believe in His sacrificial death on the cross. Much history, lineage, and geography is presented throughout the Synoptic Gospels. Identity and lifestyle were especially important to the largely Jewish audience for whom the Gospel of Matthew was initially written. It attests to considerable hostility toward synagogues (6:2-18; 10:17-18), and utter rejection of Jewish leaders, especially Pharisees (12:14; 15:12-14; 21:45-46; 23). Matthew describes doctrinal infighting, the sacking of Jerusalem (AD 70), and destruction of the Temple. He notes how the early church would question God’s faithfulness (as they waited on Him), and he references apologetic debates.

John’s gospel is instrumental in establishing significant events discussed in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John rightly commences with in the beginning, which refers to the first chapter of Genesis. Paul said, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children” (Gal. 4:4. NRSV). John describes his experience when he baptized Jesus. The distinctiveness of John’s writing style is easily recognizable: Jesus’ teaching moved beyond parables that are featured in Matthew, Mark, and Luke; instead, Jesus taught in much longer speeches. The “I am” sayings we see in the Gospel of John are not found in the other three Gospels. Further, John spends much time on the incarnation. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1).

The Jewish Diaspora (the scattering of Jews far and wide), had a critical impact on the history of Christianity. Gonzalez writes, “…for it was one of the main avenues through which the new faith expanded throughout the Roman Empire” (4). In addition, the Diaspora played a large role in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Diaspora has also been used to characterize the flourishing Jewish community that lived in Alexandria shortly before the rise of Christianity. Trade flourished during the early centuries of the Christian church. This factor brought the story of redemption to new regions; but through traveling traders, slaves, and others, more than through missionaries or preachers. With this wide dispersal, syncretism crept into the Christian church, beginning with Constantine (AD 280-337) and others like him who practiced pagan rites while also attending Christian services.

Constantine’s dubious claim of conversion to Christianity notwithstanding, he provided the church with his “legal blessing,” while continuing to embrace paganism. Jews and Christians stood firm in their faith, which garnered the reputation of unbending fanatics. When the early Christians refused to light incense to the Roman gods, or to the emperor, they did so as a testament to their faith in Christ alone. Because Christians throughout the Roman Empire stayed home rather than participate in “societal” activities and street fairs which typically involved in festivals honoring the gods, Roman authorities condemned Christians as disloyal and seditious. This is one of the many reasons that Christians were persecuted, tortured, and executed by Roman authorities.

Other key factors impacted the early Christian church during the first three centuries. For example, as soon as the Christian message started reaching the Gentiles, it came under attack from individuals who wanted to alter or nullify it. Gnosticism began to infiltrate the Christian church: a prominent heretical movement of the 2nd-century Christian Church, partly of pre-Christian origin, which believed the world was created and ruled by a lesser divinity, the demiurge, and that Christ was an emissary of the remote supreme divine being, esoteric knowledge (gnosis). It would take the church nearly 100 years to rid itself of Gnosticism. These developments led to emergence of early Christian apologists, such as Justin the Martyr and Augustine of Hippo. Apologetics has survived into the twenty-first century. The church responded specifically to heresy and accusations by establishing canon, creed, and apostolic succession. At times, it was necessary to convene a synod to decide issues of doctrine and administration.

Christianity was established as an official religion at the Edict of Milan in AD 313. This was an important step in securing the civil rights of Christians throughout the Roman Empire. For nearly 300 years, Christianity was functionally illegal in the Roman Empire, often subjecting Christians to persecution. This proclamation protected full rights for Christian citizens of the Empire, restoring their property, releasing them from prisons, and effectively banning government persecution of their faith. It also declared a general state of religious tolerance, allowing for the expression of virtually any spiritual belief. Unfortunately, the bad came with the good in the form of heresies, such as Donatism: the belief that Christian clergy must be faultless for their ministry to be effective and their prayers and sacraments to be valid. This led to schism in the Church of Carthage from the fourth to the sixth centuries AD. Arianism – the ideology that Jesus was merely human and not divine – arose practically overnight. The Roman Empire banned Arianism in 379. Shortly thereafter, the church instituted the death penalty for heresy.

In AD 425, Augustine of Hippo proclaimed salvation through faith alone (sola fide) in Christ alone (sola Christus). This was an apologetic answer to the claim of Pelagius that salvation could be earned by good works. Augustine wrestled, however, with the origin of evil. He ultimately settled on evil being “…a looking away from God and turning one’s gaze to the inferior realm.” It was believed that a single being, of infinite goodness, was the source of all things. He said evil is real, but it is not a real or created “thing.” Rather, Augustine taught the concept that evil is a direction away from the goodness of the One. I am familiar with the suggestion that we are either walking toward or walking away from Christ. Walk is discussed throughout the New Testament. The 4th Ecumenical Council (AD 451) reestablished the two natures of Jesus (human and divine). The birth of monasticism furthered the teachings of the Church and led to the promulgation of the Gospel.

Christianity’s next great challenge was Islam. Jerusalem was conquered by the Muslims in AD 636. Alexandria, Egypt and Spain were next to fall to the Muslims. Persecution of Christians by Muslims began AD 717 under Caliph Umar II. Many of the newer Christian churches were destroyed. In AD 850 Caliph Mutawakkil forced Christians to wear yellow patches. (This is a sad but accurate foreshadowing of Nazis forcing Jews to wear Star of David arm bands during the reign of Adolf Hitler.) When Vladimir of Kiev adopted Christianity in AD 988, this halted the advance of Islam in Eastern Europe. Thankfully, Charles “The Hammer” Martel defeated the Muslim invasion of France in AD 732. It was the caliph’s intention to conquer Europe in the name of Muhammad.

Trouble with Islam continued. In AD 1009 Caliph Hakim destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and the Seljuk Turks drove Christian priests out of Jerusalem in AD 1091. In May 1291, the world entered a new era. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say the world left an era behind, because this was the month that saw the end of Crusader power in the Middle East. The decisive event was the Siege of Acre, which culminated in the bloody defeat of the Knights Templar and their Crusader brethren. Acre was their last major stronghold – after this, it was only a matter of time before the Christian presence in the Holy Land was extinguished.

Please join me next time when I discuss the historical importance of monasticism in the early Christian church. As always, please consider replying to these posts to help foster dialog.

Footnotes
(1) Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity Vol. 1, The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2010), xiii.
(2) Gonzalez, Ibid., 27.
(3) Ibid., 42.
(4) Ibid., 18.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Colonialism and Christianity

The following summary is from the last class in Church History in pursuit of my master’s degree in theology at Colorado Christian University.

Early nineteenth century missionaries were important participants in colonial expeditions. Given that many in twenty-first century Western culture decry the era, goals, and abuses of colonialism, we must ask: Did Christianity benefit from an un-Christian impulse (colonialism)? Discuss this by answering the following questions. Were Christian missionaries a positive exception to the abuses of colonialism? Does the fact that colonialism aided Christianity in its spread throughout the entire world bestow ultimate value on the colonial experiences, making colonialism worth it?

It is unfortunately true that abuses and ulterior motives lurk in nearly every corner of human endeavor. I think it is interesting to track and analyze historical, social, and theological developments. The “birth” of Christianity did not happen in a vacuum. Most people during the first century saw Christianity as a heretical sect of Judaism and not necessarily a “new” religion. When I consider the progressive thread of redemption throughout the entirety of Scripture, I am able to accept some of the negatives of Christianity developing alongside colonialism.

Were Christian missionaries a positive exception to the abuses of colonialism?

Colonialism is the total control or governing influence of one nation over people in another nation or territory. It is reasonable to expect abuses and negative consequences with such activity. Many Christians in academia and the church see globalization as a two-edged sword. Some of the more egregious actions often taken in the name of conquest or expansion include domination of indigenous peoples, the taking of land in the name of expansion, and forceful servitude (slavery). It would be nice if this had not occurred specific to evangelism during global expansion, but it was likely unavoidable. Consequently, it can be difficult to see the “good” impact Christianity had on new populations during the era in question.

Most mission societies were not responsible for the troublesome side effects of colonization. However, as Gonzalez notes, the relationship between colonialism and missions is complex and difficult to gauge. Tradesmen, explorers, and colonizers were often accompanied by missionaries. This interrelationship was both positive and negative. I think it is no coincidence that not all churches or colonizers supported missions. Several key companies objected to spreading the Gospel in conjunction with colonialism and industrialization as they feared it would cause disagreements and protests that could hinder economic growth. The aim of colonization was to exploit the economy of each region, which usually led to making the new colony economically dependent on the colonizers; not to share the gospel or plant new churches.

From a positive perspective, the missionary movement necessitated a spirit of cooperation that seemed to bring churches and denominations together in pursuit of the Great Commission. Gonzalez stated that missionary societies often pulled members from more than one denomination. I agree that this helped curb “competing” messages and rivalries among witnessing missionaries. This was possibly the spark that prompted a more ecumenical movement in Christianity. Missionaries stood up against the caste system in India. Protestantism helped liberate those people deemed “untouchable” and excluded from everyday society. Other missions helped rescue women from sexism and violence and spawned their education. Further, the rapid Westernization of Japan aided the work of Christian missionaries.

Although colonialism brought much abuse and controversy to new regions, does the spread of Christianity outweigh the negative?

Gonzalez tries to draw a line-in-the-sand between colonialism and missions. Missions over the centuries have reached regions not visited by white explorers, traders, or colonizers. Were these “missionary” activities better than those occurring in tandem with expansionism? Is “saving souls” worth it no matter what? Do the ends justify the means? Not an easy question to answer! Many individuals have been brought to Christ during colonization. Over the centuries, Christianity has been labeled elitist, manipulative, arrogant, destructive. Gonzalez describes the so-called “white man’s burden.” Simply stated, it means taking to the rest of the world the benefits of industrialization, capitalism, democracy, and Christianity. I cannot help but think about watching TV documentaries on countries devastated by war and extremism (such as Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq), or underdeveloped nations showing conditions that no one should want to endure. It’s easy to ask (from my comfortable recliner in modern America) why anyone would enjoy living in such conditions? Actually, this underlying question (nay, concern) is one of the driving forces of many efforts over the centuries to industrialize or “modernize” underdeveloped nations.

Gonzalez said modernity has produced the dislocation of vast masses who became landless, suffering the destruction of cultural patterns that had sustained them for generations. Expansionism has been blamed for growing disparities in living conditions between rich and poor throughout the world (1). Indigenous populations frequently suffered a loss of culture as colonizers tried to impose their way of life on their new “subjects.” White colonizers often considered these native peoples to be savage and lacking in culture. No doubt they felt justified in attempting to bring stability to what they might have considered “barbaric” or primitive populations. This is unfortunately as much a “value judgment” as it is a desire to aid in improving the living conditions.

I think it is necessary to separate the sociocultural impact of colonization from the religious impact of missions. Certainly, most Christian missionaries who bring the gospel to remote parts of the globe have a singleness of purpose: to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in accordance with the command in Matthew 28:18-20. To achieve this, missionaries have translated and distributed the Bible in many languages. Countless indigenous peoples have learned to read through the work of missions. Treaties often included clauses that made allowances for the work of Christian missions. Following the Chinese Boxer Rebellion, the presence of tens of thousands of Protestant missionaries throughout the provinces (many in positions of authority in the church) helped quash further rebellion. Corrupt governments and rampant exploitations met staunch Christian opposition.

I would conclude that colonization was not specific to evangelism. Moreover, globalization was not always undertaken with pure motives. It seems the lion’s share of colonizers intended to benefit from expansion, industrialization, increased labor forces, additional sources of raw materials and minerals, agriculture, hunting and trapping, and eventual resale of real estate for profit. Of those colonizers, some intended to bring indigenous peoples out of their primitive state of existence. A smaller percentage, although their prime objective was economical, were practicing Christians who brought the gospel with them. I see no reason to pitch the baby out with the bathwater. At the least, many seeds of faith were planted. Of course, I believe most missionaries were primarily motivated by the Great Commission. Thankfully, all things tend to work for good for those who love the LORD and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). To this end, I believe the pros of colonialism outweigh the cons relative to spreading the gospel.

Response from Classmates

Thanks for sharing a great post. I deduced that you feel that it was “worth it” in the end. Although I must admit that I wrestled A LOT with my answer this week, I ended up concluding that the abuses of colonialism were not “worth it,” as I don’t think that God would place inherent worth/value on sin and evil. However, I do agree that He can bring good out of all things.

You and I have both shared painful experiences from our own past throughout the coursework. As I was writing this prompt, I couldn’t help but think about how it could relate to my life, or anyone who has experienced some form of abuse. I honestly felt as though the pain that I endured was “worth it” because it led me to Christ, and my salvation is the greatest gift I could receive in this life. I also realized that Christ’s abuses were deemed “worth it” for our salvation—His sufferings in the world and horrible death on the cross gave us a shot at eternity. This is where I struggled!

However, there was a difference with colonization—the individuals who were abused during colonization were not Jesus, but rather His sheep. That is where I decided that the abuses of some to lead to the salvation of others was not “worth it.” God does not delight in sin, and calls us to spread the Gospel, not evil. One of our classmates mentioned that they don’t think that Christians should ally themselves with the “lesser evil,” but rather should uphold to what is true according to the Word. Do you think it could be dangerous to justify a lesser evil in the name of a greater good?

Meredith

My Response to Meredith

Thanks for your response to my initial discussion post. Let me begin by (re)stating the definition of colonialism: the total control or governing influence of one nation over people in another nation or territory. I do so in order to draw a definite line in the sand between colonizers and missionaries. I would further state that those colonizers who were Christians and yet chose to cajole, cheat, manipulate, dominate, or otherwise force themselves and their beliefs on indigenous people merely to profit from associated gains are to blame, and not Christianity itself. Further to this point, I am quoting from Tiffany’s initial discussion post:

It is important to separate out Christianity from Christians, as well as those falsely speaking under the claim of Christianity, in support of this assertion. It is not that Christianity was tarnished, but that the reputation of Christianity blemished. Christianity suffers in the way Christ suffered—in that Christianity is birthed in, sustained by, and brought to culmination in Christ. He is the identity of Christianity (italics in the original).

I would argue that one of the positives of colonization was missionaries often accompanied the colonizers, making it possible for missions to have the means and companionship to travel where they might otherwise be unable to get to. Admittedly, there were more explorers and tradesmen who were motivated by expansion, wealth, and increased territory than there were Christians solely dedicated to sharing the gospel. I can tell you’re on the fence regarding the “worth it” question. You are closer to saying yes than you think. You referenced Romans 8:28: God will always use whatever circumstance or individual He requires to bring about His will.

Grudem (1994) provides insight regarding God’s will as it relates to (i) His absolute moral will, and (ii) His providential will. God’s moral will is revealed in Scripture. We know His character, His affection, His desire for us. We know how He wishes us to behave. He has provided certain “moral commands.” God also has providential (or “secret”) will (1). God is able to permit us to do something that might displease Him in the short run but which brings about His intended results in the long run. This is the very essence of Romans 8:28.

Speaking of our pasts, as I struggled a year and a half ago to stop abusing pain medication and to “forgive” myself of my past and see it as an asset for helping others (rather than a liability), I met a gentleman from Brooklyn who had spent 17 years in active addiction living on the streets. He became a born-again Christian and quit abusing crack. He said, “God wants me to tell you something.” That got my attention for sure. He continued: “He wants you to know that everything you’ve been through from the moment of your birth to this moment right now meeting me was ordained by Him in order to assure you became the man He needs you to be to carry out your ministry.” Whoa!

The concept of God’s providential will also speaks to His eternal plan whereby He determined (before the foundation of the world) to bring about everything that happens, and to work it together for our and His good. Grudem believes this “decree” type of will is critical because it shows us God doesn’t “make things up as He goes.” Grudem says, “He knows the end from the beginning, and he will accomplish all his good purposes” (2).

You quoted a classmate who declared that Christians should not align themselves with the “lesser evil” just because of a potential good outcome. For me, “aligning” with any evil would suggest being complicit. This is a question of personal motive. We must always remember that God works through human actions (even the horrific ones) in His providential oversight of creation. The individual making the wrong decision for the wrong reason is liable for his or her behavior, but God has absolute providence over the situation. I believe we must always remember that nothing about God, His creation, or us (as His image-bearers) is determined by chance or randomness; nor are they determined by impersonal fate or karma (determinism). God is sovereign over all.

Footnotes

(1) Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. II (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 418.

(2) Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 332.

(3) Grudem, 333.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: The Most Important Event

The following summary is from my most recent class in Church History in pursuit of my master’s degree in theology at Colorado Christian University.

In the opening chapter of the reading for this section, Justo L. Gonzalez (2010) makes this statement: “…from the perspective of the history of Christianity, the most important event of the nineteenth century was the founding of a truly universal church in which peoples of all races and nations had a part” (302). After completing your reading, answer the following questions:

  • Was Gonzalez correct in his identification of “the most important event?”
  • If not, what would you say was the most important event for nineteenth century Christian history?
  • If so, what would you say was the state of that “universal church” by the end of the nineteenth century?

My Opening Argument

Gonzalez describes changes in the economic power of nation-states in Europe and throughout the Western hemisphere during the second half of the eighteenth century. In addition, there were great political and social upheavals during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries “…that would have a serious impact on Christianity as a whole” (1). This period also featured tremedous geographical expansion of Christianity. I agree with Gonzalez that the most important event of the nineteenth century was the founding of a truly universal church—one available to all races and nations. His qualifying comment is  important: “On the other hand, however, it is necessary to point out that this took place within the context of colonialism and economic imperialism” (2). As colonialism, neocolonialism, and the Industrial Revolution took hold, personal and cultural diversity put doctrine and hierarchy at risk in the Christian church.

While Christianity must always involve a personal choice and commitment, simply doing missions will not assure universal adherence to accepted Christian doctrine. There are four marks of the Church, signifying it is (i) one; (ii) holy; (iii) “catholic” and (iv) apostolic. Each mark is critical for establishing and maintaining “consistent” Christianity. Without preservation of a single, holy, universal, and apostolic church, geographic expansion would surely have had a more devastating and lasting impact on the gospel than it did. As it is, there were periods of amazing proliferation of Christianity as a natural companion to colonialization, but there were also periods of painful, heretical, and villainous actions. Let’s look at the key “marks” of the church.

One means there is one body (the Christian church) with Christ as its head. Grudem says, “The church is the community of all true believers for all time” (3). Christ holds all authority over the church. Paul wrote, “[A]nd he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23, NRSV). Ephesians 2:19-20 says we’re fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus being the cornerstone. In this regard, the “church” is much more than the visible local church. As the Body of Christ, it must remain one regardless of dispensation or geographic disbursal. 

Holy means the church and its believers must be “set apart” and sanctified. Moreover, the church is holy because it is Jesus Christ, who teaches holiness. Grudem says, “The purity of the church is its degree of freedom from wrong doctrine and conduct, and its degree of conformity to God’s revealed will for the church” (4). The holy church must be separate from the world, but its unity requires freedom from divisions among the community of believers (the true Christians) as well. Its “holiness” is grounded in the need for proper doctrine, conscience, and considerations. This feature also helps identify “false” churches—which by definition are not a part of the Body of Christ. It’s through caution and humility that we preserve proper doctrine.

“Catholic” means it is universal. The Greek word for “catholic” (katholikos) means “throughout the whole” or “general.” The term “catholic” first showed up during the patristic era denoting universal. For example, “Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church (Ign. Smyrn. 8:2)” (5). Harrison says when the term began appearing in the Apostle’s Creed (and earlier in the Nicene Creed), “one holy catholic and apostolic church” expressed a sense of universality; accenting the church’s unity despite its geographic dispersion. The term “catholic” can also apply to the New Testament epistles, indicating they were intended for the entire church and not just those to whom they were addressed. This is a critical point, given the fact that the Scriptures are alive and timeless. Further, Harrison indicates that in the face of numerous heresies during the Apostolic Era, the term “catholic” was equivalent to orthodox. Of course, during the Reformation “catholic” was used to delineate between the emerging Protestant church and the Roman Catholic Church.

Apostolic means the church was founded by Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). Jesus then delegated that authority to the church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (28:19-20). Apostolic propriety has established key matters such as baptism, the Eucharist, authorship of the canonical Gospels, and acceptable key doctrines. The apostles founded churches and appointed their successors. This provided the means by which emphasis was on the context of the central gospel message. The apostolic feature of the church allowed for establishing its marks, purity, power, hierarchy of governance, grace, and unity.

In conclusion, it is my opinion that missions should not take precedence over the establishment of a universal church with a uniform set of core doctrines. Failure to grant preeminence to the marks of the church and its core doctrines would cause replication that would eventually lead to false churches.

Response from Austin, a Fellow Classmate

You mentioned that you “do not believe missions should take precedence over the establishment of a universal church with a uniform set of core doctrines.” Yes, I do agree we need core beliefs, but at the same time I feel there is urgency in sharing the Gospel with the unreached and that it should not be sacrificed. I could see a combination of missions and the formation of a universal church being the most important, but it’s hard to really specify which one has a great significance on Christianity. Do you think missions, or the formation of mission societies was a significant event during the nineteenth century, even if not the most significant?

My Rebuttal

Thanks for your feedback to my initial discussion post. We are closer in agreement than it might sound. The Great Commission is critical. It applies to the entire church. We are all responsible for bringing the gospel with us wherever we go; whatever our vocation. Rather than say a “universal” church is somehow more important than missions probably fails to accurately express what I meant. These two aspects of the church are “nearly” equal in importance. I give more importance to first establishing a church that displays all the marks: one, holy, universal (“catholic”) and apostolic. A sort-of prerequisite to missions. Like taking a course on “fundamental Christian principles” first, and then moving on to an advanced course on deeper issues of doctrine. I addressed this issue to an extent in Church History I (Session 5) when answering the prompt about benefits of the Reformation versus the evangelical benefits of colonial expansion: i.e., which of these two has contributed the most to the course of Christianity?

At that time, I said the Reformation yielded more positive results than colonization (“expansion” or “globalization”). I took that position for the same reason I bring to this week’s discussion. The church is commanded to go forth into every nation, spreading the Good News—teaching and baptizing, making disciples of men for further proliferation of the gospel. Colonialism  includes explorers, travelers, merchants, and missionaries (who bring their religion with them). But “good” Evangelism (one of Christianity’s most sacred and clearly established responsibilities) must be well-grounded in an accepted and uniform set of principles. Granted, Christianity has fractured into numerous denominations, which is why I believe it is paramount that the church had to first settle on a centralized or universal set of doctrines prior to setting out to share the gospel. 

Consider the deeper intellectual revolution Gonzalez (2010, 304) speaks about. The philosophy of thinking (epistemology) was drastically impacted by the Renaissance. One side-effect of the Industrial Revolution was a focus almost exclusively on empirical evidence as the best means for gaining knowledge. Nationalism took hold and led to changes in government models and the social order. In the face of all these changes, the church remained present, cutting across “national boundaries, class distinctions, and political allegiances” (6). Gonzalez said that for the first time in history a “truly universal church had been born” (7).

Gonzalez also noted, “[F]rom the perspective of the twenty-first century it would appear that the most important event in the history of Christianity in the nineteenth and twentieth century was that [Christianity] moved beyond its traditional [geographical?] confines within Western civilization and became a truly universal faith(8) (italics mine). Given the fact that secularism, pluralism, and moral relativism was impacting philosophy and theology, Christendom fell on leaner times, thereby setting up the post-Christian society we see today. It is critical that Christianity have a uniform set of core beliefs and a sense of universality before there can be any accurate and efficacious proliferation of the message. 

The universality of the Christian church is extremely important. Arguably, this has not created “flawless” adherence to uniform doctrine throughout the world, but “universal faith” has created a solid foundation from which to preach, teach, disciple, and baptize people that holds true to the nuts-and-bolts of Jesus’ instructions to the church just prior to His ascension.

Footnotes

(1) Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. II (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 301-02.
(2) Gonzalez, 302.
(3) Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 853.
(4) Grudem, 873.
(5) E.F. Harrison, “Catholic,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 3rd ed., edited by D.J. Treier and W.A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 163.
(6) Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. II (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 312.
(7) Gonzalez, 314.
(8) Gonzalez, 316.

Let’s Go To Theology Class: The Thirty Years War

The following summary is from my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s degree in theology at Colorado Christian University.

The Thirty Years’ War (1618-48) was the last of the European religious wars and one of Europe’s bloodiest conflicts. Due to casualties, disease, and all other horrors of war, the population of the Holy Roman Empire dropped by 7.5 million during that period. To appreciate the religious significance of the war, discuss both the beginning and ending of the conflict.

Specifically, answer these questions:

  • What were the contributions to the war effort made by Lutherans, Calvinists, and Roman Catholics (address all three groups)?
  • What were the results of the war for Lutherans, Calvinists, and Roman Catholics (again, all three groups)?
  • Who would you say won the war?

How it Began

The impetus for the Thirty Years War was the Holy Roman Emperor’s attempts to reestablish Catholic hegemony over Protestant regions. The teaching style of seventeenth and eighteenth theologians began to morph into something that was no longer based entirely on Scripture. Justo L. Gonzalez believes the approach of many church leaders became increasingly rigid, cold, and academic. No doubt this militant and dogmatic style provided a momentum during the period leading up to the Thirty Years War that was nearly impossible to stop. Gonzalez notes, “Dogma was often substituted for faith, and orthodoxy for love”(1).

Prior to the War, the Peace of Nuremberg (1532) permitted Protestants to practice their faith but prohibited spreading Protestantism. Gonzalez says, “The Peace of Augsburg, which put an end to religious wars in Germany in the sixteenth century, could not last”(2). This was true in part because freedom of religion was granted only to the rulers. Further, regions ruled by bishops often remained Catholic even if their bishops became Protestant (3).

Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism each vied for dominance in Europe. Rebellion spread quickly. Charles V (for Catholicism) and Frederick the Wise (for Protestantism) saw “[N]o higher interest than the cause of God’s truth as they saw it, and subordinated their political and personal ambitions to that cause” (4) (italics mine). Gonzalez: “[T]he peace achieved at Augsburg was at best an armistice that would hold only as long as each side felt unable to take military action against the other” (5).

The Lutherans

The war began in Bohemia after the Defenestration of Prague. Much had been happening on the fringes regarding Protestantism. Skirmishes did little to settle the matter of “official” religious beliefs in the nation-states. Books on Protestantism began to circulate following invention of the printing press. Martin Luther’s Reformation caused a division among German princes within the Holy Roman Empire. Moreover, these rulers began using religion to further their political ambition. Lutherans objected violently when Ferdinand closed one Protestant church and destroyed another. Many historians claim the Thirty Years War cost the lives of nearly half of Germany’s population. No doubt true believers were growing wary of Catholic orthodoxy.

Bohemian Protestants waged was against Ferdinand, but they were defeated. Ferdinand reasserted his control over Bohemia and was also named emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Gonzalez indicates that Catholics, Lutherans, Reformed, and Anglicans assumed that a nation-state must have a single religion to which all its subjects must adhere. Not only is this idea a factor in the Thirty Years War, it is an impetus for eventual colonization of America in the name of freedom from this very situation. According to Gonzalez, Philip of Hesse took the duchy of Wurttemberg for himself. The population of the duchy swung toward Protestantism. Gonzalez also reminds us that peace in Europe was only attained by deciding that some states would be Lutheran and some Catholic: This is the application of the concept cuju regis eius religio (“whose realm, his religion”). Lutheranism was born out of Martin Luther’s push for reform in the Roman Catholic Church. A precursor to the War was failure of the Inquistion to quell what Gonzalez calls the “Lutheran contagion.” Luther would not back down, even in the face of official opposition from the papacy.

The Calvinists

According to Tom Richey, “Calvinism, which was not established as a legal religion in the Empire by the Peace of Augsburg, spread throughout the Empire despite its prohibition, as Calvinists did not care whether their religion was legal or not. The spread of Calvinism threatened the tranquility of the Empire, as did places like Bohemia, where the ruler’s religion was different from most of the population” (6).

Gonzalez remarks that medieval foundations (the empire, the papacy, and tradition) were weakening. Calvinism, which was not established as a legal religion in the Empire by the Peace of Augsburg, spread throughout the Empire despite being prohibited. Calvinists didn’t care whether their religion was legal or not. As Calvinism continued to spread, it threatened the tranquility of the Empire. Social and political unrest was rapidly becoming the norm. Luther and Calvin were determined to see the church return to the Word of God, thereby reforming Catholicism. Calvin discovered the freedom of justification through the unmerited grace of God, which resulted in his hallmark doctrine of predestination. Gonzalez relates Poland’s distrust and disdain for the Germans, causing Lutheranism there to grow at a snail’s pace. He wrote, “It was when Calvinism made its way into the country that Protestantism began making headway” (7). Anti-Trinitarian heresies took root there. This may well have led to Poland becoming one of the most Catholic nation-states in Europe (see Gonzalez, 160).

The Roman Catholics

The Holy Roman Empire was a fragmented collection of largely independent states. The Reformation caused division between Catholic and Protestant rule. The origins of the conflict and goals of the participants were complex. Initially, the war was fought largely as a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire. Mary Tudor and other notable nobles were committed to restoring Roman Catholicism in England. She became known as “Bloody Mary” because of her increasingly repressive and violent acts against Protestants. Gonzalez notes England’s official return to obedience to the pope in late 1554—Protestants were now persecuted as a matter of policy.

St. Ignatius of Loyola emerged as the new face of Catholic “reformation.” In 1540, as a response to burgeoning Protestantism, the Society of Jesus (the “Jesuits”) came to be quite a force for defeating the Protestants. The papacy put their resources to task. These early Jesuits operated under a quasi-military structure. Also, “[F]or generations the tendency within Roman Catholicism had been toward greater centralization in Rome, after the model of a monarchical government” (8). Protestantism was not similarly organized.

How it Ended

The Peace of Westphalia (comprised of a series of “cease-fire” treaties) recognized sovereign equality—the balance of power and non-intervention in affairs of the nation-states—established a variety of political kingdoms in Europe. Several earlier events caused the War to start slowing down—e.g., the Peace of Prague signed in 1634 ended Saxony’s participation. The Spain’s military fizzled out in 1640. Tom Richey said Westphalia set a “normative” state—a standard applicable to all territories—which fixed the control of churches, the right to public worship, and the so-called “confessional status” of each territory to the state it had been in as of January 1, 1624. Richey wrote, “By establishing a standard applicable to all, it also represented a convenient means of avoiding the conflicts of honour [sic] inherent in early-modern negotiations in which princes were asked to make concessions” (9). The Peace of Westphalia established an order of conditional sovereignty.

Catholic France and Protestant England emerged as the two most powerful European states. The rulers of the European nation-states could now choose their official religions. Catholics and Protestants were now decidedly equal under the law. Also, Calvinism lost its heretical or dogmatic stigma and was given legal recognition. The Thirty Years War came to an end in 1648. Obviously, both sides suffered greatly, seeming to have exhausted their military personnel and armaments. Spain began to collapse during the Thirty Years War, which seems to have continued after the Peace of Westphalia. Catholicism in France faired well as a result of War, but to no true detriment to Protestantism there. This was no small feat, and it involved France conscientiously rising above religious bigotry and hatred. In this regard, although Catholicism did not vanish in France, the Protestants were able to establish a strong religious presence as well. Yet I feel Protestantism won the day. They rose above what could have been total annihilation. Then again, the gospel has progressed over the centuries in exactly the manner God determined.


(1) Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. II (New York: HarperOne, 2010), Gonzalez, 174.

(2) 177.

(3) 177.

(4) 173.

(5) 177.

(6) Tom Richey, “The Thirty Years War (AP Euro Lecture Notes),” The Blog @ Tom Richey.net (09/26/2016), URL: https://www.tomrichey.net/blog/the-thirty-years-war-ap-euro-lecture-notes

(7) Gonzalez, 159.

(8) 453.

(9) Tom Richey, “The Thirty Years War (AP Euro Lecture Notes),” The Blog @ Tom Richey.net

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Significance of the Reformation and Colonial Expansion

The following summary is from my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s degree in theology at Colorado Christian University.

In his book, History of Christianity, Vol. 1,  Justo L. Gonzalez writes, “Living as we do, only five centuries after both the Reformation and the colonial expansion of Iberia, it may be too early to decide which of the two will eventually have greater significance to the course of Christianity” (489). He provides his own cautious opinion a few sentences later, but I want to know what you think. Which would you say has exerted the “greater significance to the course of Christianity” to date: The Reformation or colonial expansion?

In this final discussion prompt for Church History Part 1, we were asked to address the theological benefits of the Reformation versus the evangelical benefits of colonial expansion. Which of these two has contributed the most to the course of Christianity? Initially, it seems like an easy matter to determine. Martin Luther almost single-handedly reeled in an out-of-control papacy, helping to preserve the true tenet of Christianity: salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. No man has the power to grant forgiveness of sins or to direct any amount of penance that will satisfy the wages of sin. But what of the evangelical benefits of colonialism?

Clearly, by the time of Martin Luther’s proposed changes, the church needed profound reformation. In fact, many longed for it. Gonzalez notes that many priests and monastics who wished to be faithful to their calling were finding this to be exceedingly difficult given the many lax practices beginning to plague the church. The Reformation helped bring Christianity back to its intended soteriology by challenging papal forgiveness, penance, indulgences, and promotion of purgatory. Gonzalez said this “Resulted in major divisions that exist to this day.” Luther didn’t plan to start a new church. He merely addressed in his 95 Theses numerous issues that needed to be changed within the Catholic Church, focusing on only the Word of God as the starting point and final authority. Luther formed objections to transubstantiation during communion, baptism prior to conversion, and the selling of indulgences. He essentially took on ecclesial meritocracy and attempted to tear apart the bond of church and state. The benefits of the Reformation were not limited to religion: Protestantism has given us open-ended and undisciplined argument, fostering new ideas in everyday life, reviving traditional doctrine, and questioning improper church orthodoxies.

Regarding evangelism, Christ gave us an emphatic directive in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (NRSV). He said, “‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.’ And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it” (Mark 16:15, 20). Gonzalez believes colonialism in Iberia “…resulted in the largest expansion of Christianity in both number of followers and geographic reach since its very inception.” 1 Unfortunately, the goal of some Protestant leaders in colonizing the Iberian Peninsula seemed to be domination of local culture and ideology through a hegemony of leadership, rooted in Christian theology. Christian colonists came up against Islam and Judaism in Iberia, no doubt with a lingering memory of persecution under the religious and political leaders of both faiths. There was a sort-of balancing act between Protestantism and local beliefs regarding ancient gods. This tended to push toward syncretism. It’s one thing to be enthusiastic for the gospel, but the approach must be of Christ and based on “God inside.” I believe motivation for such expansion must be sharing and teaching; not cajoling and oppressing. The latter is akin to radical Protestantism, whose spirituality is affective or “emotional” at best, and which at worst causes compliance out of fear. This leads to pseudo-pietism. Many colonists who left England wanted to escape the tyranny of a state religion that was trampling on their beliefs. Historians believe these “conquering” Protestants were looking for the opportunity to make their faith the dominant religion. Accordingly, many were rather intolerant of other beliefs, especially those inexorably linked to local culture.

As I noted above, you would think it’s easy to compare notes on the Reformation and Christianity’s colonialism and decide which of these activities afforded the most benefits to the faith as a global religion. The church is commanded to go forth into every nation, spreading the Good News—teaching and baptizing, making disciples of Christ for further proliferation of the gospel. Colonialism always brings with it explorers, travelers, merchants, and missionaries. As interaction and commerce increased between nations, so did spreading of the gospel. Even those nations who did not become predominately Christian were impacted by trade practices, monetary systems, politics, and culture imported by Protestants. Increased travel and trade no doubt led to heightened concerns over security and sovereignty, creating the need for a larger military.

I believe it is the Reformation that had the greatest positive impact on the spread of Christianity throughout Europe, Africa, and the Americas. With the advent of the Dominicans and other monastic groups, piety was on the rise. Gonzalez writes, “Soon there were other similar movements, or ancient orders that now followed the example of the Franciscans and Dominicans… their main objective was preaching, teaching, and study.”  World-renowned universities (such as Paris, Oxford) benefited from Dominicans teaching as professors. Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Alexander of Hales, the Friars Minor, and the Franciscans established footholds in all major universities. Additionally, at just the right moment—when the papacy seemed most out of control and operating outside the scope of accepted Christian doctrine—Martin Luther and others successfully challenged ill-advised dogma and heresy in the church.  Evangelism remains one of Christianity’s most sacred and clearly established responsibilities, but without first recognizing and correcting questionable practices and heretical beliefs the result would be similar to a framer making even a minor mistake in the angle of the footer when framing a room—this would cause the foundation wall to be out of square several inches over its expanse. Protestant Reformation corrected serious misalignments concerning salvation, baptism, the Eucharist, papal authority, deep-rooted meritocracy, and other troublesome practices in the Catholic Church that had to be brought into order with Scripture and proper church doctrine. Failure to address these matters would have caused a slow-but-steady drift away from the core doctrines of Christianity. It is for these reasons I put more emphasis on Reformation than colonialism.

A response from David, one of my classmates:

I guess there may be two points of clarification. First, whether or not some form of reformation was inevitable given the age of reason. I’m claiming that reformation was inevitable given the sort of anthropological and philosophical changes that happened ithe post medieval world. I’m not sure what a splintering of Catholicism would have looked like if it weren’t a cohesive movement, but I can imagine that all of the ideals that you listed as central principles of the reformation would have manifest. 

The second area that needs clarification is to what extent Colonialism may have sped up the processes of democratization, language unification, and globalization. A few quick examples. I was at a conference six weeks ago where donations were being made to translate smaller books into French for African Seminary students in Francophone countries. I know believers in South America that use Spanish worship songs written in Mexico. I know student groups in Germany and Finland that sing worship songs in English seamlessly. It’s possible that the movement towards primary languages (English, German, French, Swahili, Russian, Mandarin, etc.) may act as one of the fastest causes for globalization. Colonization also placed an undue emphasis on manifest destiny and exploration (although they have quite a mixed history concerning civil rights) that have probably sped up the process of uniting the church through time. 

I guess my final question is to what extent Christians see value and long-lasting impact within the history of the reformation. I certainly see its incredible impact upon Christendom in reforming both the Catholic Church and birthing hundreds of new movements, but I lament the average Christian who couldn’t put together a meaningful set of thoughts about its practical and ecclesial impacts upon the church. It seems that as people turn to reading, discussion, and a better understanding of this time period and history of the church, that their faith is invigorated and strengthened. It is up to us to continue this process! I know that I’ve been blessed by the course material and a deeper dive into the history of the church!

My rebuttal:

David,

I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this week’s discussion. I concluded in my initial discussion post that the Protestant Reformation impacted Christianity more than colonialism. D.F. Wright says the Reformation cannot be separated from its historical context—political, socioeconomic, and intellectual—however, he believes the movement was “fundamentally religious in motivation.” 1 You mentioned Christianity’s waning hegemony in the West as the basis for identifying colonialism as the greater growth factor. Given the fact that hegemony is more akin to politico-military dominance, and because we can see the negative impact secularism and non-religious affiliation has had in Europe and America over the past few decades, I do not think colonialism packs enough of a punch to provide consistent and lasting results. Arguably, globalization has been a close cousin of colonialism, thereby giving “legs” to the gospel message. After all, colonialism is inextricably accompanied by travelers, tradesmen, merchants, scholars, and missionaries. But the mere “invasion” of Christianity into a nation-state does not guarantee a majority of believers, nor does it prevent a slow drifting away from the gospel as the result of syncretism, secularism, pluralism, or any number of isms. 

The Protestant Reformation provided tools for addressing the proliferation of papal abuses (theological and societal) connected with meritocracy, penance, indulgences, false foundations for papal authority and pedigree, a perverted priesthood, and the usurping of Christ’s intercessory/mediation ministry (1 Tim. 2:5). I am not nearly as concerned with a weakening of Christianity’s hegemony as I am watering down of the gospel itself. Historically, all major theistic religions have attempted to wield sociopolitical control. Islam, for example, is best described as a theocracy. As Wright notes, the Reformation was meant to help restore the proper “face” of Christianity by fighting for independence from papal authority and hierarchical succession. The Body of Christ must be grounded in election and calling rather than consecution or papal appointment. Although colonialism provides opportunity for spreading the gospel, such global initiatives are no substitute for the Great Commission. Responsibility for evangelism truly rests with the community of believers. Frankly, this is the only means by which we can control the message. To accomplish this end, we have to spread the gospel in strict accordance with Christian doctrine. Given how far off course the gospel had been pushed, the Reformation was necessary to correct egregious abuses and misconceptions. Without this realignment, evangelism (whether or not it was tethered to globalization) would have been unable to rightly deliver the Word of Truth.

Even 500 years hence, the Reformation continues to impact both Catholics and Protestants. Martin Luther changed the course of Western history for the better. I find it key that Luther had to first grapple with Romans 1:17 and come to see how it is through faith alone in Christ alone that he/we put on the righteousness of God. Luther put himself through a harrowing ordeal before coming to understand that we are of Israel not because we are of the seed of Abraham; it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise (Rom. 9:8). The Reformation yielded a theology that is theocentric. Lines had become blurred regarding the Eucharist, church hierarchy, the papacy, which led to confusion and schism. Even so, reformers did not completely agree on every issue. Luther believed in “consubstantiation.” Calvin gave too much credence to the Mosaic Law (calling it a necessary “guide” to live by as a believer), and Luther believed the Law was merely intended to show us our sins and the need for a savior.

The above notwithstanding, I also do not believe colonialism (or any version or degree thereof) can have a “lasting impression.” Much of my reading in the past has involved the history of urbanization, development of the city over time, geopolitical theories and influences, and the remarkable lack of stability in many markets and economies in history. The first five centuries of Christianity show a rather unpredictable “atmosphere” for religious beliefs given the wide scope of persecution—state-wide at times, regional or local at other times; active prosecution and persecution under some emperors versus “incidental” sanctions under others. Consider the many changes we’ve seen in Israel since it became a nation-state in 1948. Look at how democratic (or progressive) socialism is fighting to make a comeback in this year’s presidential election. (We first saw progressivism under Woodrow Wilson). Sometimes a mere change in political philosophy can wipe out decades of progress.

Finally, I must mention the likely ecumenical era we’ll see in the “final days” as the false prophet and the Antichrist attempt to push for globalization and one world religion. For what it’s worth, I see the Reformation as having a lasting impact on Christianity, and systematic theology as the means by which the community of believers can preserve doctrinal truths in the face of colonialism and globalization. What I mean is this: We cannot assure a pure gospel message simply because colonialism has led to a proliferation of believers. We have to stay the course. I believe the Reformation has aided in the fine-tuning and preservation of Christianity even 500 years later.

 


1 Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (New York: Harper One, 2010), 489.

2 Gonzalez, 489.


 

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Constantine and the Church

The following summary is from my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s degree in theology at Colorado Christian University.

Engage the perennial question: Was Constantine good or bad for the church of Jesus Christ? In making your case, note (and cite from Gonzalez, and other sources, if you would like) the ways in which Constantine affected the church’s doctrine and practice. Answer these questions as parts of your overarching answer:

  • Which effects were good, and which were bad?
  • What have been the long-term results—good and bad— of those effective changes?

Just when I thought I was already having enough fun studying theology, we were given another fascinating assignment. Beginning with the conversion of Constantine, Christianity began to move from persecution to dominance. In AD 392, the emperor Theodosius I outlawed pagan worship—Christianity effectively became the “official” religion of the Roman Empire. Constantine said, “The eternal, holy and unfathomable goodness of God does not allow us to wander in darkness, but shows us the way of salvation… This I have seen in others as well as myself” (in Gonzalez, 2010, 131). At first blush, this statement rings like a true profession of faith in the One True God, but is it? We’re asked to consider whether Constantine was good or bad for Christianity. In part, this must include consideration of whether the above statement equates to public profession of faith in Jesus as the Christ. It is interesting to note that Constantine did not refer to Christ as the only god. Accordingly, the veritas of Constantine’s confession has been the subject of many discussions. Some believed it was merely a shrewd political maneuver. Constantine referred to the Christian God as “the greatest god,” the summa deus (Stephenson, 2009,169), yet he adorned the city with pagan statues from around the empire. Ravi Zacharias (2007, 10) said some scholars believe Constantine wanted to assert control over his “chosen religion” to the benefit of his empire and so insisted on the convening of a group of men to determine the content of the Bible (Council of Nicaea, AD 325). However, this was not the purpose of the Council.

Gonzalez believes it is important to determine the impact Constantine’s conversion and rule had on the Church. He states, “The truth is probably that Constantine was a sincere believer in the power of Christ” (139). He failed to place himself under the instruction of church leaders, yet he felt authorized to intervene in ecclesiastical matters. Gonzalez said Constantine considered himself “bishop of bishops” (138). Christian leaders thought that although inclined to become a believer, Constantine was not “one of the faithful” (139). Constantine was a sincere man, but he held a meager grasp of the Christian faith. For example, he thought the Christian God and the god “Unconquered Sun” were compatible. In his mind, there was room for serving other gods. He frequently took part in numerous pagan ceremonies without a thought that he was betraying the Christian God. Regardless of whether his conversion was genuine, Constantine’s beliefs and practices had a definite impact on Christianity.

Bad Effects

Paganism was still considered the “official” religion of the empire. As head of the empire, Constantine took the title of Supreme Pontiff or High Priest of that belief system. Gonzalez notes, “[A]lmost to his dying day, Constantine continued functioning as the High Priest of paganism” (141). His influence caused a drop in catechism prior to baptism. Because the ancient gods were still a part of everyday life, Constantine’s desire to “serve two masters” perpetuated pagan worship in the empire. Gonzalez states despite having done much to the detriment of paganism, Constantine “became one of the pagan gods… the Eastern church considers him a saint, thus resulting in a saint who is also a pagan god” (141). Spiritual ambiguity caused persistent violence against pagans by Christians, resulting in their rejection of Christianity. Power and prestige among church leaders caused increased arrogance and corruption in the church. Gonzalez notes that Lucius “bought” his position as bishop of Alexandria—a practice eventually known as simony. Moreover, as bishops were permitted increasing judicial powers, bribery became an issue. Perhaps this was a secular foreshadowing of priests selling “indulgences” for sins in the Catholic Church.

The laity began to see conversion as less critical or dramatic. Syncretism and superstition were on the increase as a result of merging Christianity and paganism. Many believers were buried with both Christian and pagan artifacts and symbols. Constantine’s conversion led to imperial impact on Christian worship. Incense, which was initially used to venerate emperors, began to be used in Christian services. We can see the influence of this today in Catholic, Episcopal, United Methodist, Orthodox Christian, and some Lutheran services. Ministers started wearing fancy or luxurious garments when officiating, and the church started calling ministers “priests” as in paganism. Kneeling seems to have originated with bowing before the emperor.

Ancient artifacts and bodies of martyrs were dug up, relocated, or venerated—perhaps a form of idolatry? As church membership grew exponentially, limitation on time and space led to many “new converts” not being baptized. Additionally, pre-baptismal instruction was shortened or eliminated. This is something the early church would have deemed unacceptable. Churches, worship services, and other aspects grew complex in contrast to a simpler and humbler time. An “official theology” developed, likely as a means for paying homage to Constantine for outlawing persecution of the faithful. Many believed Constantine was “chosen” by God to facilitate the merging of church and empire. This was something Christ vehemently discouraged (No doubt the congregations became inundated with “so-called” Christians. Gonzalez notes an exodus from “the imperial church” which many believed had become sinful and apostate.

Good Effects

The conversion of Constantine had several positive effects on the Christian church. Prior to this, Christians lived under the unpredictable threat of persecution. Stephenson notes that Constantine may not have been a Christian at this point (AD 312), but he began showing sympathy and concern for its followers (169). Accordingly, he forbade persecution of the Christian faith. Constantine also wanted to end factionalism within the community of Christian believers (Stephenson, 169). Under Constantine, Lactantius wrote an early apologetic titled On the Deaths of the Persecutors wherein he stated that monotheism was Rome’s “original religion, and the idea of many gods was introduced in error.” Monotheism was said to be superior to polytheism, and Christianity was expressed as the only means through which wisdom was attainable (Stephenson, 170). It is interesting to note the likely origin for celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25. Sol Invictus (the personification of the Sun) was worshiped as the “greatest god” that was acceptable to all (177). Initially, December 25 was the “Day of the Sun.” According to Stephenson, on December 25, 323 Constantine declared the date as the dies natalis of Christ and exempted all Christians from having to participate in the veneration of Sol (178).

Constantine used imperial edicts to establish privileges for churches and their leadership. For example, churches were allowed tax exempt status for properties and their ministers. Further, members and others were permitted the legal right to pass property on to the church. We see this practice in operation today, allowing some denominations to amass a vast amount of assets. According to Church and State, the Roman Catholic Church is likely the wealthiest non-business entity in the world, with assets ranging from $10 billion to $15 billion and an operation budget of approximately $170 billion in the United States alone (Network for Church Monitoring, 2020). Of course, whenever accumulation of wealth become more important than seeking God’s kingdom and storing up treasures in heaven, such developments can be detrimental for Christianity

IN CONCLUSION, clearly Constantine’s conversion to Christianity is in question. First, although he made a public profession of faith, he did not undergo water baptism until on his deathbed in 337. Moreover, many of his attitudes and actions seemed to belie true dedication to Christ. He continued to participate in pagan ceremonies at times and functioned as its high priest. Constantine’s serving two masters caused the prolonging of pagan worship. Negative effects included ongoing violence against pagans by Christians, ecclesiastical and judicial corruption, early practices that mimic the selling of indulgences by the Catholic Church, syncretism, a lack of catechism teachings before water baptism, and at least a temporary diluting of Christianity. Constantine did, however, outlaw persecution of Christians, helped to cause a slow increase in observing monotheism over polytheism, and establishment of December 25 as Christmas Day.

I am impressed by the impact of Christian ecclesiastical history on grasping the many nuances of the Christian faith.

References

Church and State (London, England: Network for Church Monitoring), 2020.

Gonzalez, J.L., The Story of Christianity, Vol. 2: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (New York, NY: HarperOne), 2010.

Stephenson, P. Constantine: Roman Emperor, Christian Victor (New York, NY: The Overlook Press), 2010.

Zacharias, R., Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith we Defend (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson), 2007.