October 8, 2017: The Church as Empire

Posted on : Oct 5th, 2017 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

The Church as Empire:  Creeds, Deeds and Misdeeds

Hang on, because this week as we look at part 2 of Christian History, we make a sharp turn away from the community of faith that Jesus embodied.  Jesus’ community where all were equal, where all were equally valued and included, where there was no institutionalized hierarchy, where everyone’s spiritual gifts were valued and used – this community that Jesus embodied changed radically.


Around 321 AD Constantine, the Emperor of Rome, decided it would be better to have the Christians with him than against him.  Tradition holds that Constantine converted to Christianity and made Christianity the “official” religion of the Roman Empire.  Clearly, he did incorporate Christianity into the Roman Empire, and after a miraculous victory in battle, he added the Christian cross as a symbol of the Roman Empire on his diadem (“crown/royal headdress”).  However, scholars now debate whether he was actually a believer or just using the Christian faith to advance his political purpose.  Does that sound familiar????


Around 467 AD the Roman Empire collapsed and for about the next 1,000 years Eastern and Western Europe entered into a period that historians call “the Dark Ages” and the “Middle Ages.”  That time in history was marked by feudalism, where feudal Lords (landlords) owned huge portions of land, built fortressed castles for their protection and lived very secluded lives.  Everyone but the Lords themselves were vassals, persons who pledged their undying allegiance to the Lord in exchange for safety.  Being a vassal was clearly entering into indentured servitude.


The Christian Church followed the secular culture by establishing a powerful hierarchy of control and power, that we today refer to as the Pope (“Bishop of Rome”), Archbishops, Bishops and priests.  Those entering the priesthood pledged their undying allegiance to the Pope (“Bishop of Rome”) and in many ways became vassals.  The equality of the early followers of Jesus disappeared and the faith took on the form of a powerful hierarchy.   The hierarchy adopted the symbols of Roman power including “miters,” religious diadems or “headdress.”  To this day, the miters in both the eastern and western traditions date back to this time.


The religious leaders, priests, monks, and women religious created their own versions of feudal estates known as monasteries.  Monasteries were about the only place where people could come to receive both shelter and education.  Religious orders flourished and parents prayed fervently that their children might “receive the vocation” to religious service so that their children would be cared for throughout their lives and receive an education.


The outcome of all this was that The Church became its own Empire.  At the time it had its seat of authority in Rome and became known as the Roman Catholic (universal) Church. To create uniformity of belief, the Church began to institutionalize beliefs through the adoption of “creeds” (Latin: “Credo” which literally means, “I believe….”).  Many of the creeds of Christianity such as the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed were formulated to unify and demand exact adherence.  Sadly, what most people don’t know is that the content of these Creeds was as bargained and bartered as our international treaties are today.  Family members were elevated to Bishop if they supported certain beliefs and massive land grants were made if one would agree to the wording of certain theological statements.  The result was an absolute mess.  Fights over what was heretical and what was truthful in the creeds lasted centuries.  Life inside the Church became so chaotic that many of the religious orders withdrew into cloistered communities.   Cloistered communities were communities that were closed to everyone except members of their religious order.


So, when one wonders how Christianity went from the teachings of Jesus to a judgmental, doctrinal, sometimes punishing, sometimes rigid system of belief, the short answer is it all started in the Dark Ages, when the Church exchanged “The Way of Jesus” and adopted the secular concept of the Church as Empire.


To this day, many of us in Christianity are still trying to undo the damage that was done during this period of history.  And by the way, the church’s “traditional teachings” about sexuality?  They came right out of this period.  They were not traditional; they were just against anything that was carnal – anything that had to do with flesh.  Most (maybe all) of the monastics developed a celibate lifestyle and celibacy soon became a necessary profession to become a member of a religious order.  It wasn’t until the hierarchy realized that celibacy was greatly reducing the number of baptisms (births) that a two-pronged doctrine was adopted:  celibacy for religious life and the unbreakable bond of marriage which became a Sacrament around 1,000 AD.


More on Sunday.





~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Galatians 5: 1, 13-25

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

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