Origins in diversity

|

Here is a quote from the Sarah Sentilles book A Church of Her Own:

When people lament the state of religion today--how different it is than "the early church," how modernity has perverted "real" Christianity, how things used to be simpler and more clear--they seem to believe there is a pure version of Christianity that we could get back to. Today's multiple denominations, organizations, and interpretations stem from one early church, they think, and if we could return to that one church, then modernity and all its confusion would disappear. In this version of history, the farther back in time you go the less diversity there is. But, in fact, there was no such thing as "the early church." Tracing Christianity back to its origins, you will not arrive at one, unified community. The first Christians had no New Testament, no Nicene Creed or Apostles Creed, no church buildings, no organized and official hierarchy, and no single understanding of the significance of Jesus. The farther back you go, the more versions of Christianity you will find. Early Christians were wildly diverse groups of people with multiple, conflicting, and contradictory opinions about who Jesus was, what meaning they ought to make out of his life and death, and what was required of people who wanted to follow him. (p. 243)

15 comments:

Margie's Musings said...

In fact, Bart Ehrman, in his book "The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture" documents that every type of diverse Christianity after "the way" changed the scriptures to accommodate their belief systems.

Mystical Seeker said...

Excellent point, Margie.

Brian said...

I also have a problem with people who say "It would be great to go back to the early church model". As if it is a pure strain of what has become muddied, or something. Even the Bible says that the early church had problem. It records two people lying to keep money for themselves, different cultures arguing about the food allocations, racial bigotry. Not to mention all the other points raised in this posting.

The fact is that people today are exactly the same as people 2000 years ago. We argue, compare, complain, as well as love, care, etc.

There seems to be a facet of human nature that yearns for what we don't or can't have, instead of working with what we do have to improve it, or just accept it. (Ref: the Serenity Prayer)

Steve Conger said...

I have enjoyed your comments about Sarah Sentilles book. I am looking forward to reading it. I think that she is right on about the early church.

Unfortunately, we too often pine over a perceived past that never really existed.

James said...

The first real challenge to the cheerfully perfect ecclesiastial version of early church history that I know of was by Walter Bauer in 1934 when he published Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. Essentially, he challenged the classical view of Christian orthodoxy and heresy and showed their relation to one another was not primary and secondary. He argued that the early Christian church did not consist of a single orthodoxy from which emerged a variety of competing heretical minorities. He instead showed that in many regions where early Christianity formed, heresy was the original manifestation of Christianity, not a later corruption of orthodoxy. He did this by examining evidence from a variety of geographical regions (Egypt, Asia Minor, Macedonia, Rome, etc.) where we have particularly good and rich evidence, and showed the earliest and/or predominant forms of Christianity in these regions was in fact, heretical.

Some of Bauer's work has come under criticism in recent times, but my understanding is that his basic thesis is still sound and it would be a mistake to think that it is correct to return to the classical formulation of early Christianity being a single, unified, majority apostolic church from the beginning. It was anything but that, and probably even less tidy and more diversified than even Bauer himself ever realized.

Luke said...

hell yeah MS! I wrote about this a while back in http://toothface.blogspot.com/2008/02/new-testament-class.html

and i think this quote is right on! if anything, the early church was MORE diverse than it is now.

Cynthia said...

Perhaps those who pine for 'the early church' date it to the birth of the Roman Catholic Church when, yes, it was purer, simpler: you were either Catholic or you were wrong.

People have always 'chosen' (i.e., heresy) how to live out their experience of faith, whether or not they realize it. One of my definitions of being a grown-up is making decisions or choices and living with the outcome. Just about every human being is still growing up when it comes to faith.

JP said...

Still around my man, its not like you to have this much "space" between your posts.

John Shuck said...

Hey Seeker!

You are missed. I hope all is OK...

Grace said...

Echoing John's concern, Mystical. Hope things are fine with you, and you're just taking a blogging break.

JP said...

even a "yes, I am fine" will do my friend.

Mystical Seeker said...

JP, John, and Grace,

I'm fine, and thank you for your concern. I've been away on vacation, and although I had internet access where I was, I was finding it relaxing to stay away from this blog for a while.

JP said...

Glad you are Ok. Hope you had a good vacation

Grace said...

Glad to hear from you, Mystical. Hope you had a wonderful, and relaxing time.

Cynthia said...

I left something for you over at my place.

You were missed!