Where is our community?
If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. (Mark 3:24-25)
After the death of Jesus the church continued to attract followers in-spite of persecution. But internally, there were doctrinal challenges about Jesus. These questions could be summarised under the following major headers, commonly known as the who and what questions: who was Jesus? What was his purpose?
Even among Jesus’ disciples there were disputes, some captured in the letters – especially those ascribed to John and Paul. Overtime these questions caused major rifts in the church, most notably the spilt between the Western church (Europe) and Eastern church (The rest of the world).
What we refer today as the Bible is a selection of written works agreed by a team of Bishops as ‘sacred texts’. They were compelled by Constantine the Great (Roman Emperor) who was spurred by political motives to unite his subjects under a common faith – Christianity.
Under very difficult circumstances, these Bishops had to come up with a framework which underpinned the faith, a process widely known today as systematic theology. Simply put, systematic theology is an intellectual exercise which tries to marry complex doctrines like the virgin birth, the trinity, teaching, death, resurrection, second coming; to answer the ‘who’ and ‘what’ questions about Jesus.
Once agreed, under the hospices of Rome and the Catholic Church, these challenges were handled effectively at least in Europe. The Pope was God’s emissary, he provided doctrinal and exegetical leadership for the church. Local priests were trained to work under strict guidelines from the church, and supervised by local bishops. Any drift from the Pope’s decree was ruthlessly dealt with as heresy.
After Luther’s Reformation in the 16th century, everything was up for grabs. While the contents of the bible remained as we know it today, doctrines were revisited. This eventually led to brutal wars in Europe, perhaps not dissimilar to what we see within Muslim factions today in the Middle East.
The aftermath of these war of ideas opened up other discussions. Most of which were centred around social reforms for the common man (the social contract), against the privileged positions of the clergy and nobles, who were ‘ordained by God’ to exert rule over the people. The quest for answers against these injustices in society is mostly referred to as the Enlightenment and it kicked-off in the 17th century. Consequently, we had the French Revolution in the 18th century.
While Luther’s Reformation made the bible accessible to the educated classes in Germany through the technology of the industrial printing press and his work on translation, it also gave rise to a new problem which is still with us today. This problem is the absence of central doctrine, teaching and understanding of the Christian faith.
For the Jewish faith (where Christianity develops from), there were Rabbis who were theologically trained. The lineage of these Rabbis had a rich history, they built on the the works of their predecessors, anchoring on their philosophical understanding and interpretations of scriptures. This was a central and important aspect of community life.
For Christianity this was lost. Like the challenges facing Islam today, most of the leaders of the Pentecostal movement were lay men who were hardly educated, let alone theological trained. As long as there were ‘supernatural’ activities – God was with them.
But as to absolutes, the bible is filled with paradoxes. This is evident within texts, and between books within the bible. Our effort to try and force these paradoxes to absolutes is a major flaw in Christian teaching, which once exposed falls apart like a house of cards. For instance, we see Jesus working with people that had faith, and those who demonstrated no faith. In the Old Testament we see hostility between Jews and Gentiles – even a God who sanctions genocides; in the New Testament this becomes a hotly debated subject. However, a cross cutting theme is the fact that Jesus was reconciling the world, seeking and restoring all to one global community (2 Cor. 5:19).
Therefore, the work of Christian leaders in the 21st Century is to avail themselves to much studies, if possible, theological studies at a tertiary institution. This provides a better foundation for handling scriptures and it’s paradoxes. The idea of depending on the ‘Holy Spirit’ for understanding might be fine at an individual level, but extremely dangerous at community level.
Christianity is a faith that draws us into a community – God’s kingdom. It is not this greedy, self-obsessed, capitalist driven, individualistic cult that it is now! Wake up!
In the words of Paul:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Eph. 4:4-6)
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