As expected, an engaging volley of comments can be found under my last post regarding Christianity and Islam. There were some suggestions that perhaps I have some “blind spots” related to Christian history and practice. Also, that I might have mischaracterized Islam. In order to check my vision I dusted off our Quran, grabbed my computer and, along with my well-worn trusty to-go Bible, made my way to Starbucks. I got plenty of curious glances on that visit, especially from some North African men waiting for their beverages.
As stated in my previous post, I am not an expert on Islam. Actually, I’m not an expert on anything, except for being expert at not being an expert.
So while I buried my nose in the Quran, one thing I had to give props for, is that book is ordered topically, with sections on Women, Pilgrimage, Jesus, Mary, etc. I appreciate such organization and it really makes it a bit more accessible than the Bible is to the newer reader.
So speaking of that.
Louise, a new commenter and a Muslim, posited that “many Christians do not accept all of the Bible whereas most Muslims accept all of the Qur’an.” Ya know, I get why she has come to that conclusion. After all, Christians do wear clothes that mix linen and wool, right? Not to mention those polyester leisure suits that I spend my Saturdays in. As someone who does accept all of the Bible, I thought it might be helpful to give you a Cliff Note version of the Bible and church history overview, and what it means for Christians today. Doesn’t that sound like a thrilling way to spend the next 10 min? Don’t I know it! Okie-dokie class, here we go:
The Old Testament tells the history of the world, and specifically God’s involvement with mankind. It begins with creation, early civilization, and then shows the origins of God’s relationship with his chosen nation, Israel. It tells that His people were to be set apart from the surrounding nations that, fueled by sexual immorality, child sacrifice and other detestable things, were doing the whole idol worship thing. The 10 commandments, and the 603 additional laws which functioned as a subset of those commandments, were to make the Hebrews distinct from the surrounding nations in morality, appearance and ceremony. (Like garments that didn’t mix fibers.) Within the pages of the Old Testament we are treated to both the successes and epic failures of the “heroes” (Abraham, David, Solomon, etc.) of the Bible. (An aside, pay attention, this is an indicator that we are talking about real history. Myth sanitizes heroes, history is history. For better or worse.) From their failures, we are to see that God is the only real Hero of the Old Testament. Religion and State were one in Israel. The presence of the Lord dwelled in Jerusalem’s Temple, and the priesthood ushered Jews into Yahweh’s presence. They were to be “a light to the gentiles” and a “city on a hill” (that was not a Reagan original) pointing all the nations of the earth to God. To be Jewish was to acknowledge Yahweh as Ruler, to associate with His people and to live in His land. The Jews were to have God as their king and God’s law as their law. It was a true theocracy.
In short. The Old Testament is about God establishing the physical and political kingdom of Israel and revealing man’s need for a Savior.
In the New Testament the prophesied Messiah, Jesus the Son of God, walks among Israel and reveals that God’s plan is the same as it ever was- for His children to be a light to the nations pointing all people to God. But Jesus ushers in the new rules (actually He fulfills the old rules which has new grand implications.) It’s not just about one ethnicity now, or one narrow stretch of land. God extends His invitation of salvation to all, but now He does so through the lives of all who bend the knee to their Lord in whatever nation in which they live. The presence of the Lord dwells in the hearts of His followers and these mobile temples serve as a royal priesthood in cafes in the Khartoum, parks in Pakistan, and schools in Seattle. The heroes of the Christian faith are still marked by epic successes and failures, because, as in the Old Testament, God is the only true Hero. Make no mistake, just because there is no physical kingdom, Jesus is still King. The King of kings to be precise. But not the kind of king that Pilate the Politician needed concern himself with. He is the kind of King that Pilate the Man needed to concern himself with. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, but when it is fully revealed it will include citizens of every political nation, culture, and language on this plot of earth.
Love diversity? Go to heaven.
In short. The New Testament is about God establishing a spiritual kingdom under their Savior.
In the early centuries of Christianity we see the organic growth of “home churches” and people so captivated by their risen Savior that they were willing to die for their beliefs. Parents of Christian children would keep them inside because they were willing martyrs for the Kingdom of God. Children, such as Perpetua. Despite the very real threat of death for converting, Christianity expanded because believers demonstrated this new way of living by fishing unwanted children out of rivers. By showing mercy to their enemies. By protecting widows and orphans. Christianity elevated the status of women and a culture of compassion and mercy began to creep into the hedonistic Roman world.
For reasons which historians continue to debate, Constantine legalized Christianity in 312 and in 380 it became the official Roman religion. Now it was politically advantageous to be a follower of Jesus, and the “in name only” Christian was born. It was Augustine’s City of God in the early fifth century which first laid the foundations of the marriage between the Church and State. The Roman Church grew in power and within a few centuries the Holy See and civil government was enmeshed, albeit with an ongoing power struggle between Emperor and Pope.
It is here where we see the most famous abuses of Church/State power, the Crusades being Exhibit A. Now, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to defend your turf or people when a marauding army of Muslims is completely wiping out Christian-and-whoever-else-is-around communities in Arabia, the Holy Land, North Africa, and Europe. Perhaps you weren’t aware that the Muslim Conquest was the impetus for the Christian “holy war”? Huh. Well at least you have the good sense to be here anyway. I digress. The problem is that the relationship of the Church and State at that time manipulated their followers into joining the Crusades by telling them that absolution of their sins was conditioned on their participation in the campaign. That, and apparently neither the Crusaders nor the Muslim fighters were familiar with the Geneva Convention.
The Roman “Church” wrongly slipped back into the mindset that Christianity encompassed the establishment of a geo-political kingdom. The result was a gross abuse of power. Luther and Calvin made steps to reform the Church, but the Roman Way of big State Church was still in effect. St. Patrick was the exception to the “Westernize and convert by coercion” mindset which dominated Europe for centuries. But it wasn’t until the establishment of the “Free” churches and the founding of the New World where we see a nation that was founded on principles of Christianity without the forced submission to a State Church. And now, the next great movement, I believe, will be churches returning to the home community model more reflective of the first few centuries of Christianity.
Bam. A history of the world in roughly 1000 words.
Why it matters:
I know that I am teetering on the edge of doing a great disservice by simplifying our human existence in such claustrophobic prose, but an overview such as this gives us context to answer todays questions. Here are a few as it relates to the discussion on my previous post and this blog in general.
We need to have good answers for people like Louise, and other intelligent skeptics, who have questions about the Bible and how the law relates to today. An exceptional article on this subject can be found here. Also, regarding whether or not we take the Bible literally, this post gives some helpful tools for interpretation.
I don’t think I have the bandwidth to host a discussion about Dispensationalism, Covenant Theology or Kingdom Theology. All of those theological systems have some good ideas but I don’t think that any of them hits the eschatological nail on the head. (Oh I am pulling out the expensive words now.) What is clear from scripture is that the church is not Israel’s replacement. Therefore, Christians should not be seeking to make this nation, or any nation for that matter, a theocracy under Jesus. It’s ok to, no… it’s right to, recognize that the church has done it wrong in the past. Especially when the state was used as the arm of punishment for religious transgressions, as seen in the Inquisition. Separation of church and state is a good thing.
Should Christians then only be concerned with spiritual matters and get out of politics altogether? God forbid a thousand times. Barth writes that it is the task of Christians “to seek the best for the city, to honor the divine decree and appointment of the state by voting and striving, to the best of their knowledge, not for the false state, but for the good state, a state that will not dishonor the fact that it has power ‘from above.’” How to do that during the Chinese Cultural Revolution or in WWII Germany? I do not know. But here, in this rare and exceptionally designed, though ailing, republic of ours, active participation in our physical kingdom is a secondary function of our spiritual citizenship. In addition to the responsibility to our spouses, children, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and the “least of these,” we have a responsibility to be good citizens.
In my opinion, this also means that we should not use the Bible to argue for public policy. As Christians, we live under the authority of scripture- all of scripture. But not everyone does. In this country our common authority is the Constitution so our arguments should appeal to that standard. For an example on how that looks related to the gay marriage debate, I suggest this page.
You may have some quality time to spend with Google now. New vocabulary words and historical knowledge is always such a thrill. So go to it.