not so great: deflocking the flock
after leaving ministry and working a blue collar job for over a year god has released me to be a stay-at-home papa as the adventure continues. this has given me more time to read and write; the lack of which had previously prevented me from blogging regularly. hopefully the days ahead will be a time of reflection and growth as i continue to work out my faith with fear and trembling…
a couple years ago i started a series of blogs intending to address some current problems in the church by taking a historical look at their roots. the first two blogs in this series briefly covered how our current mode of doing church owes more to the pagan emperor constantine and roman imperialism than to jesus or the disciples. you can find these posts here and here.
it may be a good idea to go check them out before going forward because even though its been 2 years since i wrote them they cover aspects of church history that are integral to what im going to tackle on this and subsequent blogs as i expand the series.
as touched on in the previous post the fortunes of christians began to change dramatically after constantine issued the edict of milan. almost overnight the growing group of believers went from hiding and being persecuted to freely gathering for worship. they were financially supported by constantine himself as he built grand basilicas for worship such as the massive hagia eirene in constantinople (present day istanbul).
up until this point the church had basically met in small clusters within member homes or in the catacombs during certain periods of persecution. these small groups constituted the church in any given town and within these small groups the church thrived because every member took an active role in the gatherings as paul points out in 1 cor 14:
26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
so according to paul it seems that in the earliest gatherings everyone was actively involved – they lived and breathed this communal experience – and we have no evidence that anything changed very much for the first 300 years.
then came the edict.
from 313ad forward we see a drastically different experience of church. rome had long used basilicas for political and legal meetings and contastantine seized on their familiarity and purpose in building them to house christian gatherings.
these were grand edifices vastly dissimilar from the homes that had served as humble gathering places for the early church. the whole design of the basilica was to inspire awe by ushering focus forward from the gate through the atrium and narthex, then through the massive nave (central hall) toward the exedra (raised semi-circular platform) in the apse where leaders gave political speeches and the civil magistrates ruled on matters of law.
so beginning with the place of worship and extending naturally into the form and function of worship there was a swift and radical shift from integrated active participation to regulated inactive acquiescence. the result was an infusion of roman imperialism into every aspect of the burgeoning church. and it seems as though this is exactly what constantine was hoping for.
what began with constantine has been perpetuated ever since and it seems we have all too easily swallowed the idea that this is what church is supposed to look and act like. ever larger structures costing ever larger sums of money for the sake of ever increasing the number of people who dont have to actively do anything but show up and listen to educated civic leaders talk about politics and law.
is this what jesus envisioned when he told peter he would build his church? was this the goal of his life death and resurrection? did constantine really have the lamb who was slain in mind when he began erecting his monstrous basilicas and ushering the church into its imperial stage?
i cant believe the answer to any of these questions is yes.
and as we flash-forward to the present and take a look around at the religious climate of christianity at least in america what we find is only slight modification to this initial bastardization. for example: the growing megachurches are enormous basilicas praised as successfully reaching thousands yet they are almost wholly antithetical to everything we find in the testimony of scripture and the witness of the first several hundred years of the church.
i think its entirely likely that god chose to bring about his kingdom at a precise time and place for a reason. that having created us he knows us better than we know ourselves and that by initiating his kingdom through small groups in homes during the first three centuries he was revealing our desperate need for real community. a community that is impossible to find in a stadium full of imperialistic pomp and circumstance.
granted these churches are full of people and its tempting to look at the numbers and determine they are doing gods good work but are they? ask attenders at any of these churches and you are likely to hear all about their buttery goodness but we are a society whose primary value is entertainment and we are easily swayed by well-produced shows.
so where is the community?
it seems constantines impact on the church is still being felt..