Church History, New Church and Jesus
A couple of years ago I had read Diarmaid MacColloch’s Christianity, The First 3,000 Years. I had taught church history since the 70’s but it was a limited idea of what happened in Christianity. It had been very limited to western Christianity and totally irreverent to the broadness of how the story of Jesus was spread throughout the whole of the Middle East, Africa, India, China. MacCulloch opened to a type of Christianity that had become a political control in Papal and Orthodoxy to a history of the Church of the East. And if there is anything that faces us today it is the willingness for us to look hard to see how we have allowed Christianity throughout the world, (and it does not matter what religion) to dictate what Christianity that often has not based upon the person of Jesus except for those who are in that spiritual relationship of the Holy One.
I must admit that I thought that Christianity came west in Europe early, but not for almost 500 to 800 years. Christianity became a faith of the Middle East and even the Far East. I had also the privilege of reading Philip Denkins, The Lost History of Christianity, a fascinating understanding of the first 1,000 years of Christianity of those that were not under the Roman/Orthodox Christianity that got lost. Those who were not Trinitarian were vaster and much more open to a way of understanding than what happened after the split between first Orthodoxy and the various Myaphysite Christianity that developed in the East, Egypt, Africa and finally to India.
For many places throughout the world from the time of the 4th century, Christianity, especially in places where colonization from a culture quite different demanded specific behavior having to do the colonizing. From the time of Constantine used Christianity to control his Eastern Roman world. But how Christianity became less a faith by those who used religion as a way of maintaining empires, Christianity became as much as a sociological element throughout centuries. Church leaders were as much political elements than faith leaders. And we still see this in many churches of the world today. We still see this kind of church leadership in Roman Catholicism, but we still see this kind of call from many within Anglicanism because it is the way that it has existed for centuries.
By the development of America under the English, we certainly saw this in America with regards to the behavior of Native American peoples, demanding ways of living in order to be considered acceptable enough not to be imprisoned. We can still see in the African understanding of Anglicanism, a Christianity that is more based on a manner of being that has less to do with the relationship with Christ and more if one lives like the Brits…or perhaps a type of British/Western European life style than faith.
I am convinced that much of what was taught throughout the colonization of Anglicanism had less about faith but much about making a colony possible to run. What happened as the US turned away from British colonialism, a new way of Christianity was developed that changed from old Anglicanism. The removal of Church as a state religion changed the entire European concept as Christianity developed in the US. And yet, there is still considered that there are expectations of what Christianity by government of what has been expected even when this nation has had a type of difference. We have more churches than any other in the world, and in many churches have no unity.
I had a colonial church back in the 1980-90’s. It had started in the 1690’s to meet the needs of the Piscataway Indians along the Potomac River, but the Native Americans were not interested. It became a small place where Anglicans came to support each other as they became a community. It still is a solid parish that has tried to remind people that the faith in the story of Jesus. It is simple. It continues to be a place of history. It also continues to be a place where on the banks of Washington, DC it sometimes continues to speak of what Jesus continues to remind the people, and the diocese that faith still gathers people to live the love and the liturgy of faith.
Even today, there are those in all of our Anglican churches we have different ways of understanding the place of Church as it speaks in its local environs. But it also has a way of describing how it speaks internationally. For those Churches that are still national and political, all need to be aware of the way. Christianity often speaks the cultural expectations of those who observe their faith in an area. At the same time, in those Churches that are less social or cultural entities, especially in places where Christianity has less to do with the cultural and more to do with the spiritual, that is by far more open to the person of Jesus.
Personally, I believe that the Anglican Communion, because we have never tried to be a standardized Church, we have tried to respect the distinctions that come from being both social and spiritual. If there is anything that the American’s relationship to start the Anglican Communion was to respect what had happened, but not to accept the national, social expectations of the faith. It is part of the joy of the Anglican Communion to be all over the scene, but not without respect.
Our Christian requirements as some levels will always be from the actions of Jesus. I do not deny that the problems that face the Churches of those African nations that are in violence with religions they face. At the same time, I do not believe that the issues of violence against LGBTQ issues that we have chosen to repudiate in our own era. It is an issue of Jesus’ love for others and acceptance of people who have been treated with disrespect and fear. For half a century, life in the US has made moves that will eventually be seen in loving rather that fear.
But in the inner part of the faith, in that scary, spiritual part every Christian is invited is to ask the difficult questions: am I afraid of what God is calling us all to do? Am I willing to ask the difficult questions of human sexuality has to do with Christianity today? Am I willing to find that being whole in the name of Jesus has more to do with teaching me how to love others no matter their calling? Can what others have named as Christianity really speak what Jesus called from his own people? Was what Jesus doing to call the 1st century Jerusalem to open his Jewish people to return what the prophetic embrace of the God no matter what the ethnicity was beginning to edge out the people of the Temple?
If what we are seeing another church emerging in the world today, it is a church that needs both to be willing to go back to be faithful to our origins, but at the same time to reject those things that have kept us from being the honest and not demanding of others. I do not believe that the only thing the Church can be for the future is to be judgmental. Jesus’ call to his people was for them to call themselves not to be judgmental of others. If there is something for the future for the Anglican Communion it is for us to talk, share, and respect one another even when don’t agree. It is the conversation that will continue our love for Jesus. If there is anything that will continue us as a Communion. We cannot discipline one another; we cannot demand of others. All we can do is keep up the conversation. If there are those who are too frightened to talk, then Christ is not present. If there is anything that we must be willing to do, it will be NOT to ignore, but be willing to continue to ask the difficult questions that Jesus always did. But always done with respect.
For some of our Churches the place where Women, LGBTQ, Catholics, Evangelicals, all provide difficulties for some cultures for discussion. For some who have been unwilling to even give acknowledgement that women are more than prepared to share their faith in both intelligence and ability make it so difficult to realize what Jesus shared in the women of the Church in the 1st century. With that for those places in the Communion, we can no longer just ignore their abilities.
I am especially filled with the efforts that are being made by our TEC Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. His life will always be a powerful statement not only in our nations of TEC, but he will also be one so ready to put himself in the arms of Jesus daily. Evangelical but Catholic. But Evangelical and Catholic while part of history must not determine the structure of the future. We need perhaps to be less stone church and more open to being people who want to share Jesus with those who have never known the person and spiritual life. We are not a Church of illness, although at one point I was worried that we were. Today I am more convinced here in Fort Worth that we are beginning to see a Church for the future… a Church that will look to living the life of Jesus daily, momentarily. We have the possibility to think outside of what has always been so that our Christianity may speak more of what Jesus called us to do. It will be the honesty that comes from asking the hard questions. But more importantly it is a Christianity that call us out of what we have always done in order to love others…even the ones who find fault with us. I do not fear what others fear. Jesus has always taught how much I am loved just as I am and calls me to love others the way they have found Jesus loving them. When we get to that kind of Christianity, when others know the love of God, the world will be changed.