The early centuries of the Church saw astronimical growth. It is estimated that in 250 A.D. Christians made up 10% of the population and by 350 were 50% of the population. This had little or nothing to do with Constantine’s conversion and everything to do with the health and strength of the Church. What was it that made it strong in the early centuries? What made it strong despite persecution (a persecution that was sometimes Empire wide), and despite not having places of worship that were ‘out in the open?’ What made it strong when the Roman world put it on the margins and made it illegal even to call oneself a ‘Christian?’
One of the things that caused the growth of the Church, ironically, was its strict boundaries around membership. Taking the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, for example, we read that the potential catechumens (newcomers to the faith) underwent an intense interview process, a ‘weeding out’ of those who were willing to persevere and those who more than likely would not. Those who had questionable professions (e.g. Gladiators, brothel-keepers) or were living lives of immorality (pederasty or prostitution) were told to ‘cease or be rejected.’ They were told to leave their former lives and identities to follow Chirst and to take on new identities as Christians. It did not matter whether or not they were ‘important’ from the standards of the Empire–they would take on a life that was inherently ‘unimportant.’ It did not matter whether or not they were successful–if they were living a compromised life, they were told to ‘cease or be rejected.’
What a contrast to the message so many proclaim–inclusion at the expense of transformation, eros at the expense of agape, good feelings at the expense of repentance. The irony is, when we ‘preach it straight’ and expect change and transformation, the world is turned upside down. When we say, ‘follow the Master’ rather than ‘all is well’ lives are changed–and more people want to be a part of that. Just ask the early Christians.
So the controversial series ‘The Book of Daniel’ was cancelled by NBC? I could stomach about 360 seconds of it. I will miss it so much! Here’s the e-mail I sent to NBC. I guess I was wrong about the advertising $$$!
The reports I am hearing about your new show ‘The Book of Daniel’ are very discouraging. I am an Episcopal Priest and, should you continue airing this show, I will boycott NBC and encourage my parishioners to do the same. It is unfortunate that writers and producers know so little about the church, church life and religion in general. Perhaps a more informed take on ministry would keep this kind of thing off the air–but I guess anything that doesn’t involve sex, homosexuals and drug-addicted clergy just doesn’t get the advertising dollars.
Does the New Testament teach the Sacraments? Some would argue that sometime after the apostles died, the Church ‘invented’ the idea of Sacrament, esp. in the Medieval era.
Consider, though, the book of John. Call it the ‘secret Sacramental’ gospel with multiple allusions to baptism and Eucharist. For example:
John 2, Jesus turns water into wine.
John 3, no one can see the Kingdom unless they are ‘born of water and the Spirit.’ At the end of John 3 we see the only place where Jesus’ disciples baptize.
John 4, Jesus offers the woman at the well ‘living water.’
John 5, the man is healed before entering the waters of the pool of Bethzada.
And of course John 6 Jesus calls himself the ‘Bread of Life’ and says, ‘unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you.’
I find the data fascinating. We need to remember there was a Christian community that coexisted with the writing of the New Testament–a community that was presumably sacramental.
The Barna stuff reminds me of the perseverance of the children of Israel. The Temple was the center of worship in Israel. In fact, is was directly tied to their identity as a people. The sacrificial system of Israel was indispensable. Well, we know what happened both in 586 B.C. and in 70 A.D. do we not? In 586 Babylonian Pagan armies came and destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple and forced the people into exile. In 70 A.D. the Romans did it.
So if worship is so tied to sacrifice, what does a Jew do who is either living in exile or whose Temple no longer exists. The law and the prophets made it clear that there was to be no sacrifices outside of the Temple in Jerusalem. So what were they to do?
The Children of Israel did what they always have done. They adapted. Judaism was (and is) not tied to a place as much as it was a way of life. So rather than the Temple, they ordered their worship and their lives around synagogue (created during exile), home, and the Fasts and Feasts of the seasons.
Does the Church have this kind of longevity/perseverance? Are we able to not only adapt but continue to reproduce?
There is nothing better than the Feast of the Epiphany. It ties the ‘manifesting of God’ in Jesus not only to the Jews, but to the whole world. The star in the East, the waters of the Jordan, the water in Cana of Galilee, all transformed by Christ. May we see the star and follow it to his throne!
O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son
to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by
faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to
face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
I am reading a book by George Barna (church growth statistician and guru) called Revolution in which he argues that by 2025, only 33% of Christians will go to church. He believes that the trends towards ‘mini-movements’like house churches and more focused small groups (like a ‘spirituality and the arts’group) are becoming more and more the primary movers in believers’spiritual formation rather than the local church. He basically argues that the local church is not effective in the spiritual formation of its members and therefore may soon be close to extinction. People are no longer experiencing God in local congregations. From someone who has given his life in hopes that the local church is the primary builder of the Kingdom and the hope of the world, I am disturbed by his thesis. What thinkest ye?