Let Them Cease or Be Rejected


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.

33 thoughts on “Let Them Cease or Be Rejected

  1. What was the “intense interview process” like bro? What questions were used to discern who was in and who was out? Theological? Moral? What would be the questions used today? Justification by faith alone? Acceptance or rejection of the Filioque? Papal authority? Sola Scriptura? Baptism of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts? Premillenial/Dispensational eschatology? Passivism where war and violence are concerned? Would the “early church” support the invasion of Iraq like so many “Christians” today?

    The REAL divide in Christianity today in my estimation, and unfortunately for most of her history, is not the liberal/conservative dichotomy, but the fractious sectarianism of conservative adherents. Why? I’ll apologize up front to your liberal readers, but the truth is liberals are revisionists. For good or bad or right or wrong that’s what they are. But by definition the conservatives are about “conserving.” The question is, especially now, what are they conserving? As my rhetorical questions above point out, the starting point for who’s in or out can be deceptively complex and potentially rancorous. As much as I respect your Anglican genius St. Clive, the answer of “mere Christianity” doesn’t cut it. If it did you wouldn’t have so many “church-hoppers,” much less “home-churchers.”

  2. You’ve hit the nail on the head on why we’re in the mess we’re in. If one doesn’t like the Church they grew up in, head down the street.

    Perhaps we return to the original ‘interview’ process–the obvious creedal stuff (not so obvious in revisionist circles)and ‘did you feed the hungry while a catechumen? Visit the sick? Care for widows and orphans?’

  3. Our mutual Jewish/Christian friend shows the folly of doctrinal pursuit over essential doctrine and Jesus Christ. If someone is in Christ, truly, they are a new creation…exhibiting love to their brothers and sisters, not unconditional love as it is currently understood, but love from grace and righteousness. Let’s approach Him in reverence and awe, aware of our sin and our need for him, with the gratitude that can only come from humility. Then let’s approach each other as fellow sinners, blessed by grace, but open to transformation from our sin to the fullness of His love.

  4. So, Constantine, why would you posit that liberals are revisionists? I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m asking on what grounds this is based.

    I don’t know that liberals are any more revisionist than conservatives, but would be interested in hearing more from you on the topic.

  5. If one doesn’t like the Church they grew up in, head down the street.

    Well, that’s what we did. What do you do when your church (or at least, many of her leaders and parishoners) is the one that needs to “cease or be rejected”? Are there any grounds for discussing that outside of the historical Apostolic church, when the reformers (i.e. Protestants) have rejected the Church themselves?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

  6. Well, my mantra of late has been, “My God, I’ve been around Christians for so long, I’ve forgotten how to be one.” So maybe I’m not the one comment.
    Having moved around a lot as a child I have attended just about every denomination I can think of from Four Square to Roman Catholic to Church of the Brethern.I have been Spirit Filled since the age of 19 and am now 41. I have worshipped with people who thought speaking in tongues was everything and those who thought speaking in tongues was demonic . . .
    Now I find myself at a crossroads in my faith. I am described by my pastor as being a person with an open heart and teachable spirit. I am a product of “The church”. But I’m not so sure anymore that after years of indoctrination that this product resembles Jesus the way that she should.
    My point is this. I’ve come to the conclusion that I Corinthians 13 isn’t just a chapter Paul threw in there so that we would have something nice to read at weddings. And I don’t think it is a coincidence that he put it right in the middle of a discertation on spiritual gifts. For me it has boiled down to this, whatever I do, whatever I say, whatever I believe about doctrine, if I speak in tongues or don’t, everything has to pass the test of love as defined by the Word of God. (And I’m sorry conservatives, but I don’t see anything about dropping bombs on your enemies and I’m sorry liberals, but eros is only sanctified between a man and a woman in the convenant of marriage.)Love makes it very clear that sin is sin, but rather than condemnation offers the divine alternative of life eternal.

  7. Dan,

    My experience is that liberals tend to avoid or altogether sever the unique aspects of Christianity from their point of reference. I’m speaking here specifically and predominately where the role of Jesus is concerned. Many liberals do their level best to espouse the essence of Sermon on the Mount ethics, but then quickly move to relegate its Messenger to the status of great teacher or spiritual guru/master. Many liberals are constitutionally unable to grant Jesus the title Son of God. They can stand with or acknowledge the assessment that Jesus was a cool and great dude, not unlike MLK Jr. or Gandhi, but to assign divinity to Him would be taking it a step too far in their minds.

    Have you ever read Marcus Borg? He’s the quintessential poster boy for Liberal Christianity. He’s a smart fellow to be sure and he proffers some very astute criticism of fundamentalism, but where the person of Jesus of Nazareth is concerned he just can’t adopt what the consensus of Christian thought has been throughout history. Now one could say that maybe Borg is correct in boldly questioning the dogma and assumptions and claims associated with Jesus of Nazareth, but that doesn’t change what the overwhelming majority of Christian adherents have affirmed throughout the ages.

    This is precisely my point Dan. The liberal propensity is to revise Christian history to make it more palatable to modern sensibilities. I don’t blame them entirely. Some facets of Christian doctrine are in dire need of redefining or representing—i.e. atonement theology. But often, what liberals do is jettison anything unique about the role of Christ in favor of…frankly, I don’t know what. They revise the uniqueness of Christ to fit a model of faith that they can accept and find more personally meaningful. I doubt their intention is anything other than a noble quest for what they believe to be a more believable expression of the Faith (and in many cases it could be an understandable reaction to their fundie upbringing or experiences, e.g. Borg), but nevertheless it’s not what Christian history has demonstrated to be the normative creed.

    Here’s an apropos example: a common liberal assertion is that the “event” of the Resurrection of Jesus was essentially a “heart” experience or even mass hysteria brought on by despair and despondency, as opposed to a literal physical reality. Even assuming that they are right in their assertion, the plain as the nose on your face fact is that it doesn’t alter what has been believed by way of majority consensus throughout the history of Christianity.

    Many liberals with an inclination toward the religious or spiritual appreciate the ethics of love associated with Jesus, but prefer to remain agnostic on the uniqueness of His role as proclaimed in the history of Christian thought. While the Golden Rule may be a whiz-bang way to live life, it is nevertheless a common ethic among many religions. What is not common among the various religions is the utter uniqueness ascribed to their Founder. It’s basically a question of history and accurate “reporting” if you will.

    In the end, I suppose I prefer a God that chooses to mix it up with us down here in the muck of life instead of just zapping people from afar. There’s enough of that to go around in Islam and I just as soon not confuse the two. In candor, I find much of liberal Christianity hollow and benign, if not impotent. But in fairness, I find conservative Christianity more and more removed from life and happily self-exiled to a ghetto of their own making.

  8. Thanks Constantine, that’s about what I figured you were thinking. And of course, you’re not entirely wrong.

    The problem is that the progressive/liberal christian tradition of which I’m a part (which I would label anabaptism) believes, as you say, especially in the sermon on the mount, but also still believe in the divinity of Jesus and much of traditional teachings of the church.

    When we do part from orthodoxy, it is because we think orthodoxy has departed from the Bible (ie, insisting on things such as a literal six-day creation or the need to refer to God only in male terms).

    So while we may not always be orthodox, when you’re talking about my sort of liberal christians, it’s not out of revisionism (or perhaps you don’t consider the mennonites, et al to be liberal?)

    Thoughts?

  9. Dan,

    Your Christology as a liberal is the exception rather than the rule, and I’m glad! Many liberals (see C’s Borg) have been assimilated (pun intended) into the culture of anti-supernaturalism.

    Amy,

    You are correct in many ways about Orthodoxy being ‘the Church.’ But can all Christians claim the historic faith as our birthright? I suppose if your answer is ‘yes’ then you would still be a Protestant.

  10. “Your Christology as a liberal is the exception rather than the rule”

    You have any studies to back that up or is that just your best guess? I don’t know the answer, I’m just saying it’s not what I see or experience – and I’m amid “the liberal church” a lot.

    I’d guess you’d run in to that sort of philosophy more among folk like Unitarians and New Agers, but these only represent a small portion of the Left Side of the Pew.

    Seems to me.

    One caveat: while I don’t buy in to some of what you’ve identified as Borg thought (I hadn’t heard that before from Borg, but I’m no expert either), I/we do identify with a lot of what he and those like him say.

    We can find “that of God” in them and find much more in common with them than we would with more traditional churches. Any doubt of Jesus’ divinity notwithstanding.

  11. Padre, you said: “You are correct in many ways about Orthodoxy being ‘the Church.'”

    Using the article ‘the’ in this context is problematic bro, if you take scripture seriously that is. For good or bad let us not forget to whom Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom.

    The chair of St. Peter is such for a reason. No amount of scripture twisting can make it otherwise, especially give the historical evidence of the early church and her deference to Rome. I know some like Fr. John like to call me a member of the ‘Whore of Babylon’ (a common ad hominem attack where proof and validity of argument are sorely lacking I might add), but to somehow eliminate the special role of the apostle Peter as disclosed in Scriture and early Tradition would require quite a bit of revisionism.

  12. I thought Peter himself received the keys. I don’t see the chair in the scriptures at all, in fact. (or were you “scripture twisting”? (grin) ). Wasn’t he to spread and grow Christ’s church? Wouldn’t any bishop in his lineage then be part of Peter’s inheritance of the keys? The Orthodox have many with him in their lineage. My own bishop, for instance. I’ve never understood the rhetoric that made the person in his chair “be Peter” any more than any bishop in his lineage would “be Peter”. That argument has made little sense to me. I haven’t reserched it, but it sounds very medieval in terms of the process of that rationalization.

    Does anyone here know when associating the person in the chair as “being Peter” began as a tradition?

    It is clear, however, from the patristic writings that the church of Rome had a special place in the early church…

  13. “Does anyone here know when associating the person in the chair as “being Peter” began as a tradition?”

    I’ll have to admit that half the time, I don’t know what in the world y’all are talking about (and this as someone who is fairly familiar with churches in general). Must be a non-protestant thang.

  14. Dan, The “chair of Peter” or “See of Peter” is a reference to the Roman Catholic Pope, and his historically recognized position of “primus inter pares” (forst among equals) of the 5 historic Sees (bishoprics) of Christianity (Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, and later Constantinople). There is a tradition, which I don’t know the origin of (hence my question), that says whoever “sits in the chair of Peter” (i.e., whoever is the Pope of Rome) is, in some sense, still the apostle Peter. It is in this light which Constantine speaks.

  15. And so, when Constantine says:

    “but to somehow eliminate the special role of the apostle Peter as disclosed in Scriture and early Tradition would require quite a bit of revisionism.”

    is he/are you suggesting that the Bible clearly annoints Peter as the first pope?

    If so, I wouldn’t think disagreeing would be revisionism at all but merely “disagreeing,” wouldn’t it?

  16. Listen to St. Irenaeus:

    “Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority,(3) that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.”

    Of course other Fathers must be taken into account, but it sounds like a ‘third way’ is needed. Peter and Paul both founded the Church of Rome. No doubt Rome has Petrine lineage. I know that the turmoil in my communion makes it hard to argue with great weight, but we have see ‘the Church’ having these components: “1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the revealed Word of God. 2. The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith. 3. The Two Sacraments,–Baptism and the Supper of the Lord,–ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him. 4. The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church” (Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral 1886). This is more of a ‘Mere Christianity’ take on ‘the Church’ and, of course, very Anglican.

    Dan,
    If you knew the liberals I have encountered you would understand what I mean. Ask your pastor what her Christology is…

  17. BTW Dan,
    Don’t read my definition of ‘liberal’ as ‘Democrat’ or ‘pacifist.’ I’m thinking of theological liberalism which may or may not be related to one’s politics–but of one’s tendency to ‘deconstruct’ Scripture and/or Tradition.

  18. Being the apostate heretic that I am, I am aware that Peter means Petra which means rock, but I always thought that the rock Christ was referring to on which he was gong to establish his church was the rock of the divine revelation of himself as the Rock, the Christ. This would make sense in reference to Isaiah 26:4 “…the Lord, is the Rock eternal.” It would also make sense if, as Father Neo’s quote is correct, that the church was established by Paul and Peter. Paul was not evangelized by Peter, but came into his faith by divine revelation that Jesus is the Christ. Also, Jesus never said he was giving the keys to the Kingdom to Peter exclusively… He was speaking to a group.

  19. Thanks Father N. My pastor believes Jesus is the son of God.

    But where we may fit in to the whole Liberal Theology of which you speak is that the notion of Jesus not being the Son of God is not earth-shattering to us.

    Jesus never said, “Believe that I’m the Son of God and you will be saved.” Jesus talked instead about some specifics about how to live (love neighbor, identify with the poor, share what you have, don’t be enslaved by money, etc).

    So, for at least our church and the folk with whom we identify, saying “I don’t believe Jesus is the son of God” would not cause near the shock as saying, “Jesus would want us waging war.” (Just for example, I’m not trying to get in to the whole pacifism thing here).

    Or at least, that’s my take on our church. We are a scattered breed with a wide range of beliefs (in some ways, not so wide in others…)

  20. Jesus did say “I am the way the truth and the life…” and “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Pretty stout stuff.

    PS: I tend to agree with you on the war stuff…

  21. “Being the apostate heretic that I am…”

    Why do you say that Mi Amiga or were you just speaking in jest?

  22. I was speaking in jest, I think . . .

    But being honest, I have to say I don’t understand all of this business and debate over “the” church and the chair of St. Peter. Isn’t “the” church a spiritual union beleive those of any denomination who truly seek after Christ?

  23. Sorry my comment came out so garbled. I’ve been watching Coretta Scott king’s funeral alllllll day . . .
    I’m hoping you were able to dicipher and got the jist . . .

  24. I got your gist. I too watched the repeat of her funeral service via CSPAN late last night and was largely disgusted at the political overtures pointed at President Bush while he sat like a sitting duck, a “guest” to honor this great woman. While I’m certainly no fan of “W,” I can’t fathom that such a solemn occasion would be used as an opportunity for political sniping and character assassination. At least her daughter spoke primarily of the Kingdom of God. What does the author of Ecclesiastes say…something about a time and a place…?? Seems to me that most at her funeral forgot that verse. Sorry, I digress…and of course, this is not pointed at you Mi Amiga. I was just so turned off by the flagrant misuse of a service that should be by nature and function designed to revere and “send Home” a fellow traveler.

    Have you ever noticed that in spite of all the baggage, it’s Rome who is always in the heart of the fight? Others like to show up half way through the fight, if at all candidly. Granted, I’m sometimes on the opposing team, but I respect Rome’s tenacity, and frankly, visibility in matters that weigh heavy on the world. As I said elsewhere: a spade is a spade is a spade.

    Given what I’ve come to understand about your parish and priest through your blogging and your parish church link, I know both are rather unique among Catholicism. Nevertheless, I’d be willing to wager that if you were to ask your priest if the See of Rome had and has a special place in the visible church, I suspect his answer would be yes.

    Btw, yes I believe that the “invisible” church is made up of who the hell knows whom. Who knows? Maybe I’m not counted among that number, but regardless, I think to respect history is part of what it means to come to terms with it. In history, Rome held a special place of honor among her peers. Sometimes that’s been good and sometimes that’s been bad. Like I told some folks the other night, the Apostle Peter is simultaneously the best and worst Apostle. His strength is his weakness.

  25. Did you catch my pastor? He spoke right before Bernice King. I thought he did a great job, but perhaps I’m biased . . .

    Concerning The funeral, after seeing pictures of children Bombed in Iraq I have no sympathy for Bush whatsoever. Especially after Andrew Young came to our church and told us he had informed Kofi Annan at the United Nations prior to Bush coming to office and 9-11 that the Republicans would invade Iraq if elected.

    I could ask my pastor about Rome. I’m not sure what his response would be. I know the Cardinal tried to pull that Seat of Peter stuff on him last time he was raking him over the coals . . . it brought on a lot of eye rolling and groans. . .

  26. Sorry Angevoix. I don’t remember, but then again it became a blur to me what with all the political snipping going on. Remind me por favor. Did your priest keep it “spiritual” in presentation or did he join in with the rest of the crowd in throwing stones @ the Prez?

    Believe me; I’m all for political hardball, but not in that setting.

    This country, nay the globe, has got one hell of a problem on its hands with this recent “cartoon” insanity. I think the “heart” of Islam is surfacing for ALL to see, and as always, where are the so called moderates w/i Islam speaking out?? AWOL that’s where.

  27. Fr. Neo, I am not sure but I would venture to guess that our new pope is against the Iraq war.

    C. my pastor mainly adressed his thanks to Mrs. King although he did mention the war briefly. I asked him today how he felt about the uproar over the propriety of the remarks. He said that it is a long held traditon of the civil rights movement to use funerals as a platform to advance the movement and that King did it many times, and specifically used the funeral of the four little girls who died in the church bombing to speak out. Although on the surface the current times might seem less perilous on the issue of civil rights, many of us feel that they are as perilous as ever and that the need for a prophetic voice to address the issues at hand is as imperative as as ever. Despite the uproar, neither Bush nor the Republican party were addressed directly, but rather the issues that Mr. and Mrs. King lived and died fighting for were spoken of. Any direct inference to anyone present was left to be drawn by the hearer. As they say, “If the shoe fits . . . My Pastor also stated that anyone who knew Mrs. King would know that it was what she would have wanted.
    Forgot to ask him about the see of Rome C. And I don’t mean to sound anti – Catholic. I love my church, but sometimes when they start all this immaculate ascension crowning of the perpetual virgin stuff . . .

  28. Your last sentence gave me a good chuckle–in a nice way too. Much of what you are alluding to finds its origins in the fundamentalist side of the RC church. I know what you mean. It definitely gets out of hand, way out of hand. There are plenty of things in which I’d be on the opposite side of the table with Rome, but I also frequently hear a “prophetic” voice in her that I respect…AND…that is largely absent from among Christians of other stripes. Peter certainly passed along his propensity to be a leader, but to also stick his foot in his mouth. He also was one who was frequently in dire need of a severe rebuke–from ‘you are the Rock to get behind me Satan.’ Such is the history of the See of Rome.

    I’m not familiar with the “inner workings” of the civil rights movement, but if your priest says that this is a common means to elevate a platform then I take him at his word. As I said too, I’m no fan of “W.” (though I’m not against the war in Iraq on “principle” so to speak, but for other reasons), but given what I heard in the various “speeches” (they didn’t translate like sermons or homilies to me) it seemed a tad vitriolic. Of course, as you pointed out I could be wrong.

    So what did you think about Malcolm X’s daughter speaking there? Seemed out of place to me.

  29. She was the one speaker I was most critcal of. She has spoken at our church, and beleive it or not, I like Malcolm X post Mecca, and understand Malcolm X pre Mecca.

    I felt that she rambled on and on and said a lot of stuff that was irrelevant. I’m not sure what to think of her parting words, “By any means necessary” in the midst of a largely pacifist gathering for the funeral of a devoted pacifist woman, but hey… I really felt that what she had to say could have been summed up as “My father was assasinated, now my mother is gone too. I understand your pain. You have my condolences.” She seemed to be making a serious attempt to sound deep and failing miserably at it . .

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