I am once again reading Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. This is actually my second time through it, but this time I am taking notes and really studying it rather than just pleasure reading.
This re-reading has really reminded me of how frustrated I am that we, as a Christian community, don’t know our roots. There is this ridiculous gap between the early church and the Reformation, and it seems like much of it is just skipped over or ignored. It drives me a bit batty.
As I was reading today about the early church and how much Christian life stood out compared to pagan lives. This has given me a lot of food for thought. I had already been thinking about this after a recent discussion on standing out in the world. I think we really miss how big of a deal it was to be a Christian in the Roman empire. We are spoiled today. As Tertullian put it in Apology, “We have the reputation of living aloof from the crowds.” Is that really true anymore? Somewhere between 77% and 86% in America consider themselves Christians. Riiiight. We’re really living aloof from the crowds. :/
Shelley discusses it as such
The word used to describe the Christian in the New Testament is highly significant. It is the term hagios, often translated “saints.” It means holy ones, but its root suggests different. So a holy thing is different from other things. The temple is holy because it is different from other buildings; the Sabbath day is holy because it is different from other days. The Christian, therefore, is a person who is fundamentally different.
I’ve been thinking about this ever since I read it. It seems like modern Christianity doesn’t really embrace this line of thinking except to condemn those outside of the church. We point out others differences rather than being different within ourselves.
Fundamental to the Christian life-style and cause of endless hostility was the Christian’s rejection of the pagan gods. The Greeks and Romans had deities for every aspect of living–for sowing and reaping, for rain and wind, for volcanoes and rivers, for birth and death. But to Christians these gods were nothing, and their denial of them marked the followers of Jesus as “enemies of the human race.”
So to be a Christian meant that you could very well be rejecting part of every aspect of life. That’s tough.
One simply could not reject the gods without arousing scorn as a social misfit. For the pagan every meal began with a liquid offering and a prayer to the pagan gods. A Christian could not share in that. Most heathen feasts and social parties were held in the precincts of a temple after sacrifice has been made, and the invitation was usually to dine “at the table” of some god. A Christian could not go to such a feast. Inevitably, when he refused the invitation to some social occasion, the Christian seemed rude, boorish, and discourteous.
I wish I had read this back in high school. I think I would’ve felt a little better about blowing off parties. :/
The Christian fear of idolatry also led to difficulties in making a living. A mason might be involved in building the walls of a heathen temple, a tailor in making robes for a heathen priest, an incense-maker in making incense for the heathen sacrifices. Tertullian even forbade a Christian to be a schoolteacher, because such teaching involved using textbooks that told the ancient stories of the gods and called for observing the religious festivals of the pagan year.
Yet another reason to homeschool 😉
We might think that working with the sick would be a simple act of kindness. But even here early Christians found the pagan hospitals under the protection of the heathen god Aesculapius, and while a sick friend lay in his bed, the priest went down the aisle chanting to the god.
In short, the early Christian was almost bound to divorce himself from the social and economic life of his time–if he wanted to be true to his Lord. This meant that everywhere the Christian turned his life and faith were on display because the gospel introduced a revolutionary new attitude toward human life. It could be seen in Christian views of slaves, children, and sex.
Can you imagine if we lived that way today? Its not like our current culture is so wonderful and “Christian” that we should be embracing it. I think that many of us have come to take our faith as just something to be weaved into the rest of life, rather than a new frame for our entire life.
I have tons more that I want to write from the early chapters of this book, but this will do for now 😀
We don’t know because the 4 C’s has this mistaken impression that all we need is the Bible. This is pretty much a reflection of the rest of human social/political history – throwing out the past that we might make the same mistakes over again.
As to the sepratist philosophy you put forth, even if one were ‘living that out’, it would be less obvious today – at least in the particular situations you mentioned. All of your examples are with respect to the gods of Rome and Greece, which took center stage in everyday life (i.e., the pouring of wine to dionysus, etc). Most contemporary cultures do not engage in such practices. Sure, we have our own cultural ‘gods’ (money, power, gw), but they are not gods in the traditional sense and thus are not looked upon as such by the general public, even as they fill that role. In other words, worshipping any specific god does not really set you apart any more or less than worshipping any other – except in the eyes of the worshippers of *other* gods.
Our culture is only ‘christian’ in so much as it recognized christianity. If i were to wear a shirt that says ‘Ganesha loves you’, most people probably wouldn’t know what it meant. What you mention above is how difficult it was to claim christ as lord. That’s easy to do in this society. So easy, in fact, that it’s lost a lot of its edge.
My main reaction here though is, Christianity isn’t about what you can’t do or what you have to do. I don’t think you have to throw normalcy out the window to live as you ought. What sets the christian life apart from the lives around it is more subtle in this culture, for the aforementioned reasons. That doesn’t make it any less radical, just less recognizable on the surface.
so yeah, just some stream-of-conciousness thoughts there. I tried to stay mostly on-topic. 🙂
I’m with you, I think we’re considering two different aspects though.
As I read this section of the book, I was thinking more of the “church” as a whole. We’ve been doing a lot of church interviews recently for the area where we’re moving. It has been ridiculously frustrating to deal with the fact that the churches are either uber-conservative, but not so Biblical – meaning they have tons of rules, but they are extra-Biblical rules (that’s what I was referring to in my “condemn” comment above). The rest of the churches are super liberal. They’ve been telling me on the phone that they endorse homosexuality, they will never do church discipline, they will never talk about the way Christians act in response to God’s grace. They are completely lopsided.
So that was more of what was in my mind as I typed.
And, obviously from my previous posts, I’m definitely not a “works” over “grace” kind of girl. I don’t think we need to pull ourselves out of society and I absolutely don’t think that Christianity is based on what we do. I do, however, think that there should be something about us that is different, and I see that slipping away in much of the church (and most of the rest are “different” in a bad way!)