Saturday, December 17, 2005

Epiphany

I recently helped teach a class on the history of our church. As usual, the teacher learns more than the students. The classes I have been in, and even taught myself on the subject have concentrated on our history in the USA. The Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ and the Christian Church share a common heritage. "Americans" like James O'Kelly, Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell are studied because they independently arrived at the conclusion that we should leave all "man made creeds" and follow the teachings of scripture alone in all things. Phrases like "Speak where the Bible Speaks, be silent where it is silent" became our "creed".

Because of this heritage, we have often considered unimportant the history that occurred before Campbell, Stone and O'Kelly. Since Scripture is our guide, why worry about the history between this enlightened notion and the days of Jesus?

Well this time I decided to concentrate more on the earlier history. I was intrigued by the Anabaptists, who believed like we do that following the command to be baptized was an important expression of the faith we hold. They believed this so fervently and sincerely that they were willing to die rather than deny that belief. At least 1,000 men and women died at the hands of both Catholic and Protestant authorities during the early days of the Reformation. How can we ignore such history? This caused me to wonder why physical persecution is not a part of our history in this country.

Well, duh!! One of the main reasons for the existance of this country is the desire of our early settlers to escape religious persecution, and believe whatever they believed without fear. I began to look at the roots of persecution and the sanction and cooperation of the state church kept coming to the forefront. Constantine is credited by history as the root of agreement between church and state. Another ingredient in the history is the practice of infant baptism on a grand scale. Innocent I made it mandatory in 400 AD. From that time until the Reformation any Christian nation under Catholic authority populated its church rolls with the help of cival law requiring that all children be "baptized" into the church before they could choose otherwise. The state even assisted in funding the church by taxing all citizens (since all were members from birth) the "tithe" which went into church treasuries. It was not only indulgences that funded the cathedrals, taxed tithes contributed as well.

During the early days of the Protestant Reformation this cooperation between church and state was not abandoned. Protestant churches became the state churches and continued to tax and police behavior through state authority. Hence, the Anabaptists were persecuted as much by Protestant authorities as by Catholic.

I discovered that O'Kelly, Stone and Campbell were not the first to imagine scripture alone being our authority. Many other voices called for the same idea during the period between Jesus and the Reformation, but they were quickly silenced by overwhelming church/state authority.

Church History has become more interesting to me, how about you? Think about it. Let's think about it together in my next blog. - May He continue to shower us with His love and grace... Pop