Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Reflections on Church History

My continuing reflections on the first semester at HTC bring me to the Early Church History module, taught by Nick Needham. Perhaps one of the most interesting things to come out of this module is learning to think and write from a historical standpoint. With two essays (Cyprian and Nestorius)....plenty of opportunity for that! We always want so much to comment on things (when I say 'we', I mean in the sense of 'I', but maybe you too?), but holding back on judgement and analysing what happened, how and why can be so much more rewarding. Learning to listen rather than always speaking is what it's about! Picking up on some of the main points I've taken out of this module, we get...
  • A respect for history, a sense of history. Studying early church history has reconnected me with an ancient past and challenged me to find roots in that past. I read 'A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future' last semester (find it in Christianity Today, September 2006), which is a challenge to the church to recover 'ancient' views on the primacy of the Biblical Narrative, to take the visible nature of the church seriously (a Big One) and other ways of recovering a biblical narrative for life. The authors state that 'individualistic evangelicalism has contributed to the current problems of a churchless Christianity' and also appeal to evangelicals to 'recover their place in the Church catholic'. We need to take the Church seriously, and to see ourselves as part of the Church that is the continuation of God's narrative. In a postmodern society yearning for authenticity, for something that stands outside of the changing trends and fashions of consumerism, I wonder about the wisdom of chasing after oh-so-contemporary forms of worship. Perhaps authentic, practical love, genuine honesty, quiet meditation and simplicity are what seeking Westerners crave in a world of fickle infatuation, shallowness, spin and media bombardment. The early church speaks to us of the essentials.
  • Christological controversies. We spent several weeks looking at the Christological controversies of the 4th and 5th centuties. What is striking about these are the violence (literal) and abuse that seemed to be based largely on semantic arguments. It's that terrible realisation that your mortal enemy is actually saying the same as you, only in a different way! Of course, some were saying not-the-same things in a very bad way. But, there seemed to be a distinct lack of humility in realising that the nature of Christ is something largely hidden from human thought and language. I realise that I need to find out where Christology is at today - it's been a long time since Chalcedon!
  • Perhaps the most incisive indictment of the early church on todays church is in exposing the narrowness of a graceless orthodoxy. Many of the early fathers held 'dodgy' (to be polite) views on certain aspects of theology and yet the genuine nature of their faith and the way in which they were used by God is not seriously questioned (nor should it be, imho). For example, Origen held that the Father only possessed divinity in an absolute sense, that the Son was inferior. However, today, we pillory those who hold equally dodgy views. We seem unable to cope with the diversity which is always going to be present in the church.