Today we finished our early church history subject (33-451AD). Here are some of the big ideas from the course. It’s taught by Rhys Bezzant, who’s also starting up the Jonathan Edwards Centre Australia.
All aboard for post-Christendom
The world has changed already. The Western church can no longer count on the state for moral support. We no longer have majority representation. In fact, the world is looking a lot like the world of the early church — and more than ever, we need to learn the hard lessons of the church’s first 300 years. It’s not easy being obscure, dealing with internal bitching, and doing mission in a world of opposition.
Welcome to your post-Christendom future. Please find the church history guidebook included with your boarding pass. Millions of majority-world Christians eagerly await your arrival.
Sometimes we try to divide up the activists and the thinkers. Growing the church and doing theology are kind of different, aren’t they? But the story of church history is that both must be integrated. Doing theology doesn’t stifle activism but fuels it, because it makes the growth take root and last long. Real world-change happens when the church has a healthy heart and mind.
Let’s get physical
There are some things that the Western church is pretty confused about. We are so caught up on ‘going to heaven’, so inclined towards leaving the world, so stressing the difference between matter and spirit that we’ve been confusing the meaning of the gospel. Those ideas have got more to do with Platonism and Cartesian dualism than anything else.
‘Heaven’ is not the abolition of the physical realm but the final arrival of God’s city on Earth. God doesn’t ‘save souls’ but begins a process of redeeming and transforming his people to be new creations in Christ. Indeed, we do not have souls; we are souls, and all those in Christ are headed towards a thoroughly physical and embodied existence in God’s new Universe. The important distinction is not between Heaven and Earth but between Creator and created.
Turning down the white noise
Doctrine is superficial. After all, doctrine never saves anyone. Right? Well, maybe you can maintain this if you’re fixated on individual salvation and divvying up who’s saved. But if we care about the community and the future, as the first Christians did, then doctrine matters.
Without right doctrine, we’re in danger of misinterpreting Christian experience and the world, and not just passing on the mistakes but compounding them. When truth is off duty, our spiritual IQ bottoms out in no time. Never mind the individuals — whenever the community of Christ gets things wrong, the loser is the whole next generation. On the other hand, getting doctrine right means we stop error from running loose — it’s about turning down the white noise and the Chinese whispers so that we can pass on the truth to the next generation.
This starts with the idea of the Trinity, the ‘Great Tradition’ found in the historic Christian creeds. The creeds don’t try to outline everything it means to be Christian, but that’s not the point. The Trinity is the foundation of everything else. You might even say that it’s the only tradition that matters. Without it, the things we try to grow will just bleed out.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.