Working with new generations (Gen Z) – Series
The organized church was another major change, and began to solidify in around 300 CE when Roman Emperor Constantine made it the religion of the State. At the end of that era (around 400 CE) the Bible became an official canon of books as the Century closed, long after Constantine’s death. The “official canon” varies by denomination.
Portions of this article used History of Christianity – Wikipedia as a reference.
In the following I describe these eras by some of their characteristics.
Organized religion by force
Once institutionalized and in league with government, Christianity was forced on people, often violently.
Then came the beginning of the split in the 4th Century between the East and West: Roman Catholicism (Catholic Church), and Eastern Orthodox. This split didn’t finalize until the 10th Century.
The Crusades were an attempt to forcibly retake land from other religions and forcibly convert people to Christianity. It was an era of forced belief.
The Inquisition was an attempt to ensure “right belief” among the followers of Christianity. Heretical beliefs were extinguished by eliminating anyone who believed them. As an example, the Cathars in a region in France were killed, men, women, and children. The Inquisition continued for Centuries.
Christianity has always officially rejected personal spiritual knowledge as a primary thrust, going to horrible violent ends to eliminate it. However some officially sanctioned Christian groups embrace celibacy (no marriage), asceticism (renouncing physical pleasures to attain a higher spiritual or intellectual state, mysticism (spiritual apprehension of knowledge inaccessible to the intellect), and contemplation (prolonged thought). You have to wonder what was so objectionable in Gnosticism that it had to be claimed heretical and destroyed.
The beliefs of that era through around 1000 CE were that the institution of the church was the means to salvation. Infants were baptized to purify them. The sacraments of baptism, marriage, communion, confession, and last rites were principally known as religion, while Jesus and the Apostles were largely forgotten. Priests said Mass with their backs turned to the people.
Much about the church was corrupt. People might want to do something considered sinful so considering they were usually given penance for sin they would simply go to a priest and do their penance and give a fee, then go do the sin. Priests were notoriously corrupt.
Religion became more personal by the statues of Jesus and Mary, and by praying to the Saints.
Age of the “less than”
At the end of the religion by force era explorers were going to the Americas and bringing priests with them to convert the indigenous people. The same happened in Africa and other countries. The conquerors considered the people “less than,” and took the treasures of the land. To harvest the spoils of the land they took people into slavery. The priests worked to convert the Native people.
This action continued through the conquest of North America. The “less than” people were driven out of their homelands. The Inquisition was still going on and was responsible for the Salem Witch Trials. People were dunked in water and if they floated they were guilty. If they sank they were not guilty but probably died. Some were burned at the stake after gruesome torture to get confessions.
The Cherokee Indians (Native Americans) who inhabited the East Coast were regarded as a sovereign nation. They were very friendly with the new settlers, intermarried, adopted Christianity and their housing styles, had a constitutional government, and printed their own newspaper. Despite this assimilation of culture, they were vilified by settlers and the government forced them to move South and West to Oklahoma to take their land.
Black people were also imported from Africa and put into slavery in the many lands and islands that were conquered.
- Do you think it was right for the organized church, starting with the official canon (list) of books in the Bible around 400 CE, to declare some beliefs to be heresies, and to resort to killing people through the ages to eliminate types of thought in the church and outside of it in territories it controlled?
- Do you think corrupt clergy (people ordained for religious duties), and sex abuse by clergy of today, should have been removed from the church? What do you think of the interpretation of the Bible to permit such things, such as doing penance before doing the crime and clergy simply being given a different job? Are these things the result of organizing religion?
- If you read the link to Native Americans driven out of their homelands, who was more savage, the Native Americans or the people who gave them alcohol and drove them off of their lands?
- Some people today would like to suppress religious thought that differs from theirs. Would they be right in doing so? Even right to use violence to suppress it?
- Did the church as an organization lead to the inhumane treatment of others? What would have happened had the church not organized and also become a political force?
- Do you think that the church should have become more organized after the apostles? People in the Restoration movement think not. Many believe churches should be entirely local. The Independent Christian Church of the Restoration movement is one example. The Disciples of Christ church started as a backlash against the rigid denominationalism of the early 1800s. They objected to ideas about communion and the use of creeds.
- Were there differences between church groups about teachings?
Apply the legal standards of beyond a reasonable doubt and more likely than not, and the Christian standard of love.
Take Home Points
The church was divided in its opinions from the earliest times. There have always been minor and major differences. Just as today, some of the early churches believed that they were the only true church because they were from the Apostles (Roman Catholic and Oriental Orthodox).
Christianity and Jesus were very unlikely to have been myths. They were very organized movements led by apostles who pointed to Jesus’ teachings.
The standard of belief and conduct for Christianity is love. Legal standard.
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