... and don't just say 'now more than ever'."
©5 April, Palm Sunday, 2020, The Media Desk
Wait a minute, that's the ending. And a perfectly good ending it is as well.
Perhaps we should have an article for it to end.
OK. Here we go.....
"is the Restoration", the attempt to bring Christianity back to what was seen in the First Century as part of the Great Awakening, and "the Protestant Reformation" which began in Europe several hundred years ago, the rejection of the majority of the script for the church as outlined by Roman Catholicism, "Still Relevant"? (see Quentin Crisp quote at the end the links section below.)
That's a good one, and it's going to be tough to answer, as you just saw, but those are the Fun ones.
Of, course, as is the way of the Desk's non-fiction essays, we'll take the scenic route to any sort of conclusion, if there is one, that is.
Along the way we'll play a game of 'hopscotch' through a bit of history, and, of course, we'll have to define a handful of terms, and then look at what was being reformed and restored, and then climb up in the press box and judge the game that is being played today and see where it all stands.
And perhaps with a little music, a few tangents, and, of course, a couple of puns along the way.
Where to begin? Should we start at the door to the old church in Wittenberg in the Fifteen Teens and see if an upset Catholic Priest actually nails anything to the door, and where he may have gotten the ideas for his 'manifesto' in the first place?
No, we'll come back to that.
NOTE: for the duration, when the word 'church' is used with a lower case 'c' we are referring to the local body of believers and the building they meet in, or the larger Earthly denomination/organization it belongs to which is usually identified (IE: the Episcopal Church) as a proper noun. When the word 'Church' is used by itself with a capital 'C', it is referring to the even larger group of believers, and the UnEarthly "Body Of Christ".
ALSO: In this essay we are discussing Religious Restorations, not any of various political or royal restorations where one or another monarch or ruling party regains their office, such as the return of Charles II in England or the resumption of the reign of the House of Bourbon in France after Napoleon.
Clarification: The Reformation was the movement in Europe from about 1500 on that included some doings in Scotland as well as that bit with Martin Luther and others on that team. The Restoration was the way that same older movement took root and then took fire in America beginning some three hundred years later.
ALSO: All conclusions, observations, whatever, are solely to be blamed on The Desk, and not in any way considered to be endorsed, sanctioned, recommended, by anybody or anything else.
OK? Good. "lights, camera, Action!"
We'll work Backwards. So instead of beginning in Germany, we'll go to LA, Los Angeles that is, to a surprisingly small and plain building on Azusa street, and a couple of private homes in the area, and instead of the fifteen-hundreds, it's 1910 or so. And instead of a disgruntled Catholic monk on the stage, we see William Seymour (1870 - 1922), the fire starter for what became an international movement that resulted in another of the Great Revivals that was still going strong as the US was drawn into the mess that was World War One in Europe. Which was where the first Great Restoration began, oddly enough, in the country that started the war!
Seymour's mentor Charles Parham was involved in a previous movement, but had managed to convince himself that it had lost its center, namely the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and other manifestations of the Power of God.
And, well, they had. As we'll see, that is the sign, or perhaps the symptom of a local church or a larger movement / denomination that has 'lost its way'. Perhaps becoming more concerned with the endless array of the trivialities of This World than they are about why they exist in the first place.
There are links below to background material about that, and the next couple of examples we're going to look at.
We won't go into whether the events that centered around Azusa Street were all genuine or not, that is beyond the scope of this article, but we will say that Something Happened that cannot be ignored, and in the process it spread throughout the Christian World and, shall we say, there was a LOT of "cross-pollination" between various branches of Christianity. Which is precisely the point of this essay.
The movement Parham was upset with was called the Holiness Movement. It had begun at the tail end of the focus of our work here, the Restoration, and resulted in groups such as the Nazarene Church being organized. They too thought the heat had gone out of the previous movement, and that several of the denominations that had been organized during that period were now more focused on picking paint colors for their buildings than being Christians.
The Holiness movement was based in New England, and got going just as the Restoration was dissipating. In some ways, the core of the Holiness was the same as what those mountain preachers were aiming at, with a few differences. One of those being the newer movement's focus on trying to make changes in the existing Methodist denomination which had been in America since the Colonial era.
But, as Luther found out years before, making changes to an existing church is almost impossible. The result was the Wesleyan division of the existing Methodist church, and the separate founding of what became the Nazarene church.
To us, some of the ideals of some of the more vocal proponents of the movement look as odd as some of what those in the previous movement proposed. But all the same, they meant something to the people of the time, and may have had a bit of rationality behind them. Such as the Holiness idea of very nearly total abstinence from "pleasures of the body" as seen with various Ascetics going back to, well, going all the way back. However, when looked at with more or less objective hindsight, it is hard to see where the seasoning of food, or a hairstyle, or some of the other fringe ideas they had, as well as the usual ban on smoking/drinking/dancing and anything else the minister didn't like, was a Salvation Issue. Something we'll see back in the hills with the questionable practice of snake-handling, as well as something many of them had to rely on to justify their teaching: the argument from silence.
But that is a subject for another time. Back to what was going on just when those in the Holiness movement were putting the training wheels on their ideas that eventually carried it north into Canada and eventually back to the Wesley's homeland back across the Atlantic.
Now let's head down to the hills of Eastern Kentucky and look around in about 1800 or so and catch the tail end of one of the "Great Awakenings" that became the Restoration.
OK, first we'll say this: Some point to one place or another down here as The Birthplace of the Movement. A few have even narrowed it down to a single year, like 1801, or was it the eighteen teens..., although, so far, we haven't found any that proclaim which single Sunday morning it happened. And that's a good thing.
Well, OK, we'll let'em tout one site or another as The Place. They can set up a stand and sell shirts and coffee mugs with "I visited The Birthplace of the Movement" on them. And somebody else will have a trailer fifty miles down the road at another place doing the same thing. And then there will be another one across the Ohio River or in the Carolinas, or was it Pennsylvania? even up into the infamous "burned over district" up along the shores of the Eastern Great Lakes over to where the Holiness groups sprang up later... and they are all saying it as well.
We're not going to pick one over the other. Several, yes, 'several' are right, and, some others are shaky at best and a few are wrong, about the place, and the year. And it doesn't really matter. No, it doesn't. And we can prove it.
Although the 'reactor core' of the Restoration was in the mountains in that Kentucky/North Carolina border area, what some call the "Stone-Campbell Movement" was far more generalized and widespread than what began with one man in Germany. There were several evangelists and congregations involved in the American expression of the central idea that first took shape with Martin Luther a hundred years before. And it didn't happen one fine Sunday morning, it took a couple of decades to get its own training wheels off and become a recognized religious movement in its own right.
The central idea was that the larger Christian Faith had gotten away from the simple basic faith instituted by Christ and preached by Paul and the others in the First Century, and they wanted, or rather, they fervently believed that they NEEDED to get back to the original concepts and practices of those early Christians, as described in Acts 11...
"26 When he found him, he took him to Antioch, and for a whole year the two met with the people of the church and taught a large group. It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians." (Good News Translation see link below)
(TIME OUT FOR A: Relevant Scriptural Tangent)
We intentionally used one of the "new" translations of the Bible there. Even though it is only 'new' when compared to the Geneva Bible (1599), which may have well been part of the background for the King James (1611). The "Good News" came out in the mid sixties, that is, Nineteen Sixties with the New Testament and then the whole book ten years later.
There are those that maintain that reading any other Bible other than the "Authorized" one is probably a sin. Many of those that do so have no idea what they're talking about. We could point out that that version of the Bible was put together by a committee, and when there was a dispute between the members the final vote was by a King who was about half pagan in his own beliefs, but we won't mention that. Instead, we'll use our old line.... "where the KJV is good, it is Very Good. But remember, the translation committee took the 'love' out and put the Unicorns IN!" (the great 'love chapter in First Corinthians is 'charity' in the KJV, and the one horned critter trots by in Numbers and Deuteronomy, as well as Psalms and elsewhere.)
Once upon a time a lady this writer worked with said she was told 'they had taken the blood out of the NIV'. Then she admitted she'd never looked it it herself when it was pointed out that there was 'plenty of blood' in the New International, and that it was NOT the translation that had 'neutered God'.
Most of those who thump the KJV and swear on, or maybe just 'by' it, have never done any serious study of or in the other translations. And they use it because "they have always used it". Which we will come back to in our primary work here in a few minutes.
Yes, a few of the 'modern' translations have at least dulled the cutting edge of the old Sword, but most haven't. And if you have a couple of 'classic' translations and then a couple of more contemporary translations and you do a comparative study between them, you'll do fine. You might even understand what you are reading.
Besides, The Desk even prefers some passages in the 1611 edition because of the way it turns the phrase, such as: "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man."
Whereas the New Living (1996 and 2007) has it: "That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty."
It's just lost something there, even though the overall message is essentially the same.
IF you were going to be "stranded on a desert island and could only take one book"... ... ... it wouldn't matter a bit which one you picked, as long as you READ THE THING while waiting on a rescue boat!
Now, where were we? Ahh, yes, Christians.
Or rather, "Christians only, although not the Only Christians" as one of the original core statements of the "Restoration" makes it.
Their point was that the major denominations had put as much effort in being Not Catholic by labeling themselves all sorts of other things, we needn't go into the names of the denominations here, it really doesn't matter, as they did in being a Christian. In fact, in many cases, those who attended said churches thought of themselves as whatever the name of the group was Instead of, or perhaps In Addition To, being a Christian.
We'll use a non-religious example, which in some cases has become something of a religion. We'll pick on the Irish because that holiday is coming up. They are "Irish-Americans", not just an "American", as if that extra modifier is needed. We're not sure if that, or being a "blank-Christian" will matter when you are standing in front of Him Whom You Will Stand In Front Of.
And some of the denominations 'back in the day' went so far as to have themselves proclaimed the Official State Religion and persecuted those who didn't conform (and that was the chosen word for it), sometimes to the point of executing those that dissented (another of their words), and we'll see more along those lines in a moment.
They allowed "religious liberty" as long as it agreed with them. And if you didn't....
Let's get back on track. We'll put some coal in the burner and work up a bit of steam to get our train moving.
"Down around the corner, half a mile from here
See them long trains run, and you watch them disappear
Without love, where would you be now
Without lo-o-o-ove ... ...
Well the Illinois Central
And the Southern Central Freight
Got to keep on pushin' mama
You know they're running late
Without love, where would you be now? ...
-Long Train Runnin' from The Doobie Brothers. Song by Tom Johnston. Released 1973, Warner Brothers Record.
And, yes, Love was part of the movement. So, the song is relevant. Mostly.
What was called the Stone-Campbell-O'Kelly-Smith-Scott -etc -etc movement began working 'backwards' with the faith, or at least the visible practice of it.
There is still a debate about how much influence the Great European Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, and even the Industrial Revolution or the Great Westward Migration from places like Ireland and Northern Europe had on the effort of those working to return Christianity to its roots in the Bible. Something that at another time brought you such "head scratchers" as the "Welsh Calvinistic Methodists".
It's that cross-pollination we mentioned earlier, except now, it is 'back in the hills'. It is fair to say that those big ideas and political movements did have some influence, some more overt and obvious than others. As well as the "mixing pot" of all sorts of people once they got to America had an influence of its own. And when well stirred, well, it caught fire. Which we shall see later.
Now, how close to the First Century Church did they get? Well, that depends on how you look at it. In practice, except for cases like the Apostle Peter or "Saint Paul" raising the dead as happened in Acts, they seem to have done reasonably well. For now we'll skip "snake handling" as an apparition of questionable relevance to Salvation and move on.
OK, while we are there. It is based on the passage in Acts where Paul is bitten and the line from Christ in Mark 16 about "them taking up serpents". Well, OK. Except in the Great Commission HE doesn't tell you to go out and collect cobras and asps, and Paul spends a lot more ink talking about the Lord's Supper than he does discussing the finer points of herpetology. Now we'll move on.
One of the things many of those Restoration preachers railed against was all the trappings that had grown up around the faith that had been re-established during the Reformation.
In many ways the great European Protestant religions were now as steeped in traditions and ritual as the Church of Rome after only a few hundred years. The Reformation that began in the 1500s was a conscious effort to bring the Church back to Christ. And, to a point, it had done some of that. Then.
To Barton Stone (1772-1844) and those other guys in the hills of Kentucky and elsewhere, the Reformation Movement had not only stalled, it had backslid and those denominations so rooted were now part of the problem. And they had a point, a good one. Several actually. And those points fueled their reactionary movement.
If you look at the New Testament, there are no church processions, no 'paradise chair', no special robes for the choir, in fact- no choir, no command chain of Bishops, and so on. All of that "STUFF" that has been attached to what is really a very simple teaching is of men. And that was the message that came rolling out of the mountains, that Salvation is a Gift of God, His Grace is what saves us, not all the sideshow seen in mainstream churches on both sides of the Reformation.
This is Dedicated to Our Lady of the Tangent:
And as we are going through it, we will ignore the special status of the Virgin Mary within the Roman Church and just move on except to say here and now that the entire body of teaching about her, including the "immaculate conception" and the "assumption" as found in Rome is Not Biblical, at all. It was all instituted by the Papacy, and most of it came down several centuries after the fact. If you wish to maintain that the status of the Mother of Christ is less than deification, please go check out the anthems for the Papal States, then get back to us on that.The overall 'restoration-ish' view described before that tangent is hard for some people to accept. And to the older Protestant denominations, let alone the Holy See in Rome, it's heresy. If salvation is between you and God, how are we going to pay for our Pastor's Retreat on Maui?
The first problem is, that simple Grace-based idea IS essential to the message from Acts.... which we'll come back to in a few moments.
The second problem is that it didn't even take fifty years for some of those movements from the hills to evolve (and that is the word) into exactly the same sort of denomination with national hierarchy and a home office with its own breakroom and Christmas party committee, as the European organizations they had wanted to leave behind. Something we have already seen happen to those in the Holiness field of dreams.
It would seem that we, as humans, like our traditions. They give us comfort and reassurance in the continuity of things. And some people become so attached to a tradition that they see them as an ordained and critical part of the faith, when, objectively, it is nothing more than a human idea.
And in the new churches of the movement, it didn't take long for people to begin saying "we've always done it this way", and then for whatever it was to become a tradition, and then it is only a small step from tradition to Doctrine. Even if it is an unofficial 'doctrine' that, in the long run, becomes harmful to the faith.
For example, we will trot out something else that is a tradition: the Maundy Thursday Service, and other similar 'Holy Week' observances.
There are almost as many names for the fifth day of Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, as there are churches that observe it. The word itself refers to the "new command" of Christ to His disciples at the Last Supper. Some think that the command involves the washing of feet instead of loving one another from John 13: 34.
Call it what you will, there is NO Biblical or First Century 'Church Father' precedence for the Maundy Thursday service.
The ordinance established that night before He went to the Cross was the Lord's Supper. Which there is evidence for those in the Early Church observing every time they came together to worship and to learn. Every time, which was soon to be every First Day of the Week, whereas some later denominations offered it much less, which we'll also come to in a moment. And it is worth noting that the "Adoration of the Eucharist", what is more simply stated as the worshiping of a cracker, started quite late in the history of the Roman Church, being unheard of for the first thousand years of its existence. The practice of which has been repudiated by the vast majority of Protestant churches. More at the links below.
And yet, many of the various local churches that state they are in the line of those that founded the Restoration movement do observe everything from Palm Sunday processions complete with real, and fake, palm fronds, all the way through Sunrise Services on what some insist on calling Resurrection Sunday to make sure they're not celebrating "Easter" because somebody might think they had a basket of plastic grass and chocolate bunnies at home.
There's that one, then Christmas, Thanksgiving, and innumerable special services honoring everybody from military veterans to kindergarten graduates that are traditional in these churches, and none of those are mandated, or even strongly suggested, by Scripture,
Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with having a special recognition for any of those. The problem arises when it becomes more important than the Reason the people are coming together in the corporate worship service of the local church. While the majority of people will say that it never does, just stand back and watch, and listen, to the reaction if somebody proposes a change to the Christmas "Chrismon" Service, even though many of the icons used, like the Christmas tree itself, have more of their roots in the forest of pagan history than they do in Christianity.
For an example, we could consider the Chrismon of the "hand of God", which resembles an inverted Hamsa, or 'hand of Buddha', some of which even use some of the Eastern finger positions seen in Eastern iconography. Another favorite is the Chrismon of the "Pelican in her Piety", which is totally based on a myth about the bird.
Christmas and Easter Tangent:
While the Jewish Holiday of Easter is mentioned in Scripture, it is only informed speculation that the Resurrection occurred on that day on the modern calendar. The celebration of the Death of the Messiah was instituted in the Lord's Supper, and the empty tomb is remembered every Sunday morning in churches that observe the Lord's Supper as prescribed in Acts and in the letters of Paul.
Christmas is not mentioned at all in the New Testament and was not even discussed by the church for the first two hundred years. How much influence the Roman holiday at the time of the winter solstice had on the choosing of the date in late December is still debated. However, what is not open to debate is the fact that the Eastern Church has 6/7 January as their Christmas Day. We will also mention that the idea of gift giving originated with the feast of St Nicholas on 6 December and has since merged into the other holiday. As far as the trees and greenery, that's a discussion of purely pagan imagery adapted into Christianity that we'll get into some other time. There's a link below about the history of the holiday.
In closing, we'll mention the rest of the church calendar and point out that the only dedicated holidays or rather Holy Days that are known and well defined in scripture are certain Jewish festivals. Things like Advent and Lent are most decidedly NOT from Biblical sources, and yet they are held absolutely dear by many of the faithful.
It is the weight of those traditions over time, that institutional inertia, that makes even slight changes in the way the church operates very difficult if not impossible to initiate. Such as the problems those in the Methodist Church had during the early Holiness days.
Going back in history to when the various Protestant denominations in Europe broke from the Roman church, beginning in England around 1500s, you can see where they kept a lot of the trappings that had become attached to the faith. Either not willing or able to totally scrap all the embellishments that had crept into Christian worship and the superstructure that seems to define 'organized religion'.
Before we check in with Friar Luther, let's do like we said we'd do earlier and drop back a touch further in history.
Like to just before the time of Christ, in the Hellenic/Roman region of Palestine.
Well, that IS "earlier".
During the period between the end of the Empire of Alexander the Great and the rise of Rome, things got 'interesting' in Israel where the Books of the Maccabees record how the priests became corrupted. A turn of events which later provided something for Jesus to talk about during His ministry.
"But king Seleucus was done with life now, and the throne passed to Antiochus, called the Illustrious. And here was a brother Onias had, called Jason, that coveted the office of high priest. This Jason went to the new king, and made him an offer of three hundred and sixty talents of silver out of its revenue, besides eighty from other incomings. Let leave be granted him to set up a game-place for the training of youth, and enroll the men of Jerusalem as citizens of Antioch, he would give his bond for a hundred and fifty more. To this the king assented; high priest he became, and straightway set about perverting his fellow-countrymen to the Gentile way of living.
Till now, the Jews had followed their own customs, by grace of a royal privilege; it was John that won it for them, father of that Eupolemus, who afterwards went in embassage to Rome, to make a treaty of alliance. But Jason would abrogate these customs; common right should be none, and great wrong should find acceptance instead. This game-place of his he did not scruple to set up in the very shadow of the Citadel, and debauch all that was noblest of Judaea's youth.
Mischief in the bud, think you, when such alien Gentile ways came in? Nay, here was flower and fruit of it; and all through the unexampled villainy of one man, this Jason, that high priest was none, but rather an arch-traitor. Why, the priests themselves had no more stomach for serving the altar; temple scorned, and sacrifice unheeded, off they went to the wrestling-ground, there to enter their names and win unhallowed prizes, soon as ever the first quoit was thrown! What glory their fathers had handed down to them! And fame such as the Greeks covet was all their ambition now."
- 2 Maccabees 4: 7 - 15 (KJV) Link below.
In that rather extensive quote we see a couple of things in play. One, the high priesthood was bought and sold like a US Senate Seat in Illinois, but without the consequences for the salesman. And, the priests were a bunch of party-boys instead of being busy with the duties of their office. Which is pretty much the rest of Congress.
But such things are not isolated to ancient Jewish history.
Later on in the Catholic Church, over a dozen centuries later, but later nonetheless, we can watch various operatives of the famous, infamous, well, powerful at any rate, Medici family of Florence, Italy, and later Rome and even France (their part of the French Wars of Religion cannot be ignored) leveraged various financial transactions to curry favor with successive Popes to have assorted Medici men (although at least two were teenagers), and assorted allies, be appointed as Cardinals of the church. Which then resulted in four Medici popes from 1513 through 1605). Which, of course, increased the family's status and power, to the point of making them the target of various treacheries, but that' the subject for another time. (That the reigns of a couple of those popes, Leo X and Clement VII, were unmitigated disasters in several ways for the church is another story as well. And one of those will come into play with our work here shortly.)
And it has happened in the Protestant world well into the 1980s as well, say when, a certain gambling facility owner buying eternal favor from a TV pastor, or attempting to, see highlights and link below. And, of course, the ongoing nightmare involving various forms of sexual indiscretions here and there.
So, really and truly, nothing is new.
Which is where we're going with that. While corruption and the peddling of religious favors, such as what was for sale by that same Catholic Church that had Brother Luther all wired up, have happened, and are still happening. When that notorious hobby becomes "the way we've always done it" we've got a problem. (hhhmmm, somebody is squirming in their seat over there.)
The Papacy was flatly selling "indulgences", essentially a 'get out of purgatory free card' for the living or dead, to pay for some remodeling in Rome:
"As soon as a coin in the coffer rings - the soul from purgatory springs." accredited to Friar Johann Tetzel, sub-commissioner of indulgences at Meissen, Saxony- - - Germany.
Indulgences were not new. They had been sold by the church for ages, and funds so raised had even gone to the Crusades. But now, with the monies raised going from everything from major work on the new Vatican to, quite simply, vanishing.
And it would appear that Luther didn't like low ranking sales-bunnies making promises for God in return for pocket change. Of course, he had more than a good handful of objections to the established church, and its political operations through the Holy Roman Empire (which, incidentally, wasn't really any of the three at the time). Which brings us to another parallel with the movement when it got to America. Luther was from a family of miners. In the hills of eastern America, there's lots of mines. Later on when the union movement took off, it also got very heated in the mining districts. But that may be a story for another time.
If you look at the steps the various movements took away from the full bureaucratic hierarchy of the organization of the Roman Church, as well as all of the factors of the Mass as a service, none of them went 'all the way' all at once. If you look at the early Anglican church, it is difficult to even see the practical differences between it and the mother church.
The steps were indeed small, including, at different times: translating the Bible into the various common languages and later replacing the language of the service with the vernacular of the people instead of using Latin. Then the renunciation of allegiance to the See of Rome and the rejection of the supremacy of the 'teaching authority of church' over the authority of the Bible. The simplification of the service itself, and the 'streamlining' of the organization of the larger church, and then, finally, the 'home rule' of the local congregation where the elders of that local body decide how their church will be run with minimal input, or perhaps 'interference', from a national or international office. Small steps, over a long period of time. In fact, centuries. It took well over a thousand years for the Roman Church as it was in the time of Luther and the others to build up to what it was, it wasn't going to lose all that in a week.
There is Scriptural precedence for this.
In the New Testament the Apostles in Jerusalem sent a letter out to a local church that was having some issues with people who had no special authority but who were making an effort to impose older requirements on new believers that did nothing to enhance the faith but, instead, served their own personal interests and power. (sounds familiar, no?)
In Acts 15, see link below, the Apostles, evidently led by James, sent word to the local church that was NOT a "thus saith the Lord" but reads as a couple of suggestions and a bit of advice, that ends with "... you will do well," instead of "do it our way or else!"
In other circumstances, such as when addressing some issues in Corinth and Galatia, Paul used a similar tone at least most of the time. In other letters, Paul told Timothy and Titus to deal with local issues, instead of his writing from his accommodations in Rome with an executive order as to what should be done. There were times when he did assert his Apostolic authority, and other times when he basically said, 'this is just my opinion...' such as in 1 Corinthians 7, where he does both within the span of a few verses.
Which is all directly in conflict with the way some denominations ranging from the Roman church all the way down to various branches that grew out of the Restoration of the 1800s eventually turned into exactly what those mountain preachers had been railing against. Complete with some of their followers demanding that local churches elsewhere use their 'order of service' outlines without any alteration whatsoever.
Well, as was the spirit of the movement (anybody keeping track of the puns in this one?), many local congregations have told the denominational headquarters to ... ahh... "have a nice day", and have removed themselves from it, sometimes with formal letters of separation and even the occasional legal battle in the secular courts over who owned the building. What was the Roman Catholic Church doing during all this? Besides the Inquisition that is.
There had always been some dissent to the way the Bishop of Rome ran the church. And there had been anti-popes now and again as various factions said "he's not MY pope", even at one time to where there were three popes of the Catholic Church. But most of those troubles would blow over.
The tremor that turned into the Earthquake of separatism began in England in the mid 1300's with John Wycliff. However, his movement didn't catch fire, although several of his followers did, while tied to a stake. We'll look at his failed attempt at reform later.
On the Continent, you had rumblings and anti-Catholic movements such as the Hussites. Most of these groups remained somewhat small and local, and were often at odds, and sometimes in actual armed conflict with another group in the next village who had a different opinion on things.
Then almost exactly two hundred years after Wycliff came the first moves that would eventually become the Full Protestant Reformation hit in fairly rapid succession.
1517 saw Martin Luther start his side of things up in Germany, but he didn't want to start a new faith, he just wanted to fix the old one, something that has been a failure since the time of Jesus. Think about it.
In the 1530s Henry the VIII of England ordered the church of the island to break from Rome so he could marry whoever he wanted to marry. His act had nothing to do with theology or Scriptural Christianity, at least at first.
Along this time John Calvin was working up a sweat with his own take on some of Luther's ideas and in some cases, such as the general nature of man and the Grace of God, going even further with it. We'll put the brakes on the discussion of any more of Calvin's ideas right there. There a good link below to some background on him if you're curious as to who the "man behind the name" was.
In 1560 what would become the Scottish Church affectionately called "the Kirk" or to the rest of us: the Scottish Presbyterian Church, took the first step by renouncing outside authority and insisting that there were only a handful of ordinances of the Church that were instituted by Christ or the Apostles, that everything else had been dreamed up by men, and were not necessary for Salvation. Which was the whole point of the exercise, right?
"Let no rank puff up anyone; for faith and love are paramount - the greatest blessings in the world."
- Ignatius of Antioch (35? - 108)
While there is evidence that some of the hierarchy of the Roman church were blindsided by the sheer intensity of the revolt against over a thousand years of religious rule from the Holy See, there is some indications that Pope Leo the Tenth (one of those Medici popes, remember?) and his advisers may have seen some of it coming and were already working on their response, although by any objective standard, those responses were totally lacking and did little but prove Luther's point that the Papacy was the problem instead of the solution.
What happened in the North that they had to respond to? Well, to the Roman Curia, Mass Heresy.
During the period of the hottest and most self-righteous period of Protestant Fervor local parish churches in Germany and elsewhere were vandalized and in a few cases virtually destroyed. Icons and images were destroyed, and more than a few priests were beaten up or worse. Which effectively swapped the roles of religious oppressor and oppressed. Some have argued that such violence had less to do with religion and more to do with a general revolt against outside authority or a communal relapse into anarchy. And, to be fair, all of that and more was probably in the air. In any case, it was religion that triggered it.
Besides the beginning of the Lutheran church and some of the others on the continent, the movement emigrated to the New World where it was on more equal footing with the Catholic Church, which was also a comparative newcomer to the New World.
It is worth noting that several of the original colonies had officially established state religions, some of which had mandated attendance requirements and even criminal penalties for everything from missing service to belonging to another religion, or worse, having no professed religion at all. The Puritans in Massachusetts even condemned four Quaker missionaries to death in the 1660s.
Pardon us while our locomotive comes to a full stop.....
With those executions, and others: The Protestants in the New World had equaled the barbarism of the Catholic Church they had rebelled against, just as it happened in Europe, with their own version of the Inquisition. And we haven't even mentioned the witch craze in the Americas. No, we haven't, and that topic may be best served in another article later.
But, of course, the Inquisition got most of the bad press, something it rightly deserved, if for no other reason than it was the official policy of the Roman church where Pope Paul the Third created the "Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition", which, under a slightly different name, still exists with the mission to:
"Like other offices of the Roman Curia, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is an institution of ecclesiastical right, assisting the Holy Father in his universal mission as regards doctrine of faith and morals. It has the responsibility to watch over the profession of the true faith and guide all activities of the Church related to that faith: liturgy, preaching, catechesis, the spiritual life, ecumenical endeavors, social teaching, etc.
"In the context in which society and the Church exist today – a context marked by rapid cultural, political, technical, and economic change, and by public opinion increasingly shaped by patterns and directions influenced by the social media – the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is confronted on a daily basis with a difficult challenge. ..."
http://www.vatican.va (link below)
While it is unlikely that the current version of the "Holy Office" is going to be asking for donations of firewood any time soon, the basic premise remains. "To Promote And Safeguard The Faith". Which is a noble aim to be sure, however, when taken to its logical extreme, as has been done on all sides, and was last paraded across the TV screens of the world by those who took it to the far end of the scale in the defense of Islam, what starts as a 'good idea' becomes hideous.
From the evidence, true religious tolerance is quite rare. Including those who demand total "freedom FROM religion" to the point of, as some put it, "taking Christ out of Christmas". Their 'intolerance' can become just as extreme in demanding that they be left alone as those from 'back in the day' who would drag them in front of a judge for missing Sunday school.
As an example we shall point to the good folks at the "Freedom From Religion Foundation", yes, that is their name, and their website banner proclaims they are all about the "Protection the constitutional principle of the separation of state and church". Which is an absolutely wonderful thing to proclaim. With one small caveat: that is Not in the Constitution.
The "separation clause" IS in the constitution of the State of Virginia, which was written by Thomas Jefferson, who was one of the most enlightened men in the New World. However, the delegates could not agree on the measure, so it is not in the US Constitution. The closest that documents gets is the "establishment" language in the First Amendment. We'll touch on this idea in a moment and follow it back to Scotland a hundred or so years before Jefferson was born.
So the FFRF people have to say they are protecting a "principle". Using the term as a 'weasel word' to make it seem like they are doing something they actually are not to those who perhaps didn't pay as close of attention as they should have in Civics class.
And the mention of the former Caliphate's rule brings into the discussion the fact that under Al Islam the "freedom of or from religion" is a totally foreign concept in the way that religion is currently practiced. Under most recent forms of Sharia: "you have the right to be a Muslim, and we'll tell you which kind of Muslim you will be", and if you object, as seen from the ISIL/ISIS videos, well, you won't for long. Some time ago, at the prompting from a co-worker, the Desk looked at what the usual brand of Sharia would do to those first Ten Amendments to the US Constitution, one of which we just mentioned, a link to that article is below.
Of course, at one time Islam was the very model for tolerance and enlightened living, such as in Spain when the country was called Al-Andalus, and the Caliphate of Cordoba, where the level of civilization and the region's universities were beacons to the entire world for seven hundred years. Well, that's changed now, and in certain Islamic countries, the term Dark Ages can well be applied as its leaders rule with an iron fist at least equal to the worst the original Holy Office ever managed, and intolerance and even ignorance are the watchwords.
There's a link below to a primer entitled "Islam in Spain".
We need to move back to the New World from Moorish Spain. So it is reasonable to mention that Islamic rule on the Iberian Peninsula ceased to exist in any meaningful way about the time Columbus weighed anchor and headed out looking for the 'spice islands'. And we know how that ended.
The Year Without A Summer, and The Industrial Revolution, Come To The Hills
The massive eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815, following a smaller eruption in the same area a few years before, brought the Year Without A Summer to much of the Northern hemisphere. That's simply a scientific fact that was unknown at the time and poorly understood until recently. But to the faithful involved in the religious revival, significant snowfall in June probably seemed like a sign from Above.
The War of 1812 never really had a direct impact on many of the areas we've talked about in that a battle was fought in the town. However, it Did have an affect by drawing off a lot of young men, who then returned and expected life back in the hills to be something like what they had seen in places like New Orleans, Philadelphia and the now booming town of Baltimore, at the other end of the infant B and O railroad that by the early 1850s had pushed a line as far west as Wheeling and was bringing products, and work, into the hills. Where it had taken months for news to filter in, now it was a matter of days. And as the electric telegraph grew from lines on the East Coast, linking Baltimore and Washington DC in the 1840s and then inland from there, communication with distant parts was possible in minutes instead of days. Which meant it was possible for today's newspaper to have yesterday's news in it, at the time, that was as revolutionary as the idea of lending Brother Luther a hammer and a nail.
While we're talking about the acceptance of new ideas it is worth noting that the B and O first built their (two words) Rail Road using horses to pull the cars along the tracks in 1827. However, that only lasted a couple of years and steam power soon replaced horse power and by the 1840s locomotives were chugging through the Appalachian foothills. There is a link below that talks about the mammoth task involved with pushing the lines west in the central mountains, although it was some time after the War Between the States when the lines reached the southern part of the range, for example see the GSMR link below.
In the beginning of the nineteenth century the outside world with its ideas was creeping in, albeit in fits and starts, but inexorable nonetheless. And while in some ways these areas are still as isolated now as they were before the coming of the railroad and telegraph, and the Cholera pandemic in Europe and America in 1830s, in other ways what came back Out of the hills has changed the world more than the world changed the hills.
You had a new wave of immigrants looking for everything from land and jobs to freedom and acceptance arriving in places that hadn't changed a whole lot since the first backwoodsmen walked into the hills with Daniel Boone (1734 - 1820) before the War of American Succession.
And perhaps now is the time to mention that while the White Man brought the white man's ways and beliefs and all that comes with him into the mountains, they also had to live and interact with those that were already there. Namely the Cherokee, and to their north, the Shawnee, and just south you had the Muskogee groups. Some of the mountain men adopted as much from the locals as they did from the newcomers. How much of those ideas, namely their way of seeing Nature as they did, was still around is an open question. However, that those in the mountains had a different way of interacting with the natural world than those in the cities did was as true then as it is now. And, it can be seen around the edges of the Restoration faith.
"Hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian."
- Polycarp of Smyrna (69 - 155)
Perhaps it was that the ideas of the Great Enlightenment and its "Age of Reason", and the Protestant Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, with the Great Awakening, late snow storms, and more than a few new people, not to mention rumors of cholera if not the disease itself, which all arrived in those backwoods more or less together and the resulting "perfect storm" of ideas erupted along a totally unexpected line in the Restoration.
Evidently one, or more likely, more than one, or even several of those we've mentioned, and others, took out their Bibles, which were now widely available although they were still fairly expensive at the time, and read it, especially Acts and Paul's letters, and then looked at the established churches and the way they conducted their affairs, both on Sunday morning and the rest of the week, and said, "what's up with that?"
But, as we've said before in this essay, it only takes a generation or two, or sometimes much less, for "we've always done it this way" to turn into a tradition and then into a doctrine. One can easily imagine one of the early fire tenders in a Zoroastrian temple saying "we've always done it this way," some three thousand years ago.
As we mentioned it earlier, we'll trot it out again, the "Chrismon™" service during the Christmas season.
The idea of the Chrismon Service, as well as the repainting some of the icons and images used from their pagan and Catholic roots to give them a Protestant veneer originated in a Lutheran congregation in Virginia in 1957, and the word itself is a trademark owned by that congregation. Link below.
So, while, as the Lutherans point out, some of the images and ideas so presented are indeed ancient Christian symbols, others, as mentioned above, are anything but. And the only reason for a New Testament Church to do it is that because if they don't several members of the congregation will hold their breath until they turn blue. From this writer's perch up in the cheap seats.... let'em.
The ideas that became the various churches, denominations, groups, associations, and what not of the Restoration Movement, spread as fast, or perhaps even faster, than the churches themselves.
Some of those same ideas worked their way into what were then older, now mainstream, denominations. Forcing their boards and other leaders to look at their own traditions and writs of articles and belief, and then, in some cases, start kicking at the upstarts as something just one step this side of heretics, and even ban them from their denomination sponsored schools and colleges. And to be honest, which we do try to do here, in a very few cases, some of the older denominations made some ... adjustments... to their own long-held beliefs.
And in other cases, such as with the older Methodist's, and the soon to be founded Nazarene's, belief in infant baptism, to make the point of keeping it IN their church manuals even though said practice Can Not be supported by scripture even though very nearly every other point in their documents has chapter and verse to back it up.
Later, just as the Catholic Church had launched its Counter Reformation, the "Holy Office" above being part of that, the infamous Jesuit Order of the Pope's "schoolmasters/stormtroopers" was another aspect of it, some of the Protestant denominations dug in their heels and began preaching against some of the even newer ideas, like the faithful being offered the Lord's Supper more than once a year! And, in doing so, they took another step back to the Catholic idea that church teaching superseded scripture and that tradition was more important than truth. In our current example, the believers in Acts shared the Memorial Meal every time they gathered, apparently, without regard to the day of the week.
The church fathers of the established churches seem to have forgotten that "back in the day" one of the objections the early separatists had, voiced most forcefully in documents surrounding the great Covenant as signed by the faithful in Scotland in the 1630s which stated that the Crown had no business dictating matters of faith to those in the pew. Something later put into the language of the founding documents of the State of Virginia as we mentioned earlier, with one difference that we'll come back to. And it is something that was later boiled down to the term "religious liberty" based on the following ideal: "To sign (the covenant) was to say that Jesus Christ was the only head of the church, and so it should be free from any control by the king or the government." https://reformationhistory.org/nationalcovenant.html (link below)
We will also mention the brutality well in evidence during the period of the Covenant where beatings and murders were almost as common as high-sounding proclamations from those either in authority or those who were denying that authority and leading their followers in secret worship services outside of all constraints placed on them by either side. Remember, it was the Scottish Presbyterians that employed the infamous "maiden" to guillotine those who refused to disown the official English faith. Which eventually led to the Bishops war which really didn't solve anything because the Scots won.
This all resulted in yet another oppressive act by Parliament in the 1660s which outlawed all religious assemblies that were not held under the banner of the Church of England both in the north and south, and which only served to alienate even more of those who had been ambivalent about the matter. The harder the authorities came down on the dissenters, the more the dissent spread. And the more the dissenters abused the traditionalists, the more the official church reacted with the full weight of the Crown, and its army, behind it.
And, as is usually the case in these types of situations, all sides were at least partially wrong with their assertions. Something perhaps best seen in France during the infamous Wars of Religion from the eighteen sixties to the nineties.
It was scarcely twenty years later that the Conventicle Act was repealed. But, by then, the damage had been done.
The effort to force everybody to Conform to the Central Religion backfired. Badly.
As it usually does.
"There is no religion in England, if anyone mentions religion, everybody begins to laugh. Someone having said, during my own stay there 'I hold that as an article of faith' everybody begins laughing."
- attributed to Charles de Montesquieu, about 1730
But the central idea in the Covenant held true. It still does. And it can be expanded to include the vast majority of religions. For instance, some would maintain that if you are Muslim, then Allah and the Prophet are the head of the religion, not some still living old man wearing a black, or a white, turban (there are even violent disputes between groups as to which color of turban the founder of the faith wore! proving they can be just as petty as those that argue over which color to paint the church kitchen in America today). However, in all too many cases, the 'old man' may have other ideas, and enforce those ideas with the sword. As the Church of England did to those that dissented against it, and as the Catholic Church did in its turn to enforce the will of the Pope, and the Roman authorities did with Polycarp, and so on.
The one major difference between the Scottish document and the one in America is that the Kirk (the Scottish Church) only wanted Religious Freedom in as far as that meant that every citizen of Scotland would be a Presbyterian. There was no Freedom Of Religious Choice under the Covenant. The leaders of the Covenant movement were appalled at the number of different Protestant groups operating in England, including the Puritans, the Baptists, and some Calvinists from the mainland, and the Scots wanted their own people united under their own national church.
The Restoration that began in America in the early 1800s took the core ideas from the Great Reformation, and the Covenant, and whatever other great ideas were laying around and ran with them. And, in some cases, they are still running with it.
They wanted to simplify the corporate worship of the church. Many even banned musical instruments because they were not mentioned in the New Testament. Well, neither was indoor plumbing, but how many non-instrumental churches have a 'water closet'? (It is more amazing that they get so much traction from their use of the argument from silence. Oh, well, they're welcome to do it their way. right?)
They wanted to get the hierarchy of the episcopal denominations out of the way, to remove the practice of a bishop governing several area churches, who then answered to a 'metropolitan' of some sort, who then answered to the equivalent of a cardinal, and so on. They wanted to be independent and to have what amounts to 'home rule' over the affairs of the local congregation. They did. Except the idea of 'absolute home rule' did not encourage unity among the churches. Which was something else the early proponents of the movement desired. Some of the local groups that came out of this time will not associate with any other church from more than about three miles away because it might smack of forming a denomination, to the point of not even playing softball or having a bowling night with another congregation. And for them to send their minister or elders to a national convention of the 'brotherhood', well, don't even ask. As to whether that well serves the Kingdom Church or not... well. Somebody else can make that call.
Another sticking point was missions and seminary training. It is very expensive to send a missionary anywhere out of easy driving distance. It is much more effective for several churches to back a missionary who is out in the field, whether that field be the inner city of LA or Mogadishu. But if you join up with the church in the next town, and another one besides, well, that's even worse than a softball league. And as for organizing an institution of higher education, that raises even more problems, problems that in some cases saw several Bible Colleges founded which then floundered as one or another of their supporting churches got their nose out of joint over something, usually something trivial, and then withdrew their financial support and forbid their young people from attending that college. Some of these colleges found their niche as independents, and some didn't. And even today, there are many that are still trying to survive without denominational ties and support.
As the movement grew, so did the idea of trying to get back as close as possible to the simple faith as seen in the players in Acts. To use the Bible as the source for all things church related. And in doing so they also began to ignore the writings of the first century church fathers who Were Not Roman Catholic, but were trying to put together a movement based on the teachings of the Apostles, some of which knew the likes of Paul and John personally. Perhaps their writings weren't 'inspired'. But maybe they were, at least partially. Because the Book promises that the "Word" will never pass away, and the writings of Clement of Rome, who learned from Paul and is mentioned by him in his letters and may have known Peter, and Polycarp who was a student of John the Apostle, survive. In any case, it is enough that those works are still with us. Whether or not we read them is another matter.
And that's the key to the whole thing isn't it?
The ideas, and ideals, of the Reformation, the Restoration, the Enlightenment, the Renaissance (which we didn't even look at, but it IS in there) and all the rest are part of our world, and our faith, whether we acknowledge it or not.
But, of course, NONE of this matters to the standard issue 'little old church lady' who asked when the Chrismon service will be this year. To her a discussion of whether the white and gold seashell hung on the tree with a drop of water on it is the symbol for the baptism of Christ by John, or it's what the goddess Venus appeared from the sea out of is totally immaterial, even though both are scallop shells, something not found in the Jordan river.
The point there being that people create the faith they are most comfortable with. And some people are very UNcomfortable with a very simple unadorned Biblical faith. Not only do they want their Palm Sunday procession, they Need it. That outward expression of their inward faith, complete with plastic palm fronds and some kid carrying a cross up the aisle. Without it, and the Chrismon tree and all the rest, they feel their faith is empty. As to whether or not it is is not our call to make.
Are they they "babes in Christ" Paul speaks of who are still on milk and not the Meat of the Word. Well, probably. And so they may remain no matter how much teaching they receive.
Perhaps an example.
There are some people who can do basic mathematics. Addition and subtraction, and maybe a little long division once in awhile. This writer is one of them, all except for the long division. And then there are other people to whom quadratic equations are a walk in the park, just a warmup for a go at a Euler - Lagrangian model of motion in the Solar System.
Does that mean that any attempt this writer has at balancing the checkbook is invalid as long it it is reasonably accurate.
Faith, and mathematical talent is individual. And so it should remain.
However, the Church (a 'big C' there) is made up of individuals, as is the church (small 'c', local body), and the two have to be reconciled, or at least a good and valid attempt that way has to be made. Which means it is up to the local body and the elders that lead it, as to whether there is that Procession, and if there is, what sort of meaning is attached to it. Is it an article of faith, no, hang on, is it An Article Of Faith, or is it just something we do once a year to keep everybody happy?
Again. As is the theme of the Restoration, that is something each local congregation, and Each Christian has to decide for themselves. Perhaps after considering the Scripture and perhaps a bit of prayer on the matter. Well, we can always hope.
We'll say it like this, maybe not as boldly and plainly as Polycarp, but we're trying: The Chrismon Tree and all the rest of the trappings that have become associated with Christianity ARE NOT Salvation Issues as they are defined in Acts. And if you make it one, you may eventually answer for it. And not to this writer.
So, after nine thousand words, and more than a few tangents, some obscure historical notes, a discussion of turbans and steam locomotives, and all the rest, where are we? Did we even get close to an answer or did we just upset pretty much everybody, brand ourselves as a heretic now possibly facing the Protestant equivalent of Excommunication, or maybe Shunning, or something unpleasant from the Holy Office, and along the way we killed a whole bunch of perfectly good electrons without actually proving anything?
Well, OK, yes, to all of that. Guilty as charged. Or, to quote something attributed to one of the guys we shook hands with on the way through...
"I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God."
- Martin Luther (more or less, some aspects of the statement are disputed)
And, since that was our ending, we'll end it.
Thank you for your... whatever it was. And may God Bless.
"Mr. Roberts, who planned to begin a prayer fast in Tulsa, Okla., Sunday as he awaited donations, has said he was told by God last year that he would die if the money was not raised by the end of the month.https://www.nytimes.com/1987/03/22/us/track-owner-pledges-1.3-million-to-roberts.html
Jerry Collins, a 79-year-old owner of two dog racing tracks in Florida, said he decided to give Mr. Roberts a personal check for $1.3 million after reading news reports about his crusade to raise money for medical scholarships."
As mentioned and a related Non-Fiction Media Desk essays:
"When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, 'Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don't believe?'"
- Quentin Crisp, 1908-1999
Religious Thoughts, deep, ... ... and otherwise, on the Desk's Religion Page including the Desk's thesis and the outrage of "Dancing In The Sight Of The Lord!"
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