Organic Churches, the NT, Constantine, and the Bishops

The article that provoked this is here: The Assembling of the Church. Read it and chime in with your thoughts. It's an interview.

I have recently been returning to the question of the formation of the NT canon, which seems to be a disastrous weakness in the common evangelical mind. Without bishops (or some form of making regional and inter-regional decisions) and a theology to back them up, I don't see how you can come out with a NT canon. Indeed, the alternative is to leave that tradition (what is in and out of the NT) up to each congregation. I can't see why a congregationally-oriented church (and such are the organic churches, simple churches, and home churches) would opt to adopt the judgment of the archaic Synod of Rome in 382--a synod which took place after bishops had been given corrupting power by the infamous (among evangelicals) Constantine.

Why in the world would a congregational evangelical trust these men, who met under the leadership of Pope Damasus, and had been according senatorial power as bishops by Constantine? To give you an idea of the changes that had taken place I quote Nathan Howard:

Constantine wanted to effect a more efficient government with the help of the church after he emerged the sole emperor in 324. By assigning to the bishops juridical power and by diverting to them patronage resources, the emperor unwittingly allowed them to establish political networks that rivaled the local elites and the emperor himself. The inevitable result was that the bishops now commanded the emperor's deference, much as the senators once had. Churchmen soon became active players in formulating the emperor's religious policies, thus placing them in a position through which they might later suppress vestiges of pagan culture.

And evangelicals have opted to follow these men in their judgment regarding the inspiration of the many texts in use as the 4th C. was closing?


Don said…
To my mind, this gets back to the discussion on the nature of the church and infant baptism we had last fall. Let me try to "cut to the chase" on that.

The problem here is that both sides assume that church history moves in a straight line, which would totally validate one or the other's view of history. My thinking on that, however is this: "IMHO, the apostolic succession churches were the “original plan,” so to speak. But their failure to effectively challenge their flocks to experience the radical transforming power of the risen Saviour–which is essential to eternal life–led to the raising up of other groups which would do the job."

That's one reason why I don't have a problem seeing the NT canon finalised in the context of the Roman Empire church (and, I might add, that finalisation wasn't the sole work of Pope Damasus, either.) Ultimately we must admit that the fomulation of the canon of the Scriptures is a God-led process, irrepesctive of whether the human agents of that process are to your taste or not.
Rob said…
-Their failure to effectively challenge their flocks to experience the radical transforming power of the risen Saviour-

Yes, but who says they failed and why should we believe him? People thought Paul and Peter failed, too. The church has always had detractors.
Brett said…
So Christ's kindgom has no hierarchy? Or did we just throw that away when we wanted to decide how we should interpret His scriptures?

Again, who said they failed? I look at church history from John to Paul, to Ignatius, to even Luther and I see a eucharistic presence that is maintained.

If the Church is God's he would be able to maintain it that no matter the faults of man, the institution remains infallable.

The gospel hit greek philosophy and gnosticism was born. The church hit democracy of the west and the Authority disappeared.

God created us of body and of spirit and both will be together in eternity. Why would God not create a church of both physical and spiritual reality? A visible and invisible church. A fellowship of all believers, and an institution to safeguard God's truth.
FrGregACCA said…
While my instinct here is to join the chorus defending the Apostolic structure and leave it at that, I think Don may have a point, as I noted in a comment on the post to which he linked, although I don’t think the “failure” he mentions can be laid at the door of the primordial ecclesiastical STRUCTURE per se. I see many factors that led to the Reformation. This is a complex subject, but it suffices to say here, as does Vatican II, that both sides are responsible for the break up of the Latin Church in the West. One needs to consider also, I think, the role the Great Schism of the 11th Century played in setting up the Western Church for what happened five hundred years later.

From a traditional perspective, there is of course much to criticize about this latest movement. Besides the strictly theological problems, such as the lack of sacramentality, naivete would be very high on the list. Any social entity, including the family, requires leadership and, theologically, much of the New Testament is devoted, in one way or another, to dealing with problems of leadership in the early Church. (BTW, AD, great comments on the original Viola piece.)

OTOH, however, this movement/these movements looks to me to be yet another manifestation of the hunger for God that led to the Wesleyan revival and many that have followed in its wake, including the Holiness Movement and the various waves of Pentecostalism. The latter is especially interesting in that it has resulted not only in new denominational structures, but has also profoundly influenced older structures as well, including the Roman Catholic Church. This influence has not been confined to cradle members being “renewed” but has also led to people moving from various forms of Protestantism/Anglicanism into these primordial Churches (as well as others who have moved from outright Protestanism into Anglicanism). Eastern Orthodoxy in the United States is experiencing a great deal of the latter at the moment, and this influx of converts has done much to revitalize it, at least on these shores. It of course remains to be seen what the ultimate trajectories of “Independent Christianity” in the Global South will be (although it is clear, even now, that there is a deep relationship between this IC and Anglicanism, especially in sub-saharan Africa). In the end, I think, the bottom line of the matter is that these various movements are given a unique charism for evangelization, one that so far seems to have largely eluded the apostolic Churches, at least at this moment of history.

For all of that, however, AD’s question at the end of this piece is a fair one and is one that few people outside of Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism or Anglicanism would even attempt to answer, as Don has.
Brett said…
So, why would you think there is such a deficit of evangeliztion or evangelical passion for sharing in the apostolic churches? Is it that there is a lack of understanding and equipping for apologetics? Is that why most of the apologists in the RCC are former protestants? or even a simple lack of passion for God?

I know when I was in the SBC I was indoctrinated with "Go and tell". We did mission trips, soup kitchens, were constantly reminded that our friends would suffer in eternity without Jesus, wore Jesus tshirts. Repent was always on the lips of our pastors. The idea of that message being gone from any church is foreign to me.

I am moving from a Southern Baptist background to Catholic. Ironically starting by trying to talk a friend from the Catholic Church. I was blown away in my own journey the scriptural and historical support for the beliefs of the RCC. But, I knew only one catholic that could acurately state article 1996 that we are saved by Grace. Or explain purgatory, which was best explained to me by A METHODIST pastor.
Brett said…
Whoops.. change "Why would" to Why Do" there in the beginning
FrGregACCA said…
Brett, I don't know that I have a good answer to your question. I know that at one time, Roman Catholics, or at least some of them, were fairly aggressive (in a good sense) about evangelization, at least in the United States. I used to have a Roman Catholic book, dating from, I believe, the 1940's, called "Making Converts". It discussed, among other things, street preaching!

Two things immediately come to mind. The first is that Roman Catholicism seems to have largely embraced a certain implicit, highly nuanced, but still very real, universalism.

The second thing is that since Vatican II, Roman Catholic identity has been very much in question. This Church is, I think, quite focussed on itself at this time, sorting out what it means to be Roman Catholic.

Another issue has to do with the RCC as institution. When one converts to Roman Catholicism (or Orthodoxy), one is not simply changing beliefs, but one is also making a commitment to an institution. This creates a barrier that is not present with Independent Christians and classical Pentecostals, for whom membership in an institution is, at best, optional, and usually follows upon spiritual conversion rather than being simultaneous with it. Also, for me at least, starting out as an Evangelical in a context where church membership had little meaning, converting to/joining an Apostolic Church was in many ways a matter of moving from "milk" to "solid food".
Brett said…
Univeralism, interesting. I would love to hear more about that. It is such a very fine line. As a strong believer in Absolute truth I have fought many battles against it.

I would say protestants are more at risk in saying everyone can interpret scripture it almost seems like they have said that the truth is unknowable. I always picture it as a ship at sea, with God filling its sails, but with more than just one person at the rudder. In fact probably a few people hanging over the side with their own oars trying to steer.

I would just say the RCC admitted there are that God has a few other ships at sea. (the Orthodox Church, the protestant church, etc. All valid ships, but not necessarily following the course set by God. Some seem to have drawn their own map which the follow at their own peril.

I think the RCC has clearly marked what they say is apostasy. But it can't deny that God's holy scriptures are in the hands of other outside the church.
FrGregACCA said…
I guess I was thinking more in terms of the RC attitude toward non-Christian religions. Certain Church documents, rightly or wrongly, seem to have given many Roman Catholics the idea that evangelizing people of other religions is largely pointless and may even be inappropriate.
Brett said…
Interesting, because if that is true it is a wrong idea. I have heard a couple Catholics say that, but I would more think of that as uneducated statement. We may all have all have the witness of creation and must respond to the light that God gives us, but that does not excuse us from the rejection of Christ.

That is more of a Hindu belief that evangelization is useless. You will find exclusivity in ALL religions, even Bahai.If you ask a Hindu if you should convert and he will say stay as you are, but you will not truly become enlightened until you are reincarnated as a Hindu. And even more you will not be able to truly interpret the Vedas until you are born a Brahman.
Abu Daoud said…
I agree with Fr Greg on that last statement. If you read the the Vatican II document on Islam it intimates that evangelizing Muslims is not needed. Vatican II pretty much killed Catholics evangelizing Muslims. Obviously the pope's baptism of a Muslim in Rome kinda indicates a reversal. But one baptism does not undo an ecumenical council.

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