Posted by: minnow | March 19, 2011

Our Story Is History

A little “Church” history is in order I think.  You see I am quite tired of hearing, “We’ve believed this way for 2000 years” and then getting hit with the self-righteous rhetorical question, “And now you want to change it?”  To begin with the length of time we have believed something has nothing to do with whether or not it is true.  Think how long we thought the earth was flat.  That being said, we (meaning Christians) have “believed” very little for 2000 years.  And, much of what we mark in our “Church” calendar was borrowed from the pagans or the Jews.

Augustine who is credited with many of our doctrines died in 430, which takes at least 400 years off the 2000.  Among his more interesting beliefs (at least to me) is the statement that, “the Biblical text should not be interpreted as properly literal, but rather as metaphorical, if it contradicts what we know from science and our God-given reason.”  He also believed Mary remained a virgin throughout her life, the Eucharist was the real presence of the body and the blood of Christ rather than the symbolic presence, and the millennium (a symbolic number in his opinion) has already begun, some of which is still part of Roman Catholic doctrine.

During the early to mid 1500’s (some 1000 years after Augustine) John Calvin and Martin Luther began to vehemently oppose the Roman Catholic church.  Both men challenged the authority of the Pope and left or were excommunicated as a result.  Both are credited with articulating the traditional evangelical doctrine of predestination.  Until this time predestination as a highly developed and widely understood doctrine did not exist.  Calvin expounded on the doctrine by using the acronym TULIP.  The T stands for total depravity meaning all parts of man (heart, mind, will, body) are impacted by sin and man has no part in choosing God because even the faith which is necessary is from God.  The U stands for unconditional election which means nothing in the individual determines his/her being picked by God for salvation.  L stands for limited atonement meaning Jesus died only for those predetermined by God.  I stands for irresistible grace which means those chosen by God cannot refuse Him.  P stands for the perseverance of the saints which means the chosen cannot lose their faith/election.  Luther, often considered the Father of the Reformation, also preached predestination.  Yet he parts company with Calvin with regard to the doctrine of hell stating, “It is enough for us to know that souls do not leave their bodies to be threatened by the torments and punishments of hell, but enter a prepared bedchamber in which they sleep in peace.” Lutherans today are more Calvinistic.  As a side note, Luther was extremely anti-Semitic, suggesting “Jewish homes should be destroyed, their synagogues burned, their money confiscated, and their liberties curtailed.”  Calvin’s antisemitism was more mildly expressed yet also present.  (Perhaps it had something to do with their cultural influences).  While most evangelicals today would not embrace Calvin and Luther’s anti-Semitic teachings, even though Luther especially preached them with a vengeance–they have no problem adhering to their other doctrines and defending these men as unarguable leaders of the faith.

In the mid to late 1500’s Dutch Reformer, Jacobus Arminius, countered the Calvinist understanding of predestination with his own version.  Know as Armenianism, the tenets are: Salvation is possible only by God’s grace, specifically prevenient grace, which cannot be earned.  God’s election is conditional on faith in the sacrifice and Lordship of Christ.  Christ’s sacrifice was made on behalf of all people.  But, God allows his grace to be resisted.  In addition, sin can be (and is expected to be) resisted by believers and therefore it is possible to fall from grace through unrepentant sin.  (Good fruit is evidence of a changed heart).  To this day much of Protestantism is split along Calvinist, Armenian and Lutheran lines with the Reform denominations, some Baptists, and the Presbyterians in the Calvin camp; the Methodists, some Baptists, and the Wesleyans in the Armenian camp; and the Lutheran in their own camp.

To further the point of this post–that what Christians believe is not consistent across denominations, nor has there been one single set of beliefs we all have adhered to for the last 2000 years–I would like to bring up the Pentecostal movement.  While most Pentecostals find themselves in the Armenian camp, not all do.  In addition, while several Pentecostal denominations believe in the trinity, not all do.  Some Pentecostal historians have attempted to trace their roots from the early church to the present, however modern Pentecostalism is said to have begun in 1901 when Charles Purham preached that speaking in tongues was a sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Later William J. Seymour a follower of Purham’s sparked the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles which lasted from 1906 to approximately 1915.  It was characterized by healings, miracles, inter-racial mingling (basically unheard of up to this point), and speaking in tongues.  Pentecostalism has been widely criticized by many mainstream denominations due to the belief held by many evangelicals that manifestations of the spirit–such as speaking in tongues–ceased to exist after the original apostles and are in fact a sign of the devil. Still, Pentecostalism claims more that 250 million followers worldwide.

My goal in writing this post is not to cast doubt on Christianity as a whole.  Instead, I hope to encourage fellow Christians to take a long hard look at what we claim as the tenets of our faith.  Surly belief in a Creator God is foundational. Recognizing Christ as the Son of God is foundational.  Acknowledging the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ is foundational.  Embracing Christ as the only way to the Father is foundational.  Each of these is foundational to the Christian faith.  But the rest, while important, while highly important to a lot of us, is not part of the Gospel message.  The rest, while fun news, or frightening news, or serious news, or joyous news, is not the Good News.  The Good News is that God loves us to the point of sending Jesus to us.  The Good News is that Jesus loves us to the point of going to the cross.  The Good News is that death could not hold Him.  The Good News is that as a result we have been given a spirit of reconciliation.  Not because we have done something but because He has done it all.


  1. Good post Margaret. I still disagree however 🙂 But I respect that you approached this post from a rather objective point of view, and not frustration.

  2. […] AKA traditional Christian thinking that defends its position with 2000 years of orthodoxy (See this post for that debate), has a problem […]

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