WE CHRISTIANS MUST START AGAIN
Jesus Christ who was a Jew and who came into the world to reform Judaism and not to found a new religion.
Jesus, his disciples, and the early Christian Community continued to worship in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and they met in each other’s homes for the Breaking of the Bread in memory of the Lord Jesus.
The early Christian community began in Jerusalem but due to persecution it moved to Antioch – where James – the “Brother of Jesus” was the first leader, “overseer” or “bishop”.
The Apostles, including St Paul (who had never met Jesus) were not primarily bishops. They were “Apostles” – missionaries and founders of churches. In other words they had responsibility for the whole church and not just a church in any one city, town or district. Instead they, in consultation with the local community, they appointed “overseers” or bishops for the individual churches and laid hands on them.
For instance St Peter was never the “Bishop of Rome” and it is doubtful if he ever even visited Rome. Priest archaeologists discovered the stone coffin or ossuary of Peter in the 1950’s in Jerusalem and conveyed this news to the pope who accepted their evidence.
The early Christian Community in any place was a democratic and collegial assembly of all the Christians in that place and in the beginning there was little or no formalities or structures. As the number of Christians grew and as a number of heresies about Jesus emerged some need of structures emerged. The early Christian Community responded to these needs by appointing “overseers” (bishops); elders (presbyters or priests) and deacons and deaconesses. These appointees were servants and not bosses or masters. They merely facilitated the Christian Community with worship, meetings and various ministry, including the care of orphans and widows.
The Christian Community did indeed spread far and wide and very early there was a Christian Community in Rome.
In a move that was disastrous for the purity of the Christian Church the emperor Constantine made Christianity the religion of the empire. From that moment on Church and State have been intertwined in a marriage that has been disastrous for both Christianity and civil society.
Seven hundred years later the Christian Church was later divided into East and West – a division that inflicted a further major wound on the Church as the Body of Christ.
In the 16th century – due principally to the corruption of what had by then become “Roman Catholicism” the further wounds of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation were inflicted upon the Body of Christ. It is important to remember that Martin Luther never wanted to found a new church or religion but rather to reform corrupt Christianity.
Today in the 21st century we have a totally divided Christianity. We have the “Catholicism” of the East and the West. We have the thousands upon thousands of “Protestant” denominations and irrational sects. We have the incurable corruption of Roman Catholicism with its skewed view of sexual morality, its scandals of child sexual abuse and its existence as a dictatorial monarchy “state” dabbling in world politics, power and money laundering.
Somebody has wisely commented that Christianity has not failed – it has never really been attempted.
Many people in the world today are justifiably scandalised and alienated by the “Christianity” they witness.
In the context of this divided and corrupt caricature of Christianity both agnosticism and atheism are very authentic positions.
But what of the person who has a deep faith in Jesus Christ and a deep hunger for gospel based Christianity? Such a person can certainly have a powerful and meaningful one to one relationship with Jesus in their private lives.
But Christianity in essence is not a private spirituality. Jesus reduced all the commandment of God to two – love of God and love of neighbour. Christianity is a spirituality with “I am my brother’s keeper” at its very heart. This does not only mean love and service of neighbour but also involves the Christian in worship, prayer and service in the context of others. Jesus commanded his followers to meet together and Break Bread in his memory. Jesus never intended his followers to travel the road alone. Just as he always sent his own disciples out in two’s – so he also intended his followers to meet and work together until the end of time. “Where two or three gather in my name I will be there with them”.
Those of us who have tried to live the Christian life – and I deliberately say try – know how important that fellowship and community are. It is this fellowship that we have come to call “church”. From the beginning at Jerusalem and Antioch Christianity involved assembly and community. And that need is no less great today.
But how can any of us who have begun to know Jesus come together with Christians in the USA who come to church with guns in their pockets?
How can we belong to a Christian Church where a pope and bishops tolerated and covered up child sexual abuse. How can we belong to a Church where a secular monarch – and not Jesus Christ - is the head of that Church? How can we belong to a Church that wants to put electrodes on the heads of gay people and turn them “straight”? How can we belong to a Church whose nuns buried 800 babies in an orphanage septic tank? We cannot! Never!
So we must go back to the Gospels and to the early Christian community and come together to form a church that is faithful to the teachings and life of the Man from Nazareth and to the minimal structures of the early “Apostolic” church before Christianity was polluted by men.