Saturday, October 15, 2005

Religion: Foundations of Christianity for Dummy (Me)

So, what does it take to found a christian sect? I mean, did the lutherans have to petition somebody before they became 'sanctioned'. is there a sanctioning body to make decisions as to which ones are certified? or is anyone able to found one?

the reason this comes up is the following hypothesis: no officially recognized sect of the christian church exists that does not require the recognition of the resurretion of jesus christ. true or false? I believe the heart of confusion comes down to the word 'official', thus my first question, of what happens to make a sect 'official', and with whom is it official.

example is a corporation: ultimately, a corporation becomes official when it registers with the state and has a corportate ID number. relative to the state, at this point forward, it is real.

how does this happen for a church that claims to be 'christian'. can anyone do it? does it just have to incorporate as a non-profit?

just curious.

8 comments:

kim said...

My history is embarrasingly not-up-to-snuff here, but my guess is that it gets "sanctioned" when it "becomes a problem" for those in power. i.e. when they are forced to recognize it.

My guess would be that if you started such a sect, you'd be called a crackpot (not by me, I've already called you that:-), until suddenly at the local church, the man in charge gets up on sunday to give his sermon, and 50% of the crowd is missing. He asks where everyone is, and someone answers "they've gone to Church of Adam. He preaches all the same stuff you do, but also that Jesus invented the SNES, plus he has free wine coolers at his sermons"

At this point the guy would be forced to say "go there, and you'll burn in hell, because passage XY:Z says so".

Not unlike business. If a company is forced to react to another, it shows they deem them a credible threat that could no longer be ignored.

adam lake said...

just to clarify: this has nothing to do with me founding anything. its just a question of curiousity, as to whether or not their is some official means to an end.

secondly, if there was any officially recognized sect that did not have the resurrection as one of its preconditions for membership.

i made the statement to the contrary, that there was no recognized version that allowed you to believe without taking these 'leaps of faith' which led me down the path of understanding this officialness stuff.

father fife...where are you?

kim said...

I was using the "if you started" to frame my example, that's all.

Although that being said, I think there's an inherant marketability in starting "The Northwest Barley Consumer's Church of the Holy Poncho" sect.

Again, my religious knowledge is weak, but wouldn't most sects of the christian church beleive in the resurrection to begin with. If they didn't beleive in Jesus being son of god, and in the resurrection, then they'd be judaen sects, no? THough I suppose one could beleive that Jesus existed, was son of god, but was NOT resurrected; but then there's not that much miraculous about him other than "nice guy. washed a lot of feet. Good to the lepers".

but I digress. :-)

Dean said...

Whether or not a sect is "official" will be determined at the "end" when it will be a very "hot" topic :-) (Or not, depending on which sect(s) were right ;-).

adam lake said...

Matt Fife has written a thoughtful response i have been given permission to share.

Part I of II:

Part I
It sounds like your question has to do with whether a belief system that does not include the resurrection of Jesus after his death can call itself Christian. And if so/not, what/who is the authority that says that? Where do all these Christian ‘flavors’ come from and are they ‘true’? I think that’s what I was hearing.

Ok, the short answer is that very question came up not but 3 days after the death of Jesus when some of his own believers (and at least one of his disciples) denied and didn’t believe it. We don’t get the opportunity for Jesus to appear to us in our upper room and ask us to put our hand in his side and fingers in his nail marks. But how to deal with that doubt and questions of the faith were born as early as the event itself. Questions quickly arose about what was to be believed and not. You can read about these first disputes about belief in the Acts of the Apostles. They had all kinds of questions about needing to still follow Jewish law, could you eat meat sacrificed to other gods, were people still supposed to get married, etc. the problem was that Jesus wasn’t still around in bodily form to give answers anymore. So who was able to do so?

Well, we also read how Jesus gave special authority to his disciples and followers, through the gift of the holy spirit, to make these practical decisions – and God himself would abide by their decisions (what you hold loose on earth will be held loose in heaven, bound on earth will be bound in heaven – Matthew 18:18-19). Now this was amazing; God himself is recognizing that his followers (those baptized into him), who were to be made one with God himself through Christ and validly cooperating in his will via the Holy Spirit, would have the authority to declare certain things binding/non-binding. As this understanding developed, it was the leaders and those filled with the gifts of the Spirit that were ordained to make these decisions (at first it was Peter – which is why in Catholic tradition he is always depicted as holding two keys to the kingdom) and as the early church spread and developed, it was left to the priests and bishops (who were more like priests in that they only had one church originally) who were ordained through a special ceremony that recognized their innate gifts of leadership, prudence in the faith, and gifts of the holy spirit – as priests/bishops and hence given the authority to make decisions like that. Kind of like elected officials are today – a person would be raised up/elected out of a community itself to be ordained with the special office of making these kinds of decisions as well as being especially configured/recognized as configured to the image of Christ above others (that is always the hope – despite human weakness always acting to the contrary).

(this is a history part, skip it if you want; but it’s good background)
But from day one, there were a wide variety of beliefs about Jesus. Some claimed he wasn’t really God, but just the most perfect human being sent by God, others claimed he wasn’t a person at all; but God in spiritual form that wasn’t really a full human. Others argued that they needed to follow Jewish regulations of eating/washing/etc. Groups would form and start following their leaders. Often the bishops/priests themselves would draw conclusions about the person of Jesus. As Christianity spread, it became clear that what was believed was starting to take some pretty wild tangents. As the original disciples started to die off, they realized they were going to have difficulty with their verbal-only form. So, they started putting down accounts of what Jesus did in writing around 90AD – voila – the bible. But there was always the problem of authority. There were lots of books written about Jesus life that were clearly ‘embellished’ and some downright false accounts (ever play the telephone game). So, the leaders of the Churches started getting together (the bishops – but they were like priests as we would know them today). Anyway, you start getting an organization of leaders (bishops) that meet and start working out these sticky problems. They had lots of questions: what do you do when a baptized person commits a horrible sin, are sins different in quality or are they all grounds for throwing someone out? Who was Jesus – man/God/other? There were problems, fights, questions, arguments, and splits. Sometimes groups would go off on their own and claim they were the true holders of the faith. The bishops would gather and try to decide who was right. But this is not as simple as just listening to who was most persuasive or what made ‘most sense’. This is a process of discernment and God sends his Spirit to lead the believers and leaders in a special way through their ordination.

Even with these arguments, unity of belief was maintained until about 1050 when the very first disagreement arose that caused a rift that couldn’t get resolved – the East/West split. This was a disagreement about the nature of the Holy Spirit’s relationship in the Trinity. Most scholars agree that they were saying the same thing; but differently. Unfortunately, political rivalries and some badly timed crusades that went all wrong caused the leaders to break off ties and go their separate ways. Until that time, there was only one set of beliefs of the Christian church (found in many locals and was written up in the earliest forms of the Nicean Creed). The situation we find ourselves in today – with the great multitude of Christian churches started in 1500’s with the Reformation and Martian Luther’s movement (Lutherans). Again, the split had to do with belief about what Jesus said/taught. Martian Luther was mostly right in many of his complaints about the state of the Church at his time. Sadly, it boiled down to a lot of political moves, petty squabbling, underhanded/selfish clergy, ruined what could have been another healthy cycle of renewal and cleaning up of the Church’s act. After Luther’s group split, people split from him and so on until we are where we are today.
(history done)

So, who sanctions a Christian church as being valid? There is obviously no universal authority on matters of Christian faith recognized by all Christians anymore. The Roman Catholic Christians see that lineage from Peter as still unbroken from Peter (arguments could be made for some of the weirdness in the middle ages; but it was the best they had from then). If you were to go to each Christian denomination and ask them what is required for belief, you would get a lot of different answers. The Catholic Church has attempted to maintained the same lineage of thought from its origins. It sees itself as a protector of the faith that has developed so far, as well as the continuing authority to keep making the decisions under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

So, can there be a Christian that can call him/herself a Christian yet not believe in the resurrection of Jesus? The Catholic Church (and many others) would say no. But I’d bet $50 you’d find some group out there claiming to be true Christians that would say you didn’t need to believe it. I’ll bet you could even find folks in each major denomination that might think it was ok too. But again, who is your ‘sanctioning board’? Who has the authority to bind/loose what needs to be believed or lived in order to still be Christian? Jesus said that it would work through the body of his people – united and one as he and the father were one. But you will today people who think that all you need is to believe it yourself all the way up to Catholics that look to their ordained leadership to have ownership of that right. That’s just what you will find to be true; and it is very, very sad to me. It is such a cause of confusion and loss. It hurts Christianity more than most would like to admit. If they can’t even agree, how am I to know what is true?

So, as in all things of dispute, time is the ultimate court of appeal to me. What is really True (yes, capital T) is universal in all times and everywhere. Just like the laws of gravity and physics, the truth about how God made us and our ultimate end are just as real. If we live against our nature, if we do not live as our dignity and value as humans and as children of God really is, if we do not live in relationship with one another as members of one body and one family; we will ultimately hit some brick wall or glaring contradiction in our lives. Unfortunately, the errors of our assumptions are often subtle, and even despite our best intentions, when carried to their logical ends can lead to terrible outcomes (such as Nazi Germany that was one of the most educated and cultured societies of modern time). Truth is universal in all times because real Truth, real understanding of how and what things are that we base our actions on, is knowledge of God in his creation and acknowledgement/recognition of his presence and fingerprint in our very selves. So, when we don’t have a universal authority that is recognized anymore, reality is the great anvil against which our beliefs are hammered and tested. If they are true and well formed, then they simple become more so. If they are built upon false assumptions, they will soon build up and then crumble under their own weight like a building built on bad foundations. That is why the Catholic Church moves so slowly at times. It takes the long very – a very long view – in that it still holds the believes of day 3 of Christianity as weighty as those of now. It sits and ponders and watches the world’s developments and steers towards and away from certain trends. Our modern society makes this so difficult because the rate of change demands answers w/o the luxury of that time.

As truth is discovered about ourselves, the way we live, our value as human beings, our relationships – they obey certain truths as hard and real as gravity or angular momentum. They aren’t as easy to get to; it’s harder to do experiments because they require the real interactions with real people that have complex motivations and understandings. So, the evaluation of a belief system that someone claims is Christian is to follow it to it’s logical ends. If the resurrection wasn’t true, then what does that say about the salvation of us? If Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead – what implications does that have for our dying – even if we are baptized into him? These are the questions of philosophy and the questions of how we establish that validity of belief.

That’s tons. I guess I can stop there and see if that actually answered your question. Its midnight and I need to get to bed; and now I’ve written this twice. It’s way better to do this kind of stuff in person…. Grrrr….

adam lake said...

So...I then asked Matt if he was saying:

I believe there is a bit of squiggliness in your answer. w/o offending anyone (and what fun is that, as alex st. john would exclaim), you basically said ‘nobody sanctions it’ (ie, there is no sanctioning body), but if you think you think you can get away with calling yourself a real Christian if you don’t believe in the resurrection then you are not really a Christian.

adam lake said...

To witch Matt responsds in his

Part II of II:

Matt responds:
I re-read my answer (I wrote that to you at midnight) and think you’re right about that part. If I could expand/clarify that part, I would probably say this:
Just as I said that there doesn’t ‘seem’ to be a ‘sanctioning’ body as an outside/impartial observer; there is an authority for me and for Catholics (and according to Christ by saying that he gave the disciples the power to loose and bind) – namely, the body of the Church through her ministers specially ordained for that purpose. The would say that a Christian most certainly would have to believe in the resurrection. I personally cannot see how a theology of Christ and being His follower would hold together without his rising from the dead. Unravel that thread and you unravel the whole fabric because there are other passages of the Acts of the Apostles in which Paul says that if you don’t believe in the resurrection, then you cannot believe in salvation in Christ. It’s precisely because we (through baptism and union of life in Christ) that we are baptized into his death and his resurrection. If he didn’t rise, what’s the point of being baptized with Christ? What’s the point of living his example if you’ll be just as dead? He never defeated death any better than we do on our own. There’s tons more than that and you can also argue the point he was never fully human – which boils down to how can he have redeemed our human selves. You get the line of arguments.
Also, I realize I should have been more clear about reality being the anvil of judging truth. Just as it is foolish to go out and try to re-invent all of human knowledge, so too is it foolish to do so in matters of human living. It is naïve and I would say very dangerous to think we can do that on our own (I don’t need others or the Church to live rightly) In the same way we don’t all start out having to experiment and re-discover gravity, light, electricity, thermodynamics, etc. We read it and study what has been learned through the rough path of discover that has taken man 4000+ years of development. We now stand on top all that learning. So too in matters of faith and how we should live are guided. It is foolish to try and think that we as human being should go unguided from the many things we have learned about right living, loving, and being in rightly ordered relationships that honor, bring out, and develop all the gifts that each one of us brings. We had/have such a guide – Christ himself advanced that path more than any person before or since. There is a theology of Christ teaching that tells us that he requires/desires/ordains that knowledge to grow in his body united as one – as he and the father are one. Not only as he taught at first when he was living, but he is very active and present – working though the Holy Spirit in believers and the body that is his church even today. He said that he would do this, and I can attest that this does happen with no reservation. I have seen and experienced that action first hand through my work at the hospital this summer. It is like no other kind of living.
But again, the kind of Truth that Christ taught is universal – in all times and places – like gravity and thermodynamics. That is why great mystics and philosophers and scientists have also stumbled across this same truth as well. That is why the view of science held by the Catholic Church now is that it is good and necessary for discovering truth. There is no scientific truth that can be found that would not expand our knowledge of God. Challenge and mould it – yes – but destroy it – impossible. There is no need to fear any discovery. Now, whether or not we should use atomic knowledge to nuke each other, or medicine to clone or abort children is a different matter – but the truth of the discoveries in their pure revelation of creation are not. In other veins, the words of Ghandi touch many of the very same truths of Christianity. The monks of Tibet, Taoist philosophies, Muslims, purely logical philosophers of the Greeks, etc. A Catholic would also echo Ghandi by saying all faith’s are true – in that they contain this streatching and desire for truth that is our desire to return to the God of our creation – but I we would add that everything they believe is not necissarily. Some faith systems are almost entirely full of falsehoods (cults, etc). But they all strive for that same knowing of being and our selves. From many directions they all begin touching that same deep truth about life and the nature of our being – and hence reach out and try to touch the untouchable God. However, there is a step that must be taken in the end – and encounter with Christ. We cannot in any way earn/learn/becoming holy and perfect enough to see and be with God on our own. We are simply too frail and fraught with weakness. We need to encounter Christ who is the person in whom we can be washed clean and brought to that place. He is the one that knows our weakness in all its forms and can again bridge that gap. Be the meeting point in which no matter what has happened, we can re-connect that relationship again. Our baptism in Christ allows for this union. When baptized, we are brought into his death and resurrection – he accepts and then atones for our sins. Which again, is why the resurrection is such a cornerstone that I just can’t see as being absolutely necessary for all Christian understanding.
Whew. Ok, if you’d like to post my previous email with this added part, I’ll be happy. I could go on and on about this for some time. It is something I love and love talking about (as you can tell). It is such a beautiful reality that it is hard not to. At any rate. Does that seem to clarify? What did I miss?

Matt

adam lake said...

And just to clarify, the lengthy response's above were from Matt Fife who has his own blog referenced from my main page at mattfife.net. Matt has ~4 years of divinity school and is a top notch engineer i used to work with writing game engines.