Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Did Jesus set His Kingdom Up for a Fall?

Take a look at the early church:
ACTS 2: 41-47
So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Luke reports in the book of Acts that in the early church, the Apostles accept gifts to the church, that all their property was held in common and distributed to those in need. A. Someone had to accept, house and protect the donations. B. Someone had to decide to whom it was distributed based upon their assessment of the community's needs. Therefore:
If the church accepted donations, then the church HAD to be a visible organization. It could not be a community of autonomous believers. 
ACTS 5: 1-14 excerpts
But a man named Ananias ...kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles' feet. "Ananias," Peter asked, "why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!" ... the people held them in high esteem. Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women...
The church was organized to receive and distribute contributions. Those who accepted the donations were the apostles and they chose an administration to assist them (I Cor. 12:28). Those who speak against an institutionalized church need only look at Acts to see that the early church, by necessity, had to be an organization and could not be simply a spiritually amorphous group of independent believers. 
Point #1: The church was by necessity a visible, identifiable organization.
The early church had a head, a recognizable leader that was obeyed.
The scripture doesn’t record that the early church was a democracy where everyone voted on what to do with the gifts. No, the Apostles called the shots. Notice that Ananias in the above story laid his gift down at the Apostle’s feet. That is a sign of subservience. He didn’t just drop the land title into a basket passed around during the offering at Sunday services. Also take note that when he fell down dead that Peter, as the head of the Apostles did not say that he personally had been lied to, but said that when you lie to him or the church authority, it is the same as lying to God himself. There was a direct fusing of God and His organized church as to make one indistinguishable from the other. It is also recorded that the miracles and wonders were at this time done, not the general church membership, but specifically by the Apostles.
Point #1: The church was by necessity a visible, identifiable organization.
Point #2: The early church had a head, a recognizable leader who was obeyed. 
Point #3 The Apostles were not perfect in their administration of the church.
For those who instruct the Protestants that Christ abandon his corrupted church because the leaders were unfaithfully mismanaging the funds, the scriptures remind us that Judas was among the chosen by Christ himself as one of the twelve. Judas, who was in charge of Jesus’ finances (John 13:29), was found to be a thief.
John 12:4-6 
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages. " He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. 
Notice that Jesus did not dismantle the twelve disciples because one was a thief, nor for that matter because they all scattered when he was arrested and his head apostle betrayed him. Jesus simply replaced Judas. The position was still viable and was filled by the next generation of believers (Acts 1: 20-26) by the current leaders. This would be later called apostolic succession.
Scripture records members of the church criticizing how the Apostles distributed the possessions and deacons were appointed as administrators.  (Acts 6:1)
As we read, we must ask ourselves does the book of Acts record the derailing of God’s plan for His church? Should Peter have refused to baptize members until they were fully vetted at Pentecost and afterwards? Should the early church have steered clear of accepting donations, avoiding any misuse of funds by fallible leaders?
Point #1: The church HAD to be a visible organization.
Point #2: The early church had a head, a recognizable leader who was obeyed. 
Point #3 The Apostles were not perfect in their administration of the church.
Was this to be a temporary measure and did this practice later become wrong? Would later Christian leaders become so faithless themselves as to be unfit to handle the finances? Did the Bridegroom entrap His Bride by allowing financial practices in the beginning that would, when followed four centuries later, cause her own fall? 
Let’s take a trip into history, the fourth and fifth centuries:
AD 380. From Constantinople soon-to-be-ruler of the entire Roman Empire, Emperor Theodosius, made Christianity the official religion. 
Having recently been decriminalized, over the next century many people (converted and non-converted) flooded the Christian church which was sorely lacking in priests to properly disciple those being baptized. For various altruistic and spurious motivations, the church received huge monetary and property contributions--starting with Emperor Constantine who bequeathed the Lateran Palace to the popes when he picked up his capital and moved it to Constantinople. Burgeoning membership put stress upon the leadership in not only ministering to the spiritual needs of their parishioners but also the administration of these immense contributions.
Large churches were being built and filled with lavish and beautiful gifts. There was, of yet, no official seminaries where priests could be taught. Bishop became bishop, priest became priest by the anointing and consecration of their own cities’ bishops. Heresies have come and gone. The one still menacing the church, due to waves of Gothic invasions, was Arianism.
By the fifth century, the cities all over Italy had fallen into decline and often the Germanic tribes who came to conquer simply walked in and took over the smaller cities without lifting a sword. That facilitated the sack of Rome in 410 by the Visigoth King Alaric. After 423, western emperor after emperor is murdered, executed or appointed to the position by the dominating Germanic tribes. The western empire is virtually abandon by Constantinople and the popes became de facto civic authorities in charge of city water, food supplies, roads, and wall fortifications.
In 452 Pope Leo, as the only spokesman for Rome since the murder of the western emperor, met Atila the Hun on the Micino River and convinced him to leave the city untouched.  The official “fall” of Rome is twenty-five years away, but it felt to the city as if it had already happened. 
Fast forward a millennium plus a couple hundred years and Enlightenment scholars are bombastically excoriating fifth century Christianity for allowing in the wave of converts, many who were not carefully taught the doctrines and accepting huge monetary donations. 
Many suggest that at the close of persecution, this sudden surge in political influence marked the beginning of the corruption of the church. The influx of money changed what they had assumed were tiny, autonomous, pure and penniless Christian communities into one monolithic organized, imperialistic Catholic Church. Against the history of the primitive disciples and the very will of God Himself, the church prostituted herself with paganism thus acquiring  world dominion. Satan’s conquering temptation for these Christians? The power of new members and new money.
Yet, did the church actually behave pre-Constantine much differently than it did post-Constantine? Scripture records the Apostles doing exactly what was condemned later. Was God no longer in charge in later centuries? Had He changed His mind about the church growing from a seed to a huge tree? Were church leaders so corrupted that they were allowing people into the church God would have kept out? Was is now that an organized church became wrong? Perhaps now was the time God required infallible leaders and perfect members. Perhaps it was now that the Apostolic succession carried on from the beginning should be abandon and anyone claiming a revelation and authorization from God allowed to be leader of the church?
Had not Christ anticipated such a time from the beginning and warned against the flood of people coming in and the church becoming large and organized? Or did He set His beloved Bride up for a fall when she was no longer a persecuted church?
You see, either God laid down a foundation of a real, organized church of fallible administrators or He didn’t. According to the passages in Acts, that is exactly what He did. He set up a visible, organized church whose fallible leaders accepted contributions and they made the assessment--right or wrong--what was to be done with these donations.
And yet, when the church was filling the earth three and four centuries later, all of a sudden, we think the rules should change and all those things set up as foundations for the Kingdom were now used to trip it up and cause God to abandon His Church. As the church grew some Protestants scholars claim, it was not supposed to be organized and the administrators were to be totally incorruptible. 
Did Jesus abandon His disciples because there was a Judas?  
Remember it was Judas who objected to the leaders use of gifts. When Mary poured the expensive perfume upon the feet of Jesus, Judas stood up and protested, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” (Context: John 12: 1-9) These words echo today against the Catholic church....

No comments: