If you grew up in the Church and attended Sunday school, chances are pretty good that you were told we were the Church that never changes. You were told that every time someone came up with a teaching that was wrong, the entire Church came to an agreement through divine inspiration. You may not want to hear this, but you weren’t told the whole story.
Throughout history, the Church has had to deal with controversies. These controversies were both theological and organizational. Some controversies required centuries to resolve before the entire Church was ‘on board’ with the decisions of various councils. Some issues were resolved more quickly. Some issues ended up causing division in the Church while others were resolved without division.
This might be the first time you have ever heard that Church history wasn’t easy. A quick review of today’s readings from the Acts of the Apostles, reminds us that these controversies have been around from the very beginning.
IN THOSE DAYS, when the apostles had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded, and joined Paul and Silas; as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked fellows of the rabble, they gathered a crowd, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the people. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brethren before the city authorities, crying, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them; and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard this. And when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.Acts 17.1-9
Saint Paul never stopped trying to convince his fellow Jews about the Messiah being Jesus Christ. For years Christians coexisted among the Jews. It wasn’t until Christians were forced out of the Temple that real separation had taken place. Eventually Jews and Christians went their separate ways, but not after years of trying to resolve their disagreements.
That is our history. Sometimes disagreements result in separation. Sometimes the separation lasts only a short time. Sometimes it lasts longer. I will not say forever, because we must always pray for an attempt reconciliation as Christians.
I’m bringing this up today because I am finding that many of us don’t understand Christian history. We know there were controversies, but we are ignorant to just how hard the Church worked to reconcile rather than divide. The history of the Councils is as much a history of attempted reconciliation as a history of canons and anathemas.
With global communication and instant news from thousands of miles away, it can seem like resolution is either not possible, or worse, not worth attempting. What I believe is really happening is that we are personally experiencing what the ancient already experienced. Our problem is that we forget how long and hard the Church fought to avoid division.
If you find yourself spending more time as a ‘keyboard warrior’ bashing various Orthodox Bishops as heretics, you might be part of the problem. Yes, there are examples of lone bishops as theological heroes. There are also examples of lone bishops being corrected by the Church. I’m sure that flock of each thought their bishop was the ‘savior’ of the Church.
It would be time better spent in prayer and confession of our sins, rather than posting about the controversy du jour. Chances are better that we don’t know enough to debate the issue in the first place. Chances are even better that we don’t know enough of the story to debate, even if were trained theologians. It would be a shame if our ignorance led to division rather than reconciliation.
One last point about being the Church that ‘never’ changes. It is the doctrines that never change, not the daily practice. Even the most basic review of history shows that daily practices, even worship, have changed more than once over the past two centuries of Church history.
Before you expose your ignorance to history and theology, take a step back. If you are worried your bishop is going to abandon the ancient faith for modernism, return to your history books. You may be holding on to a ‘tradition’ that is no older than the concrete foundation under your feet. Not everything in the Church is from the first century.