Wednesday, April 1, 2009
The Hitchhiker's Guide to Church History
Douglas Adams quotes to his readers from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe’s entry on Galactic Civilizations. According to the Guide civilization pass through three stages before their demise. The stages are: Survival, Inquiry, and Sophistication otherwise known as How, Why, and Where. Adams explains it in terms similar to this: Survival - “How are we going to get something to eat?” Inquiry – “Why do we need to eat?” Sophistication – “Where would you like to go out to eat?” Adams may be on to something.
Our society grows more and more sophisticated. We no longer worry if we are going to eat, nor do we care why we eat, our concern is what and where are we going to eat. We have so much, that we never need go hungry; so many choices that we cannot find satisfaction. We grow ungrateful and less dependant upon God. We look more and more to selfishly defend our egos and feed our swelling midriffs.
Can the Church go through these stages of survival, inquiry, and sophistication? At one point the Church was struggling to survive. Persecution seemed to be getting the upper-hand, yet through Providence, the Church survived. Persecution slowed to a near halt. With realized survival the Church began to ask questions of “why.” “Why did Jesus have to die? Why do we worship the way we do? Why do we have elders over each congregation? Why can one elder not preside over a city, state, national, or universal church system? Why will some not follow the Church’s mandates?” Eventually the church flirted with the world growing into a sophisticated entity with absolute power. She stopped asking question of survival and inquiry and began solely to feed her growing waistline. The selling of Indulgences, accommodating Pagan worship styles, and the corrupt land grabbing of millennium past demonstrate this developmental stage.
Reformation attempted to change the established church to what men and women read in scripture. As reformation ideas grew common, persecution from the established church followed. These reformers asked, “How are we going to survive?” They did survive and began asking questions of “why.” “Why do these other reformers not agree with me?” These groups became established sects that began shifting to sophistication, establishing creeds and systematic doctrines.
Coexisting with these reformation groups were groups and individuals with a mindset of Restoration, longing for a return to the teachings of the New Testament. Restoration existed in Europe as early as the 1100-1200’s A.D. (some suggest even earlier: Traces of the Kingdom) and in America in the 1700 – 1800’s A.D. Early restorers faced persecution from the established churches and sects. They too must have wondered, “How can we survive?”
Those of us that are of the restoration mindset must continue to survive. We can and should ask questions of “why.” But we must ever fight to avoid becoming sophisticated, growing fat and lazy by only feeding ourselves. We must continue restoration in the lives of those outside of Christ. We must reconcile them to God through Christ (2 Cor 5:17-21). We cannot allow sophisticated creeds to develop, we must remain vigilant and diligent to demonstrate ourselves approved of God (2 Tim 2:15). We must fight faithfully, stick to the course, and finish the race (2 Tim 4:7-8). The day will come when we will rest from our efforts (Rev 14:13), but that Day is yet to come. For now we struggle against principalities and powers (Eph 6:12) for our survival.