Sunday, February 19, 2012

Recent Ancient Beliefs

When I was a young fundamentalist Christian, I felt very secure in my beliefs.  After all, the things that we believed in MY church were the things that all real true Christians have always believed.  The rest of Christianity may fall away from the one true faith thanks to all their compromises with the fallen world, but not us!  No, we would always stay true to the things that Christianity have always taught and always believed.  We knew we were right because we were holding fast to what had always been right.  So it came as quite a shock to me to find out that so many of my age old beliefs were really quite modern!

I've blogged before on how some of our doctrine wasn't as Bible based and unambiguously clear as I once thought.  But it's really more than that.  It's not just about how "Bible based" my beliefs really were it's how recent they were, considering that these were the things that, supposedly, "Christians have always believed".

Christians have always been Young Earth Creationists.  Except they weren't.  This wasn't always an article of the faith, once upon a time it was totally acceptable to be a Christian and believe in an old Earth.  Throughout Church history there have been a variety of opinions on just how to interpret Genesis and the consensus was not always on the side of a strictly literal interpretation.  Some Christians fear that accepting science undermines the authority of the Bible (and therefore their own authority) and therefore we have the modern insistence on YEC as a tenet of the faith.  But listen to what the early church leader Augustine of Hippo (354 AD to 430 AD) had to say on the topic in his commentary on Genesis:
The full quote is even better!

So to paraphrase Augustine, if a literal interpretation conflicts with science then stop holding on to the literal interpretation because you will only embarrass yourself.  Or as he wrote elsewhere: "In matters that are obscure and far beyond our vision, even in such as we may find treated in Holy Scripture, different Interpretations are sometimes possible without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such a case, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture."  This also shows up the claim that, Christians have always been Biblical Literalists.  This just completely flies in the face the long history stretching all the way back to the Judaic Rabbis of debating and discussing the meaning of Scripture.  The whole strategy of throwing out all interpretation and only taking every verse at literal face value is a fairly recent invention. I believe that the strict literal approach arose in opposition to Higher Criticism gaining more mainstream acceptance around the 19th century.

Around this time a new doctrine also arose amongst Christians, that of The Rapture.  I was taught that Christians have always believed in the Rapture but no, this belief is only about 200 years old.  Christians may have always believed in the Second Coming of Jesus but the idea that all Christians would be snatched up to heaven some time before that is very new.  In fact the entire premillenial dispensationalist end times doctrine has very recent origins.  Before that time, most Christians were postmillenialists and if you go all the way back to the New Testament it certainly looks like the early Christians were amillenialists in they weren't following any kind of prophetic playbook, they expected Christ to return at any time.

Have you been following the current events in American politics?  Christian legislators are doing all they can to outlaw abortion and even contraception.  After all, Christians have always believed that life begins at conception.  Except it turns out this belief isn't even as old as I am!  As The Slacktivist points out, this is A ‘biblical view’ that’s younger than the Happy Meal.  Now just to be clear, yes Catholics have for centuries held this belief.  Catholics.  Not Protestants.  Up to the 70s evangelical protestants did not believe that abortion was murder or that contraception was evil and they even quoted from the Bible to back it up.  But I guess the sexual revolution and the rise of feminism was scary enough for Protestants to put aside their differences and start agreeing with the Pope.

Once upon a time, to be Christian you had to believe that Jesus was the Son of God and that He died for your sins.  These days it seems that to be Christian you have to believe that life begins at conception, homosexuality is a sin, science can't be trusted, every word in the Bible is literally true, the Antichrist is coming, sex before marriage is a mortal sin, Christian morality must be enforced through legislation, welfare is from the devil and oh yeah, some stuff about Jesus.  Seems to me like Fundamentalist Christianity has little to no relation to the fundamentals of the Christian faith at all.  Funny how ancient and eternal truth can change over time...

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