Search This Blog

TXAB’s index.

Showing posts with label #History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #History. Show all posts

31 October 2019

Reformation Day.

31 October isn’t just Halloween. For Protestants, some of us observe the day as a regular holiday. Others remember it as Reformation Day, the day in 1517 when bible professor Dr. Martin Luther of the University of Wittenberg in the Holy Roman Empire (now Germany) posted 95 propositions he wanted to discuss with his students. Specifically, about certain practices in the Catholic church—in which, at the time, they were all members—to which he objected.

Technically it wasn’t 31 October. Y’see, Europeans were still using the Julian calendar in 1517. That calendar was out of sync with the vernal equinox by 11 days, which is why they updated it with the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Once we correct for that, it was really 10 November. But whatever. Reformation Day!

Luther didn’t realize this was as big a deal as we make it out to be. It’s dramatically described as Luther, enraged as if he just found out about 95 problems in his church, nailing a defiant manifesto to the school’s Castle Church door. Really, the door was the school’s bulletin board, and Luther may not have personally thumbtacked ’em to the door at all; he might’ve had a teaching assistant do it.


Joseph Fiennes playing Martin Luther, tacking up the theses. From the 2004 film Luther—not to be confused with the Idris Elba cop show Luther, which is… actually much better. I’m gonna watch that now.

He posted the propositions (or theses, as we tend to call ’em), then sent a copy to his bishop and archbishop, ’cause he did still answer to them you know. But in January 1518, Luther’s friends translated the theses from Latin to German, printed ’em for the general public… and now they got controversial. Because instead of a controlled classroom discussion about whether these theses were true or false, now you had people in pubs throughout the Holy Roman Empire (I’m just gonna shorten it to HRE now) raging about how the bloody Church had no biblical basis for what they were up to. Now it wasn’t just an internal debate among clergy-in-training. It was everywhere.

21 March 2018

“The mainline”: America’s older churches.

Mainline is a bit of Christianese in the United States. The adjective refers to the Protestant churches in the United States who were around since the 1700s—since before our constitutional freedom of religion made it possible for all sorts of new churches to crop up, and add to the thousands of Protestant denominations.

Some of these churches, like the Baptists, Congregationalists, and Unitarians, got their start here. Others, like the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches, got their start in England and Scotland—but when the colonies declared independence from the UK in 1776, the churches reorganized their leadership to become distinct from their UK governing bodies.

So being “mainline” or a “mainliner” doesn’t refer to a belief system. They’re not mainliners by philosophy: Other than Jesus’s teachings and Protestant traditions, they don’t necessarily have a lot in common. (In the case of Unitarians, the rest of us figure they’re heretic.) They’re mainline because they’re older. They have a longer history. They were here when the United States began.

But for many politically and theologically conservative Christians, “mainliner” has become their shorthand for a politically progressive or theologically liberal Christian. Because a number of mainline churches are liberal in their beliefs. Not all of ’em, but just enough for “mainliner” to pick up another definition.

So when you hear Christians refer to certain churches as “mainline churches,” sometimes you gotta ask them: Do you mean old, or liberal? (Maybe both.)

19 July 2016

The Didache: How’d the earliest Christians behave?

Yep, we have a written record of it.

Didache /'dɪ.də.kei, di.da'hi/ n. A first-century Christian manual for new believers. [From the Greek didahí/“teaching.”]

In the first century, some anonymous Christian leaders wrote a “teaching” for the new members of Christian synagogues: The stuff they felt these Christians oughta know and believe. Over time it’s become known as the Didache, from its first line, Didahí Kyríu diá ton dódeka apostólon toís éthesin/“The Master’s teaching to the gentiles, from the 12 apostles.” Western Christians assumed it had been lost sometime in the 800s, but Ethiopian Christians still had a version of it, and an 11th-century copy in the Codex Hierosolymitanus was rediscovered by Philotheos Bryennios in 1873.

Historians notice a lot of similarities between the Didache and what the Qumran community taught in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s considered a Jewish-Christian catechism, a lesson to be memorized (usually in question-answer format, though not here) to help adapt the Jewish way of life for gentile Christians. Whether it’s precisely as the Twelve taught, we’ve no idea; but it’s safe to say it’s what a lot of early Christians taught. In fact, a lot of early Christians wanted to include the Didache in the New Testament.

So why isn’t it scripture? ’Cause for the longest time, Christians thought it was written in the second century. And since the New Testament was ultimately limited to first-century writings, that left the Didache out. I’m not saying we should add it now… but it’s interesting to look at the way early Christians expected newbies to behave. It’s why I include the whole of it below.

The translation and chapter titles are mine. I took the text from the Codex Hierosolymitanus. Read it yourself, and notice how many of these ideas are still taught in your own church.