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

21 March 2018

“The mainline”: America’s older churches.

Not necessarily America’s liberal 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.)

27 October 2017

Reformation Day.

When the western church split between Catholics and Protestants.

31 October isn’t just Halloween. For Protestants, some of us observe the day as a regular holiday. Others just remember it when it’s a big deal. Namely the 500th anniversary of 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, or theses, which he wanted to discuss with his students—specifically about certain practices in the Catholic church to which he objected.

Technically not quite the 500th anniversary. Y’see, they were still using the Julian calendar in 1517, and the calendar was out of sync with the vernal equinox by 11 days, so once we correct for that, it was really 10 November. But whatever. Reformation Day!

At the time, Luther didn’t realize it was as big a deal as all that. He’s dramatically described as nailing the theses to the school’s Castle Church door, as if an act of defiance. 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 his 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.

But he did send a copy to his bishop and archbishop, ’cause he answered to them; and from there they spread all over Europe. In January 1518, Luther’s friends translated the theses from Latin to German, printed them for the general public, and made ’em controversial not only to church leaders, but everyone.

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.