Why is it so important for some to maintain medieval Roman Catholicism was the true church and why this issue still matters today….
Historically and doctrinally I had never been even remotely satisfied with what I considered to be rather incoherent and weak Institution-continuity based arguments regarding the church status of Medieval Catholicism. I would read Schaff, or Sketches in Church History, of RB Kuiper's The Church in History and would end up being frustrated. Here were people like the Waldensians and Hussites…but why are they glossed over? Shouldn't we be talking much more about them? Weren't they the obvious Christians during those times? Then I began to understand the ambivalent way in which they are viewed by Institutional and Culturally minded Christians…Christians who seem to identify the Church and Christianity with Western Civilization or in the more simplistic evangelical frame of American Politics.
They're not interested in a Medieval Underground, an antithesis group, a remnant of the faithful. I understood then, that were history to repeat itself and the Culture-Christians were to take over, the need for an Underground would once again be necessary. More on that below….
I saw a little something of this in reading some of the Klineans and I began to explore that world in earnest. Some of it was novel to me, but there were many things that I held generally from my own reading but could not elaborate. Kline helped tremendously in this and is still one of my favourite authors, though I'm sorry to say his disciples would surely denounce my views.
Also, within weeks of my conversion to Chrisitianity I had come into contact with Theonomic Reconstructionist material. I had already become a Calvinist…I saw that in the Bible right away…but Theonomy was something both repulsive and fascinating. In my flesh I wanted to sign on…it appealed to all the assumptions I had been raised with and gave it force and power…channeled the energy as it were. It a system that fulfils the fleshly desire for power….
But I was reading my Bible and though I couldn't argue against them….I was not convinced. All I knew was that they were reading the Bible wrongly, their whole program seemed contrary to the thrust of the New Testament. I know others who have expressed the same frustration. I could see the hermeneutical problems even before I knew what the word hermeneutic meant. Why did they keep insisting on reading the New Testament in light of the Old. Wasn't that the problem the Dispensationalist had?
And I gasped when I saw it….these men wanted to re-do the Middle Ages. They're not opposed to a Charlemagne style Holy Roman Empire or a Byzantine State. They just want to do it different, according to their understanding, do it the right way. It was then I knew this kind of thinking was not just wrong, it was perilous. This was the same vision of the Kingdom Christ contended with against the Pharisees. This where the church went wrong….but it all changed with Martin Luther right? We got back on the right course?
I turned more into studying Reformation history and the more I learned, the more disillusioned I became. It’s not the romantic portrait so often painted, parts of it are quite ugly. I noticed Wylie's history dealt more with people like the Waldenses and I devoured those massive volumes…but was always suspicious of him. He seemed to hold back. I didn't trust him. It was too glossy…and I knew there was not a seamless connection between the proto-protestant movements and the Reformation. I knew enough then to question him. I still read it..and you can't beat the pictures in those volumes. Positively stirring. But what Wylie is doing is trying suggest in a Whig historiographical method…that the Refomation was just the capstone, the telos of Proto-Protestantism. I was not convinced this was quite accurate.
So I went further and started to read books that were unsympathetic to these groups and this actually helped…because I could see there was something there, just not the kind of portrait Wylie and people like him wanted to paint. The reality was….more real, more human…and yet, to ignore these movements and treat medieval Catholicism as the true church for that millennia….impossible.
All these things were churning within me. I had ditched the Christian America line but again didn't know where to go. I was still a Republican in my heart if you know what I mean. Then I started to read different histories and different books broadening my understanding of the world and the complexity of the issues. And then I began to get really disgusted because it became clear that so much of the historical argument and social analysis on the conservative and Christian Right side of things is just dishonest and grossly oversimplified…often juvenile and almost always based on wrong assumptions. Questions that ought to be raised were not and there was a lot of self-deception or just flat dishonesty about America, Christians in America, American history and how all this integrates with reading the Bible.
Christians are promoting books like Huntington's Clash of Civilizations not because it's true, but because it says what they want. If they investigated it further they would find it lacking and other VERY conservative commentators would agree. It's fuel for the fire they want to build. Huntington's book is exactly what I'm talking about….almost juvenile oversimplification. I would be happy to explain if anyone wants to know what I mean.
Not a television watcher but a rabid news addict, I turned to the still young internet and listened to the radio. I had been taught via the Rush Limbaugh school to hate the liberal media…but as I listened to things like NPR and then would go over to someone's house and see FOX News……the contrast became very sharp. I couldn't understand why all the Christians I knew wanted to watch things like FOX? It was grandstanding, circus stuff. It was dishonest, childish, and quite offensive to anyone who's trying to approach the world with a degree of sobriety. While NPR was certainly not overtly conservative…they definitely were presenting a more full-orbed picture of the issues. I may not always like how it's framed…..I may not like the subject matter, but where does Truth play out in all this? Do I benefit when things are framed the way I want them to be? It is a healthier exercise to not only consider the story but to also pay attention to and consider how the story is told. I have been disgusted with NPR at times. I was in late 2002, as they covered the Iraq War buildup. I listened live to Powell's UN presentation on the Iraqi WMD's and wanted to shout at the NPR commentator afterward for practically rubber stamping. I'm listening to it on the radio and I could tell the thing was a farce. Because I'm smart? No, because I pay attention and I read books smart people write. There is an attentiveness, an acute awareness of antithesis, that is missing in Sacralist thought.
There is no neutrality, people kept reminding me. Everyone has an opinion so you might as well know what it is. Or as one man put it to me, "I like news that's objective…and patriotic." That kind of sums it all up doesn't it?