It had been years since I had the actual flu with the aches and pains and range of symptoms like but yet unlike the cold I get about once a year. It wasn’t fun.
After two days of misery I spent the next couple of days just recovering. I don’t have a desk job and my work can at times be quite physically demanding. So it’s not as easy for me to go back to work when I’m running at about 50%. What ends up happening is that by lunchtime I’m a wreck and beginning to regress. I’ve done this before and so this time I decided to just take one more day and properly rest.
On the last day I dug out some photo albums I purchased about a year ago and started a project I’ve been putting off for the better part of a decade… re-arranging my Europe photos.
Up until now they’ve been a hodge-podge of poorly arranged albums and stacks in boxes. I’ve begun to clean them up and put them into a better order and one that will help them last a bit longer.
I’m always quite content to put on a good piece of music, imbibe a good cup of tea and venture through my pictures. Lots of memories. It’s also a time for reflection regarding how much I’ve changed since when many of them were taken.
Looking at the photos of Geneva or many in Scotland I recalled how these trips were virtually Calvinistic Pilgrimages. Even in places like Budapest my concern was often greatest for Reformed heritage. I was a thorough going partisan for a tradition I believed represented the Truth.
And yet when encumbered with such a mindset how alien other places feel! As gorgeous as the Tyrol is or as stunning as you might find Slovenia to be there’s precious little in the way of Reformed Calvinistic heritage. You certainly enjoy yourself but you feel differently about it.
Of course it’s all rather absurd because with the exception of some places in the British Isles you’re hard pressed to find anyone at these places today who cares on whit for the heritage. Many are disappointed when visiting American sites associated with the Pilgrims and Puritans to find the locals couldn’t care less, and how many Calvinists have visited the famous Whitefield statue at the University of Pennsylvania[i] to find the local college students think his upraised exhorting hand looks best when holding a can of beer.
A lot of this stuff is Romanticism regarding the past. It certainly was for me. I was willfully blind about much of it and yet deep down, though I didn’t want to admit it, doubt gnawed at me.
We all so badly want to ‘claim’ to ‘belong’ to tribe or heritage. As Americans we’re often frustrated because we’re mostly of mixed ancestry and in most cases no matter what we claim, we can’t really participate in another culture unless we share the language.
Being in Christ is actually quite liberating. We are part of the Heavenly Body and our earthly associations, even our bloodlines matter little. In truth we have more in common with Christians meeting in Africa or China than we do with those who share our race or culture but lack our faith.
Trying to find a denomination or niche to latch on to is just that same old tribal instinct. The curse of Babel keeps the nations apart and keeps them from forming into a Universal Beast. In that sense, vive la difference! We ought to celebrate the diversity on Earth. And yet as believers, that ‘wall of separation’ if I can use that term in this context, is torn down and no longer does it matter if we are Jew, Greek, Scythian etc… We’re all one. But that’s only ‘in’ Christ.
Building new denominational walls (rooted in contrived narrative) is a denial of this principle.
In terms of the Church I always think about the 19th century Tractarian movement and how John Henry Newman (later Cardinal Newman) said that he felt like he’d come ‘home’ when he converted to Romanism. At last the Patristic Fathers and the great figures from the early Church were something that belonged to him. Joining the Roman communion made him feel like his claims were legitimate in a way the Anglican Church (born of a tyrant’s desire for a male heir) could not. The buildings and history were something that he was legitimately part of.
Of course I don’t believe Clement, Irenaeus or Tertullian would find much in common with Newman. Perhaps Leo or Gregory (both wrongly called ‘Great’) would.
This was Newman’s Romanticising of Church History.
Perhaps I’m still guilty of it. I’ve come to realize that the lives and deeds of many of the great saints are not recorded in Church History volumes. Many so-called Church Histories are really chronicles of Christendom. How many were burned or died in obscurity who will inhabit the halls of heaven? How many of the so-called ‘greats’ were not great at all or in many cases not even believers. How many of them were the false prophets we were warned of who think of godliness as an occasion for gain?
As I look at my pictures of Venice and Rome, though they play little or no part in the history of the Reformed, I am reminded that many Christians lived in these places and in some cases died there.
I’m not talking about Roman Catholics from the Middle Ages. I’m speaking of Waldensian and other Dissenter haunts.
Northern Italy crawled with Dissenters. Austria, Hungary, Bohemia and of course Germany were all dense with Christians meeting underground and long before Luther.
Sometimes the years from the Fall of the Western Empire to the rise of the Middle Ages Proper (500-1000) is called the Dark Ages. This is due to the chaos of invasion….Huns, Lombards, Saracens, Vikings, Magyars etc….
Sometimes the entire Medieval Period (c.500-1500) is referred to as the Dark Ages. Sometimes it is in reference to the lack of learning and cultural sophistication, but often for Christians it refers to a time when the Gospel seemed to be lost.
This was always something of an oversimplification. The Middle Ages were anything but simple. They were a time of instability and that (and we should pay attention!) leads to social breakdown, insularity and severe provincialism.
Modern Dominionism is revising this thinking that I grew up with. The Middle Ages are becoming a new Sacral Golden Age.
In that sense (in light of Sacralism) I would indeed consider it a ‘dark’ period.
But in other ways the Underground Church was quite extensive and the years 1000-1500 may have actually been something of a Golden Age…but an age described in no history books.
I think in heaven we will learn the true history of the Church and we’ll find it to be quite different than what is presently available to us.
Abandoning Protestantism for the Third Order of Christianity, viz., the non-violent Free/Anti-Sacral witness has liberated me. No longer do I care for the Protestant/Catholic cultural divide in Europe. No longer am I bound by their histories. I see Europe for what it is. I see Christians in many places but rarely do ‘great’ names shine forth from the annals.
In fact in some cases I find myself appreciating much more with regard to Catholic culture (for example in Italy or Ireland) vs. the Protestant cultures found in places like Germany, Holland, or Scotland.
Looking through my photos proved both interesting and liberating. It was nothing new but good to revisit the issues.
But aren’t I just signing on to a new ‘tribe’ like everyone else? I guess I could be accused of that but one key difference is that anti-confessional and anti-political nature of Third Order or what can sometimes be called Proto-Protestant Christianity. Its unity is rooted not in adherence to tradition, or cultural norms, or a political entity….fellowship is rooted in a common adherence to Scripture.
That’s a little too tidy to be sure. It’s more complicated than that especially when you get into what happened with some of the Hussite and Lollard groups. But thinking in terms of Congregation v. Denomination, and certainly rejecting Sacralism and Confessionalism (which is different than merely writing a Confession)….these distinctives allow us to think differently about the world and the Church. We can much more free in our charity and in our sense of fellowship. We don’t need to cut people off in our minds and hearts because they don’t belong to the ‘proper’ tradition. I don’t have to hate someone because they’re Lutheran. I don’t have to hate the Irish because they resisted a Protestant country seeking to rule them and force them into Protestantism. I don’t have to despise Africans or Asians because they resisted Christendom.
Someone might say we should never be hating or despising anyway. Very true. But I can’t think of anything more hateful than to subjugate people through violence…for their own good right?
That’s the end logic, the telos of Sacralism….war, conquest and subjugation become altruistic ‘acts of love’…
‘It’s for their own good,’ the voice whispers in the Sacralist ear.
It’s the voice of Satan.
[i] The picture on the spine of the Banner of Truth books.