17 February 2013

Tribalism, History and Old Photos

Last weekend I was struck down by the flu which has afflicted so much of the country. And no, I didn’t get a flu shot.

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.


Cal said...

I always love looking through old photos and old writings. It is amazing and baffling, especially for the writing part. I remember when before I was an agnostic in Christin-name, and I would mention Christ, salvation, etc. in my letters to myself. To an outlooker, maybe I have some bad theology, but I was in the Church. But in reality, I know myself, I was so far away. Christ was nothing but a cultural fairy tale and if pressed enough, I would shrug my shoulders without a care whether He rose from the dead, whether He is YHWH, whether by His shed blood the world is reconciled. This wasn't important, defending America, republicanism, the Constitution was important.

Also, a critique in language: I wouldn't say our fellowship is based on Scripture. Rather it is based on Christ whose words, His autobiography/biography is contained in the Scripture. Want to know what He thinks, want to know the True Story? Read Scripture.

Anyway, I sympathize with trying to escape the specter of Protestantism. Ultimately, that's what we get pegged because of the poverty of language. You're following Jesus but are not under Rome or Constantinople? Protestant. Wow, what a pathetic label. You get stuck with everyone between the extremes of Falwell and Spong. I've heard it batted around that Mormonism is a form of Protestantism. Yikes.


Cal said...

Just as a follow up: Scripture is thus authoritative because it is the spoken word of the Spoken Word who has all dominion and authority.

Thought I should make that clear.

Protoprotestant said...

I appreciate the concern with the Bible v. Christ but as you say....

You want to know Christ? You know him through the Scripture.

I feel free to use them in the almost synonymous way that I do while realizing the concerns some have.

In the case of some, your qualifications label you as otherwise, their concern is to tie in experience and intuition within the nexus of authority. It reflects a reticence to embrace Scripture alone as the means of knowing Christ and as being sufficient for the life of the believer and the Church as a whole.

And yes the labels are totally frustrating. Just this week I was having a conversation with someone and got caught in tangle over Ash Wednesday and all the refuse commonly called Lent. Was I Protestant? Why do some Protestant's do it? Who am I to say who is the 'real' Protestant?

I'm not a Protestant? So now not only do I say Rome and Constantinople are wrong, but Geneva, Wittenberg and Canterbury as well?

What struck me the most though was just how damaging the testimony of other local Christians and political Christianity has been. This guy I was talking to is so hardened. Can't get through to him.

Hey, shoot me an email and tell me about the places you saw. I'm quite curious. I thought of you as I was going through my photos of Rome, Naples, and Pompeii.

Anonymous said...

Something I penned last week and posted on my FB page ties in with your 12th paragraph above...

I pledge Allegiance to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, Jesus Christ
And to His People for whom he died, the church
One Holy People, worldwide, from every tribe, nation and tongue

And, as you mentioned it is "liberating" to see the Kingdom through the smoke and mirrors.

I have never had ties to the "Reformation" per se, being "saved" in a Baptist culture. An my opinion of John Calvin and even Luther tends to anger my reformed-leaning friends. I find little time for the "Church Fathers" (call no man 'father'?) either and try to use the little time I have for reading for the Word and more contemporary authors.

But, I can appreciate "nostalgia" and what it means to walk away from the connections that tie us to certain people, places, or things...

Again, I appreciate you blog and your insight. Good to hear you are up and about after your battle with the flu...


Protoprotestant said...

Thanks Anthony. Now if I could just get my kids over it!

I guess it's encouraging to know that we're all on a pilgrimmage of sorts. Some of us have to learn the hard way and for some of us the road is long.

But looking at my own life it's a reason for hope when I meet others who seem all caught up in being Presbyterian or America-worship or whatever. If God can open my eyes, he certainly can open theirs too.

Sadly some figures in history have been hijacked and abused. I kind of feel that way about some of the figures commonly called the Early Church Fathers. Reading them I don't find them to be either Protestant or Roman Catholic per se. Both sides (most often Rome) have tried to 'claim' them.

I read Polycarp, Clement, Irenaeus, and especially guys like Tertullian and I find brethren reaching out to me from the pages of the past. Very interesting and insightful. Just because others have abused them, doesn't mean we have to completely reject them.

And for that matter even though I'm often a little less than positive with regard to someone like Calvin, not all he said was bad. I still have his commentaries and other writings. I don't venerate them as I might have in the past but if I'm wrestling with a passage of Scripture and want a commentary, I very well might go for Calvin as much as I would one of the others.

I think they need to be taken off their pedestals and not to apologize for them, but they were men of their times. Some people say that in order to defend them. I say it not to defend, but to understand that the world and certainly history is a complicated mess. Those who venerate Luther or Calvin have not learned its lessons.

Anonymous said...

I guess for me it's a simple matter of-"you will know them by their fruits." Knowing that there were brothers and sisters who were persecuted by these men and their systems, knowing that they never fully "got it" in regard to such simple issues as infant baptism, and 'sacralism', leads me to question what effect the Holy Spirit actually had on their lives. To say it was a matter of "the time they lived in", to me is not valid. Why? Because there were thousands of believers alive at the same time who never did anything even similar to this. So, yea, I have an issue with them.

Also, if Adolf Hitler were to write: 2 + 2 = 4 and the Apostle John were to write 2 + 2 = 4, and I needed to teach 2 + 2 = 4....Who am I going to go to?

I am at the point where the "white noise" associated with modern "Christianity" (for lack of a better term to describe the monster...) has just gotten to me. I'm tired frankly...very tired. I long for the simplicity of the Gospels, the "Words of Christ in Red" so to speak. The cult of personality surrounded modern Christianity, coupled with the worship of "dead men", mixed in with false teachers, apostates, liberals, moderns, emergents, emerging, contemplative, (breathe)...anyway...I'm sure you get the gist of it...(haha).

Honestly, it's a personal thing for me, nothing I'm ready to die over-lol. We all get inspired from somewhere/someone.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back to the blog world, Proto; I've missed you! Insighful article and great comments here.

I appreciate the freedom you find in revelation of being in the "family line" of true nameless saints through the ages: those brothers and sisters by the Spirit in Christ, rather than of creeds and traditions. What baffles and irks me is that folks we used to relate with, around the desire for biblical faith and practice rather than denominations and traditions, left that for the very stuff you came out of. I can understand the protestant world being all a person has known, and the Lord over time revealing more to him and bringing him out. I really do not understand the reverse; it looks to me like it was seduction through ambition to "be somebody important" and lord it over others, which is not a charitable assessment. Perhaps it was this longing to feel the tribal connection, which I can have some compassion for. Nevertheless, the desire to have that "tribal" connection with anything of the world, anything manmade or of the flesh, is one of the things we ought to put to death and reckon ourselves dead to in order to come into the authentic fellowship of the saints with Christ in that holy nation, that Kingdom NOT of this world, no?

I can see good in the writings of some of the early church "fathers", (precious little I've read from though, and that merely quoted in other men's books)though they began to move away from simplicity into clergy-ism and sacerdotalism. I read one author who makes the point that these men did not have the canonized New Testament yet and were up against an onslaught of error and heresy.

Anon 4:46: I echo your longing. Love that description of modern american church as "white noise."