A primary reason why we named this site “Classical Christianity” is so that we could publish the richness of the first millennium of the Church, when both the eastern and western hemispheres were united in fsith. The Classical concept of the Church is to become ingrained into the teachings of these saints that the first millennium produced. There are many “modern” saints to learn from as well, but as we will discuss below, the pre- medieval era is indeed quite special to Orthodoxy. If we can understand some of the pitfalls that were encountered within the Middle Ages, perhaps we will be able to grow in Christ in a much more sustainable way, a way that involves the unity of the faith that Christ speaks of.
A lot of radical over-correction took place in the Middle Ages when many men of the Church finally got their hands on a variety of books, including the Bible. After “the Church went off its rails” in 1054 A.D. (the Church split and formed Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic), as Protestant pastor Martin Luther said, the Church began to quickly embrace a very scholastic path of spirituality. Writers such as Peter Lombard, in the 12th century and later Thomas Aquinas, in the 13th century, capitalized on the simple yet foundational aspects of Christianity such as Holy Communion, marriage, ordination, healing, baptism, reconciliation with Christ, as well as reconciliation with the Church. These subjects were thought to be of great importance since they had been practiced since the very inception of the New Testament Church.
When Aquinas’ publications began to circulate, the Church was ripe for renewal and Aquinas’ theology seemed to be the answer for this renewal. After all, he had taken what the early fathers had done and gave it a system of thought so as to better understand God and His Church. No problem here, right? Well, yes and no!
The problem was that many priests began to focus so heavily on the supposed “seven sacraments” which lead to a more institutional understanding of the gospel. Since the Church held the rights to the sacraments the people began to magnify the Church like never before. Priests and bishops became fueled by the people and thus focused even more on the institutional aspect of the gospel. Before we knew it, the Church began to capitalize on the early church practice of penance by instituting what is called “indulgences.” The practice of indulgences was not entirely new at this time. Pope Urban the II gave indulgences to the crusaders in 1095 A.D. But when the Church began to receive this massive amount of fuel from the poor and the peasants they began to abuse that practice which had already been stretched to its limit by Pope Urban.
So now we are heading straight into the Middle Ages with a lot of institutional momentum and little missional momentum. Irony sets in place and the very thing that the Church tries to set in motion begins working against the Church in the form of scholasticism and incorporation; that is, the gospel was taken captive by systematic rhetoric and the incorporation of men that prescribed to this particular system.
Then comes the Reformation, when men begin to heavily balk at this system but with another system, particularly with what they called “The Five Solas.” The Five Solas countered the Seven Sacraments by stating that Christianity should not be based on the sacraments but on these five things: Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone, and the Glory of God Alone. I’m not sure how each one of those could be alone when they are supposed to be connected with the other four, but nonetheless this is what they taught. It was indeed polemic to what was happening within the western Church at that time. Each Sola could be used to battle against various doctrines of the Church.
Later in the Middle Ages the Five Solas became capitalized and systems of theology were formed around them so that they became more of a connected theology rather than just debating points against Rome. Millions from the Church left and created new churches based on the systems of the Reformers. These new Protestant churches began to grow primarily from the systems of Martin Luther. But then John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli created systems of thought as well. A notable system that grew from that time period was what was called “The Five Points of Calvinism;” the system of thought that helped form the Anglican, Presbyterian and Baptists churches.
Of course, all of these systematic theologies that the reformers taught were credited to the study of the Bible. During the Reformation the reformers printed the Bible as fast as they could so that the people could study it for themselves. The faster the Bible was produced the faster the Churches of the reformers began to argue over doctrine and practice and the faster churches began to split, creating Protestants of the Protestants.
Now we have Protestants of Protestants to a maximized degree. We can not even count how many splits there have been. Much of today’s Protestant church planting is based off of splitting and very few Protestant churches now are under the umbrella of a mother church. Even those that are part of “denominations” are still very independent and only the pastors belong to the “synods” and “councils.”
The irony of all this is that the very accusation against the Roman Church is now same accusation against the Protestant accusers. One scholastic enterprise was conquered by another scholastic enterprise. We are now back in the same mess we were just prior to the Reformation. To be saved in a Protestant church now means that one must adhere to a formula of doctrine. And if one desires to be ordained in one of these movements they must adhere to their particular and entire system of thought. So now the “Church” is again an institution of thought rather than the community of believers that it once was prior to the split between the East and the West in 1054 A.D.
In the first millennium of Christianity the Church was not lead by scholastic enterprise but it was lead by what they actually did! When serious correction and rebuke had to take place, the bishops met in the form of councils and made declarations against the heresies. This no longer happens! Now, both the Roman as well as the Protestants do not gather to declare what is heresy but they gather to form systems and dogma. This is endless! It’s backwards. The Church needs to thrive on how the Holy Spirit directs them to fulfill the great commission by worshiping Christ and bringing people to worship Christ. This commission will not always be crafted in the same tone with exactly the same paradigms. Each different geography of people will need to hear different perspectives of what it means to walk with God, albeit within the pale of orthodoxy.
But we need not be distracted by “orthodoxy,” otherwise every new perspective becomes a division, a schism within the kingdom of God. If, for instance, apologetics of the faith does not point to the unification of what Christ calls us to actually do then the teaching is in danger of beginning a completely different gospel message. The Church is defined by its apostolic operation of baptizing people in to a particular mission under a particular people. The temptation for clergy is to create systems of thought that we can easily latch on to as a type of rhetoric. This is counterproductive as history has bared witness to.
The Church knew what to do for many centuries. They broke bread under the authority of the bishop, which represented Christ’s broken body and Christ’s authority on earth. The Church then went out to build this community of bread-breaking-lovers of God and His societies. It’s really that simple. But scholastic rambling has taken away this calling of the Church and has ushered in a whole new type of gospel; a gospel that is not about this apostolic type of community but rather about capitalized Bible verses and Medieval systems of doctrine.