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There is no golden age of Christianity

Posted by on Nov 22, 2011 in blog links, church history | 12 comments

There is no golden age of Christianity

Christoper at “A New Testament Student” is preparing for his first seminary course, Survey of Church History, by reading one of the required books. He wrote about his response to the book in a post called “History.”

The book that he read is a very good book on church history called Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley. If you haven’t read it, you should.

Here’s the first “realization” that Christopher came to after reading this book:

First, There is no golden age of Christianity. Each age holds its own flaws, and each leader his or her own failings. The patriarchs, the Roman Catholics, the reformers, the emperors, even the apostles struggled in their understanding of God, and how we relate to Him. As a Christian growing up in the evangelical tradition, I have heard a great deal of praise attributed to the apostles and reformers contrasted by sharp criticism, if not hatred, for all things Roman Catholic. While I am a protestant, reading this text has opened my eyes up to an important truth. The Gospel did not pass away between the fourth and sixteenth centuries only to be resurrected by the Reformation. The name of Christ remained a focal point for a millenium in the midst of plagues, persecutions, and political strife, and the Catholic practice of monasticism preserved all of the ancient writings, including the Scriptures, that brought the reformers to their powerful conclusions. There may have been many distorted and overlooked truths, but there were men who stood firm in their trust of Christ and worshipped Him in the way their culture taught them was appropriate.

Much of the New Testament was written to correct problems that had already cropped up among those early churches. As early as Acts 5 and Acts 6, we see problems in the church. So, Christopher is right… there is no golden age. Of course, if there were no problems among the churches, we may not know as much about them as we do today.

Think of it this way… because of the problems and struggles and issues in the early church, we know how we should respond and live today.

What do you think? Was there a golden age of Christianity?


12 Comments

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  1. 11-22-2011

    I remember when I took Church History from Dr. David L. Puckett at SEBTS in 1996. We were studying the church through the Middle Ages (i.e. Roman Catholic) and I was dumbstruck. After class I went to speak with Dr. Puckett and said to him, “You make it sound like these people were Christians!” He was kind, gentle and very helpful in his response toward this very naive seminarian. It was a real turning point in my thinking and life.

    So I DO agree with Christopher and you.

  2. 11-22-2011

    There isn’t anything approaching a golden age, but there are times in specific places that look better than others.

  3. 11-22-2011

    Scott,

    Yeah, there were even Christians then. Crazy, huh?

    Leighton,

    I don’t think I’ve found any time or place or group of Christians that I can’t learn something from.

    -Alan

  4. 11-22-2011

    And there are still problems and concerns now that will help future saints to cope and grow in their faith

  5. 11-23-2011

    I wonder if there is sometimes confusion between thinking the first century Christians had it all right, and thinking the first century scriptures provide a guide to what is right (oftentimes provided against the backdrop of oodles of errors in thinking and practice).

    The era was not a golden age, but the scriptures of the era point every generation to all that it needs to bring glory to God, to produce gold, silver, and precious stones in His eyes rather than our wood, hay, and stubble.

    Unfortunately, history–beginning from the first century–demonstrates our unwillingness to trust God enough to do things His way, our uncanny trust in ourselves and in the au currant ways and means of the cultures where we find ourselves. But history (and the present moment) demonstrates God’s generous faithfulness in using us anyway for all our (immense) faults.

  6. 11-23-2011

    Mike,

    Yes, there are. That’s why I like to read broadly and talk with people who are part of different Christian traditions.

    Art,

    I think you’re correct.

    -Alan

  7. 11-23-2011

    A lot depends how we define Golden Age but the fact is that every period of Christianity had its problems; some had more than others. I certainly agree that the 1st generation of the early church had its problems. We only have to look at the Epistles to see the kind of problems that the Apostles were dealing with in the church: Denial of the resurrection; denial of the humanity of Christ and more.

    Also, when I was studying the period of the Reformation and had been caught up in the propaganda that the church was in the dark ages after the first 6 centuries and before the 16th Century, I was greatly encouraged by the battles that the humanists had already been engaged in as well as men within the Catholic church such as the Spirituali.

    I am always reminded of the texts in Kings and Romans that God always keeps a remnant who do not bow the knee to Baal. Personally I think there are periods in Church History as there were with the people of God in the Old Testament that are better than others but no period is without its problems.

  8. 11-23-2011

    Remnants, not to be confused with door mats ;)

  9. 11-23-2011

    Philip,

    Good reminder! Thank you.

    Art,

    It seems like God’s people are always the remnant… and sometimes treated like door mats.

    -Alan

  10. 11-24-2011

    I think the problems started right from the git-go.

    The problem lies within us. The sinner. Fear. Non-trust. Selfishness. Ego. The desire to justify ourselves by what ‘we do’ or ‘don’t do’.

    They were all there. In spite of all that, we are admonished to keep our eyes on Christ and know of His great love for the ungodly. Those for whom He died for.

    Thanks, very much.

  11. 11-27-2011

    I’m glad that my post spurred so much discussion.

  12. 11-28-2011

    Steve,

    I agree completely. That’s one of the reasons that I think we should be constantly considering what we do and why we’re doing it.

    Christoper,

    It’s a great post. Thank you!

    -Alan