“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go” (from Psalm 32:8)
I recently had an on-line conversation with a friend of mine regarding “religion”.
This woman is around twenty years younger than I am and what I’d describe as a “secular Jew”. Her husband is a Gentile. She wrote something to the effect that she does not understand what KIND of a Gentile her husband is and really does not understand the diversity of Christianity, and what various “Gentiles” believe. She seemed kind of embarrassed about how little she really knows about God or religion. I wrote back that she and her husband are actually very typical “Gen Xers”---that most Americans born after 1965 have very little understanding of the things of God or “religion”. I mused that maybe I should teach a class someplace called, “Religion For Dummies” and try to explain some of this stuff - I also made sure I let her know I didn’t think she was a “dummy”!
It amazes ME that all sorts of people read this blog. Some are friends and relatives, but at least half of the readers are folks I’ve never met. Many readers are very committed Christians, but there are atheists, agnostics, and really all sorts of folks. There is NO WAY I could truly cover the topic of “Religion For Dummies” in one posting. If I tried to cover all the major world religions such as Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, etc, that in itself would take several postings. I think I’m going to stick with what most of us have been most familiar with growing up in the U.S.A. and that’s what’s called “Christianity”.
It’s actually unfair to write about Christianity without mentioning, Judaism, however. It’s really weird how so many “Gentiles” hate Jews because Jesus Christ WAS and IS a Jew and the roots of Christianity are ABSOLUTELY Jewish. I don’t believe God ever intended Christianity to be a “religion”. He intended it to be a way of life. In fact, in the First Century, Christianity was originally called “The Way” and it was considered a sect of Judaism, albeit an offbeat sect of Judaism. It was after at least a decade that the term “Christians” was used of Believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and it was used as a derogatory term. It was very controversial when Gentiles first joined this movement, but eventually they outnumbered those from Jewish backgrounds.
My mother was a devout Roman Catholic. She believed with all her heart that the Catholic Church was the “one true Church” and that the Eastern Orthodox Churches had broken away from it. She also believed Peter was the first Pope. Good luck trying to prove THAT one! Again, Christianity was never meant to be a religion but MAN made it into a religion. I believe true Christianity means having a RELATIONSHIP with Jesus Christ and committing your life to Him. BUT, if I DID believe Christianity was meant to be an INSTITUTION, then I’d have to conclude my mother was wrong. In fact, the Orthodox Church WAS the first INSTITUTIONAL church and the Roman Catholics (“the western church”) broke away from it. The east kept their headquarters at Constantinople (Istanbul) in Turkey and the west at Rome. (My Armenian Orthodox friends will remind me that THEY are Eastern Orthodox but are NOT under the Constantinople headquarters, but I’m trying to keep this simple!)
Roman Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox churches became largely CULTURAL. You were essentially BORN into them, baptized as a baby, and spent your whole life in the CULTURE of the church and the society. I don’t believe God ever intended for it to be that way. However, it’s far too simplistic to say things like, “All the Catholics are going to Hell”; or “all the Catholics have a false religion”. In fact, throughout the centuries God always had a remnant of TRUE Believers in these churches who put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation and loved God and their fellow man. During the 1400s and 1500s, the Protestant Reformation broke out in Europe. Catholics typically teach that Protestantism came about because King Henry VIII wanted to get divorced and remarried and the Pope said “no”, so he started his own Protestant church. That IS how the Anglican church got started, but it ignores what was happening theologically throughout Europe. Martin Luther, John Knox, John Calvin and others risked their lives and reputations challenging the institutional Roman Catholic church and urging people to read the Bible and get back to the simple message of the Gospel and basic Christianity.
Later, Protestant groups sprang up that (sadly) most other Protestants considered weird including Anabaptists, who later became called just Baptists. Did you know that the Mennonites and Amish are sects of Baptists? Baptists stressed “believers’ baptism by total immersion in water” and rejected infant baptism. Today, many Protestants including my own group, the Assemblies of God, embrace Baptist teaching about water baptism, but centuries ago, Baptists could be burned at the stake! My friend, the Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell, can tell you there are over 40 different kinds of Baptists, NOT counting “independent Baptist churches”. The American Baptists and Southern Baptists are two of the largest Baptist bodies in the U.S.A. The Pilgrims and Puritans who came to New England in the 1600s felt the Anglican Church was far too “Roman” and formal and longed for a simpler, more Biblical faith. They eventually evolved into the New England Congregational churches.
In the early 1800s, some Congregational churches began to embrace radically different beliefs and philosophies from what they’d traditionally followed. They rejected the Christian doctrine of “The Trinity” and adopted kind of what I’d call an “I’m OK, you’re OK” kind of religion: Unitarianism. Here in Framingham, MA, “First Parish Church” a Congregational Church embraced Unitarianism, and a new Congregational Church “Plymouth Church” was formed. A similar thing happened in my own home town of Canton, MA.
The Methodists came out of the Anglican and Episcopal Churches. John and Charles Wesley felt the Anglican Church was just too formal and longed for an emphasis on personal salvation through Jesus Christ, rigorous Bible study, and holy living. They were famous for their “Methods”. The “Methodists” were originally a society within the Anglican and Episcopal Churches but eventually broke away to become a separate denomination.
The Pentecostal movement, of which the Assemblies of God is a part, took place in the first couple of decades of the twentieth century. Most Pentecostals were former Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians. They had been kicked out of their churches due to their belief in speaking in tongues, healings, and miracles. (More mainstream Protestants taught that these things were “not for today”. Ironically, Roman Catholics taught that these things WERE for today!) The Assemblies of God was formed in 1914 in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Today, it’s headquartered in Springfield, Missouri.
The charismatic movement “hit” the mainstream churches of America in the late 1960s and early 1970s. From the charismatic movement and the youth culture of that period came churches such as Vineyard Christian Fellowship which are doctrinally similar to the Assemblies of God but much “cooler”...where the pastor may well wear jeans and a tee shirt and the congregation will seem much more like a group on the beach in southern California than an “evangelical church group”. I know that one problem the Vineyard is having is a problem almost all churches are having...they attract very few folks under 40. The cool young people of the Vineyard are now mostly in their 50s.
Yes, MAN keeps creating institutions and denominations and God longs to have a PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP with men and women! Most of you know I was raised Roman Catholic but had a “born again” experience as a teenager. As a kid, I had religion up to my ears, but now I have Christ in my heart.
Did this piece help you or did it totally confuse you? Questions?
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