The Church and Politics: What We Haven’t Learned

As we explore how the history of the Church affects the practice of the Church today, we need to take a look at culture. No congregation is immune from cultural influence, and indeed it needs to be influenced to some degree in order to reach the lost. But at various times in the history of the Church, culture has ruled the day. I frequently tell people when politics and Church combine, the Church always suffers. This is the case with the examples contained in this article.

In 1054 AD an event historians refer to as “The Great Schism” occurred in Constantinople, forever changing the Church, and creating a wound that took until the 20th century to begin to heal. The “West” division of the church, based in Rome, began to be viewed as the seat of power in the Church. This political position, in many ways, led to the Roman Church passing edicts that affected the church as a whole. For the purposes of this writing we don’t need to dive too deeply into specifics, but many of these were received negatively by the East from a cultural standpoint.

In the book Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Mark Noll summarizes the cultural divide between the East and West.

“As early as the end of the first century, it was possible to perceive pointed differences between major representatives of what would one day be called West and East. Thus, historian Henry Bettenson thinks that the Epistle of Clement sent from Rome to Corinth about the year 96 displays ‘the emergence of the characteristic Roman Christianity. Here we find no ecstasies, no miraculous ‘gifts of the Spirit,’ no demonology, no preoccupation with an imminent ‘Second Coming.’ The Church has settled down in the world, and is going about its task ‘soberly, discreetly, and advisedly.” By the end of the second century, such ‘Roman’ characteristics were thoroughly matched by ‘Greek’ tendencies arising from the other end of the Mediterranean.”

Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Mark Noll

As you can clearly see, cultural differences influenced the beliefs and practice within the two branches of the Christian Church. At this meeting in 1054 representatives from both groups excommunicated the other which lead to the body of Christ, the Church, being divided. This was exacerbated by the Crusades which indiscriminately killed Muslims, Jews, and even other Christians because they looked different than the invading Europeans. European Christians were killing Middle Eastern Christians because they looked and sounded different.

Sadly this was not the only time in Church history that we see cultural differences affecting the unity of the Church. We’ll return to history next week, but I want to end with a modern look. What cultural issues are causing division in the church today? We are on the heels of one of the largest denominations wrestling with homosexuality in part because culture has become combined with the Church.

But let’s get personal. What cultural issue is in play in your congregation that is, or could cause division? Is it who someone votes for? Is it cultural stereotypes placed on people groups? And here’s the real question: How do you go about addressing the problem?

What do you think?

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