Thursday, January 29, 2015

Early Church: Freedom or Ritual and Morality?

Today we continue our reflections on The Subversion of Christianity by Jacques Ellul (trans. Geoffrey Bromiley; Eerdmans, 1986).

The world worships the six false gods of Olympianity: the gods of politics, war, technology, sex, money, and consumption. They are the conventional gods of power and base their control over us—and ours over others—on falsehood, indifference, and death.
In contrast, Jesus is the one true god of freedom, truth, freedom, and vitality. He frees us from the six Olympian gods to share his light, love, and life with others.
Beginning in the 200s, and fully by the 300s, the Church suffered permanently from subversion through success. It became quantitatively Olympian and lost its qualitatively Christian character.
The vast majority of the large number of people joining the Church remained deeply Olympian. This affected their understanding and practice of freedom. Instead of being free from the gods and for Jesus and others, they lived as if they were free from Jesus and for the gods and themselves.
Christians and churches expressed this autonomy, this being a law unto themselves, through an “explosion of stupid, erotic, and frenzied inventions…between the third and the tenth centuries. The worst came under cover of the Holy Spirit” (37n9). The priests, lower managers in the Church, suffered from this same deep Olympian worldview.
Church leaders chose to combat this general foolishness with morality and ritual. Rather than being faithful witnesses to Jesus themselves, they chose these Olympian ways as “the great means of defense against the perversion of all order that resulted from the new entry of the masses into the church with no authenticity of faith” (38). Ritual especially replaced the genuine outpouring of the Holy Spirit for preaching, teaching, and worship with a fixed liturgy at which lower managers simply officiated.
Although morality and ritual subverted the gospel and were “the opposite of this revelation, the subversion…appeared to be reasonable, reassuring, and acceptable by current [Olympian] moral standards. It was agreed upon. But it also put an end to everything scandalous, dangerous, revolutionary, and explosive in the truth of Jesus Christ and the liberty of the Spirit” (38).

Copyright © 2015 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.