Preserving the Church
We have covered about half of the life of the church. In our various discussions, the question has been raised concerning the definition of the church relative to some of the historical discussion and events. The issue in question relates to what could be termed a distinction between the church and the "Church." In other words, there is the "professing church" and there is the body of Christ. When Charlemagne killed 4500 protestors at Christmas time, should we view him as being a Christian and is this event part of the history of the Church? While I have attempted to explain this before, I want to take a moment to lay it out in more detail.
First, the true Church is the Body of Christ. We discussed this in lesson one. It is comprised of all believers from Pentecost to the Rapture, so there will be future believers added to this group. It is only composed of believers. Members of the professing church, that is, people who attend church or have church membership but who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus will not be taken home in the Rapture and are not part of the Body of Christ.
Second, we are use to viewing terms and events from a twenty-first century perspective. The history of the Church over the past couple of hundred years makes it reasonably clear who are generally saved and who are not, thus, making it somewhat clear what the current history of the Church looks like. However, we need to revise our perspective to better understand the history of the church/Church until, at least, 1200 and, perhaps, as late as 1517.
I made a poor effort at explaining that the Church was part of the professing church and, so, the history of the professing church is the history of the Church. One can look at the Middle Ages and wonder how the Church survived. Constantine probably was unsaved. Augustine had both good and bad theology. Most of the leaders of Rome and Constantinople act unsaved. Charlemagne was almost certain unsaved. Yet, these were the leaders of the church. And, in God's Providence, the Church survived and, at times, thrived.
What we, as humans of the twenty-first century, want are testimonies and stories of how the true Church survived amongst these pagan leaders. History does not provide this information. Part of the difficulty is that there were no, repeat NO, denominations or separate groups until the true split of East and West after 1000. Regardless of their differences, the Church of the first 1,000 years maintained a unity. Whether good or bad, they all belonged to the church. Leaders from the East would defend the Church against heretics in the West. Leaders from Africa would travel to both Rome and Constantinople to defend the Faith. There were no separate fundamental groups and liberal groups. There was only one group, albeit, a group with bad leaders, at least in some places.
The Old Testament story of Elijah and Ahab is a partial picture of this time in church history (1 Kings 19). Ahab was king of Israel. This means that he represent 5/6s of the Jewish nation. He was as bad as they come; yet, he was the leader. Elijah complains to God about being the only true believer left (1 Kings 19:14). God answers Elijah by saying there were 7,000 believers who had not bowed to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). Many of these belonged to the Israelites that Ahab ruled, for people from every tribe both went into and returned from captivity. People of every tribe still exist and will be part of God's future salvation plans for Israel as shown in the book of Revelation.
In the midst of this story, Elijah encounters Obadiah, one of the key personnel in Ahab's government (1 Kings 18). Obadiah was one of those believers. He, in turn, had protected another 100 prophets (1 Kings 18:13). This is the picture of the church, at various times, during the first 1,000 years of history.
The leaders (like Charlemagne) were like Ahab. But not all of the priests or preachers were bad and evil. The basic theology of the church, as it developed during this period, is the same theology you follow today. Starting around 600-800 and continuing forward, parts of this theology will start to change, but the core was the same as you follow today. So these local priests taught and produced true believers. The Church was maintained.
But, there are no stories of these true believers breaking off into their own groups. They did not go "underground." They simply followed the teachings of Scripture and ignored most of the actions of the leaders. And, while we understand the political declaration that all citizens are Christians did not add to the Church, it did provide the means for the Gospel to be preached to the people and the Church grew and added members. These members were not interested in the political side of life; they only were concerned with spiritual matters. So, God maintained His Church, even while many of the leaders were evil.
So, from our perspective, the history of the church is the history of the Church. It explains how the Church was preserved in history, how it spread the Gospel, and how it "evolved" into the Church of today. There are not two or three separate histories. There is no single group of fundamental churches that preserved during this period. At times all of the local churches went through stages as found in Revelation. At any point in time, they all resembled CRBC.
We speak of CRBC as the church. Yet, on any given Sunday, we have both saved and unsaved sitting in Sunday School and the Sanctuary. Still, this is the "church." Such is the picture of the Church of the first 1,000 years. It was a mixed multitude of saved and unsaved. Many of the leaders who made the history were a mixed multitude themselves. We need to be careful not to read our knowledge of the modern church back into history. The pattern of the first 1,500 years of the church/Church is a completely different picture from what we see today.
Charlemagne is a true picture of the history of the Church, for as its leader, he helped to spread the Gospel, expand the borders and outreach of the Church and set the stage of the Church for events yet to come. All of this is true even if Charlemagne was unsaved. He is not truly a part of the Body of Christ, but his is a major part of the history of the Body of Christ.
Hard to believe, isn't it.