7 Things Yo’ Momma Never
Told You About Church History
(Written Transcript Part 3)
There’s kind of a Catholic view of scripture, which is we have this Bible, but you don’t just pick it up and interpret it in a vacuum. Just like there are genealogies of scriptural documents that radiate outward from the center, there is also a tradition of interpretation that also radiates outward from the center.
Just like you can go back here as early as you can go and find out, “All right, the Septuagint says this, but this other version or other scroll says this, or the Dead Sea scrolls and all that” – just like you do that, you also do that with any question of doctrine or belief about anything.
Well, you know, did Jesus really rise from the dead? What about communion?” and all these different kinds of things, there’s a tradition. Before you go off making up your own thing, you should go find out.
G.K. Chesterton said, “Conservatism is simply giving your dead grandparents a chance to vote too.” It’s not denying people a vote just because they’re dead. That’s pretty good, isn’t it?
What if we give Augustine a vote? What if we give Aquinas a vote? What if we give Luther a vote? What if we give Jonathan Edwards a vote? What if we give Pope so-and-so a vote?
As I began to explore the Catholic church, here’s what I found. What I found was, as far as the average man on the street is concerned, they have a serious quality control problem. You go to the typical Catholic church on a typical day and it’s a fairly mediocre experience. We know the scandals and all that kind of stuff. Most people are like way out at the fringe.
But as you go closer in, you will find that there is extraordinary scholarship, there is extraordinary concern for what the Bible says, for what everything says. They are very meticulous. They have kept records very carefully and have immensely talented thinkers.
You do yourself a disservice if you know nothing about them. If you know nothing about Augustine, if you know nothing about Anselm or Aquinas or some of these guys, you’ve missed out.
Audience: They probably have had the most benevolent organizations in this country serving thousands and thousands of children in foster care, hospitals, humanitarians, and they never base it just for Catholics. Protestants also do too, but Catholics have had huge – like St. Francis of Assisi – and they’re very, very humanitarian movements.
Audience: What about pre-Catholic Churches? What about the early New Testament church and Judaism?
Perry: I don’t totally know where you’re going with that, but let me talk about that.
Audience: What was the question?
Perry: What about the early church and Judaism?
Audience: Like, Melito of Sardis which is the earliest [inaudible]writing known. He wrote it on the passover.
Perry: What’s the date of that?
Audience: It’s 120? 70? It’s real early.[inaudible]
Perry: I don’t know that author, but here’s what I can tell you. The Catholic church is the original mother ship. I’m going to give you the best that I know. I might be wrong, but I’m going to give it as best I know.
In church history, we have 0 AD and 2,000. In 1052 you have a split between the orthodox, which was five churches, and the Catholics, which was two churches. In 1517 you have the Protestant Reformation and then the Protestants go outwards from there.
You might be saying that there was some other thing way back when. I don’t know about it. Maybe you’re right, maybe you’re wrong. What I can tell you is you can pick up a book like this, and the Catholics can trace back all the way to Polycarp, who was John’s disciple, who Catholic tradition says when Jesus said, “Let the children come to me,” and he put a child on his lap, that the child was Polycarp.
Audience: [inaudible question]
Perry: That might be, and Roman Catholic – yeah, sure. You’re beyond my knowledge if you want to parse somebody at 150 AD and whether they were a Roman Catholic or not. My understanding is there were seven churches, and Rome was one of them, and there’s debate. I don’t know. If it was somebody else’s church history class they could probably answer that a whole lot better.
Audience: [inaudible question]
Perry: That’s a whole debate about the Pope and all that. I don’t really want to get into that, because I’m not in a position to really defend anything. You can trace the Catholic church all the way back to 100 AD with Ignatius, for whatever that’s worth.
Audience: What I hear you saying is that you’re looking at the scholars going all the way back to the days when you would Catholic church as a distinct movement. The real issue that the contemporary Catholic church has roots going all the way back to the original church, which was the universal church, but its roots are right back there to the very beginning. It’s not an issue of Catholicism that you’re talking about. You’re not arguing about any of that. You’re saying that the stewardship of scholarship goes all the way back to the very beginning, whether they were called Catholics or not, because they weren’t called Catholics back then. But that’s not what you’re saying.
Perry: Right. I’m really not wanting to get into the political aspect of it. It’s exactly what you said. It’s the scholarship. They have preserved the history and they’ve done a very good job of it.
Audience: To take the controversy out of it, I think you’d go [inaudible]…..
Perry: Yeah, I think you could definitely say there are a lot of little spurious belief systems that grew up….
Audience: [inaudible question]
Perry: That may be, and I would suggest to you that if you have any confidence in humans to sort things out as history moves along, then there’s reason to be confident that the version of Christianity that we practice today is what Jesus taught.
The thing is, you pick up this book and you read it. Read the stuff that was written in 90 AD. Read the stuff that was written in 120. Read the stuff in 150, 170, 180, 200 – it’s not that different. It’s really not different at all.
You want to get into an argument about Mary and Popes and all that, you can do that. But the first few hundred pages of this book, there’s not a bunch of stuff about that. It’s like how to live the Christian life. These letters to these different churches, they read a lot like Paul’s letters. It’s like be patient, have forbearance, be honest with people, worship Jesus, meet with the brethren every Sunday.
There’s this modern evangelical idea that that Bible you hold in your hands has to be perfect, perfect, perfect, and that you have to know what it says to 12 decimal places of precision. I don’t think the early church really looked at it that way. That’s a very modernistic way of looking at the Bible.
The Catholic church was more comfortable with ambiguity, and Martin Luther was less comfortable with ambiguity, so he got rid of it. But I think he made a mistake in getting rid of it, because there’s some really good stuff there.
I want to point to one of the most important things. Wisdom of Solomon 11:20. By the way, Wisdom of Solomon is a great book to read. It’s really good. If you like Proverbs, Wisdom of Solomon is excellent.
Thou hast ordered all things in weight and number and measure.”
Now I submit to you that is the first scientific statement of the ancient world. You know an earlier one?
Audience: The Persians, the Islamic people had all the mathematics and all this stuff and led the people out of the Dark Ages. There’s a whole different set of cultures that are not parallel with the normal one.
Perry: This is 1000 BC. This is Jewish. This is not Rome.
Audience: [inaudible question]
Perry: The Jews had this long before there was a church. This was 3,000 years ago. I want you to kind of meditate on this. “Thou hast ordered all things in weight and number and measure.” You can weigh, count, and measure everything. If you’re trying to explain why it rained this morning, this is a big hint.
Now here’s a question for you. Science got started in Persia, and then it kind of sputtered out.
Audience: Almost all of the things the west call Persian are actually Islamic inventions.
Perry: Well, science got started in Islam.
Audience: [inaudible]…go back to Babylon and pre-Babylonia: Mesopotamian History.
Perry: Just follow me where I’m trying to with this. If you trace those developments, they go along – let’s say it was 1000 BC, and it goes along and then some civilization crumbles and all you’ve got is their scrolls, and the scientific inquiry stops.
Audience: You’re talking about Western Culture. Western culture had a science base string going on during the dark ages. They had a very limited science going in the Western Culture during that time. Basically the only unrestricted was East.
Perry: But let’s say this is the east. Stuff would get started and it would go along and then it would stop. That’s what I’m saying. Science and Chinese medicine didn’t get started and then go and go and go, and then here we are with all the science that we got from China.
Audience: Yes we do. Its just now making its way back into western culture.
Perry: But they lost it.
Audience: No they didn’t. We ignored it.
Perry: They ignored it! They didn’t have cars. They didn’t have computers.
Audience: They did have computers. [inaudible]
Perry: Where are they?
Audience: Neglected by western culture.
Perry: I’ve been to the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan and I didn’t see any computers in there.
Audience: I’ll concede on that one.
Perry:Okay, that’s fine, but where did we get the science we have? Bits and pieces came from the Chinese. Bits and pieces came from the Egyptians. Bits and pieces came from the Romans. Bits and pieces came from the Greeks. There might be bits and pieces from the Mayans.
But when did science actually get going and not stop? In western Europe. Why? Because they had a theology for believing that there was a mega-explanation for how the universe operated, and it wasn’t a little bit of mysticism and a little bit of science, a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
The Greeks believed that if there was a thunderstorm it’s because Zeus was having a snit with Apollo. Their theology couldn’t support a scientific worldview. Jewish theology supported a scientific worldview. It said God made a world that obeys fixed discoverable laws.
So it gets started in China and then it kind of levels out or gets lost or never really gets accepted. It gets started in Egypt and they do amazing things, but then it gets lost.
Audience: So many people were trying to conquer each other. When one would conquer the other, then their whole history and libraries and everything burned or got destroyed.
Perry: Right, and the Jews are the oldest civilization that survived, and the Christians are the second oldest civilization that survived. All the other civilizations crumbled and fell. Rome – gone. Greece – gone. The ancient Chinese dynasties – gone. The Egyptian dynasties – gone.
Perry: Well, the Muslims did okay. They didn’t do great. No insult to anybody, but Islam is not characterized by high standards of living. I don’t want to get into Islam. That’s like a whole other thing.
Now let’s switch gears a little bit. Alexis de Tocqueville was a French writer. Back in the 1820’s or 1830’s, the French aristocracy was watching the U.S. The U.S. is 50 years old and they are nervous. They’re like, “What is going on over there? We like our castles and we like our aristocracy. We’re not sure about this democracy thing.”
So they got the brightest guy they had, Alexis de Tocqueville, and they sent him to America and he wrote a book called, Democracy in America. If you go take like a freshman American history class, you’ll probably be given the book, Democracy in America by de Tocqueville, and it’s brilliant. It’s well worth reading, very interesting, and he describes the United States.
He describes it very accurately, and here’s what he says:
Nothing struck me with more force than the general equality of condition among the people…A great democratic revolution is going on amongst us…It is the most uniform, the most ancient, and the most permanent tendency which is to be found in history.”
In other words, the idea of equality, and you and me being equal, and you and me being equal, and you and me being equal, is a juggernaut. It’s an unstoppable force.
He says from 1100 AD to 1835: “We shall scarcely find a single great event which has not promoted equality.” And then he goes through the list –
- The Crusades and English wars decimated the nobles and divided their possessions.
- The invention of the gun made the peasant and the king equal on the battlefield.
- The printing press opened the same resources to the minds of all the classes.
- The post office brought knowledge alike to the door of the cottage and the gate of the palace.
- Protestantism proclaimed that all men are alike able to find the road to heaven.
- The discovery of America opened a thousand new paths to fortune and led obscure adventurers to wealth and power.
Is the idea of democracy, or more generally the idea of equality, an unstoppable force? He says –
- Everywhere we look, the same revolution is going on throughout the Christian world. Every event has turned to the advantage of democracy.”
- Whether people consciously fought for its cause, or even if they opposed it, all have been blind instruments in the hands of God.”
- The gradual development of the principle of equality is therefore a Providential fact…it is not necessary that God himself should speak in order that we may discover the unquestionable signs of His will.”
I think he even observed that equality was a manifest destiny in the world, that it was going to happen whether you liked it or not. It was going to roll over everything in its path.
Since de Tocqueville in 1935:
- Democracy has spread to almost all the Western world.
- The invention of the steam engine and the train created a nationwide marketplace for all goods.
- Henry Ford’s ambition was to make automobiles available to everyone.
Audience: I’ve got just one little problem to pick. Democracy was invented in England in about 1000 AD or something and spread this way.
Perry:That’s totally fine. You know Rodney Starks says that Italy had democracy going on in 1000 AD too, so it’s not a new idea. De Tocqueville is not saying that it started in the U.S. It’s the power of it.
Now here’s what’s interesting.
- Mass communications brings the world to every home.
Just yesterday Laura was reading me this article about these poor people in India starting to get TV, and as soon as they start watching TV they’re watching shows in one language with sub-titles in their language, and literacy is going up. Women are not accepting from abuse from men because of the influence of what’s coming through the TV.
- The internet gives equal opportunity for all who own a computer to express their views.
- “Fast food” is for everyone – the CEO stands in line with the homeless person at McDonalds.
I realize there’s problems there
- All technological developments are natural consequences of equality and individualism.
There is no more invariable rule in the history of society: the further electoral rights are extended, the greater is the need of extending them; for after each concession the strength of the democracy increases, and its demands increase with its strength.
The Declaration of Independence
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.”
What de Tocqueville does in his book is he goes, “Where did this idea of equality come from?” and he goes back and lands on Galatians 3:28.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
De Tocqueville says before Paul, nobody ever made a statement like that. Where did Paul get the idea?
Audience: [inaudible question]
Perry: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” but Jesus also said to the woman, “Why would I give to the dogs….” because she’s a Gentile, right? The wall between Jew and Greek had not been broken yet, because the cross hadn’t happened yet. But Paul says because of the cross, all are equal.
Now you can go earlier in China and find a guy named Mo Ju saying, “Hey, you know, we’re all equal. We’re all under God, and we’re all so small compared to God that our differences between each other are trivial,” and he suggests an idea of equality, but it’s just like the science stuff. It doesn’t become a juggernaut and take off in this unstoppable force.
But when Paul wrote this, and he makes a similar statement in Colossians, this idea began to seep its way into the soil of humanity and grow and become an unstoppable force, like you can’t stop it.
Audience: Are you saying Christianity is the author of democracy?
Perry: Yes, that’s what I’m saying.
Audience: Sorry. I totally disagree! You stood up there and said, “Oh those Muslims, we were against the Catholics.”
Perry: What did I say?
Audience:Just in general you have the feeling of – that’s one of the reasons I left the Christian church. I got so tired of the baptized and the holy ones and the believers in Jesus, that this little Hindu mother over here isn’t as loving and kind as the Christian mother over here.
Perry: I didn’t say that.
Audience: I just don’t think you need Jesus Christ and I think democracy is as old as when Judaism came, which probably started in India when they looked out at the stars and believed that the heavens were for everybody, that the moon and the sun shone on the world, on all the peoples of the world. When the pastoral people came over India and they started the caste system, the Jews left because they’d organized ….
Perry: The English exploited the caste system. They did not start it.
Audience: No, I’m talking way before England. I think that original Judaism, and the Kabbalah and the Jewish religion, started in India. Along came the lighter-skinned people from pastoral countries and bounced down through Tibet, came down through India and whatever, and they started the caste system.
They decided that God loved lighter people better than darker people. God loved the richer people better than the poorer people. Read the Old Testament, just the very first several chapters. It came from the notion of examining the heavens and seeing that we were this little place in this vastness that God shone over everyone. I think democracy came from a lot of sources. It’s all just bundled up under Jesus? No.
Perry: If you want to tell me that equality started in India, show me an ancient Indian document that makes a statement that bold. You can email me later or we can talk about it later, but I challenge you to find a statement from the Indians….
Audience: But what about the people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ?
Perry: They have a caste system, don’t they?
Audience: Oh, I think you’re the one with the caste system.
Audience: [inaudible question]
Perry: Let me be careful about what I’m trying to say. I’m not trying to anoint democracy itself with some holy water. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is democracy is built on an idea of equality, and equality came from Galatians.
Audience: So this celebration of democracy came from that?
Perry: Right, so don’t over-interpret what I’m saying. I’m not saying that a two-party system…I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is this idea of equality in various ways that it’s been manifested has borne enormous fruit. It’s created technology. It’s made people equal. It’s given people human rights. It’s incredibly powerful, and nobody said it like that before Paul.
Audience:Look at the human rights they gave to the American Indians. Kill everybody.
Perry: And how do you know that was wrong? How do you know that was wrong?
Audience:Because they’re fellow human beings!
Perry: Yes, because would Jesus have killed the Indians?
Audience:I don’t know.
Audience: You want to talk about equality, God took it from man and woman from the beginning so that right there….
Perry: Individualism is a word coined by de Tocqueville to describe Americans. He saw individualism and equality as being these two forces that pull back and forth. There’s like a force of gravity that makes us all equal, but everybody has this desire to express greatness, and as you express your greatness, inevitably it benefits all the people around you.
Here’s a question that makes people squirm. Can you name five Protestant countries that are characterized by poverty, illiteracy, and human rights abuses? Can you name five?
Audience: Australia. [laughing]
Perry: Can you name five Hindu countries, Muslim countries, atheist countries, Buddhist countries – five countries of any of those other religions that are not characterized by poverty, illiteracy, and human rights abuses?
Audience: >Japan. Jordan. [inaudible]….
Perry: >No disagreement there, and how do we know that oppression was wrong? By what moral standard?
Audience: What about from Plato or basically any greek philosopher?
Perry: How do we know people have human rights? Where do human rights ultimately come from? They come from God. Human rights come from God.
We can go to the Ten Commandments. We can go long before Paul, but I’m just saying in the laboratory of reality in 2010, when you look at the cumulative history of the world, where has the most benefit and productivity come from?
My argument is it’s come from Jesus much more than it’s come from Aristotle or Plato or Buddha or any of those people. I’m not saying those other guys are bad people. I’m just saying. I say, “Name five Protestant countries that have all these humongous problems,” and nobody can think of five – characterized by poverty, illiteracy, and human rights abuses.
Audience: [lots of comments]
Perry: Have you ever been to Brazil? Have you ever been to Africa? Have you ever been to China?
Audience:Have you ever been to east St. Louis?
Perry: Yes. I’m not saying we don’t have any, but you know even in east St. Louis a single mom’s getting fed.
I hope I’m challenging you to think. It’s okay if this makes you mad, that’s fine.
Audience: I think you have a very western-centric view of history that’s a little dated, that’s all.
Perry: Well, that’s fine. Go to some other countries. I’ve been all over the world. I want you to go too, and you see what’s there. You go to China. You go to the Phillipines. You go to Mozambique. You go to South Africa. You go to Brazil. Go to eastern Europe. Go to western Europe. Go to Russia. How good are things there?
Audience: And they’re the product of orthodox Christianity.
Perry: Notice I said Protestant. I didn’t say Catholic. Now laboratory of reality, here’s what I see. I see Protestantism has done very well. Catholicism is generally better off than most of those other cultures, but they’ve got problems, especially Central America and South America. There’s a lot of corruption and a lot of problems. Southern Europe is characterized by a lot of problems.
Now orthodox – there’s cool stuff in orthodox. I’ve got a very good friend who converted from evangelical to orthodox about ten years ago. We sat up three nights in a row and talked all night, absolutely fascinating, but you know the orthodox weren’t able to save Russia from the Communists. It’s comparatively weak.
Catholics put a high priority on unity, which is very valuable. Every time Protestants get in an argument they go start another church – First Baptist, Second Baptist, Third Baptist, this Baptist – just as soon as someone gets miffed, off they go.
Catholics don’t do that, and there’s a lot to admire in that Catholic desire for unity, and I respect it. I also see in the laboratory of reality that you get up to the 1500s and Catholics were not cleaning house. They’re still having problems.
I’ve got my own particular biases. I’m a white male in the United States, yada yada yada, and I admit all those biases. You can believe me or not believe me, but I think competition has been better for the church than complacent brotherhood. Maybe there’s problems with it, but the fact that I could go start a church tomorrow and attract whoever I can attract, and I have to make it good –
Like here at this church, if they don’t make it good for three or four months and it’s really lousy, people are going to start finding something else to do. Viva la competition. That’s the world we live in.
Just one last thing. I talked about my brother-in-law, Allen, who got his Ph.D. in church history, and he had to write a Ph.D. thesis. Not only did he have to do that, but he went to Iowa State, where most of the professors were actually atheists. There’s this kind of weird thing that happens in academia, where somehow or another all the theology departments eventually get populated by atheists.
Anyway, he had to defend this thesis in front of people that really don’t like Christianity at all, is what he had to do, and that’s a good way of working them chops. His thesis was on the interpretation of the Reformation.
There are two interpretations of the Protestant Reformation. The secular interpretation is that Luther finally stuck his knife in the heart of the church, and he finally hit the main ventricle or whatever, and that was the beginning of the end of the church.
As soon as the church started to die, within 50 years we got the whole industrial revolution and the scientific revolution, and Newton came along and Copernicus and Galileo and Boyle and Maxwell and Einstein and steam engines and automobiles and everything.
That all that was the beginning of the end of the church, and that’s why all this was possible, which goes back to that whole dark ages argument. The printing press finally released everybody from the dark ages.
There’s another view, and the other view is it unleashed the church. It put the Bible in the hands of the individual. “Hey, here’s the book. Guess who’s responsible for knowing it? You! Guess who’s responsible for their relationship with God? You, not a priest, not a parish, not a bad quality control system. You.”
I embrace the latter view. I’m glad we had some arguments and debate here. I think if you guys didn’t argue with me you’d have to be sleepwalking. Nobody said this was going to be perfect or infallible, and you’re welcome to disagree, but your job is to think. Your job is to figure stuff out.
Rodney Stark, the guy who wrote The Victory of Reason, said something really interesting, and this is the last point. I said there was going to be disclaimer #2 and I’ll save it for the end. It’s kind of a point and kind of a disclaimer.
There’s a funny thing. Every church has a doctrinal statement, right? “We believe XYZ. You don’t believe that? You’re out. You believe this? Okay, you’re coming with us.”
You don’t find those in the Bible. Nowhere in the Bible do you find, “This is the checklist.” You have to crawl inside the story and read it, and then you have to deliberate and debate and work things out and have the late night college dorm room conversations and all that kind of stuff.
Rodney Stark says, “The Bible doesn’t say slavery is wrong. It says all men are equal. Slave or free, they’re equal.” Then people begin to think about that and they’re like, “Okay, so you’re my slave but you’re actually equal with me.” And eventually people go, “Well, if we’re equal, how come you’re a slave?”
So if there’s neither slave nor free, then why do we have slave and free?
Audience: [inaudible question]
Perry: Yes, slavery in the Old Testament is a totally different deal than Alabama in the 1840’s, believe me. That’s a whole conversation we don’t have time for. Slavery in the Bible was community service, that’s a good way to put it.
It’s like you introduce this idea, and then the seed grows, and you wrestle with it, and you wrestle with it, and you wrestle with it. Stark says, “Theology is ten times a bigger enterprise in Christianity than it is in any other religion,” like the amount of bandwidth that it takes in Christianity is much greater than the bandwidth it takes even in Judaism, not to mention Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam. It’s a much smaller slice of the pie in those other religions.
What Stark says is it’s the process of planting those seeds and working those questions and working those muscles that built the Western intellectual tradition. If the Bible was just a list of rules telling us what to do, we would have never learned to think.
That’s why Disclaimer #2 is that you’re not here to agree with me. I mean I’m going to try as hard as I can to get you to agree with me, because I’ve thought about this really hard, but I can make mistakes. I’m not the Pope.
Perry: Disclaimer #2 is it’s not about having the exact answer, it’s about the process of working it out. It’s about thinking through it.
I had a professor come to me last year and she says, “You know, I’ve never really figured out what I think about the whole homosexual issue. I really feel like God is telling me, ‘I want you to figure this out now. I want you to wrestle through this. I want you to think it through,’” and she’s like, “Wow, this is hard work.”
Yeah, it’s hard work. It’s good work. This is why we have steam engines and computers and libraries and all that stuff, because people think, and it takes courage to think.
Every time you take whatever you believe and you go, “All right, I’m going to put this on the anvil and I’m going to hammer on it, and what’s going to be left?” it’s a humbling process and it’s a good thing.
I’m really glad that you guys came today. I appreciate you listening to this go on for three hours, and I hope we can do it some time again. Thanks.