Part 4 The Separate Church
The Church and the congregation of the people continued in free association, working out their own salvation with fear and trembling. They imposed, by their presence, a powerful force of freedom and liberty for almost a thousand years. By their brotherhood, they were able to keep kings retreating to their castles so that freeman could walk down God’s paths, living at liberty in spirit and in truth.
Those captured by pirates and robbers remain free.1
Many believe that America was once a free country and has lost much of those freedoms. This land is as free as it ever was. When my ancestors came here in the 1600’s, it was a free land. There were impenetrable forests, bears, lions, and wild uncivilized aborigines. There were dangers, perils, and hardships at every turn, but freedom is found, like the kingdom of God, first, in your heart and your minds. Freedom is not comfort nor convenience. Man is bound by his words, appetite, or fear, by his allegiance, given or bought, by his own covetousness and his lack of faith, not by the circumstances in the world around him.
Things captured by pirates and robbers do not change ownership. 2
The solitary retreat and fasting, like Christ in the wilderness, plays an important part in the development of the soul. Even the Levites, who had their homes amongst the people for service, had their suburbs and lands in common for their retreat.
Monasticism played an important role in the development of the Church, but monasticism was not really defined generally as we know it until the late middle ages. Until then, there were a variety of practices and traditions. In most studies of broad and diverse subjects, it is often convenient to the teacher to group peoples and customs into categories and classes, sometimes at the expense of the truth.
Yes, there were eremitic monks who were hermetic individuals who lived solitary lives of prayer and study as holy men, rejecting all the pleasures of the world in abject poverty. But they were not the rule. They were remembered because of the dedicated nature of their life and, as the Essenes, because their communal buildings survived the test of time. The truth of their purpose and practice may have been lost in the partisan reporting of it.
There seems to be enough pain in a life of service that one needs not seek out more pain and discomfort for suffering’s sake alone. Although, solitude for periods of time may be beneficial, I cannot imagine that God put us here on earth simply to reject and deny every aspect of our existence and life just because it might afford some pleasure or comfort. And can we really live as servants of mankind, feeding His sheep, if we never come in contact with any of them? These centers of monastic life were places of training and study, not hermitage of isolation and deprivation.
There were other more communal monks that were of several types, such as the Basil and Benedictine. These forms of Monastic life styles eventually formed what we see as monasticism in Europe, but, again, that was in the Middle Ages. To look at the Middle Ages and assume that the Church in that time period was even similar to the early Church will lead to a super-erroneous picture of what Christ intended the Church to be.
The History of the Church was, by no means, presenting one doctrine of religious zealots spanning the globe. The idea of Petrine Succession from Peter as the head of the Church was a minority concept of respect. There were no geographical jurisdictions for Bishops, for the kingdom is not geographical. The ministers of the kingdom were more like the public servants of the mobile nation of Israel than medieval or modern Churchanity.
The true Church operated relatively well in the first thousand years after the destruction of Jerusalem. It had little to do with central authority, until it ran afoul of persecution coming from disparate sects, which enjoyed the generous graces of despots. The faithful Church’s functions and achievements in ministering to the Kingdom of Heaven on earth do not fit well into modern history books, which were fostered, written, and censored by the promoters of central Benefactors who exercise authority, one over the other. The true precepts of Christianity were so successful that no king rose to prominent power over the Kingdom of Heaven on earth for almost a thousand years, beating the previous record of four hundred years from Moses to Saul.
There are many stories that tell us of the princes of the Kingdom, as in the account of Saxons marching up a European river toward the castle of a would-be king who had done, at least, some sort of injustice to men. His Ambassador returned after, what that kingly usurper believed to be, lengthy negotiations, only to report that he could find no one to bargain with, for “They say they are all kings.”
The Church had brought to these lost sheep the good news of the Kingdom, where there was no king and every man did according to his God-given conscience. It was not a kingdom that was new, but was the ancient kingdom of Israel, where God prevails. It did not have the rituals and robes of the Pharisees. It was not like the nations where men crowned men to guarantee the safety of each other at the expense of liberty. There was liberty among the sons of God, as long as they accepted the responsibility of protecting their neighbors rights as if they were their own.
Men sought the kingdom. Some were pure and pious and some mixed their search with anger, impatience, and hostilities. Yet, their search and contemplation upon the message of Christ altered the course of nations and history. But when men turned from God’s law, they soon felt the whips of corrupted rulers and suffered under the bondage of despots.
“If we will not be governed by God, then we will be ruled by tyrants.” William Penn.
Jesus was the rightful heir of that promised Kingdom and the people flocked to His message of liberty, to His Free Dominion under one God, God the Father in Heaven.
But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth [therein], he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. James 1:25
The people of Europe and their rugged individualism was a fertile ground for such blessed messages brought by the early refugees from the persecution of the civil powers of Rome. The decaying cities of the Roman Empire often displayed their own brand of corruption. God’s kingdom is practical and wise. It does not guarantee perfection, but shows us the imperfection of our own hearts and minds. It demands spiritual and moral growth, or demonstrates the evidence of its absence. The Kingdom must be written on our hearts first.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33
Others systems, which run contrary to God’s plan and Jesus’ gospel, lead to deception, though they can often conjure up measures of success and order for a period of time. Their affluence is often a lie built on debt and established by spending the future of the next generation for the comfort, indulgence, and apathy of the present. In almost all cases, they feed avarice and sloth with repose and slumber. The strong are made weak and the weak are debilitated. Faith, hope, and charity atrophy as covetousness and avidity amplify.
There were many who said that they were the Church. There were many who said that they were seeking the kingdom of God. God is judge. Right knowledge and good fruits help us see the truth of God’s kingdom and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which tells us that His Kingdom is at hand. Though understanding the Kingdom is, in part, the product of preaching the truth of the Kingdom in word and deed, it is really the divine revelation of God in our own hearts and minds that grants us the faith and grace to know and do the will of our Father.
But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Luke 12:31
The precepts of God’s kingdom have remained the same because God has remained the same. What people see as new is often just a return to the precepts and principles long forgotten or twisted out of any recognizable form. Seeking the kingdom always requires a measure of repentance. It is humility that allows us to turn from what we have been taught as true to what, in the depths, of our being we know is true.
Explanations of history, examination of words and phrases, may bear witness to the Kingdom of God, but flesh and blood cannot reveal it. One may recognize the kingdom as they see the truth of what has already been revealed to them in their hearts by God’s grace. The pattern of the kingdom is as redundant in history as fingers and toes.
Where, from two to ten families, who love the ways of God, can come together in congregation, loving one another as they love God and themselves, you have the beginnings of the Kingdom. If they practice their faith, love and charity will bind them and seal them from harm. Like the planks of Noah’s Ark, sealed inside and out, they will weather the storms of the millennium and ride the waves of tribulation.
The time to begin your journey toward the Kingdom begins by the turning of your heart toward God and your hands and feet toward His service. By serving those along the way in faith, hope, and charity, according to His will, we shall find our way into His everlasting Kingdom within our reach.
“Church. In its most general sense, the religious society founded and established by Jesus Christ, to receive, preserve, and propagate his doctrines and ordinances.”
“A body or community of Christians, united under one form of government by the profession of one faith, and the observance of the same rituals and ceremonies.”3
1A pirates et latronibus capti libera permanent.Dig.49. 15. 19. 2.
2A piratis et latronibus capta dominium non mutant.1 Kent, Comm. 108, 184; 2 Wooddesen, Lect. 258,259.
3Black’s Law Dictionary 3rd ed. Page 325. also 4th, 5th 6th Ed.