Monday, September 2, 2013

The Unity of the Church

I'm in the thick of my first week's reading for my first semester of Christian Heritage.  I'm really digging these readings going back to just after the Book of Acts.  Getting a glimpse at our early church fathers and mothers, many of them on the road to martyrdom, is fascinating.  Just reading the scripture quotations alone in the writings of Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, and Cyprian is enough to bless me to be where I am today.

I'm currently reading Cyprian's The Unity of the Church, a treatise on what binds us together as the church.  Cyprian (c. 200 - 258) was the elected Bishop of Carthage for the last ten years or so of his life until his death as a martyr, during a time of much persecution of Christians.  While there's a lot to be said of his life, a driving force in his writing and ministry was keeping the unity in the church and encouraging followers to hold on during a time of trial to the love of God.  So much so, that he was apparently against granting mercy to those who would leave the church for fear of persecution and then ask to return when things got easier ... His ministry wasn't without controversy and he had a knack for strong words.

Here's a bit from Unity, regarding the Holy Spirit, the beauty of doves, and what to do with wolves in the church:
 Therefore also the Holy Spirit came as a dove, a simple and joyous creature, not bitter with gall, not cruel in its bite, not violent with the rending of its claws, loving human dwellings, knowing the association of one home; when they have young, bringing forth their young together; when they fly abroad, remaining in their flights by the side of one another, spending their life in mutual intercourse, acknowledging the concord of peace with the kiss of the beak, in all things fulfilling the law of unanimity. This is the simplicity that ought to be known in the Church, this is the charity that ought to be attained, that so the love of the brotherhood may imitate the doves, that their gentleness and meekness may be like the lambs and sheep. What does the fierceness of wolves do in the Christian breast? What the savageness of dogs, and the deadly venom of serpents, and the sanguinary cruelty of wild beasts? We are to be congratulated when such as these are separated from the Church, lest they should lay waste the doves and sheep of Christ with their cruel and envenomed contagion. Bitterness cannot consist and be associated with sweetness, darkness with light, rain with clearness, battle with peace, barrenness with fertility, drought with springs, storm with tranquility. Let none think that the good can depart from the Church. The wind does not carry away the wheat, nor does the hurricane uproot the tree that is based on a solid root. The light straws are tossed about by the tempest, the feeble trees are overthrown by the onset of the whirlwind. The Apostle John execrates and severely assails these, when he says, “They went forth from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, surely they would have continued with us."
It's just kind of interesting, our God is a God that will go after the lost sheep, but what to do with those that just leave?  What do with those that are just angry?  How would we be called to stand by one another if we lived in a country that persecuted Christians?   Hmmm ...