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April 5, 2013
Irene and Constantin on Seventh ecumenical council

Irene and Constantin on Seventh ecumenical council (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


On the church councils and their condemnation of false teachings

To much credence is usually given to the early councils in a sort of idealistic way. I don’t think it was as positive as some make it to be. The united church (and empire) they were aiming for, became dangerously despotic and was no improvement from the scattered, diversified Christianity of earlier times. Christianity had never been united before and could not be, even after all the effort they put on those Councils. The pretence to unite, and later to keep Christianity united, has been at the root of the worst which supposed Christianity could produce, with untold destruction and millions of dead to account for. Not very Christian at all!

I have come to believe that at these “Ecumenical Councils” Christianity worked itself into a sort of tower of Babel. Its rulers’ insistence on homogeneous beliefs and control put an end to freedom of thought and liberty, therefore God had to scattered them again. God repeatedly inspired new and provocative “heresies”, manifesting himself in all manners of new Christianities, proving that he is much more than what a single institution may claim to represent.

On dogmatism

Some of the dogmas established at various church councils were not, as some would have us believe, the fruit of a noble search for truth; more realistically they were the search for what would preserve religious and political institutions. The council of Nicaea, for example, was far from free of political influences. One must simply look at the history of that council, and the following ones, to see the political factors that played into the equation. In any case, even if politics weren’t there, there would have been no majority consensus, intellectual effort, or official recognition that could produce a divine dogma, as if God had spoken it.

It seems to be human nature to want to fix everything black on white and say “this is what God is like”. It is often done to ensure the survival or authority of an ecclesiastical institution, but invariably it becomes also the reason for solidification and eventual rejection of any new outpouring of the Spirit, new offshoot from the sap of Christianity.

On the Christianization of the Roman empire

The cessation of persecutions and Constantine’s promotion of Christianity was the beginning of the end. Constantine was not really a Christian, but he did change attitudes about Christianity and made it acceptable. He also assumed a guiding role in the church and did many things that initiated its institutionalization and politicization. The rest is history. What later became termed as false doctrine and heresy was often determined by what was best for the empire, therefore we must be careful about accepting those labels.

The right to persecute?

The Cathars, for example, were dualist and had many unorthodox beliefs originating from gnostic Christianity. The church’s war against them was under the pretext of protecting the true faith against heresies. The political forces who joined the crusade against them did it for personal gain, but under a supposedly Divine mandate. Such tactics and approaches to Christian diversity are contrary to the gospel. It is a problem of religious arrogance and what makes religion so unappealing to so many. It was the problem with the Jerusalem church against Paul’s Christians. It was the problem in many other church council after that. Those who suppose to have the true faith felt it their right to eliminate competition. The intentions might have been good but the way in which the true doctrine got established contradicted the core principle of Christianity and the sample of the Master. There is no worse pride than a religious one, which has killed many, from Abel to Jesus and onward.

Progressive revelation and prophetic tradition

The Church Fathers, the way in which they are understood by most churches, leave little room for us, except to lead us back to church, to eventually partake in their endless squabbles. We must move forward and not look back. Our different stance on so many things, like baptism, law of love, heaven and more, could never fit the parameters of standard church doctrines, which are still moored in the ancient dogmas. The only way we can make sense of ourselves is by the concept of a progressive revelation, or prophetic tradition; by the idea of a moving God who keeps revealing more of Himself, as humanity grows, as it becomes able to understand more and to cross over the old religious barriers and try the new. In such a view the church Fathers are dated, even Paul and what he and the Apostles understood at the time. To demonstrate this there is the very gospel of John, written last but presenting a more advanced Christology than seen in the earlier ones. And God did not stop speaking then.

Our shifting paradigm

I have the impression that we are crossing a similar stage to that which Christianity found itself after the Apostolic age. They had grown, they were a worldwide movement, other influences where coming in from every side and there arose a question of authority. Initially it was simply the Spirit guiding them, the experience of the divine that motivated them, but then it was no longer sufficient. Rather there were too many people who had no such experience but believed for other reasons, perhaps they were simply relatives of a believer, or believing had become the official “recommendation” therefore economically and socially advantageous, so the question arose as to what should these new “believers” really believe in.

Without the original element, or as David would have said “the fire in the furnace”, it was of utmost importance to determine by theology a doctrine in which people should believe in… or so it seemed. By making “right doctrine” (orthodoxy) the central element of religion, everything boiled down to a question of authority, that which Christianities have argued about until today. What has final authority? Who has final say?… is it tradition, doctrine, councils, popes, scripture, the spirit or what? Most churches have developed their own unique blend of such elements and have a set formula on how these must stay in tension and balance with one another. Though many claim to be standing on the Bible alone, is merely a facade and a propagandistic pretence. What they often term as “sola scriptura” is simply their chosen tradition of scriptural exegesis, their own layer of interpretation of the scriptures, which can be as much of a tradition as popes and icons.

Some history

David said Christianity lost it when the Christians moved from the arena to the grandstands. He was right, for that’s when the road leading to today’s Christendom began, with its theological dogmas, insistence on “orthodoxy”, the various formulas for salvation, the deification of the written text and the objectification of separate spiritual products from Christ. Not the Person anymore, nor His Spirit, which they couldn’t define and control, but religion and the objects of religious worship. The experience of the divine faded out as unreliable and suspicious. The charisma that were at the center of early Christianity, were to be allowed only within the clergy, if at all. Instead of gifts from the Spirit, it was the fear of hell that became a new leverage point of the imperial religion, where control was a major concern. The temptation refused by Jesus in the desert was at last accepted by the new Christendom. The more history and theology I read and the more I realize that David got it right on so many things. This little video kind of explains:

From → History

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