Monday, March 08, 2010

3 Paradigms on the Christian Church

When Jesus Christ lived upon the Earth and after his resurrection and prior to His ascension to heaven, the New Testaments says that He organized a religious organization or church with Apostles, Bishops, Elders and Deacons. When it comes to modern Christian religions, there are 3 main paradigms of belief with regard to the physical and spiritual reality of Christ's Church. These 3 paradigms are described by the lines in the picture in the top left of this post.

The branched lines in the middle example represent the paradigm of the Catholic and Protestant religions. After the martyrdom of Christ's Apostles and many of the Early Church Fathers, there were many isolated and independent Christian churches scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Desiring to better unify the Empire Constantine sought to unify Christianity under one belief and doctrine. Therefore, Emperor Constantine called together many Christian theologians in what are known as the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, Lyon and Trent, etc. The decrees of these councils were strictly enforced and dissidents were labeled heretics and punished severely.

However, this strict enforcement of orthodoxy failed to preserve a lasting unity. In 1054 the Patriarch of Constantinople rejected the Bishop of Rome's position of primacy as the supreme head over the church. Consequently, this East-West Schism resulted in the division of the church into the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Further division followed the Great Protestant Reformation from great reformers such as John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, and William Tyndale. Tyndale was declared a heretic for his English translation of the Bible and was strangled and then burned at the stake.

Many Catholics place a lot of importance in their belief that the Catholic Church has an unbroken line of priesthood authority through the Popes. On the other hand, most other Christians hold a different paradigm. Evangelical Christians do not generally view Christ's Church as a physical reality. As represented by the dotted line at the bottom of the diagram, this paradigm holds that no matter what denomination or non-denomination a person belongs, there have always been true believers which make up a figurative and spiritual body and Church of Christ. Depending on who you talk to, many Evangelicals may not believe that ordinances like baptism by immersion or partaking of the Lord's Supper are necessary.

I have found that most Christians who are are members of Protestant Churches like Baptists, Lutheran, Methodists, and Presbyterians, etc. share the Evangelical paradigm. Most denominational Christians like non-denominational Christians do not consider their membership in their respective church to have much significance. Therefore, it has become more common to see individuals and families attend a Methodist church in one town, a Presbyterian church in another town, and then a non-denominational church in another. For many Evangelicals, a church is a community of believers where they like the Pastor, find acceptance, and where they can enjoy fellowship with other believers.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints presents a 3rd paradigm of belief with regard to the physical and spiritual reality of Christ's Church. The LDS Church is the restored Church of Jesus Christ and not a Protestant Church. LDS understand the Bible to foretell that together with the death of Christ, and the destruction of the temple, that the original Church of Jesus Christ would fall into apostasy. As Christ said in Matt 24, in that generation the Sun would refuse to give its light, the moon would become as blood, and the stars would fall from the sky. In other words, in consequence of the martyrdom of the Apostles and Prophets, all sources of spiritual light would cease. And just as the temple was destroyed, doctrinally speaking, not one doctrinal stone of Christ's Church would be left upon another (2 Thes 2:3) (Amos 8:11-12).

The spiritual darkness during the Dark Ages persisted until the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Last Days (Acts 3:19-21). After decades of spiritual darkness, God called another prophet beginning with Joseph Smith and restored the truths of the gospel, ordinances, priesthood authority, church organization, as well as His temple.

While LDS understand the Bible to teach that the Church of Christ is both a spiritual and physical reality, we do not reject the Evangelical paradigm. LDS do accept that there have been true Christian believers throughout history. If it wasn't for the spark of true belief, the Bible would still only be written in Latin, and there would not have been the Protestant Reformation. All of these realities were essential in making the Restoration of Christ's Church and gospel possible through Joseph Smith. Had Joseph Smith lived in the 1500s like William Tyndale, the Restoration would never have survived as a religious movement.

Even after the Reformation and the promise of religious freedom in America, the LDS Church hardly survived during what is known as the Mormon War. All LDS members were forced out of Missouri by mobs led by a coalition of a Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian clergyman and an extermination order signed by Governor Lilburn Boggs. Joseph Smith was later imprisoned and killed by an angry mob dressed in black in 1844 and the age of 38. But, the Church of Christ and the truth of God flushed none the less. This time the Church of Christ has been promised never to be taken again from the Earth. In Daniel's vision of the Last Days, Daniel sees a small small stone cut out of the mountain without hands which rolls forth until it destroys the terrible image and becomes a mountain which fills the whole Earth (Dan 2:34).

Now that the true authority and Church of Jesus Christ has been restored, we invite all true believers to join, take part in it, and rejoice together.

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