Sunday, March 17, 2019

Paradise musings continued

Joyce Sasse - Why are there so many Christian Denominations today? Give some thought to how external powers influenced changes in the church in the 9th century and beyond…

In the first millennium there was a dominant “form of Christianity that affirmed life in this world as the place of salvation”, according to research-theologians Rita Brock and Rebecca Parker. Even though many faced persecution and were executed, early Christians held tight to their beliefs.

But external pressures persisted. In the early 4th century, under the Emperor Constantine the church became engaged in a power struggle with Rome “as emperors attempted, with little success, to inflict uniformity of belief on the culturally diverse and disputatious world of the early church.”

Some dissenters within the church started to “favour a more masculine model, establish uniformity of belief as the basis of the church, and create a deeply fractured relationship to Judaism.” Grassroots believers, resisting these pressures, held intensive training sessions to help prepare believers for being initiated into paradise in this life (by baptism).

Jesus, they believed, “embodied Spirit in human flesh” … It was he who “reopened the paradise garden (Eden) on this earth”, which was “created by God as the home of humanity.”

These Christians “cultivated an acute attachment to the life around them”. At the same time “they struggled to stay grounded in love, in justice, in nonviolence, in wisdom and in freedom, to live together as humanity in the garden of God.”

Their practises included sharing resources, cultivating wisdom and honesty, and caring for each other when there was sickness or need. They accepted the fact of human failure, so tried to create systems for restitution, rehabilitation and restoration. Without a doubt life was a struggle, but when love could flourish in their communities, they experienced paradise (within this world).

In writing their book “Saving Paradise”, the authors ask “What happened to cause change for the believers (during those first thousand years)?” When and why did communities of believers “shift to an obsession with atoning death and redemption through violence? What led (them) to replace resurrection and life with crucifixion-centred salvation, and to relegate paradise to a distant after-life?”

The oldest crucifix to survive was created in 965 A.D. and was found in Germany. By 1095, as the First Crusade was launched, “Pope Urban declared war was not only just, it was holy – a pilgrimage that served God and enacted love for one’s kin”. Jews and Muslims were killed. Crusaders who killed them “earned forgiveness for their sins and were assured of a place in paradise after death, not after baptism.”

Theological innovations were developed by Rome to support the Crusades. “(They) proposed that God became human in Jesus in order to die on the cross and pay the penalty for humanity’s sins, a death pleasing to God.”

The book “Saving Paradise” was written to invite us to re-look at the forgotten history of the Garden of Eden and how these happenings touch us to this very day.

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