As many of you know, I have been working on this concept for about a decade now. This is the first time that I have taken the opportunity to make a descriptive graphic. Please look it over here and let’s talk about it.
PLEASE NOTE: this is in no way attempting to be prophetic.
click on graphic to enlarge
My primary goal here is to show my developing perspective on the history of the church. Protestants believe in “development.” Unlike the Eastern Orthodox, we are not trying to get back to the beliefs and the practices of the first few hundred years of the church. While we, as the graph shows, believe that there are wonderful “states of being” in every life-stage, our desire is to learn from the past and mature.
DNA: DNA is the basic building blocks of life. Everything you are has been encoded on your unique DNA from your conception. In the church, the DNA never changes. Further life-stages are merely a working out, maturation, and development of this DNA. When God’s special revelation was finalized at the completion of the canon of Scripture, the DNA code was manifest and ready for development. While the church goes through maturation, the basic doctrinal components will always be recognizable and reflective of its DNA. The DNA determines the orthodoxy and catholicity (universality) of the church.
Infancy: Like when a child is born and just beginning to discover and experience the world through sense perception, love, and intimacy, the earliest church, after the death of the Apostles, is birthed into a time of self-realization. On the run from persecution and attempting to find its place in a very diverse world, the church experiences a time of innocence. Words are just being formed. Though the concepts are present, the church lacks the sophistication to articulate itself well. Doctrines such as the Trinity and Atonement are present in seed form, but have yet to find a definite expression.
Adolescence: Like a child who is now out in the real world, expression and discovery are greatly realized. The church, being free to worship due to the civil toleration of its faith, begins to mingle with others, both believers and unbelievers. The purity of the fellowship experienced previously begins to give way to differences and corruptions in the real world. This forces the church to more precisely discover and define itself for the purpose of self-preservation. The great creeds and councils of the church are realized during this time.
Teens: Moving out of adolescence, people enter into the time of life where they are increasing in knowledge, but their lack of wisdom, which can only be gained through experience and critical thinking, creates attitudes and dispositions that can be very immature. Knowing the basics of life and how to express them, we turn into bigger-than-life know-it-alls. The church seems to have gone through its teen years during the “Dark” or Middle Ages. If “Dark Ages” can be used of teens, it seems to fit well with the church. The church over-defines itself and begins to take on an air of arrogance leading to the need for dramatic change. While the DNA is still present, it is during this time that we experience physical, mental, and emotion distortions more than any other.
Twenties: During our twenties, a transformation and maturation takes place that saves us from our rebellious teen years. We often think of our twenties are the “red-faced” era where we are redeeming, restoring, and reforming our lives (which almost ended during the teens!). Experience and mature thinking produce stability and hope. Our parents become “pretty smart people” for the first time. In the maturation of the church, we look to the time of the Reformation for such redeeming stability. The Reformation presented the church with a time of doctrinal reflection, stabilization, and maturation.
Thirties and Forties: During this time, we have a good ten to twenty years of “the real world” behind us. Reflection on ideals, hopes, and dreams presents us with a time of adjustment. Often, unmet expectations, difficulties of marriage, paying bills, and children of our own bring us to the brink of disaster. We call this a “mid-life crisis”. The fork in the road is definite. We have been climbing ropes for a long time. We now either decide to find new ropes or hold on to a certain few more tightly. This seems to where the church is at now. Much doubt, depression, and disillusionment. Many adjustments are being made. Some are abandoning traditional Christianity alltogether, rejecting those things that have been a part of the DNA for tw0 thousand years. Others are losing their grips on the weaker ropes and tightening their grips on the stronger. Either way, we seem to be at a fork in the road.
Fifties and beyond: Though I am not there, I see the fifties and beyond (so long as people make it this far with their sanity in tact!) as a great time of maturity. Here, decisions have been made and values established through both knowledge and experience. We call this “wisdom.” The church, as a whole (in my opinion) has not made it here yet. The “mid-life crisis” that we are in will, hopefully, move us in this direction soon. I pray that we hold on to the right ropes (though I know we will—Matt. 16:18).
Again, please understand, this is not prophetic or predictive in any way. Also understand that this concerns the church as a whole, not necessarily every individual in the church. I could expand on this quite a bit more, but then I would be forcing things too much into these categories (the analogy can only go so far). That is not what I am trying to do. I am merely presenting this as a “philosophy of Church history” that can help people understand the maturation process of the church while accounting for and appreciating the change and difficulties that arise along the way.
May God be glorified through the maturing of the church and may the Holy Spirit give us wisdom to continue to grow as the Body of Christ.