The Ancient Christian Church in a Modern World

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I love the Bible and its messages from God – such as the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians … and I love the poetry expressed by the King James Version – “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass or a tickling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing….” Modern versions of this scripture  change “charity” to “love” and that’s okay as well. 

I am sensitive to the possibility that my modern scientific knowledge may tend to over shadow the central and beautiful messages of the life, teachings, crucifixion and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ. However, I  envision this expression of my thoughts to be within the shadow of the Cross – the center of our Christian faith.

As a small boy, I regularly attended Sunday School and Church in a small Methodist church near Atlanta in rural south Fulton County. My Sunday School teachers were beautiful volunteers with little formal education and little or no training in Christian teachings. They worked hard to support their families and prepared their SS lessons the best they could on Saturday nights. I think it would be fair to say they were – for the most part- fundamentalists who believed in the literal interpretations of all scripture. They worked diligently for the building of God’s Kingdom with all the tools and knowledge they possessed. Sixty and seventy years later, I can still remember their faces and their names. I owe a great debt to these Christian servants for who I am today.

And then I grew up, graduated from Ga. Tech in Civil Engineering, served in the military, got married and established a professional career. Being around the fast moving construction boom of the fifties and sixties, I learned  quickly about science and God’s complex universe. I personally dug sharks teeth from construction excavations in south Georgia and studied Geology extensively. Geological evidence quickly proved that our prehistoric oceans covered all of Florida and South Georgia up to the “fall line” from Augusta to Macon to Columbus, Georgia. The Grand Canyon was far larger and deeper than any series of ancient floods could possibly create.

 So as a young engineer, I began to evaluate my Christian beliefs in light of the new scientific information I was accumulating. Questions like: How old is the Universe and the Earth and how could the Bible be accurate in the book of Genesis  to state that the earth was created in six – twenty four calendar days? How was first man and woman really created?

Archeological and Paleontological excavations by international scholars all over the world were consistently unearthing skeletons of prehistoric primates that eventually stood on two (bi-pedal) legs, grew in brain size and intelligence and approached being human several million years ago.  Within a few thousand years BC –  God saw fit to breathe his Holy Spirit into his developed creatures and fully human man emerged!  What an inspiring history!

Has my creative imagination gone awry? Are these just hopeful wishes of an old, retired, fanatic Civil Engineer/Geologist? Well, if you sincerely wish to seek out the truth – ask a thousand informed scientists in a hundred countries about this evolutionary process. Ninety plus percentage of them will surely support my conclusions. If that is not enough, read ten of fifty books written by scientists, theologians, biblical scholars and historians, that I can recommend (listed below). If that is not enough, interview professors of theology at any major schools of theology – like Candler School at Emory or visit privately with senior ministers with advanced degrees in philosophy and theology. Most of them will agree that evolution is real but they will not openly speak about it from the pulpit. Too many of their members are not prepared to accept the truths of evolution. They are still holding on to the sentimental, traditional beliefs of their parents and grand parents or they are not willing to investigate complex scientific concepts or they sanctimoniously believe they are “better Christians”by holding on to the literal interpretation of all scriptures.

And the beautiful thing about mans slow evolvement over time is it is so real, so practical and so inspirational that one can hardly see how it has been rejected and maligned by so many fundamental Christian people! The Old Testament reports this same story of beginnings in the book of Genesis as a beautiful series of allegories and metaphors in language that God’s people of ancient times could understand.   Would God now expect people of the faith to update their understanding of evolutionary truths based on a wealth of current scientific knowledge?   St. Augustine of Hippo, one of our early theological scholars, said: “When serious conflicts arise between interpretations of scripture and new scientific facts, it is time to reinterpret scripture.”

And yet in certain places in the United States there are small communities of ultra conservative Christians, generally identified as Creationists, that fight diligently to refute the concepts of evolution. One group has attempted to confuse the geological time scale by presenting false evidence that dinosaurs and humans co-existed on the earth. What a joke! Tested scientific evidence quickly proved these allegations to be preposterous. The Creationist only missed their conclusion by 65 million years! Thank God, these misguided Christians are only a small minority of our citizens.

So in the future, where will the mainstream Christian churches go with the creation story described in ancient “code” so beautifully in the early chapters of the book of Genesis? When will our most learned clergy start openly teaching their church members how to reconcile the Biblical story of beginnings with current scientific knowledge? Must we wait until the older generations (including me), have passed on? And what about our youth – who are gaining extensive knowledge about creation in their science classes – five days a week and hear a different story (or no story) about God’s creation in their Sunday school classes? Why does this conflict have to be? Part of the problem lies with the Federal mandates that prohibit discussions of anything related to religion in public schools. Part of the problem appears to be churches and church leaders who are not trained or exposed to literature that clearly explains and proves evolution. Unfortunately, many church leaders, including lay bible teachers, either do not understand scientific creation or prefer not to understand it.

And national statistics consistently report that more and more younger Christians are leaving the traditional, stodgy old out dated churches of their youth. Why because their churches, while they were in high school, failed to help them understand how to reconcile their Christian teachings with what they later learned in college or in sororities or fraternities or bars or dances or sporting events where all sorts of opinions are exchanged, relished and believed. And about the time these young people gain their first jobs and get married – many are saying: why should I (we) attend a church that did not have the courage to tell me the whole truth about creation – some even held on to old interpretations of scripture like:  “the universe was created in six 24 hour calendar days?” Since Jesus said: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free”– why didn’t the church of my family teach me the whole truth about creation?

Now to be fair, we all know that there are a number of reasons (or excuses) of why many people are or have abandoned our traditional churches. What ever the reasons are – the Christian church must begin its new mission with openly presenting truths. Truths about the imperfections of much of the Mosaic laws presented in the Torah as well as the proper understanding that many of God’s messages are hidden within allegorical stories that should not be taken literally. The Old Testament Bible contains God’s Word – but much of it seems to be mans word which God may have patently tolerated even when he did not direct or approve of some of mans laws or actions. Can we not learn to think intelligently about certain scriptures and build on a modern faith that still holds reverently to the central teachings of Jesus and figure out how to bring folks back into our blessed churches? 

We need to remember that the Christian church has historically made many serious mistakes:

  • Roman Pope Urban VI in the Dark Ages, condemned scientific discoveries that proved the Earth orbited about the Sun, saying this idea was contrary to Bibical scripture. It took the Catholic church several hundred years to agree that science was correct.
  • When the printing press was invented, in the Middle Ages, Bibles were available for the first time to most people. However, the church decreed that no one could own or read a bible  – subject to imprisonment or other punishment.
  • During the American Civil War, southern ministers preached and used scripture to justify slavery – why, because that was the only way they could keep the wealthy plantation owners support of the churches.
  • Our beautiful, democratic, Christian nation, from its beginning in 1776 to 1920 held women as second rate citizens who could not: vote, own property or hold a bank account. Thank God for Susan B. Anthony!
  • How long shall it take for all Christian churches in the second millennium to openly tell their congregations the whole truth about God’s creation?

Could the future of Christianity be out of balance because of a lack of courage or knowledge about God’s ancient truths among God’s best people?

By W.F.Peck

Recommended References

  1. “Thank God for Evolution”, Rev. Michael Dowd
  1. “The Language of God”, Francis S. Collins
  1. “The Science of God”, Gerald L. Schroeder
  1. “When Science Meets Religion”, Ian G. Barbour
  1. “Finding Darwin’s God”, Kenneth R. Miller
  1. “Making Sense of Evolution”, John F. Haught
  1. “The Stages of Human Evolution”, C. Loring Brace
  1. “Why Evolution Is True”, Jerry A. Coyne
  1. “Can A Darwinian Be A Christian”, Michael Ruse
  1. “ Science and Religion in Quest of Truth”, John Polkinghorne

Note: There are many other good reference books available in libraries, book stores and on the internet (Amazon).

 
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