Whilst I was digging around in some church history today, I came across this nugget of Eusebian observation:
“As the third century drew to a close, the tensions within the church were becoming more explosive. Eusebius looking back on the situation as he had seen it as a young man could write,
‘But when as the result of greater freedom a change to pride and sloth came over our affairs, we fell to envy and fierce railing one against the other, warring upon ourselves so to speak as occasion offered with weapons and spears formed of words, and ruler attacked ruler and laity formed factions against laity, while unspeakable hypocrisy and pretense pursued their evil course to the furthest end.’
It was a grim picture of ecclesiastic strife at the moment of Christianity’s triumph. Paganism had indeed been defeated. The world was ripe for religious change, but not for religious peace.”
The Early Church by W. H. C. Frend, Page 114
And this made me think! The church had faced all sorts of external pressures and problems, persecutions and heresies. When peace came, they turned on each other! This is shocking!
Nietzsche made a similar point when he observed a church that was brazenly hypocritical; living, as it were, with a great gulf between what she said she believed, and what she actually did. I suppose this applies to both corporate and individual. He said,
“They would have to sing better songs to make me believe in the Redeemer: his disciples would have to look more redeemed!”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
I get what he means about the songs on some Sundays, but I don’t know what he means that those who follow Jesus should look “more redeemed”, I’ve tried to look more redeemed, and my wife asks me if I’m ill, or in pain!
I suspect Nietzsche meant act more redeemed, although, acting righteously brings its own set of unholy problems; all manner of good-deeds can mask insidious sin and self-serving righteousness. Basically, the church has always struggled. Struggled with what it claims and what it does; or what it believes and what it practices. Sin could be most seductively and demonically at work under the guise of doing good. Many a good intention is shipwrecked upon the rocks of slightly off-centre zeal!
While Nietzsche is appalled at the church he observes (probably a limited observation anyway unless he really was Superman); Eusebius, on the other (and much earlier historically) hand, is quite shocked! “OMG, they’re turning on…. themselves!”